8 best card machines and mobile card readers for small businesses

Choosing the wrong card machine can often lead to hidden setup and transaction fees. Read on to learn more about finding the best deal available for your business.

Our Research

Our expert team of writers and researchers worked to identify the best payment processing and merchant account providers by focusing on the factors small businesses care about most – value for money, including fees and hidden extras; security protocols and fraud protection; customer support, and ease of access across platforms including mobile.
Written and reviewed by:
Robyn Summers-Emler Grow Online Editor

Our independent reviews are funded in part by affiliate commissions, at no extra cost to our readers.

Card machines are essential for taking payments in person, but which one should you invest in for your own business? In this guide, we’ll talk you through the best card reader options, whether you’re running a solo coffee stand or a bustling restaurant or retail store. We’ll explain the benefits of mobile card readers versus ‘traditional’ countertop card machines, and break down how pricing plans and card transaction fees can affect which options are best for micro businesses and for larger ones.

At Startups, we’ve been working with SMEs for over 20 years. We understand that fast, transparent, and reliable transactions are vital for any small business that takes in-person card payments. With this in mind, we recommend the eight card machine providers in this guide based on our independent performance analysis, which has included interviewing the small businesses in our local area of London that use these card machines day to day.

To help you choose, we’ve thoroughly evaluated the best card machines in the UK on the criteria that matter most to small businesses, including price and transaction fees, scalability, ease of use, user support channels, and ease of integration with other software and systems

Just want to know which is best? Here’s our pick of the best card readers to choose:

Best card machines and readers at a glance:

  1. takepayments: Best overall card reader
  2. Worldpay: Best for larger stores and restaurants
  3. Zettle by PayPal: Best mobile card reader
  4. Tyl by Natwest: Best for fast payment processing
  5. Square: Best for pop-ups, kiosks and stands
  6. SumUp Air: Cheap transaction fees for small stores
  7. Dojo: Best for Flexibility
  8. SmartPay Anywhere: Best for Barclays business bank account holders

Don’t overspend on your card reader – you can click any of the links above to begin comparing fees on card machines for your own business’s size and needs or to learn more about various systems.

What’s the best card reader for small business? – comparison table

Below, we’ve rounded up our top picks of the best card machines, with essential need-to-knows including key features, hardware costs and credit card transaction fees:

Swipe right to see more
0 out of 0

takepayments A920

Worldpay Reader

Zettle by PayPal

Tyl (by Natwest)

Square Reader


Dojo Go


Smartpay Anywhere (by Barclaycard)

Star Rating
Star Rating
Star Rating
Star Rating
Star Rating
Star Rating
Star Rating
Star Rating
Hardware cost


Hardware cost

Terminal Fee £19/mo

Hardware cost

Starting from £29 + VAT

Hardware cost

£14.95 + VAT per month

Hardware cost

£19 + VAT

Hardware cost

Starting from £29 + VAT

Hardware cost

£20 per month

Hardware cost

£29 per month + VAT

Transaction fees
  • Personalised per business – range between 0.3% to 2.5%
Transaction fees
  • 2.75% + 0.20p for pay-as-you-go
  • 0.75% for debit cards or 2.75% for pay monthly
Transaction fees
  • 1.75% for all contactless or card payments
Transaction fees


Transaction fees
  • 1.75% for all contactless or card payments
Transaction fees
  • 1.69% for all contactless or card payments
Transaction fees

1.4% + 5p

Transaction fees
  • 1.6% for credit card payments
  • 0.3% for debit card payments
Includes payment software?


Includes payment software?


Includes payment software?


Includes payment software?


Includes payment software?


Includes payment software?


Includes payment software?


Includes payment software?


Store fees


Store fees


Store fees


Store fees


Store fees


Store fees


Store fees


Store fees



GPRS, 4G, and Wi-Fi


4G and Wifi


4G and Wifi


3G and WiFi


4G and Wifi


4G and Wifi


4G and WiFi


4G and Wifi

Payment gateway

Yes – via Barclaycard

Payment gateway


Payment gateway


Payment gateway

Free access to Tyl, by Natwest

Payment gateway


Payment gateway

Available through integration with WooCommerce

Payment gateway


Payment gateway


We found the takepayments A920 to be the best card reader for UK small businesses. This portable card machine offers a breadth of features – including tip allocation and sales and inventory tracking – that’s better than any other card machine’s. takepayments also tailors its prices to each business, giving you the opportunity to negotiate your monthly charges and card processing fees.

takepayments may lead the pack, but seven other card machines – from brands such as Square, Worldpay, and Zettle by PayPal – also stand out as great options for small businesses. In this guide, we’ll help you to decide which reader will work best for you, examining the all-important factors we’ve listed above, and highlighting how the readers compare against one another.

It all comes down to what type of business you’re running, and how many transactions you tend to handle. If you’re running a market stall or food truck, for example, then the Square card reader is a perfect choice. It’s compact, pairs effortlessly with your phone to work wherever you have signal, and the fee structure can suit smaller merchants perfectly. Alternatives for stalls, kiosks and mobile businesses include the SumUp Air and the Zettle by PayPal card reader. Both are highly portable, simple to use, and have intuitive payment features and highly-rated apps.

For larger retail stores and busy restaurants handling a lot of covers, a more traditional card reader system will suit better than a mobile one. Our top pick for these larger businesses is the Worldpay card reader – its payment structure suits larger operations, and it offers excellent user support and robust fraud protection and PCI compliance

1. takepayments: Best overall card reader

takepayments A920

The takepayments A920 touch screen card machine

4.8 out of 5
  • Price
  • Taking Payments
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Score
Best suited for:

Medium to larger stores or restaurants who can use its inventory tracking features
Firms with a consistent number of transactions each month
Retailers with lots of sales representatives, such as shoe stores
Service-based industries that make use of gratuity features

takepayments Pros
  • Excellent customer service – consistently positive support reviews on Trustpilot
  • £0 setup fee
  • Touchscreen terminal for up to six users
  • Specialist onboarding team
  • Next-day settlement
takepayments Cons
  • Lengthy 18-month contracts
  • For PCI-DSS security compliance, there is a mandatory monthly fee of £15 to Barclaycard.
  • Chargebacks have a fixed fee of £9 each with Barclaycard. Refunds cost 30p to process.

