Best Card Reader for 2023

Best Card Reader for 2023: Elevating Vending Machine Transactions

In the realm of automated vending, the transactional experience has always played a pivotal role in determining consumer satisfaction. As we journey further into the digital age, the demand for seamless, cashless transactions has skyrocketed. Modern consumers seek quick, hassle-free payments, often favoring cards over cash. This transition underscores the importance of integrating efficient and reliable card readers into vending machines.

This comprehensive guide aims to dissect the world of card readers for vending machines in 2023. We’ll delve deep into their specifications, understand their impact on sales, and gain insights from reviews and firsthand experiences. By the end, we aim to present a clear recommendation, highlighting the devices that truly stand out in this competitive landscape. Whether you’re a vending machine operator looking to upgrade or someone keen on understanding the industry’s technological advancements, this guide is tailored for you.

2. What is a Credit Card Reader?

In the age of digitalization, where cash is becoming less prevalent, credit card readers have emerged as essential tools for facilitating swift and secure transactions. Especially in the vending industry, they have transformed the way consumers interact with machines, making the buying process more convenient and efficient.

Types of Credit Card Readers:

  • Two-Piece Credit Card Readers: These are the traditional form of card readers that consist of two separate components: the modem and the actual credit card reader. Being time-tested, they’re compatible with a wide range of vending machines. One notable example in this category is the G11. The major drawback is their lack of a touchscreen interface, which might not offer the most modern user experience.
  • One-Piece Credit Card Readers: A more contemporary solution, these readers integrate both the modem and the point-of-sale (POS) system into a single unit. They often come with touchscreen capabilities, enhancing user interaction. Notable examples include the Engage, Payplus, and NAYAX VPOS Touch.
  • Internal Credit Card Readers: These are unique as the actual device is housed within the vending machine. Invisible to the end-user, transactions via such readers require an app, like the one used for PayRange. This adds an extra step for the user but offers a clutter-free external machine interface.

Understanding DEX and MDB Protocols:

In the realm of vending, two protocols play a critical role in the functioning of credit card readers: DEX and MDB.

  • MDB (Multi-Drop Bus): It’s a standard interface for vending machines, allowing various components like the control board, bill validator, coin mechanism, and card reader to communicate. When installing a card reader, the MDB connection is pivotal. The setup generally involves plugging the MDB cable from the credit card reader into the machine’s control board. From here, a ‘Y’ harness connects one end to the control board and the other to the bill validator. Subsequently, the coin acceptor is also linked in a sequence: card reader, bill validator, then coin mechanism.
  • DEX (Digital EXchange): This protocol allows vending machines to transmit sales data and operational information to a vending management system. The physical connection resembles a large headphone jack plugged into the control board. Through DEX, detailed sales metrics can be monitored. While MDB also provides transactional data, it’s termed as “live transactions” and offers limited insights. For instance, with MDB, one cannot gauge the coin tube levels, a metric readily available via DEX.

To harness the capabilities of credit card readers and these protocols, vending machines need to be contemporary enough to support both DEX and MDB connections.

General Impact of Credit Card Readers on Sales

Credit Card Readers: A Game-Changer in the Vending Industry

The inclusion of credit card readers in vending machines has undeniably reshaped the landscape of the vending industry. Traditionally, vending machines operated solely on cash, limiting the potential for higher-priced item sales and sometimes causing missed sales opportunities when potential buyers did not have exact change.

Adding a credit card reader expands the payment options, catering to a growing demographic of consumers who prefer cashless payments. This not only enhances user experience but also bolsters sales.

Increased Sales and Revenue

We reviewed two operators’ sales information as well as reviewed what the credit card reader companies say about installing credit card readers. Based on this data we note the following:

  • There is a clear upward trend in sales after the installation of credit card readers. The convenience of cashless transactions attracts more consumers, leading to increased sales.
  • The average transaction value for cashless payments is generally higher than that of cash payments. This could be attributed to consumers being more willing to make larger purchases when they aren’t restricted by the cash in their pockets.

Shift Towards Cashless Transactions

An analysis of sales data from multiple operators shows:

  • For the first operator dataset, approximately 42% of transactions were cashless, with an average transaction value of $1.69, while 58% were cash transactions with an average value of $1.67.
  • For the second operator dataset, post-COVID data indicated that around 72% of transactions were cashless, with an average transaction value of $2.30. In contrast, 28% were cash transactions with an average value of $1.65.

