The 10 Best Smart Card Readers

Updated November 15, 2017 by Christopher Thomas

10 Best Smart Card Readers
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 47 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top options for this wiki. Smart cards are widely acknowledged as one of the most secure and reliable forms of electronic identification, and are beginning to attain widespread use in a variety of civil and military applications. But to get at their data, you'll need one of these readers. Some of our selections offer additional functionality with their ability to read multiple formats of digital memory storage. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best smart card reader on Amazon.

10. HID Omnikey

The HID Omnikey is solidly built and comes with an attachment sticker, so it is great for stationary use alongside a business computer. It's highly reliable and never struggles to read data, even with federal government security.
  • fits in a laptop case
  • top-feed slot is easy to access
  • some computers will require software
Brand HID
Model R31210049-1
Weight 4.8 ounces
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

9. SCM MicroSystems SmartFold

The SCM MicroSystems SmartFold folds down to nearly half its size when not in use. It comes in a discreet white color, and hugs the side of your laptop tightly so it's hardly noticeable, making it great for confidential work.
  • has a loop for a key ring
  • flips open with a push of a button
  • materials aren't very durable
Brand Identiv.
Model SCR3500
Weight 0.3 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. SCM Microsystems SCR3310 V2.0

The SCM Microsystems SCR3310 V2.0 is a popular way to read not only Department of Defense IDs, but also most major payment cards, thanks to its Level 1 EMV certification. Its low cost and light weight make it an effective solution for on-the-go digital authorization.
  • adheres to industry standards
  • may be difficult to set up on macs
  • some units have a short lifespan
Brand Identiv.
Model SCR3310V2
Weight 2.4 ounces
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

7. IOGear GSR202

The IOGear GSR202 is useful for a range of applications, including healthcare, transportation and secure network logins. Members of the Navy love it because it can read their protected files from the NKO on their personal computers.
  • no software downloads required
  • rubber base won't scratch your desk
  • some computers can't register it
Model GSR202
Weight 4 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

6. Gemalto IDBridge

The stylish and small Gemalto IDBridge supports national IDs from every country. It also features a professional-looking clear exterior, which offers peace of mind because you can watch it work and know it isn't damaging any cards.
  • finds required drivers automatically
  • holds ids firmly while reading
  • extra-long usb cord
Brand Gemalto
Weight 2.9 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

5. Rocketek RT-SCR1

The inexpensive Rocketek RT-SCR1 provides users with a quick way to read official identifications or credit cards using its automatically-installed software and USB interface. It accepts all types of military-issued CACs and includes lifetime technical support.
  • 90-day money back guarantee
  • use with any operating system
  • supports a wide range of id formats
Brand Rocketek
Model RT-SCR1
Weight 2.9 ounces
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

4. SCM 3340

Using the 54mm ExpressCard format, the SCM 3340 is a good option for verifying IDs when all the USB ports on a laptop are occupied. It's smaller, lighter, and operates at a higher speed than many other choices, making it an effective solution when you're on the go.
  • approved for use by the military
  • easy plug-and-play installation
  • designed for use with windows os
Brand Scm Microsystems
Model S230302
Weight 0.8 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

3. Dell SK-3205

Conveniently scan your CAC and log in to secure networks using the Dell SK-3205, a standard, 104-key USB keyboard that features a built-in reader. It plugs in via USB and includes all the drivers needed to install on most systems.
  • compatible with windows pcs
  • ergonomic palm rest
  • easy-access top-mounted slot
Brand Dell
Model SK-3205
Weight 3.1 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

2. Rocketek SCR10

The Rocketek SCR10 weighs only 0.3 oz and, since it doesn't require any cords, it fits in a pocket and is very portable. In addition to smart chips, it supports extended-capacity SD cards with the ability to read up to 2 TB of data.
  • simple driver-free installation
  • short-circuit and thermal protection
  • great value at the price
Brand Rocketek
Model RT-SCR10
Weight 1.6 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. Saicoo Common Access

The Windows- and Macintosh-compatible Saicoo Common Access comes with lifetime tech support and has received high marks from the military's official CAC guide. It's sold as either a vertical, desktop model or in a more portable, flat design.
  • low failure rate
  • very affordable cost
  • covered by 18-month warranty
Brand saicoo
Model S0201B-SSM
Weight 1.6 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

Digital Safety Of The Highest Degree

The 21st century is a decidedly digital world. Data like proprietary business plans, financial accounts, intelligence files, and troves of personal documents live on the overarching and sometimes mysterious cloud. Businesses and consumers are adopting paperless systems for the ease of record-keeping and identity confirmation. We're far past the times when one number could be used to secure the professional and financial standing of each individual, and if current events are any indication, encryption and authentification will only become more pressing concerns as technology and its pervasiveness advance.