Should you choose the takepayments A920 card reader?

It’s a yes from us – the takepayments A920 is a compact and versatile payment terminal with a good-sized touchscreen interface that’s easy to input payment information into. It’s portable, and can be assigned to six different users, which is great if you want to use it as a mobile checkout and take payments on the move around your premises.

Of all the providers on this list, takepayments’ breadth of features impressed us most during our card machine testing – a key reason why we ranked it as the best card machine for small businesses. Its neat features include the ability to allocate tips to each user, ensuring that gratuities are correctly distributed among your staff. It also boasts in-depth, real-time reporting, including inventory and employee sales tracking, to help you stay on top of stock, measure performance, and identify customer trends.

Let’s take a look at those features in depth:

takepayments A920 key features

  • Processing time: Approximately 1-5 seconds to return a response
  • Funds Transfer: next day settlement
  • Multi-Currency: Yes, but via direct API codes (170+)
  • Mail or Telephone Order (Virtual Terminal): Yes
  • Ecommerce Integrations: 16, including WordPress, WooCommerce
  • Reporting: Real-time card processing, Track cash received, Customised product and category, Real-time inventory tracking, Employee sales trackingAccounting, SMS/email receipts, Detailed receipts (product detail, VAT)
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, with guidance you through the entire process – customers will need to complete a self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ), which can be up to 300 questions long depending on how many card payments they process
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, Takepayments support 3D secure authentication which is included in their online payment gateway solution, along with IP address, AVS, and CV2 checks
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone, Live Chat

takepayments A920 pricing

Our favourite thing about takepayments is its bespoke pricing structure. Based on factors including your favoured payment methods and your turnover, the provider will work out customised monthly fees and transaction fees that are bespoke to your business. This gives you more power to negotiate your fees, and ensure your package cost suits your budget.

  • Flexibility of Pricing Structure: Yes, bespoke quote and pricing structure per customer allowing negotiable monthly fees and Custom transaction rates
  • Hardware Costs: Bespoke, but typically £25 plus VAT per month for terminal hire, software functionality, and SIM card
  • Contract Length: 18 months
  • Account Fees: Minimum of £20
  • In-person Transaction Fees: Transaction fees vary based on quote package, but range between 0.3% to 2.5%
  • Online Transaction Fees: 10p (first 400 transactions free)
  • Set Up Fee: No
  • Early Termination Fee: Yes – there’s a “Non-Use Charge” (£30 per month) for each month remaining and an Early Termination Administration Charge of £40

Takepayments’ pricing is bespoke, so you’ll need to contact the provider for a quote. It is worth noting that there can be additional fees to account for, particularly if you want to cancel your contract early. However, these costs are still cheaper and more straightforward than the cancellation fees of other providers, which is why we still feel confident about recommending takepayments as a good value option.

How does takepayments A920 compare with its rivals?

Square: Arguably, Square is a better option if you also process online payments through a website, due to its effortless integration with Square Online Store. The tiny Square mobile card reader is also more in style for kiosks, stalls and food trucks, who’ll be happy to have a smaller device that pairs with a phone.

Worldpay: takepayments’ transaction fees can work out as slightly better value for smaller retailers and those selling low-cost items. Additionally the takepayments wireless card reader is a bit more sleek and modern-looking.

Dojo: we prefer the design of the takepayments reader, compared to Dojo’s. But, some small businesses may prefer the flexibility of Dojo’s shorter 6-month contracts, compared to the 18-month minimum for takepayments.

2. Worldpay: Best for larger stores and restaurants

4.7 out of 5
  • Pricing
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Score
Best suited for:

Busy restaurants or retail stores processing higher value sales
Small retailers that need to prioritise security for luxury items
Telesales firms that need to complete transactions over the phone
✓ Businesses taking more than £1,000 per month in sales

Worldpay Pros
  • Fixed fees mean you won't be hit with any surprise bills
  • Worldpay Business Dashboard available for analytics and sales reports (£4.99 per month)
  • Take payments over the phone for £9.95 extra per month
  • Range of card readers and plans to choose from
  • Large touchscreen with big-size buttons to ensure transparency during transactions
  • Trusted brand with top-level security and data compliance
Worldpay Cons
  • Poor value transaction fees on low-cost items
  • Customers report slow response time from the Worldpay helpdesk
  • 18-month commitment with subscription

Should you choose the Worldpay mobile card reader?

Worldpay is a solid choice for larger retailers and restaurants, but it’s not a brand we’d recommend to smaller setups such as a coffee stand or kiosk. That’s because its payment and processing fees structure rather penalises sales of low cost items. If you mainly sell flat whites and the occasional croissant to a passing commuter, this isn’t the card reader for you.

That said, Worldpay is all about the options, offering a range of contracts and transaction fee rates, which you qualify for based on your monthly sales income. There are also multiple machines to choose from. Overall, our researchers gave it a strong score of 4.7 out of 5, mostly due to its top-rated customer service (and its 24/7 support).

The two card reader models available are: the countertop Ingenico Desk/5000, and the mobile Ingenico Axium DX8000 with Wi-Fi (designed for table service).

Worldpay mobile card reader key features:

  • Processing Times: Transactions submitted to the Online Commerce Suite payment gateway engine are processed in real-time, and take approximately 1-3 seconds to return a response.
  • Fund Transfer Times: Funds Transfer: 30 mins as part of Worldpay Dynamic Payout Same Day Funding.
  • Mail or Telephone Order (Virtual Terminal): Yes
  • Integrations: 100+ covering 26 categories such as ecommerce
  • Reporting: For an additional £4.99/mo you get access to Business Dashboard, with reports on card sales, settlements, invoices, plus instant access to transaction history
  • Multi Currency: Yes, 120+ acceptance currencies
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, Cost £29.99 per year. Via SaferPayments – self-organisation
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, Under the Worldpay Merchant Guarantee service, Worldpay will cover loss of funds arising from third party fraud on guaranteed transactions. Omnishield Assurance package
  • Credit Checks: Yes
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone, Live Chat, Email

Worldpay pricing

Worldpay offers some good value plans if your business sells higher value products. However, the high transaction fees of the Pay as You Go plan mean that Worldpay is not a good option for businesses that sell lots of cheap items. In fact, Worldpay users pay an astonishing 2.75% + 20p on every transaction. This means that if you’re selling products that cost less than £2, you’ll lose out on over 10% of every purchase – putting real pressure on your Cost of Goods Sold.

