Most premium and mid-range watches these days are NFC watches, i.e. they come with an NFC chip.
These chips enable the watches to make contactless payments on compatible terminals.
if you’re unfamiliar with the technology, you might wonder whether NFC can function offline ( without an internet connection).
Well, that was a short version. let’s dig deeper to get a better understanding of how NFC features work on a smartwatch.
Note: NFC technology isn’t limited to contactless payment. It offers a diverse range of applications such as smart locks, digital business cards, and device pairing. However, in this post, my focus will primarily be on its use in contactless payments.
Table of Contents
How do NFC Payments work?
First, let’s start with what NFC is.
The nerd version: NFC is a subset of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID). It operates on a specific frequency (13.56MHz) for short-range communication.
The layman’s version: Quick, secure, wireless data transfer between close devices.
Now, let’s consider the payment process.
Step 1: When you’re ready to make a payment, you unlock your device and bring it close to the NFC-equipped payment terminal.
Remember, NFC payments don’t require any physical contact – you just need to hover your device close to the Point-of-Sale NFC reader.
Step 2: As soon as your device is close enough to the reader, the NFC chip would be triggered.
This chip then sends a signal to the payment terminal, effectively starting a conversation between your device and the terminal.
Your device and the terminal are having a super-fast, encrypted chat about your payment.
During this chat, they’re not using simple language that anyone can understand. Instead, they’re speaking in a coded language, or encryption, for security reasons.
Step 3: Once the encrypted information is transferred to the NFC-enabled reader, the payment terminal then communicates with the bank to process the transaction.
Your bank verifies the information, approves (or denies) the transaction, and sends a message back to the terminal.
And voila! If the bank approves the transaction, the payment goes through, and you’re done. The terminal will show a message that the payment has been successful.
This whole process happens in just a matter of seconds, making NFC payments incredibly fast and efficient.
On both smartwatches and phones, NFC works completely independent of phone data, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth.
However, keep in mind that your device needs to have the necessary hardware (NFC chip) for this feature to work.
Does NFC drain the battery?
Yes, NFC chips do drain the battery life as no matter how negligible, there is still some power being used to pump radio signals.
The battery consumption is significantly lower than the Bluetooth chip. The usual consumption is between 3 and 5 mA.
Does NFC work in Airplane mode?
No NFC doesn’t work in Airplane mode.
As soon as you turn on Airplane Mode, your watch or smartphone disables all radios signal such as cellular, WiFi, NFC, and Bluetooth.
Is NFC always on (Always Active)?
It depends on the device.
If you own IOS devices, yes, the NFC chip is always on. However, it is designed to be triggered only in specific situations.
For instance, when the device is held near a mobile payment terminal or a pre-programmed NFC tag.
You can turn it off on Android devices.
What is the range of NFC?
As the name Near Field Communication suggests, NFC is a short-range technology that typically requires a distance of 10 cm (about 4 inches) or less to initiate a connection.
For NFC payments the range is further reduced to 4-5 cm (approximately 1.5-2 inches).
Is NFC Safe?
Even though the NFC tech works within a close range and uses data encryption, it isn’t completely foolproof. The tech prioritizes convenience over security as it works without a password or login credentials.
This ease of connection allows crafty hackers to establish an NFC connection with your device and thus trick your device into sharing info.
However, such hacking maneuvers demand advanced skills and are therefore rare.
Can I use an NFC watch with Non-NFC Phone?
Yes, you can use an NFC watch paired with a Non-NFC phone. The NFC payment feature on the watch has nothing to do with the connected phone.
The only time you will need a smartphone is to set up the watch and add your cards in the wallet app. Once the card information is synced to your smartwatch, you can pay with the watch without your phone nearby.
I created this blog to help people find the right smartwatch for their taste, to keep tabs on the latest news and leaks, and to share my experience with different smartwatches.