Believe it or not, there are still many out there not spooked by recent market conditions and are doubling down on their efforts, including me. I look at these prices and think: yay, Black Friday sale! After all, the foundation for fortunes comes from bearish times, with the riches reaped during bullish periods. Having bought a bunch of tokens, the next thing to do is hunt for a good wallet to store them in, with many choosing a crypto desktop wallet.
When it comes to wallet types, there are primarily two types: cold and hot wallets. The former refers to hardware wallets that come in the form of a USB stick-type device and a desktop application as the UI for it. The latter are divided into mobile wallets, browser-extension/web wallets, and desktop wallets. In this article, we are going to focus on the last kind.
Page Contents 👉
- 1 What are Desktop Crypto Wallets?
- 2 Choosing a Desktop Wallet
- 2.1 Supported cryptos
- 2.2 Full node vs Simple Payment Verification
- 2.3 Wallet Security
- 2.4 Hardware wallet connection
- 2.5 User experience
- 2.6 Customer service
- 2.7 Extra features
- 2.8 Desktop Wallet: Risks and Concerns
- 2.9 Trezor
- 2.10 Ledger
- 2.11 Atomic Wallet
- 2.12 Electrum Bitcoin Wallet
- 2.13 Exodus
- 2.14 Guarda
- 2.15 Coinomi
- 2.16 Armory
- 3 Best Desktop Wallets: Conclusion
- 4 Desktop Wallets FAQ
What are Desktop Crypto Wallets?
The easiest way to think about desktop wallets is that they are wallet apps designed for computers. Technically- speaking, there are no mobile versions, so users can’t easily access it across multiple devices. However, some wallet developers want to offer users the option of a mobile app if they so desire. My suggestion is that if you choose the desktop version, ignore the mobile app. As inconvenient as it may seem, it’s also more secure because there’s only one way to access it. I would swap convenience for security any day when safeguarding my precious crypto assets.
Feel free to check out Guy’s video on his top 5 picks for free cryptocurrency wallets:
Choosing a Desktop Wallet
There are a few things to consider when looking to get a desktop wallet. Some of these considerations are based on your purpose for getting the wallet in the first place.
Some wallets only support one type of crypto, mainly Bitcoin or Ethereum. Other wallets support every token traded on major exchanges. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t include newer tokens that only get listed in DEXs.
Full node vs Simple Payment Verification
When I first came across Daedalus, I didn’t realise until later that it’s an example of a full node wallet. Whenever I boot it up to check on my ADA holdings, it’s downloading a copy of the Cardano blockchain onto my laptop. Unfortunately, the bigger the blockchain got, the longer it took to access the wallet on my poor laptop.
Unless you are looking to run a full blockchain node yourself, I would say that a full node wallet isn’t something suited for everyone. For example, most of us use our wallets to transfer funds or do some staking. In this case, the Simple Payment Verification type would be sufficient to suit our needs. Most wallets in the market are of this type. It verifies that a transaction is in the blockchain without downloading the entire blockchain.
It’s standard to assume that any desktop wallet worth its salt should at least have seed phrase protection. You are also given a recovery phrase to access your wallet if your computer is stolen or destroyed.
Going one step up would be 2FA. Short for Two-Factor Authentication, the two-factor part refers to “what you know and what you have”. A password is an example of the former, and an Authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy is the latter. The app generates a 6-digit code entered in the wallet’s interface as proof of having something.
Some wallets even come with the multisig option. Short for multi-signature, it’s not enough for one person to sign a transaction independently. Instead, the number of people established initially all need to sign the transaction to show complete agreeance for the transaction to go through. That way, even if one person is compromised, the funds still can’t be moved. When choosing to use a crypto wallet and self custody your assets, security is paramount! You can learn more about how to keep your crypto secure in our comprehensive article Crypto Safety 101.
Hardware wallet connection
As long as something is online, getting hacked is always possible, even if that possibility might be quite low. If the desktop wallet is connected with a hardware wallet, this greatly decreases the risk of stolen funds since it still boils down to what you have. In this case, funds transfer needs to be approved with the USB device that is the cold wallet. Hackers from afar would be unable to get their hands on this device.
Check that the funds you want to protect are in the account or wallet address connected to the hardware wallet. For example, with browser-extension wallets, the connected account is not necessarily the default account, so you will need to transfer funds to the correct account.
No matter how secure the desktop wallet is, if the UI is poorly-designed, it’s not going to have many people using it, which defeats the purpose of its existence in the first place. It needs to have a certain level of intuition that most people can grasp without resorting to watching how-to-use videos on YouTube.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, reaching out to someone who can look into your problem is a great relief. One of the most common reasons for wanting to talk to customer support is when funds don’t show up as expected, especially if you can see that it was a successful transfer on the blockchain explorer. Email support would be the bare minimum. Chat support would be better but don’t hold your hopes up for phone support. Unless there is a financial entity behind the wallet, who will pay for the staff to chat with you?