Here’s how the Worldpay costs break down:

  • Contract Length: 18 months
  • Account Fees: Minimum £9.95 + VAT
  • Monthly Plan Transaction Fees: £19.95/mo + 2.75% (credit cards) & 0.75% (debit card)
  • Pay as You Go Transaction Fees: 2.75% + 20p per transaction (single rate for both credit and debit cards)
  • Set Up Fee: No
  • Early Termination Fee: Yes, Pay out existing contract
  • Hardware Costs for Terminal: £17.50/mo
  • Virtual Terminal Cost: £9.99/mo
  • Flexibility of Pricing Structure: Yes

There are two Worldpay plans available to SMEs: the fixed monthly plan and the custom plan.

We recommend the fixed monthly plan if you need to know what your expense will be each month. It will cost you £49.99 per month (inc VAT) with transaction fees of 1%–2.75%.

With the custom plan, you’ll spend less on the device (£19) but potentially face harsher transaction fees, which are dependent on your sales volume.

Worldpay also has a fixed £15 minimum monthly service charge that’s paid for out of transactions.

How does Worldpay compare to rivals?

takepayments: the more modern design of the takepayments card reader, plus its more forgiving transaction fees on smaller purchases, make this a better choice than Worldpay for smaller sellers such as coffee stands, or mobile food trucks. But Worldpay could work out better value for larger restaurants and stores.

Square: Square has lower transaction fees (1.75%) than Worldpay’s when selling smaller ticket items, and the small, modern Square card readers may appeal to sellers looking to give their customers a slick one-tap payment.

SumUp: this is yet another brand that undercuts Worldpay’s transaction fees for small-ticket items, thanks to its 1.69% fee. But, Worldpay would be a better choice for large stores or busy restaurants with a greater volume of sales.

3. Zettle by PayPal: Best mobile card reader

Zettle card machine

We tested out a Zettle by PayPal card reader at Shrubs & Dubs, a shop in Shoreditch, London

4.6 out of 5
  • Price
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Score
Best suited for:

Taxi firms and other businesses who may need to issue receipts
Counter service hospitality businesses
Full service cafes and restaurants (with Zettle hospitality software)

Zettle Pros
  • Compatible with iOS and Android
  • Eight-hour battery life
  • Receive payout from transactions in just 1-2 days
  • Supports a huge range of payment methods, including Amex and Diners Card
  • Contract free (only pay when you’re selling and leave when you wish)
  • Choose Zettle as your payment gateway to keep online sales in same place
Zettle Cons
  • Must be connected to a phone or tablet
  • Doesn’t offer an online store through the app

Should you choose the Zettle by PayPal card reader?

With ultra-low costs and one of the highest-rated apps around, Zettle by PayPal is a great alternative to traditional processing card readers and for innovative and budget-conscious businesses owners . You can find out about even more features included with the system in our full Zettle by Paypal review.

Small businesses can use Zettle with third-party hardware including receipt printers, cash drawers, and barcode scanners as part of a complete POS system.

Alternatively, you can sync the Zettle Go app to your smartphone or tablet if you need to take card payments on the go. Its excellent 3G and 4G connectivity makes it brilliant for taxi firms – and it can print receipts manually or automatically, which is now a Transport For London requirement.

The card reader pairs with the iZettle Go app via Bluetooth. To use and take payments through the app, you’ll need Wi-Fi or a 4G connection. Customers who require a receipt can have one sent to their email address immediately after a transaction is completed.

Zettle by PayPal features

  • Fund Transfer Times: 1-2 working days
  • Built-in SIM: No, The card reader pairs with the iZettle Go app via Bluetooth – to use and take payments through the app you’ll need wifi or a 4G connection from your phone.
  • Invoicing: Yes
  • Integrations: 21 including for accounting software such as QuickBooks and Xero
  • Reporting: Reports and analytics, Sales forecasting, Inventory management, Staff hours, ‘Sell on the go’
  • Multi-Currency: Yes, 25 major currencies. Invoicing only in £s
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, Zettle is certified to PCI-DSS Level 1. All sensitive credit card information is handled on Zettle’s secure, PCI-compliant servers, at no additional cost to the merchant.
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, Adheres to PCI PTS 4.1. Card machine is tamper-proof and self-destructs when interfered with. All credit card data encrypted by HSMs cryptographic servers. EMV-approved. Offers transaction protection of up to £250 in eligible chargebacks per month.
  • Credit Checks: Yes
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone, Live Chat, Email

Zettle by PayPal pricing

  • Transaction Fees: 1.75% for transactions, 2.5% for payment links and invoices
  • Hardware Costs: Starting from £29
  • Setup Fees: No

The cost of a Zettle device starts at £29 + VAT, which makes it the same price as the SumUp Air card reader. However, its transaction fees are a tad more expensive than the latter (1.75% compared to 1.69%). You can find a full breakdown of comparisons in our SumUp vs. Zettle review.

However, this fixed amount is a significant improvement to a year ago when a sliding scale was used, with charges rising up to 2.75%. There are also no setup or monthly fees with Zettle, so it’s a good option for startups with small budgets.

Plus, you won’t be charged for declined card payments, so you won’t need to bear the brunt of your customers’ mistakes!

How does Zettle by PayPal compare with its rivals?

Square: Zettle’s closest rival is Square, another software provider that released a small business card reader at a similar time. PayPal is a payment gateway, but Square is a fully-formed POS system that also integrates with the Square website builder, which makes it the better choice for ecommerce sales. Zettle’s reader is more expensive than Square’s, however we’d argue Zettle has a stronger mobile app, which makes it the better choice for firms making transactions on the move.

