Millions more people in the UK will now be able to make everyday purchases with a tap of their smartphone following the launch of Android Pay.

If you've a newer Android phone, a Visa or Mastercard and you're with a participating bank, you can now pay for shopping and even travel around London via your phone.

Launching almost a year after rival system Apple Pay went live, Android Pay works in a similar way. You store your credit or debit card details digitally by uploading them to the Android Pay app. Basically it's a digital wallet.

Once you've done that, you can pay for shopping anywhere that accepts contactless payments simply by tapping your phone on the contactless reader. The money then leaves your account, just as it would with any other payment method.

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Who can use Android Pay?

First off, you'll need an Android phone. Android's an operating system for mobile phones (just as Windows is an operating system for computers). Android phones are made by many manufacturers, including Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Sony, Acer, Alcatel, Asus, Blackberry, Huawei, LG and ZTE.

Fifty-nine per cent of smartphones in the UK are Android. A simple way of finding if you've an Android phone is to check if it's got the Google Play Store app. If it does, you're holding an Android phone.

However, it'll need to be a fairly new phone to use Android Pay – because it requires version 4.4 or later to run. In practice that means most phones released in the last two years are compatible.

It will also need to be capable of near field communication (NFC). The vast majority of Android phones running version 4.4 will have NFC, but a notable exception is the OnePlus2.

Finally, you'll need to have an eligible Visa credit or debit card or Mastercard with a participating bank or building society. So far, the following banks have signed up to Android Pay: Bank of Scotland, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, M&S Bank, MBNA and Nationwide.

Google, which owns Android, says more banks will be added to the scheme in time. But Barclays has rejected it in favour of developing its own mobile payment app.

A list of cards that will work with Android Pay is available on this help page. Check with your bank if you're still not sure whether your Visa or Mastercard cuts the mustard.

Where can I use it?

Android Pay is available anywhere that accepts contactless payment cards (look for the contactless symbol). For example, to use it on London public transport you just tap the Oyster card reader with your phone.

Some apps such as Uber and food delivery service Deliveroo also accept Android Pay, and Google has promised to add more to the scheme in due course. Where the Android Pay option is available you'll see a button or image in-app with the Android 'little green man' logo.

How do I use it?

To make purchases of under £30 you'll be able to pay via Android Pay without even unlocking your phone – although it does have to be 'awake' (Android devices that aren't used for a period of time 'fall asleep', but remain turned on).

Anything over £30 and you'll have to unlock the phone to confirm the purchase, using a fingerprint or pin number.

If you don't already have a screen lock, you'll have to create one when you're setting up Android Pay.

When you make a purchase the money leaves your account, just as it would if you were paying by card. Payments made via Android Pay may show up on your bank statement as one of the following:

  • AdrdPy
  • Mobile Purchase
  • Mobile wallet
  • The merchant's name

How do I get it?

Android Pay comes preloaded on some phones. If it's not on yours, you can go to Google Play and install it for free.

Is it safe?

When you buy something using Android Pay, whether in-app or by physically tapping your phone, your bank details are encrypted to keep them secure.

Instead of sharing your card number with retailers, Android Pay generates digital 'tokens' to make the payment – but the money still comes out of your account, as it would with a conventional contactless or chip and pin payment.

Android doesn't store your card details on your phone, so anyone who steals or finds it won't be able to access them.

If your phone is stolen you can find or lock it, or erase its contents using the Android Device Manager to prevent anyone using Android Pay to make payments. So make sure you've got the manager enabled and set to track your location.

Just like contactless payment cards, Android Pay is vulnerable to misuse as anyone can pick up an enabled phone and make a transaction of under £30 without unlocking the phone.

Naturally you should always be wary of leaving your phone unattended – especially in public or around children.

How can I keep track of what I buy?

You can check a list of your recent Android Pay purchases by opening the Android Pay app and selecting the particular card you want to check.

However, Android states that "some card issuers might choose not to send transaction information to Android Pay, so you won't see your recent transactions listed in the app".

Check with your bank to find out whether your transactions will appear in the app. In any case, you should make a habit of checking your bank statement regularly to make sure you recognise all the payments you've made.

Unauthorised payments should be reported to your bank as soon as you spot them. If your bank account is used fraudulently, in most cases you should be able to get your money back.

Android users now able to buy everyday items with a tap of their phone
A host of banks have already signed up to Android Pay and more are expected to follow suit

What are my rights when using Android Pay?

The Financial Conduct Authority has confirmed that Android Pay purchases will be covered by the same consumer protections as purchases made with credit or debit card. These include:

  • When you buy faulty goods or don't get the service you paid for, your rights to a refund or replacement are always with the retailer. See our Consumer Rights guide for more.
  • If you pay on credit card for something that costs £100 to £30,000, the card firm is jointly liable with the retailer under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
  • A similar scheme called chargeback works on debit card transactions of any amount (except on Mastercard, where it's £10 minimum). While Section 75 is law, chargeback is a customer service promise.

If you're claiming a refund or replacement on an in-store purchase, you'll need to show your paper receipt from that retailer, just as you would usually.

Android adds that "with eligible cards from participating banks, you'll keep getting all the security, benefits and rewards with Android Pay as you do with your credit or debit card". So bank-specific schemes such as cashback should work with Android Pay.

Should I get it?

Aside from the security issues over smaller payments, another downside we can see is battery life. Many smartphones don't have a great battery life, so if you're using it we recommend you carry alternative forms of payment to avoid being stranded without any money.

One plus side is that many shops will handily let you store details of your store loyalty or giftcards in Android Pay, which saves faffing with different cards and wallets at the till.