This article was published on March 2, 2016

Google is testing a weird new hands-free alternative to Android Pay

Napier Lopez
Story by

Napier Lopez


Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.

Paying at stores using your phone is convenient, but not that different from using a card in your wallet considering you still have to fumble to pull your device out your pocket. But what if you could pay without having to touch your phone at all?

That’s the concept behind ‘Hands Free,’ Google’s latest payments system. Though it was first announced in May of last year, it’s only today begun public testing in the South Bay area of California.

Interestingly, it’s not at all connected to Android Pay, but if it pans out, it sounds like it could be the wireless payment solution we’ve all been waiting for.

The idea is that your phone can serve as a sort of wireless ID badge. Using a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-FI and location services, a store can detect when you’re shopping inside, and confirm your identity and payment information without you having to pull out your phone or wallet.


When you arrive at a cashier, you simply say ‘I’ll Pay with Google,’ and the cashier will confirm your identity by asking for your initials and looking at your Hands Free profile picture.

That already sounds a lot more convenient than current NFC and card payments, but some stores go a bit further: an in-store camera can automatically compare you to your profile photo for identification, so you could potentially go through checkout without having to interact with anyone at all.

Security-wise, Google says Hands Free doesn’t share your full card number, and that you will receive instant notifications with each purchase, so you’ll be able to tell if there’s been any odd activity.

At first glance, it sounds like the ideal payments solution. You can pay securely without having to interact with a device (or people, in some cases), and it doesn’t require any special hardware beyond what’s already on our phones. The issue will be whether or not businesses see fit to implement the technology into their point of sales systems.

The app is currently available to Android and iOS users, and only “a small number of McDonald’s, Papa John’s and local eateries” in the South Bay area are compatible. If you’re in the Bay are and want to give it a go, Google is also offering $5 off of your first Hands Free purchase.

Testing, Testing – One, Two, Hands Free [Google Commerce Blog]

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