A review of Zettle from The Rugged Bunch, London

Frederico, the owner of Rugged Brunch, a cafe in North London (pictured), has had a Zettle card reader since he opened the cafe in 2020.

He said: “I find Zettle easy to use and straightforward. It has everything we need. I love that it is small and easily transportable so that customers can pay at their tables. The software is also really easy to use, and accessible for my customers. I haven’t considered switching to a different device and don’t plan to any time soon.”

“That said, to make it even more customer-centric, and like the Square card machine, the Zettle could have a larger display screen. Some of my customers also prefer buttons to input their data rather than a touchscreen.”

“The money comes into my account the next day if a payment is made Monday to Friday. However, if a transaction takes place over the weekend, it won’t appear in my account until the next Wednesday. I’ve not looked into other transaction fees, but I am happy with Zettle’s. Another sore point is battery. If the machine is new, it will last for days, but I have had this for three years and it now only lasts about one hour when charged fully.”

4. Tyl by Natwest: Best for Fast Payment Processing

Tyl by Natwest card machine

The Tyl by Natwest card machine

4.6 out of 5
  • Price
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Score
Best suited for:

SMEs with lots of freelancer staff
Retailers trading big-ticket items, such as antique dealers

Tyl Pros
  • Flexible monthly contract for device
  • Payments settled in one working day
  • All-in-one POS system
  • Decent eight-hour battery life
Tyl Cons
  • Very expensive transaction fees
  • Not the most affordable option for small businesses

Should you choose the Tyl by Natwest card reader?

The Tyl by Natwest card reader is one of the most powerful machines on this list. As a comprehensive system, you can use the Tyl reader to take payments and manage your business from one device, including inventory and customer management as well as itemised receipts. This makes it an exceptionally convenient and hassle-free solution.

Plus, thanks to its association with the Natwest bank, you only need to wait one day for payments to go through and you get access to the Tyl payment gateway.

Tyl by Natwest features

  • Online payments: Yes
  • Invoicing: Yes
  • Integrations: FreeAgent, QuickBooks, Xero, Sage
  • Reporting: Transactions, Orders
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, Tyl follows PCI compliance standards, and through our PCI portal, we can help you check that you’re PCI compliant too.
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, Terminal with Tyl, you have access to an additional security feature available to reduce the risk of card-not-present fraud. By performing a card validity check, a status check will be carried out on the card which will tell you if the card is valid. No authorization charges apply for completing this check.
    Credit Checks: No
  • Built-in SIM: Yes, 4G Plans available
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone, Live Chat

Tyl by Natwest pricing

  • Transaction Fees: 1.50% across all plans
  • Hardware Costs per month:
    • All-In-One POS: £14.99 Wifi, £16.99 4G
    • Portable: £19.99 Wifi, £21.99 4G
    • Countertop: £13.99
    • Pocket: £6.99/mo, £75.99 buy outright

Tyl by Natwest’s long list of features comes at a high price. You’ll need to pay monthly fees for the card reader, with various options listed above.

On top of that, there are transaction fees. These are fixed at 1.5% for businesses with an annual card turnover of under £50,000. If your business takes in more than this, there are more tailored transaction fee options.

Because of this, we don’t recommend it to retailers selling lots of small, low-cost items. It’s best for businesses dealing with big-ticket sales and larger annual turnover.

How does Tyl by Natwest compare with its rivals?

SumUp Air: If you’re after an affordable card machine, Tyl by Natwest is not it. It’s the second priciest option on this list and should not be an option for businesses that just want to take payments. Instead, choose a more affordable option like SumUp Air.

Worldpay: This is one of the closest brands to compare. Worldpay’s hardware is a little-more old school, though plenty of customers may prefer the buttons-approach of the Worldpay readers to the touchscreen Tyl style. But, Worldpay has relatively high transaction fees which will put off smaller sellers dealing in low-cost sales.

Square: Square is the brand to beat when it comes to slick, simple hardware that we’re all increasingly used to seeing at food trucks and in stores. Arguably, Square also has better tie-in with its ecommerce ecosystem via Square Online.

5. Square: Best market stalls, pop-ups and kiosks

Square card machine

We tested out a Square card machine at Got That Crystal Healing, a shop in Shoreditch, London

4.3 out of 5
  • Price
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Score
Best suited for:

✓ Coffee stands, kiosks, pop-up shops, food trucks that don’t need a full till, and want simple, card-only payments
Small businesses with low card sales volumes – for example, service providers selling products on-the-side
Dropshipping firms that need to keep an eye on inventory

Square Pros
  • No monthly or annual fee attached
  • Free Square point of sale app on the App Store or Google Play
  • Instant deposit option available for 1% fee
  • Compact design measuring just 8cm by 8cm
  • Real-time updates on items sold - great for inventory tracking
  • Works alongside multi-functional and very expandable Square POS hardware
Square Cons
  • Can't print physical receipts - only email or SMS permitted.

Should you choose the Square card reader?

For certain types of business, the Square card reader is a perfect choice. You’ve almost certainly seen the Square card reader out and about while making payments yourself. If you run a coffee stand, pop-up shop, food truck or market stall, or if you take on-the-spot payments from customers working as a personal trainer or masseuse, for example, then you’re going to want to get one of these little devices, too.

Increasingly, customers will be familiar with this card reader, too. Though it pairs with your phone, and is barely any bigger, it does all you need for effortlessly taking card payments. Square’s card reader is a high-spec device that allows customers to enter their pins on your phone or tablet, rather than tapping buttons on a keypad. While this is unconventional, you can rest assured that Square applies the highest security standards to its products.

Square is designed for small business owners wanting to keep costs low without missing out on good features. Thanks to a huge number of integrations, it’s a really rich system. There are options to integrate its accompanying POS software with food delivery apps or customer relationship management systems.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive payment solution, you may want to check out the Square Terminal, which also allows you to manage items and print receipts from one device.

