How to use NFC on Android

by: Edgar CervantesApril 13, 2016
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Near Field Communication (NFC) is quite handy when it comes to transferring data between two devices. Whether you want to send photos, videos, files, or make a payment, NFC can make it easy to do so. But how does it work, and how do you use it? We’ll walk you through the important things you need to know when it comes to using NFC.

What is NFC?

The name for the technology is a giveaway to how it actually works. You have two NFC-capable devices, and they are able to communicate with each other if they are close to each other (i.e., “near” each other’s “field”). Communication occurs via radio frequencies. Check out our other expanded overview of NFC and how it works for more details.

nfc smartphones aa 600pxSee also: What is NFC & how does it work?23

In the mobile scene, NFC is being marketed as a file-sharing or data-sharing tool. This specific use came to the fore when Google released Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which also debuted the Android Beam functionality. Through NFC and Android Beam, devices can swap files very quickly to each other. More than that, the presence of NFC on an Android device also allows the same device to read and/or write to programmable NFC tags.

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Do you have NFC?

Not all phones and tablets have NFC. Does yours? How do you check if it’s there? One way is to check underneath the backplate and look for any small print or other clues. On certain (older) Samsung phones, for instance, you’ll see “Near Field Communication” printed on the battery pack.

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On some devices — especially Sony Xperia handsets — you’ll see the N-Mark — the official symbol indicating that the device is NFC-enabled.

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Or, you can skip all of the hardware fiddling and just check your phone’s Settings menu:

  1. On your Android device, tap on Settings.
  2. Tap More.
  3. Scroll down and you should see NFC and Android Beam options.

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Activating NFC

If your device has NFC, the chip and Android Beam need to be activated so that you can use NFC:

  1. Go to Settings > More.
  2. Tap on the NFC switch to activate it. The Android Beam function will also automatically turn on.
  3. If Android Beam does not automatically turn on, just tap it and select Yes to turn it on.

Smartphones’ NFC capabilities operate in tandem with Android Beam. If Android Beam is disabled, it may limit NFC’s sharing capacity.

Data sharing through NFC

With NFC activated, you already use it for beaming data. For successful data sharing, take note of the following:

  • Both sending and receiving devices must have NFC and Android Beam activated.
  • Neither of the devices should be asleep or locked.
  • You’ll get both audio and haptic feedback when the two devices detect each other.
  • Do not separate your devices until the beaming has started.
  • You’ll hear audio feedback when the file or content has been successfully beamed.

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At this time, the ability to share content is limited to small files. Regardless, you can still send content or file types such as web pages, map locations, and contacts with no trouble.

Beaming content

Whatever content or data it is you want to share via NFC (e.g., photos/images, contact info, webpages, videos, apps, etc.) — and regardless of whether you’re beaming to a tablet or to a phone from a phone or from a tablet — the generic way to beam content remains the same:

  1. Open the content to be shared.
  2. Place both devices’ backs against each other.
  3. Wait for sound and haptic confirmation that both devices have detected each other.
  4. Notice the sender’s screen shrink into a thumbnail and display “Touch to beam” at the top.
  5. Touch the sender’s screen to begin beaming. You’ll hear a sound when beaming starts.
  6. When beaming completes, you’ll hear audio confirmation. You’ll also get either a notification that the beaming has completed, or the appropriate handler app will launch and open the beamed content.

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Sharing apps

Sharing apps via NFC does not share the app’s APK. Instead, the sender device just beams the app’s Play Store page, and the receiver device opens it, ready for downloading.

Sharing web content and information

Sharing web pages via NFC does not send the web page itself. Rather, it merely sends the Web page URL and the other device opens it on the default Web browser.

Ghostery Browser best security apps for androidSee also: 10 best Android browsers of 201699

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Sharing YouTube videos

Technically, sharing YouTube videos does not share the video file. It does, however, direct the receiving phone’s YouTube app to the video.

Sharing contact info

When sharing a contact via NFC and the receiving device has several Google accounts set up, the receiving device prompts the user about which account to create the new contact in. Otherwise, the contact info will be automatically saved and the Contacts app will display it.

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Sharing photos

Not all NFC-capable devices can share photos to each other. In cases where photo beaming succeeds, the receiving device gets a notification that the beam is completed. And when tapped, the beamed photo is displayed in the Gallery.

Using NFC tags

Apart from sharing content with other NFC-capable devices, you can also use NFC to configure your phone’s or tablet’s settings with just a tap. You can do this by tapping an NFC-capable device against a programmed NFC tag.