Aside from providing a safe space for you to store your funds and allowing you to send and receive funds, some wallets also have other functions like crypto-trading or staking. These wallets integrate with a trading platform so that you can trade while still retaining custody of your funds. There’s also no need to trade on a decentralised exchange which entails going to a different website. However, this is not the cheapest option. I guess that’s the price for both convenience and security.
Desktop Wallet: Risks and Concerns
Nothing is perfect and expecting anything like that is just an invitation to disappointment. Here are some of the things to watch out for when using desktop wallets:
- Keep your computer safe since any damage to it might result in a loss of cryptocurrencies. Make sure you have a physical backup copy of your recovery/seed phrase so if your computer goes bust, you will be able to restore the wallet on another device.
- Check that the wallet you are using encrypts the seed phrases for your wallets. Unencrypted phrases have a higher risk of getting hacked or exploited.
- When online, your IP address can be traced. If possible, pay for a reliable VPN service and make it a habit to always go on a VPN when doing anything with the wallet. Heck, do it for any crypto transactions you make if you’re at it!
- Ensure that the computer has good internet connectivity. Sometimes it’s because the network is patchy, but it could also be due to the computer having connectivity issues.
- Very important– Your wallet is only as secure as your desktop. Use a good anti-virus and avoid downloading torrents and files from shady websites. A virus or malware on your device can put your crypto funds at risk.
Now that we have covered most of the bases let’s get cracking looking at what’s available to choose from in the marketplace and cover our picks for the best desktop wallets!
Before Satoshi, there was Trezor. Or so they would like to claim. In reality, the first Trezor model was launched in August 2014., the same year Mt Gox went kaput. Having been around the block, it is one of two top hardware wallets in the industry. Sorry if I have to cheat a bit here by including it in this article, but it has a desktop interface and doesn’t come with a mobile version, so let’s just let that slide, shall we?
The wallet comes with what looks like a fancy car key as the hardware component. This is paired with the desktop app for managing the assets supported by the wallet. The interface is relatively clean and straightforward and supports pretty much any token under the sun.
Aside from retail owners, Trezor is also used by many significant enterprises and endorsed by Coindesk, Forbes etc. If these companies trust Trezor to do their job, there is no reason for you and me not to.
Setting up and using a Trezor crypto wallet is also incredibly easy. You can see for yourself just how easy it is in Guy’s Trezor Setup Video.
Trezor’s no. 1 competitor is Ledger, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual between them. The company started in 2014, the same year as Trezor and is based in Paris, France. The desktop app, known as Ledger Live, is the interface for their hardware wallet, of which there are three models. Through the app, you can stake, swap assets and even manage your NFTs directly.
Unlike Trezor, which needs to rely on a third-party intermediary like Metamask to manage NFTs, you can send, receive and see your NFTs in the Ledger Live app. However, only Ethereum and Polygon-based NFTs are supported currently.
Another function in the wallet is that you can buy bitcoin directly in Ledger Live through their partnership with Coinify and Wyre via credit/debit card. One of the things that always makes me antsy about buying bitcoin is the time it takes to transfer it from wherever to the Ledger wallet (Disclaimer: I own a Ledger wallet). So being able to go from buying to storing in a cold wallet in one shot is as safe as it goes for making a crypto purchase. However, the rates aren’t always the best as it’s pretty much a spot purchase, i.e. buying based on market rate and the fees are also something to consider.
In my early days of getting my feet wet in crypto, that was when I heard about Atomic wallet. At the time, I thought all it had was the mobile version. Only much later did I find out that they have a desktop version. Unlike other wallets that simply list Linux as one of the supporting operating systems, they listed specific Linux distro packages such as Fedora, Ubuntu and Debian. That tells you how serious they are when it comes to the business of desktop wallets.
It’s also a prime example of a wallet providing more than just the basics. Aside from supporting a variety of tokens, they allow users to buy crypto with a regular credit card with a 1% cashback. After purchasing the tokens, you can also earn some juicy staking rewards directly in the wallet. Please note that they only support 13 tokens for staking currently, so check first before you buy if this is what you’re interested in.
The most unique feature about Atomic that is not found with the other wallets (yet?) is their native token AWC. With a current price of $0.535, it is a BEP-20 token. Earn up to 20% staking the token with Atomic and get 1% cashback for exchanging tokens in the app. There’s even a hint of a referral program coming soon!