Square card reader features

  • Built-in SIM: No, Square’s card reader (which is best for stands, food trucks and pop-ups) pairs with an app on the merchant’s phone (which will require mobile data or a wifi connection. The Square Terminal (which is better suited for larger restaurants, cafes and stores) requires wifi, or an Ethernet connection.
  • Integrations: Countless! Square offers everything from ecommerce integrations through to accounting software and invoicing software integrations, plus delivery apps and CRM systems
  • Reporting: Inventory, Sales, Team Management, Discounts and taxes, Feedback
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, Square is PCI compliant. All sensitive credit card information is handled on Square’s secure, PCI-compliant servers, at no additional cost to the merchant.
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, Square’s proprietary tokenization scheme ensures that unencrypted payment data never touches the merchant’s hardware or software. Machine learning and advanced algorithms monitor current fraud trends.
  • Credit Checks: No, Square does not run a credit check on users applying for a new account.
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone, Live Chat, Email

Square pricing

As well as the main Square card reader, we’ve included some costs below on some of Square’s other key hardware options. Small businesses like coffee stands or market stalls will want the reader first and foremost, while larger restaurants and retail stores will prefer the iPad Stand or Terminal.

Hardware costs

  • Reader: £19 + VAT
  • Terminal: £149 + VAT
  • Stand (fits an iPad): £99 + VAT or £17/mo for 6 months
Transaction fees
  • 1.75% in person transaction fee
  • 1.4% + 25p for UK card transactions
  • 2.5% + 25p for non-UK card transactions
  • 2.5% Keyed-in transactions

The Square mobile card reader’s pricing is as stripped back as its design. The reader itself costs £19 + VAT, with no monthly or annual fees attached.

Square charges 1.75% for each contactless, chip and PIN or card transaction, or 2.5% for payments with Square Point of Sale app, recurring online payments, Square Invoices or their Virtual Terminal.

You’ll need to purchase a Square dock for countertop transactions. This will cost you an additional £25 + VAT.

How does Square compare with its rivals?

SumUp: If you’re after a mobile card reader, then Square and SumUp will likely be among your top contenders. With their most basic devices (the Square card reader, and the SumUp Air), you’re facing a pretty similar proposition. Each has minimal bells and whistles on the device itself, and both connect to your phone to use its network or wi-fi. The transaction fees are a shade cheaper with SumUp, though Square has better tie-in with ecommerce sales if your business also sells online. For a market stall or pop-up, you can’t go far wrong with either device.

takepayments: Although we’ve rated takepayments as the best card reader overall, there’s a strong argument for favouring Square if you’re running a stall or kiosk, due to how small the reader is and how effortlessly it pairs with your phone. It’s also a great device to choose if you run an online store as well as take in-person payments.

Worldpay: Square’s stripped back approach means it is lacking in some areas. Those who need traditional, customer-led functions like the ability to print receipts will want to choose a docked machine like the one offered by Worldpay. Square’s fee structure may not be as appealing for larger restaurants and stores, who may prefer to look to Worldpay for an alternative.

Square case study: Scoobys Coffee

We found the Square card reader happily in use at Scoobys Coffee, a small cafe stall based in North London. We talked to Anthony, the owner of Scoobys Coffee who uses the Square POS card reader.

“The Square card reader is pretty easy to use and a nice bit of kit. Because it’s so small, it’s ideal for my setup because I have a limited amount of space. It was also simple to setup and cheap to buy. Plus, the money goes into my account the next day.

“My customers seem happy with it. The charge also lasts for ages. One charge will last for three days. I charge it every night and it never drops below four bars.

“The biggest problem is the signal. Square randomly disconnects every hour and a payment won’t go through. I have to wait a minute for it to connect back up again,” said Anthony.

6. SumUp Air: Cheap transaction fees for stalls, small stores and stands

SumUp card reader

We observed a SumUp card reader taking payments at Jerry’s, a food and drink kiosk in London

4.1 out of 5
  • Price
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Score
Best suited for:

Small retail shops and market stalls
Counter service cafes and pop-up food stalls
✓ Businesses taking less than £1,000 per month in sales
Sellers wanting to get set up online

SumUp Air Pros
  • Free unlimited mobile data with SIM card
  • Cheapest transaction fees
  • Standalone device with its own 3G connection
  • Works with a SIM card (no need to connect to mobile phone)
  • Can set up an online store using SumUp app
  • Includes decent analytics platform to help grow your business
  • Contract free (leave when you wish and only pay when you make a sale)
SumUp Air Cons
  • Reporting is simple compared to other providers
  • No hospitality-specific features

Should you choose the SumUp Air card reader?

The SumUp Air is a great mobile card reader to choose if you’re running a small operation such as a food truck or market stall, or if your business is on the go – for example, if you do home visits to customers and take payments on the spot.

The device is truly compact, and pairs easily with a mobile phone to use its wi-fi or 4G for processing payments. With low transaction fees in the UK (just 1.69%) and crystal-clear, flat-rate prices, it’s a perfect option for beginners and savvy business owners who want to minimise expenses.

Whether you’re running a mobile coffee stall, or simply want something a little more compact in store, the SumUp Air has an ideal compact design. It also has a long-lasting battery life, being able to make 500 transactions in one charge. You won’t want your payment device conking out in the middle of a busy lunch trade, so this is a nice bit of reassurance.

It’s also easy to get started: simply go onto the brand’s website, complete an online sign-up form, then wait 2-3 working days to receive the reader via post.

Just don’t expect all the bells and whistles at this price point – you won’t be printing receipts, for example. If that’s something you do need, then we recommend you spend a little more on the SumUp 3G and Printer combo – we detail pricing for this, below.

