Best daily deals
Best daily deals

Links on Android Authority may earn us a commission. Learn more.

How to use NFC on Android: Mobile payments, tags, fast pairing, and more

Become an NFC master in no time!
By
May 23, 2022

The NFC hype isn’t what it once was, but it’s still a handy feature you should take advantage of or get to know. How does NFC work, and how do you use it? We’ll walk you through how to use it and everything else you need to know about it.

More: What is NFC, and how does it work?

QUICK ANSWER

NFC stands for “Near Field Communication." It's a standard that allows two devices or accessories to communicate via radio frequencies when in close proximity. NFC is mainly marketed as a payment method in the mobile scene, but it can also be used to automate actions with tags, or to link to devices such as monitors, headphones, cameras, and more.


JUMP TO KEY SECTIONS

Editor’s note: All instructions in this post were created using a Pixel 4a with 5G running Android 12. Keep in mind steps may differ depending on your specific smartphone and Android version.

Do you have NFC?

Sony Xperia 1 III camera 4
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

It’s now hard to find a phone without this feature, as it’s now a standard. You can even find it on most budget phones, but there are some ways to double-check if you aren’t sure.

Older phones made it more obvious, as this was a hot feature only some devices had. Some had NFC labeling, usually found somewhere in the back of the device. You would also see “Near Field Communication” printed on the battery on certain Samsung phones, but nowadays, you don’t ever see the battery. Things have changed.

Sony is one of the very few manufacturers still labeling NFC capabilities. You’ll see the “N” label on the back of some devices, the official symbol indicating that the device has Near Field Communication. The “N” also shows the exact location of the chip.

Also: The best phones with NFC

Alternatively, you can skip all of the hardware fiddling and check your phone’s settings.

How to find out if your Android phone has NFC:

  1. On your Android device, open the Settings.
  2. Select Connected devices.
  3. Tap on Connection preferences.
  4. You should see NFC options.
  5. If the option is there, the phone has the feature.

Activating NFC

If your device has NFC, you might need to activate the chip first. Sometimes it comes dormant by default, so look into the settings to make sure.

How to activate NFC on Android:

  1. On your Android device, open the Settings app.
  2. Select Connected devices.
  3. Tap on Connection preferences.
  4. You should see the NFC option. Hit it.
  5. Toggle the Use NFC option on.
RealmeX3 Superzoom Android 10 easter egg in hand

We haven’t talked about sharing photos, videos, contacts, and other files using NFC, and that’s because Android no longer supports this feature. The feature was called Android Beam, and it used multiple communication tools for transferring files.

Android Beam died with the release of Android 10, and has since been replaced by Nearby Share. This tool is more similar to Apple’s AirDrop. It can transfer files to devices within close proximity, entirely wirelessly. Nearby Share starts the connection using your location and Bluetooth. Depending on what you’re sharing, it will pick between Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE, WebRTC, or Wi-Fi to share the file.

As you can see, NFC is no longer part of the equation, so you can’t officially use it to share files, photos, content, apps, and other files. This is sad, considering this was one of the coolest ways to utilize NFC. You can use Nearby Share instead, though. Here’s how.

How to activate Nearby Share:

  1. On your Android device, open the Settings app.
  2. Select Connected devices.
  3. Tap on Connection preferences.
  4. Select Nearby Share.
  5. Toggle on Use Nearby Share.

How to use Nearby Share:

  1. Find the file, photo, or content you want to share.
  2. Tap on the Share button.
  3. Under Share to Apps, select the More option.
  4. Select Nearby.
  5. Your device will start looking for devices with Nearby Share activated. Select the one you want to send the file to.
  6. The receiver will get a notification. He should tap on Accept.
  7. The file will be transferred.

Alternatives: The best apps for transferring files

Pay with your phone

NFC Tags and Google Pay
Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

No matter how common and how long the feature has been around, paying with your phone still makes us feel like we’re living in the future. This feature relies heavily on NFC communications, and it’s likely what most people have used it for since the death of Android Beam.

There are quite a few mobile payment solutions, with the most popular ones being Google Pay and Samsung Pay. There’s also Apple Pay, but the service doesn’t work with Android devices. LG Pay was another option, but it was discontinued in 2021.

To make payments with your phone, you first need to sign up for one of the payment methods available. Samsung Pay is only compatible with Samsung devices, while Google Pay works on handsets running Android 5.0 Lollipop and higher. You can start making payments at supported retailers when you set up the app and enter your payment details. Check the guides linked below to learn how to use each service fully.

Using NFC tags

Amazon NFC tags

Apart from mobile payments, using NFC tags is a great way to utilize this technology. You can use these to automate specific tasks when you tap on them with your smartphone’s NFC chip. It’s also possible to use tags to sign into a Wi-Fi network, obtain business information, control smart lights, access a website, and much more. You can get creative, too. Imagine walking into an office and tapping your phone on an NFC tag at the door. You can set this tag to unlock your smart lock, turn on the lights, activate the AC, turn Wi-Fi on, and start your smart coffee maker.

An NFC tag is an unpowered chip, small enough to be embedded in posters, movie passes, business cards, medication bottles, stickers, wristbands, key fobs, pens, hang tags, and more. This means it’s easy to stick them around any business or living area. You can dig deeper into the technology in the post linked right below.

Related: NFC tags and how they work

You’ll need an NFC tag-writing app to set up the tags, such as the Trigger app. Once programmed, you can tap any NFC-enabled device on the tag and take advantage of its benefits. Trigger can interact with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Audio, display, alarms, calendars, social networks, navigation, Tasker tasks, etc.

Other random capabilities

Huawei MateView NFC wireless display - How to use NFC
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

NFC capabilities expand far beyond payments and tags. While you can’t use it to transfer files anymore, plenty of other electronics and devices take advantage of the low-powered, close-proximity standard. You can find NFC functionality in specific cameras, monitors, laptops, Bluetooth speakers, smart home appliances, business cards, and more.

Some examples of what you can do with NFC include starting a connection with a device, providing security credentials, programming settings, establishing connections, and more. For example, you commonly see NFC in Sony cameras, and it allows you to connect to your smartphone to transfer images quickly. Furthermore, the Huawei MateView uses an NFC to connect with smartphones for wireless projection.


Next: Why aren’t we using NFC to its fullest potential?

FAQs

NFC stands Near Field Communication.

NFC allows two devices, such as your phone and a payment terminal, to communicate with each other. The standard isn’t as powerful as other communication methods like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Still, it can start the process and request help from other communication tools available, including the internet.

No! NFC tags are very, very cheap. They usually cost anywhere between 30-60 cents per unit, if you buy them in bulk. You can easily find a package with 50 NFC tags for about $15.

Smartphones and payment terminals are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of NFC-capable devices. Monitors, TVs, cameras, speakers, and many other smart home products use NFC for quick linking and triggering actions.

While tapping phones to transfer files was a nice party trick, that level of interaction isn’t really necessary for transferring files. Nearby Share is entirely wireless and works just as well.