An NFC tag is an unpowered NFC chip, small enough to be embedded in items such as posters, movie passes, business cards, medication bottles, stickers, wristbands, key fobs, pens, hang tags, and more. The microchip can store small chunks of data, which can be read by an NFC-capable device. Different NFC tags have different memory capacities. You can store different data types on an NFC tag, such as a URL, contact info, or even commands and settings that the reading device could execute upon contact.

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To read data from or write data to such NFC tags, you’ll need an NFC tag-reading or tag-writing app, such as the Trigger app, available from the Google Play Store. Tags programmed using this app can only be read by devices that have this same app installed.

You can program an NFC tag to perform tasks such as open a web page, configure phone settings, or even send text just by tapping the device against the tag. So, for instance, you may want to program an NFC tag for use when you reach the office, where you’d need your phone set to vibration mode, Wi-Fi set to on, and Bluetooth inactive. Just tap your device’s back against the programmed tag, and the device will perform the tasks programmed onto the tag.

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NFC Tag business cardSee also: All you need to know about NFC Tags12

Using the Trigger app, you can encode NFC tags and perform tasks or adjust settings, such as the following:

  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings (including Airplane mode, auto-sync, GPS on/off, mobile data on/off)
  • Sound and volume settings (sound profile, ringtone, ring/notification volume, notification tone, media volume, system volume, alarm volume, and vibrate when ringing)
  • Display options (brightness, notification light, auto rotation, display timeout)
  • Social media (tweeting, checking in via check-in services such as Foursquare, Facebook, Google Latitude, Google Places)
  • Messages (autosync, sending email, composing SMS, send Glympse)
  • Apps and shortcuts (open app, close app, open activity, pause, open URL/URI, speak text, navigation, dock, car dock)
  • Multimedia (start/stop media playback, move to next media, play previous media)
  • Alarms (set alarm, set timer)
  • Events (create event, create calendar timestamp)
  • Security (activate lockscreen)
  • Make phone call
  • Samsung-specific modes (blocking mode, driving mode, power saving mode)
  • Create Tasker tasks

To save all your selected actions/tasks onto the NFC tag, just tap the Save & Write button. And, to execute the actions or tasks, just tap the device’s back against the tag.

Mobile payments

Mobile payments are probably what NFC is more known for. We can say pying with a smartphone has become a bit of a novelty, and everyone is trying to sign up. It’s easy to run into issues, though, as not every vendor out there supports NFC transactions.

Want to learn more about mobile payments? The most popular services for Google’s mobile OS are Android Pay and Samsung Pay. We have put together full videos and articles on our experiences for each service. Check them out to see what they are all about.

Our thoughts on mobile payment services:

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Wrapping up

Most Android handsets on the market already come with NFC functionality, so most folks reading this how-to will be able to transfer files using this technology. Do you have any tips for using NFC? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments!

  • G Mohal

    my question is why should we use NFC to share pictures/videos when this can be done via bluetooth easily.

    • Lionel

      With NFC you don’t have to search and find another phone, you just have to put it together

      • D`nechi

        Becos it is faster and show more experience with your phone

        • Masood khan

          faster than wifi? you can use Es file explorer and send anything via wifi faster and easier

          nfc is for secure transactions not file transfer!

  • Daniel

    Very beautiful and pleasant voice! What’s blogger’s name?

  • Janty Ishaqat

    Hi ……… i have a (sony xperia tx) and i can sent files via nfc to any other phone but the problem is that i cant receive any file from other phones i put the phones back together and beem the file from the other phone then my tx opens play store and needs an internet connection even thought my phone is connected to the network soo can any body help me her please and thanks aloot :)

  • Rob Frèrejean

    Hi, I have a Galaxy Note 2. I can read my Hotel card with NFC. How can I transmit it with my phone? It would be cool to open my hotel room with my phone.

  • youssef

    Does the HTC One has android beam ??

    • HTC one user

      from my experiences with it it might be the infrared sensor as well so its not just a fancy remote

  • Muhammad Farooqi

    Thanks. It is really helping information. Thanks.

  • Rak

    I cant get my Galaxy A7’s NFC to work with other devices like the Galaxy S5. How can i do that?

  • Stefano Gonzales

    I just feel that NFC is such a hassle; trying to find the spot on your phone takes way too long

  • Moose05

    I don’t think I ever turned nfc on. Now after reading this, I never will.

  • Excellent points mention here ..

  • Anthony

    How do I transfer everything from one Nexus 7 to another? Dropped it and need to clone the broken one. trying to Beam but from which screen to I launch to get EVERYTHING, not just a photo or website?

  • Anthony

    I have two Nexus 7’s and when I put them back to back, I only ever get option to beam one way, but not the other. Transfer works the one way. HTC provisioning system etc are same versions all around. Bljetooth and WiFi are on, as are HTC & beam on both devicez. Ideas?