If you’re a regular visitor to these pages then you’ll know that we preach the gospel of the hardware wallet here. Quite simply, if you’re looking for the safest possible way to store your crypto and keep it out of the hands of thieves and hackers, then a hardware wallet is a must. A few months ago we did a rundown of the best hardware wallets out there and, more recently, we took an in-depth look at Ledger’s Nano X model.
Though there are differences in design, features, cost and more, all these hardware wallets work in essentially the same way. They store the private keys to your crypto and keep them safely out of the reach of everyone bar their actual owner. If you make any transactions with your funds, then these will be signed by your device before being uploaded to the network. Your hardware wallet becomes your portal into the crypto world and keeps you safe while you’re there.
They may sound like intricate pieces of kit, but in fact these wallets are beautifully simple things. You may have heard the term ‘cold storage’ used, especially in reference to how crypto exchanges store a large proportion of their assets. This is actually a fancy way of saying that these assets are kept offline, which renders them inaccessible to hackers or malware. A hardware wallet works along similar lines and provides you with your own personal cold storage vault. They never access the internet and are safe from attack even when connected to an infected computer.
Every wallet comes with a set of seed words and a pin that can be used to access the private keys that will be stored on them. As long as these remain known only to the wallet’s owner, then only they will be able to use the device.
Yes, you can keep your crypto on an exchange like Coinbase, Binance or any of the hundreds of others out there. Exchange security has come on leaps and bounds since crypto’s early days and the lessons of various hacks and breaches have – in most cases – been learnt. Yet vulnerabilities remain and hackers will always be tempted by the potential riches on offer if they are able to pick the locks.
Then there are those mobile wallet options, some of which are pretty good. The best providers have spent a lot of time and money on security and, for those with small portfolios who don’t want to fork out for a hardware device, mobile wallets are a good option. The fact remains however, that these platforms are online and hence still tempting to those with light-fingered intentions.
There is one more option for those looking to keep their private keys offline: the good old paper wallet. Simply write your private keys down and keep the bit of paper somewhere safe. You will of course have to go through the rigmarole of laboriously typing them in every time you want to transact, but last time I checked nobody had figured out how to hack a piece of paper. Just make sure you don’t lose the damn thing or accidentally throw it in the recycling.
Heck, this is the 21st Century. We have 3D printers, gene sequencing and electric cars. We’re living through the early days of blockchain and carry more computing power in our pockets than was used to first put men on the moon. We can do better than a piece of paper.
Czech Out Factor
There are two big players in the hardware wallet sphere and between them they dominate the market. Think along the same lines as Mastercard and Visa for credit cards or iOS and Android for mobile operating systems and you get the picture. They are France’s Ledger (of Nano S and Nano X fame) and their big rivals, Trezor. It’s Trezor’s two flagship products, the Trezor One and Model T that we’ll be looking at in detail here.
Trezor is a subsidiary of SatoshiLabs, a company based in Prague. SatoshiLabs itself came into being back in 2013, though its founders, Pavol Rusnak (also known as Stick), Marek Palatinus (aka Slush) and Alena Vránová had been working on solutions for safely storing private keys for some time prior to that.
Development work continued until, in 2014, the Trezor One was launched, the first cryptocurrency hardware wallet to hit the market. Its emergence can be considered as a milestone in the story of crypto’s development from a geeks-only niche to the global phenomenon it is today. The fightback against the hackers had taken a major step forward.
Any product that is the first of its kind runs the risk of becoming obsolete pretty quickly. Rivals can pick it apart and find ways to improve upon it, while even its own developers will be looking to update and improve. Technology doesn’t stand still. Despite this first-mover disadvantage, the Trezor One has held its own remarkably well in the six years since it appeared on the scene.
Perhaps the most important consideration for many is just what coins their wallet supports. With many crypto fans out there holding diverse portfolios, they will want to be sure that the wallet they’ve chosen can store the range of coins they hold.
The Trezor One supports most major coins and a whole stack of altcoins besides. The full list can be seen here, though it’s worth flagging up a couple of omissions. Holders of XRP will be disappointed (though they’re probably already pretty disillusioned) to learn that the Trezor One doesn’t support the token, while EOS, Cardano and Tezos are also not on the list. Given the prominence of these tokens and the fact that they have a combined market cap north of $13 billion, it’s strange to see them unsupported.
The Trezor One is also rather minimalist in terms of functionality, with a small 128×64 pixel OLED display, an ARM Cortex-M3 processor inside and two front-mounted buttons for navigation. It weighs in at a mere 12 grams, so can be kept discreetly on a keychain.
Crucially for many, the Trezor One is among the cheapest hardware wallets on the market, costing a mere $55 (around €60). That’s a small price to pay for keeping your precious portfolio safe.
Trezor Model T
The team at Trezor didn’t rest on their laurels following the release of the Trezor One. With rival Ledger’s Nano S device hitting the market around the same time, the race was on to develop and build the next generation of hardware wallet.
Trezor unveiled the Model T in February 2018 and it was clear right away that they had upped the ante with their new device. The most obvious new feature is the colour touchscreen which does away with the Trezor One’s clunky buttons.