The trend is evident: the proportion of cashless transactions is on the rise. This aligns with the global shift towards digital payments, further emphasizing the importance of integrating credit card readers in vending machines.


Incorporating credit card readers in vending machines is not just a mere upgrade; it’s a strategic move that caters to contemporary consumer behavior. The data underscores the benefits: increased sales, higher average transaction values, and a broader customer base. For vending machine operators, credit card readers are less of an option and more of a necessity in today’s digital age.

Overview of Card Readers

The vending industry has seen rapid advancements in technology, and the inclusion of credit card readers exemplifies this progress. Today, we’ll delve deep into the specifications of some leading card readers in the market.

Parlevel Pay Plus

  • Display: A vibrant 3.5″ LCD with touch screen functionality provides a user-friendly interface.
  • Communication Protocols: Supports MDB and DEX, the industry standards for vending machine communication.
  • Communication Channels: Offers versatile connectivity options with 2G/3G/4G, Bluetooth, and Ethernet.
  • Durability: Comes with an IP54 rating for dust and water resistance and an IK08 rating for shock protection.
  • Operating Conditions: Functions efficiently in temperatures ranging from -20°C to 65°C and can handle humidity levels between 5% to 90% (non-condensing).
  • Compact Design: Dimensions: 106mm x 85mm x 62mm and weighs 335g.


  • Display: Features a 2.4″ LCD touch screen display.
  • Communication Protocols: Versatile with support for MDB, DEX, and Pulse.
  • Communication Channels: Equipped with 3G/4G, Ethernet, and NFC capabilities.
  • Durability: Boasts an IP55 rating for dust and water resistance, and is flammability certified with UL-94 V0.
  • Operating Conditions: Operates in temperatures from -20°C to +55°C, and accommodates humidity levels between 25% to 95% (non-condensing).
  • Sleek Design: Dimensions: 105mm x 84.7mm x 45.3mm.

Canteloupe ePort (G11)

  • Display: Does not have a display.
  • Communication Protocols: Adopts Serial, DEX, and MDB communication.
  • Communication Channels: Primarily uses 4G for communication.
  • Compact Design: Dimensions: 106mm x 82mm x 37mm with a two-piece configuration.

Canteloupe Engage

The specifications for the Canteloupe Engage are the same as the Parlevel Pay Plus, given that they are based on the same underlying technology.

Payrange Bluekey

The Payrange Bluekey is an internal credit card reader. Rather than a traditional card swipe or insert mechanism, it relies on a user-friendly app that customers download. This app communicates with the machine once the device is connected.

  • Communication Protocols: It primarily works on the MDB protocol and does not support DEX.
  • Unique Feature: The absence of an external interface reduces wear and tear, and potential damage from external elements.

5. Reviews & Feedback

Understanding customer reviews and feedback is pivotal when deciding on a credit card reader for vending machines. Let’s delve into the comments and observations made by users of different card readers to help you make an informed decision.

Parlevel Pay Plus

Positive Feedback:

  • User Interface: Customers frequently commend the user-friendly touch screen interface, which streamlines transactions.
  • Connectivity: The multiple communication options, especially the 2G/3G/4G and Bluetooth capabilities, are well-received, ensuring machines are always online.
  • Durability: The IP54 rating indicates a good level of dust and water resistance, which users appreciate.


  • Glitches: A few isolated incidents of touch screen glitches have been reported.
  • Setup: Some operators have indicated that the initial setup process can be a bit complex, especially for those new to the vending industry.


Positive Feedback:

  • Compactness: The sleek and compact design ensures that the machine retains a modern and uncluttered look.
  • Diverse Payment Options: The inclusion of NFC and other versatile payment methods is a definitive plus for many users.


  • Connectivity: In areas with weaker 3G/4G signals, there have been reports of connectivity issues.
  • User Interface: A handful of users have mentioned that the interface could be more intuitive or user-friendly.

Canteloupe ePort (G11)

Positive Feedback:

  • Simplicity: Users appreciate the straightforward two-piece configuration, citing fewer components that could malfunction.
  • Consistency: Many operators have praised the device’s consistent performance, with minimal downtime or issues.