SumUp Air features

  • Built-in SIM: Not for the SumUp Air – this pairs with a smart device, which will require an internet connection via wifi or mobile data. Alternatively, the SumUp 3G card reader comes with a built-in SIM card, along with free, unlimited mobile data.
  • Online payments: Yes
  • Invoicing: Yes
  • Integrations: 11+ including QuickBooks and Xero
  • Reporting: Sales and revenue, Payouts, Transaction reports
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, SumUp is PCI compliant. All sensitive credit card information is handled on SumUp’s secure, PCI-compliant servers, at no additional cost to the merchant.
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, SumUp utilises 256-bit encryption, the current industry standard. SumUp never stores any sensitive data on the merchant’s hardware.
  • Credit Checks: Yes, SumUp performs a credit check on new merchants.
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone, Email (no Live Chat)

SumUp pricing

Transaction Fees:

  • 1.69% for cards
  • 2.5% for Invoices, Online Store, and Payment Links

Hardware Costs:

  • Air: From £29
  • Solo: From £79
  • 3G and Printer: From £129

At just £29, this makes the SumUp Air card reader great value for a small businesses. It is also a much better deal than what you’ll pay for readers from its competitors.

Plus, lower ongoing transaction fees mean that SumUp’s device is suitable for small businesses making any number of sales – a standard fee of 1.69% per transaction applies for all their card readers.

How does SumUp Air compare with its rivals?

Square: One of the main competitors to SumUp is Square, as both brands provide brilliant quality mobile card readers that are ideal for market stalls and small stores. There’s very little light of day between them in terms of day-to-day usability. However, while Square’s cheapest card reader is a little less expensive than the SumUp Air, Square’s transaction fees are a touch higher. But, Square has excellent tie-in with ecommerce through Square Online, which could be a dealbreaker if you sell online as well as in person.

Zettle by Paypal is another mobile card reader rival to SumUp. The slightly cheaper transaction fees of SumUp may appeal to micro businesses, compared to Zettle’s 1.75% flat rate.

Tyl by Natwest: Here’s a reason to love the SumUp Air – the cheap card reader is a one-off purchase. In terms of value, that speeds past Tyl by Natwest’s card reader (£14.95 per month + VAT), though, unlike the Tyl, the SumUp device does lack some of the sophisticated sales tools.

SumUp case study: Jerry's food stall

We found the SumUp card reader in use at Jerry’s, a food stall in Angel, London. We spoke to the owner about the reader, who has used the product for the last eight months and is “very happy” with it.

Jerry said that issues with the service were “quite rare”, but when they did occur, there was good communication and issues were dealt with quickly without much interruption to the service. “It’s not too difficult to communicate with a human being either, which is quite nice,” he said.

He noted that it is easy to use because the customer also has a screen to look at as it runs through his iPad, which he felt enhanced the user experience.

7. Dojo: Best for Flexibility

Using a Dojo card machine to take a payment

We tested out a Dojo card machine at Malek’s Jewels, a jewellery stall based in London

4.0 out of 5
  • Price
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Score
Best suited for:

Established firms with a steady flow of clients, such as wholesalers
Sole traders requiring next-day payouts

Dojo Pros
  • Good mobile app makes managing your account easy
  • Startups enter a six-month contract - half the length of the industry norm
  • 10 hour battery life, on average
  • Transactions settle by 10am the next working day
  • Good, freestanding terminal
  • Businesses coming from rival merchants get a monthly, rolling subscription
Dojo Cons
  • 3.85p authorisation charge on all transactions
  • Minimum monthly service charge can reach £40

Should you choose the Dojo card reader?

Dojo certainly wants you to. Amazingly, Dojo even offers to pay up to £3,000 of your exit fees from your previous contract.

Dojo’s mid-range price and flexible contract approach make it an ideal choice for small businesses that want a merchant provider that requires little commitment. You won’t be tied to long-term contracts or high fixed costs. Dojo allows SMEs that are swapping from a rival provider to enter a monthly, rolling contract, so you can leave easily and at any time.

But, there are some smaller businesses we’d caution against choosing the Dojo reader. If you only trade periodically or take down time from your work, then it’s potentially one to avoid. That’s because the monthly rental cost of the reader (£20/mo) and a minimum service fee of at least £20 mean that you could be spending on an overhead while having no transactions.

Dojo card reader features

  • Fund Transfer Times: 24hrs
  • Integrations: Quickbooks
  • Reporting: Transaction breakdowns, Transfer notifications
  • Multi Currency: No
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, your PCI compliance is reduced to just two documents and two questions. Once you’ve read and understood the documents, you can become compliant from your Dojo account online or via the app.
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, Dojo’s Oracle stack is protected from fraud with embedded security checks and authorisation mechanisms.
  • Credit Checks: Yes
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone, Live Chat (no Email)

Dojo pricing

  • Hardware Costs: £20/mo
  • Contract Length: 6 months
  • Account Fees: Minimum £24.95
  • Transaction Fees: 1.4% Credit & debit card rate
  • Set Up Fee: No

There’s a monthly rental fee of £20 + VAT to use the Dojo Go card reader, plus transaction fees and other authorisation costs.

We don’t recommend the Dojo reader to small businesses with an inconsistent sales volume, however. This is because there is a steep monthly minimum service fee of between £20 to £40. So, if you want to take a break from trading one month, it could end up costing you in surcharges.

For example, if you work as a personal trainer or run a home-visit massage or beauty business, then a quiet couple of weeks could cost you with this card reader. As well as paying the monthly £20 rental for the device itself, you’ll have to pay that minimum service fee which will at least double that cost.

How does Dojo Go compare to rivals?

Dojo Go’s closest rival is the takepayments A920. Both are examples of touchscreen, docked readers that offer an attractive and accessible method for customers to buy your products.

However, Dojo is lacking the business-centric tools that helped boost takepayments up in our ranking, such as a money-back guarantee. Dojo’s simplicity and cost-effectiveness may make it a better fit for smaller businesses, while Worldpay could be the preferred choice for larger enterprises with more advanced requirements.

Dojo case study: Burrito food truck

Dojo’s card reader was being used at Burrito (a food truck) and the owner described it as “great” and that there have been “no problems at all.”

“I was with Lloyd’s before and it’s contracted, so I had to carry on a three or four-year contract, and sometimes you just don’t want that. Another main reason is that [with Dojo] on weekdays, weekends, or whatever it is, you get your payments the next day. By 10:30am usually, the money is in your account.”

She also described her Dojo machine as having great battery life, but doesn’t use the receipts feature very often as a way to reduce the impact on the environment.

