NFC Tags and Nexus 4 Woes

For those who prefer fortune cookies to novels: “If you want a happy life, only buy NFC Tag Types 1, 2, 3, or 4. MIFARE Classic NFC tags don’t talk with all devices.”

A while back, when I was first researching all about NFC and NFC tags, I was a little disappointed when I realized that typical NFC tags used a proprietary protocol called MIFARE Classic on top of the standard base NFC protocol.

"It uses an NXP proprietary security protocol...This means, only devices
with an NXP nfc controller chip can read/write these tags."


Well, it turns out we now have our first casualty of war; the Nexus 4 (and Nexus 10) do not use an NXP NFC controller chip unlike previous devices such as the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus. Instead, it uses a Broadcom NFC controller chip which doesn’t support NXP proprietary protocol. I’ve also heard that the NFC chips used in both Windows Phone 8 and Blackberry devices do not support MIFARE Classic either.

Most other NFC communication seems to be pretty standardized. Android Beam relies on pure NFC Forum protocols with an Android-specific protocol on top and still works. PayPass also works through Google Wallet as it’s based on existing, published EMV smartcard standards. I have sucessfully used both with my Nexus 4. However, if I want to use NFC Tags with my Nexus 4, I need to stick with “standard” NFC Forum type 1-4 tags which are a part of the official NFC specification.

Unfortunately, the MIFARE family of tags are much more common and might even be a little cheaper. They also tend to include more storage space; A 1K MIFARE Classic tag has 752 bytes of usable storage, whereas a typical NFC Tag Type 1-2 offers 96-144 bytes of storage. However, NFC Tags up 4096 bytes are supported by the standard NFC Forum protocol and I have seen Topaz Type 1 tags as large as 512 bytes for sale.

Searching Amazon, I can find a lot of NFC Tags, but it’s harder to reliably weed out MIFARE Classic tags from the results. I’ve read that any tags claiming to specifically be for Windows Phone 8 are safe as WP8 doesn’t support MIFARE Classic, but something in me just doesn’t like that solution. I have switched to purchasing my NFC Tags from tagstand; Any of their tags that don’t say MIFARE are standard NFC Forum tags. I’ve successfully used their tags with my Nexus 4. Andy Tags also seems to be a good place to look, but I have not yet tried them out.

Tags labeled NTAG203, Topaz, DESFire and Felica are standard NFC Forum tags and should work. Tags label MIFARE Ultralight C (the C in the name is important) also work, but be careful, MIFARE Ultralight (without the C) uses the same protocol as MIFARE Classic. Some of the well-known proprietary MIFARE Classic tags to avoid include Samsung TecTiles, Tags for Droid, and the Movaluate tag.

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