What does this mean for people with jobs in government, finance, medical research, security, and other sensitive industries? There are millions of Americans working in these sectors, and the last thing any of them need is an imposter stealing their identity and engaging in fraud. To keep everyone honest, a good place to start is with a system actually made popular by the U.S. Department of Defense.

One thing many people don't realize is that even the system adopted as the standard for digital transmission across the internet itself was designed by the Department of Defense. The protocol used to uphold the worldwide web is sometimes referred to as the DoD model. And, let's be honest, the U.S. government has access to some of the top scientists and economically influential figures in the world; if TCP/IP is good enough for them, it stands to reason that it's good enough for the public. And maybe, just maybe, there's additional technology available from those researchers that can aid other industries in their quest for personal and data security.

That technology is real, and it is called the smart card: a widely popular method for in-person and remote access to high-security facilities and encrypted data. Every major credit card company in the world, as well as most cell phone manufacturers, use smart card technology for storing your personal information, documents, or media, meaning a piece of this important advancement may be in your pocket right now.

How Smart Are They?

To be clear, these chips can't help you with your homework or file your taxes for you. They're not quite that smart yet. But they do have incredible functionality nonetheless. For starters, it's easy to recognize a smart card. The most common one you'll see on a regular basis is the credit card itself, whether it's a Mastercard, Visa, or any other. The U.S. mandated that all payment cards contain a smart chip beginning in 2014, while the E.U. has had the system in place for longer. Cards used for personal identification and access to secure systems are sized the same as a credit card and known as a common access card, or CAC. Most will have an easily-recognizable set of metal contacts that denote it as a smart unit. These contacts serve as the conduit between the secure filesystem embedded in the card and the reader connected to your computer, security system, or payment network.

Another type does not use physical metal contacts, but rather transmits data through the air using RF technology. This makes it easy for employees to access secured facilities throughout the workday. Some cards use both physical and wireless connections. These hybrids often have separate data storage and encryption for either connection, while dual-interface models share the same internal storage and instructions no matter which connection is used. Most smart cards also include embedded instructions on how to translate their secure data for transmission over USB cable, an important feature for many users. This enables their use with personal computer systems and mobile-based point-of-sale transactions.

Smart chips are all constructed according to a pair of international standards (ISO/IEC 14443 and 7816, for those keeping score), meaning they should all be compatible with systems used in every country around the world. They're powered by the energy from the reader itself, so there's no need to worry about battery levels. Traditional chips draw power through their contacts, while RF cards draw power wirelessly when they're within a few inches of the receiver.

And How Do I Read Them?

We've established that a large number of adults will use a smart card at some time in their lives, even if it's just to buy groceries. But millions of people work directly for or contract with the government and various other highly sensitive organizations. Some of these employees will need remote access to secure computer systems. Some organizations even require individually secured logins at on-the-job computers as an added measure of security. And the Department of Defense isn't always chomping at the bit to supply every single contractor with all the peripherals they need to do their job. Luckily, there's no shortage of effective and inexpensive smart card readers available to the general public.

The vast majority of these readers will connect to your desktop or laptop's USB port. Some helpful models can connect directly to a micro-USB port, so you can accept payment cards for your small business using only your smartphone. Some specialized designs plug into a laptop's ExpressCard slot and are slimmer, faster, and lighter than those using a USB dongle. They can also come integrated directly into a quality keyboard, which is perfect for outfitting an office with multiple secured access points.

When you do decide on one of these low-cost options, double-check to make sure it will work perfectly with your smart card. A majority of identity-confirming cards are sized similar to the common credit card, so if you also want to access smaller smart cards such as your phone's SIM card, you'll need to get a reader that accepts multiple formats. And if you'll be using the reader to accept electronic payments from customers, be sure that your choice is EMV-certified, and in compliance with international standards. No matter how you use it, you can be sure this technology is among the most secure available today.

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Last updated on November 15, 2017 by Christopher Thomas

A traveling chef, musician, and student of the English language, Chris can be found promoting facts and perfect copy around the globe, from dense urban centers to remote mountaintops. In his free time he revels in dispelling pseudoscience, while at night he dreams of modern technology, world peace, and the Oxford comma.

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