“I was with Lloyds for 10 years and had to pay to get out, but Dojo actually paid the fees to help me get out. It’s a short-term contract – I’d only just have to give notice if I wanted to get out,” she said.

8. SmartPay Anywhere (by Barclaycard): Best for Barclays business bank account holders

Barclaycard’s SmartPay Anywhere in action

3.2 out of 5
  • Price
  • Features
  • Customer Support
  • Customer score
Best suited for:

Small businesses that need a steady cash flow, for example if you pay staff weekly
✓ Barclays business account holders
✓ Firms selling products costing less than £2
Brick-and-mortar businesses that don’t need ecommerce integrations

SmartPay Anywhere Pros
  • Low transaction fees - good for firms making lots of small sales
  • Get set up in just 15 minutes via the Smartpay Anywhere online form
  • Lowest transaction fees available on the market
  • Sleep mode for saving battery power
  • Same-day deposits into your business account
SmartPay Anywhere Cons
  • Accompanying software is very basic and somewhat outdated
  • Mobile app is known to glitch

Should you choose the SmartPay Anywhere card reader?

Already have a Barclays business bank account? Then this is the card reader for you. With a seamless integration for Barclays business customers, it will be an easy device to get up and running with.

The reader itself is something of a competitor to the Square and SumUp devices. It accepts credit and debit card payments through the mobile connection of your smartphone or tablet. That means it’s a good choice for businesses based out and about – food trucks, stalls and travelling workers who need to process payments.

It may look like a limited little reader, but it syncs with an app that can provide sales reporting, inventory, supplier management, and other features.

Any money you do receive will be deposited and accessible on the same day. As many retailers pay their staff weekly, this is handy if you need a steady cash flow in your business account.

SmartPay Anywhere features

  • Funds Transfer: next day (on transactions before 7pm)
  • Online sales: Yes
  • Mail or Telephone Order (Virtual Terminal): Yes
  • Integrations: FreshBooks
  • Reporting: Real-time transactions, Transaction breakdowns, Transfer notifications
  • Multi Currency: Yes, 96 Currencies
  • PCI Compliance: Yes, 2 supported solutions. 1. Data Security Manager (DSM): £4.80/mo 2. Proactive Security Service (PSS): £15/mo
  • Fraud Prevention: Yes, advisory help number and Paymentsense support 3D secure authentication which is included in their online payment gateway solution, along with IP address, AVS, and CV2 checks.
  • Credit Checks: Yes
  • Customer Support: Knowledge Base, Phone

SmartPay Anywhere pricing

Contract Options: 12 months, 18 months, Pay as you go

Hardware Costs: £29 + VAT

Transaction Fees: 1.60%
Set Up Fee: Yes, Min £60 – up to £150 for their “growing plan”
Early Termination Fee: Yes, end of contract requires a 30-day written notice to Barclays, plus pay out existing contract

The SmartPay Anywhere device costs £29 + VAT. There’s no rolling monthly cost for renting the reader, it’s a one-and-done charge. This makes it a competitively-priced product and helps small businesses avoid a monthly charge on competitor products like the Dojo reader.

Plus, at 1.6%, the SmartPay Anywhere card reader offers one of the lowest transaction rates of the top providers we looked at in our research, but your compromises are that the card reader only accepts Visa and Mastercard, and refunds cost 75p to process.

How does SmartPay Anywhere compare with its rivals?

Worldpay: The first thing we need to highlight about the SmartPay Anywhere is its incredibly low transaction fees (1.6%). This is more than a whole percent less than rival provider Worldpay, and is a significant pull factor for firms selling low-cost goods, like a corner shop.

Square: The SmartPay Anywhere lines up against other mobile card readers, like Square, fairly competitively. Barclays’ device has a similar up-front hardware cost, but lower transaction fees. However, its integrations are lacking and it doesn’t have the brilliant ecommerce tie-in that Square does with its Square Online store.

Zettle: We rate SmartPay Anywhere as a good option for facilitating quick payments because of its speedy deposit times – which are next day, as opposed to Zettle for instance which lingers at around 1-2 days for its processing time.

Dojo card reader: The two devices may look similar, but the price of the hardware is very different. While Barclays SmartPay Anywhere costs a one-off charge of £29, the Dojo reader is a continuing expense at £20 per month, just for the device.

How we test card processing products and merchant services for small businesses

We tested 11 merchant account products and services to evaluate them in terms of functionality, usability, price, compliance, and more so we can make the most useful recommendations to small UK-based businesses.

Our rigorous testing process means these products have been scored and rated in six main categories of investigation and 25 subcategories – in fact, we covered 36 areas of investigation in total. We then gave each category score a ‘relevance weighting' to ensure the product's final score perfectly reflects the needs of our Startups.co.uk readers.

Our main testing categories for merchant account products and services are:

Compliance: the adherence of the merchant account product to relevant regulations and standards, such as data security, anti-fraud measures, and legal requirements.

Customer Support: the assistance and resources provided by the merchant account provider to users in resolving issues, answering questions, and providing guidance.

Customer Score: external customer opinion; the feedback and ratings given by customers who have used a particular merchant account. Also, the market position and reputation a merchant account holds.

Features: the functionalities and capabilities provided by the merchant account product, including online payment processing and payment gateway integration.

Taking Payments: the process and options available for accepting payments through the merchant account product.

Price: the cost associated with using the merchant account product, such as transaction fees, setup fees, monthly fees, and any additional charges.

The Startups product testing process

The Startups product testing process diagram

How do the July 2023 card reader regulations impact my business?

Under new consumer duty rules introduced by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in July, updated card reader regulations have been introduced to improve card reader services and choices for small businesses.

Providers will need to be more transparent and notify businesses when their contracts are due to expire. Contracts for card readers can no longer exceed 18 months, so businesses can’t get locked into a bad deal.

Buying guide: How to choose a card machine

Choosing a card machine isn’t just about tapping into transactions; it’s about tapping into reliability, flexibility, and efficiency for your business. Here’s a rundown of key considerations to ensure you’re not just swiping cards but also securing a seamless payment experience.

