The NFC hype isn’t what it once was, but it’s still a handy feature you should take advantage of, or at least get to know. Near Field Communication is quite convenient for transferring data between two devices. But how does NFC work, and how do you use it? We’ll walk you through how to use NFC, as well as everything else you need to know about it.
Editor’s note: All instructions in this post were created using a Pixel 4a running Android 11. Keep in mind steps may differ depending on your specific smartphone and Android version.
What is NFC?
The name for the technology gives away how it works. You have two NFC-capable devices, and they can communicate with each other if they are close to each other (i.e., “near” each other’s “fields”). Communication occurs via radio frequencies.
NFC is mainly marketed as a payment method in the mobile scene, but it can also be used for transferring data, using tags, and more.
Do you have NFC?
It’s now hard to find a phone without NFC, as it’s become a standard. You can even find it on most cheap 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 printing, usually found somewhere in the back of the device. You would 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. On some devices, you’ll see the N-Mark on the back, the official symbol indicating that the device has NFC. The N-Mark also shows the exact location of the NFC chip.
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:
- On your Android device, open the Settings.
- Select Connected devices.
- Tap on Connection preferences.
- You should see NFC options.
- If the option is there, the phone has the feature.
Depending on your device, these two options could be located in a different folder. If you can’t find them, open up the setting menu, tap the search icon on top, and type in “NFC.” If your phone has it, the option will show up.
If your device has NFC, the chip needs to be activated. Sometimes it comes dormant by default, so look into the settings just to make sure.
How to activate NFC on Android:
- On your Android device, open the Settings app.
- Select Connected devices.
- Tap on Connection preferences.
- You should see the NFC option. Hit it.
- Toggle the NFC option on.
Android Beam is dead!
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. Sadly, this also means you can’t officially use NFC to share files, photos, content, apps, and other files.
Pay with your phone!
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.
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. When you’re up and running, you can start making payments at supported retailers. Check the guides linked below to learn how to use each service fully.
- How to use Google Pay — a step by step guide
- Samsung Pay: What is it, how does it work, and how do I use it?
Using NFC tags
Apart from sharing content with other NFC-capable devices, you can also use it to configure your phone’s or tablet’s settings with just a tap. You can do this by tapping a capable device against a programmed NFC tag.
An NFC tag is an unpowered 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 you can read with another device. Different tags have various 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.
Related: NFC tags and how they work
You’ll need an NFC tag-reading or tag-writing app, such as the Trigger app, to read data from or write data to the tags. 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 a 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.
Using the Trigger app, you can encode tags and perform tasks or adjust settings, such as the following:
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings: 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 the lock screen.
- Communications: Make a phone call.
- Automation: Create Tasker tasks
Other random capabilities
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.