  • Lack of Display: The absence of a display means operators and users rely solely on other indicators for transaction confirmation.

Canteloupe Engage

Given its similarity to the Parlevel Pay Plus, user feedback largely mirrors the points mentioned above. Its user-friendly interface and robust connectivity options are often highlighted, while some users mention the initial setup learning curve.

Payrange Bluekey

Positive Feedback:

  • Seamless Experience: As an internal card reader, users appreciate the uncluttered external look of their vending machines. The app-based interaction is seen as modern and efficient.
  • No External Wear and Tear: Since there’s no external interface, there’s minimal risk of damage from external elements.


  • App Dependency: Some users are not keen on downloading an app for transactions, preferring a more traditional approach.
  • Lack of DEX Support: For operators, the absence of DEX support can be a limitation in terms of data collection and analysis.

7. Recommendations

Choosing the right credit card reader for your vending machine operations is not just about features and specs; it’s also about real-world performance, reliability, and the backing of strong customer service. Based on our extensive research and firsthand experience with these devices, here are our top recommendations for 2023:

Parlevel Payplus:

  • Real-world Reliability: While the Payplus and the Cantaloupe Engage are based on the same hardware, our experience has shown that the Parlevel firmware is distinctly more reliable. The Payplus stands out in terms of performance, and we’ve encountered fewer issues with it.
  • Touch Screen Advantage: For scenarios where a touch screen is desired, the Payplus is our go-to recommendation. Its user interface is intuitive, and the touch functionality enhances the user experience.

Cantaloupe G11 (ePort):

  • Consistent Performer: The G11 remains a staple in our operations, especially when we’re aligned with the Cantaloupe ecosystem. Its simplicity and consistent performance make it a trusted choice.
  • No Frills, All Function: While it doesn’t boast a touch screen, its straightforward operation ensures that transactions are seamless.


  • Customer Service Concerns: While the VPOS Touch has its merits, our experience with Nayax’s customer service has been less than stellar lately. This has influenced our decision to move away from this card reader.
  • Connectivity Issues: We’ve also encountered connectivity issues with the VPOS Touch, which can hinder smooth transactions.

Payrange Bluekey:

  • Data Limitations: The Payrange offers a unique proposition with its internal setup and app-based operations. However, it doesn’t provide the comprehensive data we seek for our operations, limiting its utility.
  • Cost-effective Add-on: If cost savings on transaction fees are a priority, the Payrange serves as a viable add-on. Yet, it’s not our primary recommendation due to the data constraints.

Final Thoughts:

After evaluating all factors, our top picks for 2023 are undoubtedly the Parlevel Payplus and the Cantaloupe G11. Both devices have proven their mettle in real-world operations, offering reliability and performance that’s crucial for the vending industry. While other card readers have their unique features, our experience places these two at the forefront.

Whether you’re just starting in the vending industry or looking to upgrade your existing setup, aligning with tried-and-tested equipment can make a world of difference. And as always, regular reviews and staying updated with industry advancements ensure that your operations remain at the pinnacle of efficiency and customer satisfaction.

8. Conclusion

In today’s rapidly evolving vending industry, the choice of a credit card reader is not merely a decision—it’s a commitment to the future of one’s business. As cashless transactions become the norm and customers increasingly seek seamless, touch-and-go experiences, the right card reader can profoundly influence a vending machine’s success.

Throughout this analysis, we’ve delved deep into the intricacies of various card readers, examined their specifications, gauged customer feedback, and presented our firsthand experiences. The aim? To arm you, our reader, with the knowledge to make an informed decision. A decision that resonates not just with the current market trends, but also with the unique requirements of your vending operations.

Whether it’s the touch screen prowess of the Parlevel Payplus, the consistent reliability of the Cantaloupe G11, or the unique propositions of other card readers, understanding the strengths and limitations of each is crucial. Remember, it’s not just about the immediate transaction; it’s about the long-term relationship you’re building with your customer with every snack, drink, or product vended.

In conclusion, as you stand at the crossroads of technology and tradition, we encourage you to revisit the insights shared, weigh the pros and cons, and choose a path that promises not just immediate returns, but long-term growth and customer satisfaction. Your choice of a card reader is a reflection of your commitment to quality, innovation, and the very best in vending.

Thank you for joining us on this journey of discovery, and here’s to making choices that propel your vending business to new heights!

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