Type of card machine:

  • Portable: A portable reader uses wifi connect wirelessly to your POS system and can be taken around the premises, i.e. in a restaurant to take payment at the table.
  • Mobile: A mobile card reader can connect to cellular networks or have in-built modems, which mean they’re suitable for outdoor businesses or businesses that move from location to location (like pop ups or food truck businesses).
  • Countertop: A countertop reader is a fixed sales point that uses wired internet or a phoneline to connect but was made to stay in one general location.

Selecting the right type—mobile, portable, or countertop—depends on your business’s mobility needs. Mobile machines can connect to the cellular network or come with built-in modems, and so suit on-the-go businesses like pop-ups and food trucks. Meanwhile, countertop card machines are ideal for fixed checkout points, such as those in shops, cafes, and salons. Portable card machines balance between both. They’re able to connect wirelessly to your POS system to be used around your premises, and so suit businesses like restaurants where payments are taken at the table.

Price of the card machine:

Card readers are available for either a one-time upfront purchase, or can be leased for a monthly charge. Ultimately, choosing a card reader should be based on its suitability for your business needs, rather than solely its price tag.

Remember that a higher price tag doesn’t always indicate higher quality. Take Square’s reader, for instance, which at £19 + VAT upfront is cheaper than the Smartpay Anywhere, which costs £29 + VAT per month. However, our research and testing rates the Square Reader more highly.

Transaction fees:

Dig deep into transaction fees, as these are charged with every transaction and so can impact your profits. Cheap transaction fees tend to start at around 1.5%, while more expensive fees sit closer to 3%. It’s worth finding out whether a provider’s transaction fees are:

  • Fixed: sticking at the same percentage per transaction no matter what
  • Variable: changeable depending on the type of payment, for example credit card vs debit card vs mobile payment
  • Tiered or sliding: changeable depending on your transaction volume – getting cheaper as your transaction volume grows

Some providers will enable you to negotiate your transaction fees, so do ask about this if it feels appropriate. Remember, transaction fees apply to every sale you process with your card machine, so finding a fee that’s comfortably affordable for you is crucial.

Monthly fees:

Watch out for sneaky monthly charges. Some providers levy fees for maintenance, support, or software updates. Evaluate these against the services provided and ensure they align with your business’s needs.

Contract lengths:

Don’t get locked in without an escape hatch. Assess contract lengths and termination clauses. Flexibility is key, especially if your business undergoes rapid changes or if you’re dissatisfied with the service.

Battery life:

For mobile or portable machines, battery life dictates operational convenience. Longer battery life means fewer interruptions during transactions and more satisfied customers.

Accepted payment types/methods:

Versatility in payment options is a must. Ensure your machine supports major card networks (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) and emerging methods like Apple Pay or Google Pay. The broader the acceptance, the wider your customer reach.


Beyond the basics, consider additional functionalities. Features like inventory management, reporting tools, or integration capabilities with your existing systems can streamline operations and enhance business efficiency.

Compliance measures:

Security and compliance standards are non-negotiable. Ensure your chosen machine adheres to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) requirements to safeguard sensitive customer information.

Help and support:

A responsive and efficient support system can be a lifesaver when technical glitches arise. Look for providers offering reliable customer service, preferably with multiple channels of support.

How does a card machine work?

When your customer taps their card to your card machine, they kick off an electronic transfer of funds from their bank account to your business bank account. The process involves several steps that ensure the transfer takes place securely, while verifying that your customer actually has the money available to send to you, protecting both your financial interests and theirs.

The process can be distilled into five main steps:

  1. You enter the payment amount into your card machine or POS system, and the customer taps or inserts their card, and enters their PIN if necessary. This starts the transaction.
  2. The chip interacts with the machine, which sends encrypted transaction data to your merchant account.
  3. The payment processor sends an authorisation request to the customer’s card-issuing bank to verify that they have the funds or credit available to make this payment.
  4. If all is well, your card machine will confirm the transaction. This is the point where you can ask the customer to remove their card, give them their receipt (if you print them), and say goodbye. However, at this point, the funds are still pending, until…
  5. The authorised payment (along with other transactions you’ve authorised within the relevant time period – say, that same day) are processed and the payment processor facilitates the actual transfer of the money into your business bank account. It’s worth noting that this won’t happen instantly after each sale – it’ll depend on the fund transfer time you’ve agreed with your card machine provider.

Security measures, including end-to-end encryption, will be in place during the whole process, safeguarding the customer’s card details against fraud, and helping to protect your reputation as a safe and secure place to do business.


If you own a small business that’s just getting off the ground, takepayments should be the ideal first card reader. Its fees are reasonable and in line with the functional capabilities of the accompanying software.

takepayments offers shorter contracts than most (12 months) and there are no joining or leaving fees, making it perfect for brand-new business needing a zero-risk, short-term commitment.

For fast-growing businesses, a Square card reader or Worldpay card reader are two options that really stand out from the competition in terms of value for money. To compare Square and Zettle by PayPal side by side, read our Square vs Zettle review.

Card machine FAQs
  • Do I need a business bank account to use a card machine?
    If you don't have a business (or merchant) account, then you can still accept payments using a payment service provider like PayPal or Square. However, this tends to be more expensive than opening a business account.
  • What are the different types of card machine?
    There are four types of card reader: the static/countertop card terminal, which is the recognisable 'chip and PIN' option that is generally used by large retailers; the portable card terminal, popular with hospitality-based businesses; Wi-Fi card terminals, which offer the greatest flexibility for small businesses; and the GPRS card terminal, which combines all of the above.
  • What's the difference between a card machine and a POS system?
    Card machines handle card transactions exclusively, whereas a POS (Point of Sale) system integrates multiple functions alongside taking payments, including inventory management, sales tracking, and customer relationship management. Small businesses with very basic transaction needs could start with just a card machine, but the majority of businesses would benefit from a POS system's comprehensive business management features. Fortunately, card readers are often easy to integrate with a POS system, and some providers, such as Zettle and Square, offer both.

Startups.co.uk is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps Startups.co.uk to provide free reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews.

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.
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