How to pay with your smartphone without Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Google Wallet

Before you run out to get a new phone with mobile payment capabilities, check out these three apps that let you pay with the phone you have right now, no NFC required.

Sarah Mitroff Managing Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
Expertise Tech, Health, Lifestyle
Sarah Mitroff
4 min read

With Apple Pay gaining steam and Samsung releasing its own system at Mobile World Congress 2015, called Samsung Pay, mobile payments are getting mainstream. In the coming years I'm betting that nearly every phone will let you quickly check out without grabbing for your wallet.

But even though we have Google Wallet, Apple Pay and, soon, Samsung Pay, there are still many phones lacking NFC and the other internal tech that makes mobile payments possible. If that's the case with your smartphone, you don't need to upgrade to make payments on the fly. I've rounded up three lower-tech apps can still help you foot the bill.

A few limitations

Just a caveat before we get started: Many merchants still do not accept mobile payments. With PayPal, LevelUp and Square Order, you're limited by where you can use them. You'll want to check out the businesses in your area to see if they use these apps for payments.

Google Wallet and Apple Pay are both more widely accepted, but we are still years away from mobile payments in all major stores, if we ever get there at all. If paying with your phone is very important to you, check out which merchants accept mobile payments before you upgrade your phone. Apple has a list of stores that accept Apple Pay, and if you have an Android phone with NFC, you can use Google Wallet anywhere MasterCard PayPass is accepted. For more in-depth analysis, check out Sharon Profis' experience with NFC mobile payments.

Finally, these apps are for paying merchants, like the coffee shop around the corner or your local big-box store. If you want to pay back your friends or family, we've got a roundup of apps that can send money.

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET


Free, iOS, Android and Windows Phone

Love it or hate it, PayPal is a huge player in online payments and in recent years, it's been working on mobile payments, too. The company's app lets you pay from your phone at local merchants and some national chains as well.

To use the app, you'll first need to choose the merchant where you want to pay. Then, you'll use the slider to "check in" at the business and authorize the app to make a payment for you. When you're ready to check out, you tell the cashier that you're using PayPal and they'll see your profile pop up in their PayPal system. From there, they can process the payment without you needing to pull out your wallet or phone.

For some larger merchants, such as Home Depot and Office Depot, you'll need to create a PIN that you'll enter along with your mobile number to pay. Also, some restaurants that accept PayPal only allow you to order food in advance for pickup and delivery. Many local restaurants use that feature, but you'll also see it at chains such as Quiznos, Subway and Johnny Rockets.

I've used the app at a music festival to pay for lunch and, separately, to order sushi for delivery, and both experiences were seamless. The downside of PayPal is that you'll need to have a data or Wi-Fi signal to pay.

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET


Free, iOS, Android and Windows Phone

Popular with restaurants and cafes, LevelUp uses a QR code to trigger a payment. When you open the app you'll see your personal code prominently displayed, which you point at any LevelUp scanner to make a purchase. That code changes depending on how much of a tip you want to leave, which you pick at the bottom of the screen.

Unlike PayPal, you don't need to pick where you want to pay beforehand, but you do need to know if the merchant accepts that form of payment. You can either use the app to search for participating businesses near you, or just look out for the LevelUp scanner near the register.

As an added bonus, LevelUp also has a loyalty program, where you can get free credits for being a repeat customer. The app also has coupons and deals that you can save and then use automatically when you check out. The downside here is that there aren't many merchants using LevelUp, and you won't find it at major retailers.

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Square Order

Free, iOS and Android

Square was one of the first companies to figure out mobile payments, sans NFC. Its original Square Wallet app let you check into a store, walk in and get what you want, then check out with the cashier tapping a pop-up of your face from their Square Register app. Once you checked in, you didn't need to touch your phone again to pay.

Unfortunately, Square pulled that app in 2014 and replaced it with Square Order, an app the works roughly the same way, but with fewer features. Square Order shows you menu items for businesses nearby that use Square for payment processing. You can can order and pay for those items before you arrive at the business and then simply pick them up when you arrive.

Square Order lets you browse merchants nearby that accept the app, but you can't search, which is a big drawback. Whole Foods is one of the bigger businesses that's partnered with Square, but you can only use the app at the sandwich bar, not to purchase groceries. In San Francisco, most of the businesses are local coffee shops and casual eateries. It may not be the best option, but it's a good choice if you frequent a business that uses Square and want to save time.