The screen is naturally bigger and better than before, with a 240×240 pixel display to make navigating the device as easy as possible. It also packs the next generation ARM Cortex-M4 processor, as well as a micro USB-C port and SD card slot. At 22 grams it’s heavier than the Trezor One, but still nice and light.
The list of supported coins has also improved, so that those holding XRP, EOS, ADA and XTZ can breathe a sigh of relief, as the keys to all of these can now be stored on the Model T.
These updated features obviously mean the Model T comes with a heftier price tag and it’s quite a hike from the $55 you’ll expect to pay for a Trezor One. The Model T is yours for $169.99 (€180), which means you’ll be paying over three times as much for that touchscreen, beefier processor and improved coin support.
Before we reach our verdict on the two Trezor offerings, a quick word about how they both interact with you and your browser, as well as a few features that are common to both devices. It’s also worth mentioning at this stage that both wallets are open-source, so anyone interested in delving a little deeper into the technical nuts and bolts is able to do so.
The software underpinning both the Trezor One and the Model T is called Trezor Bridge and it is this piece of kit that – appropriately enough – works as a bridge between whichever device you’re using and the internet. This is necessary because, as mentioned earlier, the hardware wallet itself remains unconnected to the internet to keep the information it stores safe. However, you’ll still want to manage your coins in Trezor’s online wallet, which is where the Bridge comes in.
The program is designed to run in the background and so, once it is installed, you shouldn’t have to do much with it. The Bridge was updated in 2018 as a replacement for the much-loved Google Chrome extension, which Google had decided to phase out, forcing Trezor to come up with a replacement solution.
Features in Common
Both Trezor models allow you to do more than simply store your private keys and send or receive crypto. There’s the Sign & Verify feature which allows you to send and receive encrypted messages, while Password Manager lets you store all your login details as securely as you store those coins.
Similarly, if you’re wanting to log in securely to various sites or platforms then both the Trezor One and Model T are able to act as universal 2nd factor (U2F) authentication tokens, working in a similar way to Google’s Authenticator tool.
Both wallets can also make use of the Exchange and Buy feature, which allows users to – yes, you guessed it – exchange or buy a range of cryptos through Trezor’s online platform.
These added services are a nice little bonus for Trezor users and could be the next front in the battle for crypto hardware wallet supremacy. After all, if future hardware wallets are to stand out, they will need to offer much more than simply holding and storing private keys. The more that users are able to do with a device, the more popular said device is likely to be.
The verdict: Which is Right For You?
Trezor deserves its reputation as one of the big players in the hardware wallet arena. Both its models do exactly what they claim: they keep your sats safe and give you peace of mind. Then there are those other features just mentioned, such as the Password Manager, U2F and Exchange and Buy, which let you do more with your wallet than just hodl coins.
If the Model T has a downside, it’s that hefty price tag, which makes it by some distance the most expensive hardware wallet out there. It’s a heck of a lot more than the older Trezor One and Ledger Nano S, while its competitor model, the Ledger Nano X, will only set you back $138 (€119).
So, if you’ve decided that Trezor is your brand, you’ll need to ask yourself whether the fancy touchscreen and extra coin support is worth paying a lot more for. Of course, any money spent (within reason) on keeping your holdings safe is a sensible investment. If you’re a fan of XRP, ADA, EOS or XTZ then it’s going to have to be the Model T if you want to keep those parts of your portfolio in the same place as the rest of it.
However, if these coins are not on your list and are unlikely to make it onto there in the future, then perhaps you’re better off buying a Trezor One and pumping the money saved into your portfolio.
Some Words of Warning
Whichever brand and model of hardware wallet you decide to buy, be warned that buying it from a third party site (even a well-established one like eBay or Amazon) can compromise its security.
There have been a number of incidents recorded where hardware wallets have been sold on such sites by thieves who have already opened up the box and extracted the seed words. Then, when the buyer has activated the wallet and loaded it up with coins, the unscrupulous sellers have been able to clean it out using those seed words.
The best way to avoid falling victim to this dirtiest of tricks is to make sure that you buy your hardware wallet directly from the manufacturer’s website. When it arrives, the box and its contents should be secured with a hologram sticker. If this is loose, shows signs of tampering, or doesn’t have an official seller’s logo on it, then do not use the wallet.
Finally, keep your wallet itself as safe and secure as possible. Even if it is kept out of the reach of hackers, there are plenty of people out there capable of using much more low-tech methods to rip you off. So, if you’re out and about and somebody threatens to bash you over the head with a heavy object if you don’t hand over your wallet and seed words (a $5 wrench attack), all the cold storage protocols in the world aren’t going to be of much use to you.
Plenty of folks attach a great deal of importance to being able to access, manage and trade their crypto on the go. If that’s how they make their living then perhaps they do need to have their hardware device with them at all times. So long as they keep it separate from the piece of paper with their seed words on it, then even if it does get lost, the keys stored on it will still be safe.
Most of us shouldn’t need to carry our hardware wallets with us wherever we go. Keep yours safely at home, commit those seed words to memory and keep any written copies of them locked away elsewhere. That way, you should be able to sleep soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that only you have access to your crypto.
Featured Image via Shutterstock & Trezor