Card Machines vs Card Readers: Know the Difference

card machine card reader
Card machines and card readers have become integral to our daily lives. Both devices are used for processing credit and debit card payments at point-of-sale.
This article will dive into the differences between card machines and card readers and help you understand which device best suits your needs.

card machine

Card Machines

A card machine is a traditional electronic payment device connected via GPRS, WiFi or telephone line. Card machines are perfect if you are operating a face-to-face, physical business, particularly hospitality or retail.


  • Accepts various types of cards, including credit, debit, Amex, Diners Card and Business Cards
  • Can only be used either with a telephone line, internet connection (ethernet cable or WiFi-enabled) or a SIM card with 3G or 4G connection.
  • Insert chip and PIN cards into the card machine.
  • It allows customers to tap their contactless debit and credit cards on the device.
  • Businesses typically receive payout from transactions in just 1-2 working days.
  • Large touchscreen with big-size buttons to ensure transparency during transactions and ease of use when entering PIN.
  • Enables receipt printing


  • Can process payments even when there is no WiFi or GPRS (Stores data)
  • GPRS card machines constantly look for the best signal from multiple networks
  • Often has a larger display for customer transactions
  • It can be more secure due to its built-in encryption
  • Lower cost per transaction rate, thanks to the monthly lease agreement
  • A professional card terminal gives your business credibility and instils trust.


card reader

Card Readers

A card reader, also known as a mobile card reader, is a compact and portable device connected to a smartphone or tablet to process payments.


  • Lightweight, portable and compact
  • It can be used with a WiFi connection, mobile Bluetooth 3G or 4G connection, or a SIM card
  • Allows customers to tap their contactless debit and credit cards on the device
  • Connects to mobile devices via Bluetooth
  • Accepts various types of cards, including credit, debit, and business cards
  • Can’t print physical receipts – only email or SMS permitted.
  • Transaction rates are typically higher
  • Connection relies on mobile phone or tablet (Which typically runs on 1 network)


  • More affordable and accessible than card machines
  • Can process payments on the go
  • It does not require an external power source


Differences between Card Machines and Card Readers

Card readers are often marketed as a more affordable option for small businesses and entrepreneurs due to their lower upfront cost. However, as the volume of monthly transactions increases, card readers may become more expensive than card machines. Feedback from business owners and analysis from statements indicate when card turnover reaches approximately £2,000 in monthly transactions, the cost of using a card reader may exceed the overall cost of a card machine. This is because card readers usually charge a higher percentage fee per transaction than card machines. Additionally, some card readers also charge a monthly fee, which can add up over time and further increase the device’s cost.


Do your homework

When choosing between a card machine and a card reader, it is essential to consider the features and advantages of each device. For example, a card machine may be a better choice if you need a device that can process payments even without an internet connection. However, a card reader may be more suitable if you need a portable and affordable option. Ultimately, the choice will depend on the size and type of your business and your payment processing needs.

Card machines and card readers serve different purposes and offer unique advantages. When deciding which device to use, it is essential to consider the needs of your business and the types of payments you will be processing; feel free to talk to us for a no-bias, honest opinion.