There’s not as much talk about their security features as some of the wallets do, so while I’m sure it’s as safe as they can make it to be, I’d likely only store enough crypto in it as a way of diversification, but that I won’t lose sleep over if anything were to happen.
Electrum Bitcoin Wallet
One of the most well-known bitcoin wallets, Electrum is a multi-sig wallet with cold storage capability for storing your precious bitcoin. Although it also has a mobile version, we’re just going to focus on the desktop version for our current purposes. They partner with TrustedCoin in providing the 2FA service. How the multi-sig wallet works is that it has three keys. The user owns two of the three keys, and the third key is in a remote server. A small fee is charged for every transaction using that server.
Featuring a no-frills UI and integration with Trezor and Ledger for additional security, this is a basic wallet for all things Bitcoin, including the Lightning network. When setting up the wallet, you can choose from a series of options.
One of the most popular wallets around, I know quite a number of people who swear by Exodus. It’s also a top wallet recommended by many in the know, including Investopedia, for beginner users, according to their website. The wallet comes with both a desktop and mobile option but feel free to ignore the latter if you choose the former. It’s also integrated with Trezor to provide an extra layer of security.
What struck me about the wallet is that it makes full use of the space allocated for a desktop app. Aside from showing the portfolio with key numbers, you can also see the chart for a chosen asset and other useful information. While there is quite a bit of info packed into it, the layout is still pleasing to the eye and, more importantly, not overwhelming.
Not content with being just a multi-asset wallet supporting more than 200 assets, Exodus also features an exchange within the wallet, allowing for easy swaps between assets without any additional sign-in or navigating to other pages. This is an integration with FTX, giving you access to the exchange’s features without signing up for an account with them.
Another partnership that benefits users is with Compound Finance by allowing them to earn yield from the DAI in their wallet. Sports-betting is also possible with Exodus, and not just for regular sports such as baseball, basketball etc., but also for E-sports like League of Legends. In the meantime, other apps are in development and will no doubt be unveiled when they are ready.
A key selling point of the wallet to newbies is its 24/7 human support. They also have an extensive Knowledge Base section that includes a section on blockchain education so users can learn a bit more about the assets they have. If I were a newbie, I would consider using Exodus.
Every now and then, I’d come across certain things that seemed to pop up repeatedly. The Guarda wallet is one of those. It’s a wallet under most people’s radar, yet the reviews are mostly positive, as seen on this page from TrustPilot.
The wallet is aimed at the mainstream crowd with the following features:
- Easy on-ramping into crypto with the ability to buy tokens with your credit card or SEPA bank transfer
- Staking for ten tokens together with a page on the website for you to estimate your rewards if you were to stake with them.
- Exchange tokens within the desktop app
The website also features quite a sizeable section on crypto education where one can learn about crypto basics, written in pedestrian language, i.e. language that most people understand. This messaging is consistent with their approach of being the wallet for the everyday Joe. Customers can talk to someone via Live Chat to answer any questions or concerns they may have. At the same time, email support is available during the after-hours period.
One of the things you might notice as you browse the homepage for Coinomi is its claim to being the oldest multi-asset wallet. It was established in 2014, which in most cases, being less than a decade old, doesn’t seem much, but in crypto-land, where six months is equivalent to 1.2 years in normal speed, that does seem shy of being next to the dinosaurs. It also makes it impressive and maybe suitable for the casual crypto user because it supports a wide range of fiat currencies in more than 20 languages.
With versions available for Windows, Mac and Linux, it is one of the wallets on this list that has a decent social presence, with communication channels on Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, Reddit and Instagram, pretty much covering all the major age and gender groups, with TikTok being the only channel they don’t have a presence. Additionally, they offer 24/7 live support, undoubtedly music to a beginner’s ears, as they can expect some handholding when exploring the wallet’s features. They also feature YouTube tutorials if you prefer to learn by watching than reading.
Some interesting features of the wallet include:
- Cold staking – the ability to earn rewards even when offline
- Gift cards – convert crypto into gift cards that can be used at stores via their partnership with Bidali.
- NFT support – only for ETH NFTs though and must be ERC-721 tokens.
- Custom and Dynamic Miners’ fees – users are able to set their own gas fees when transacting with the wallet.
- Built-in exchange within the wallet.
The Armory wallet is another single-asset desktop wallet for storing Bitcoin with cold storage and multi-sig support. They pioneered managing Bitcoin offline with a computer that never touches the internet. Instead, transactions are made with a “watching-only wallet”, but the private keys themselves are stored in the offline computer. This greatly reduces the attack surface for hackers.
The source code for the wallet is open-source and available for audit and views on GitHub. So in the unlikely event the entity behind it goes under, it is still possible to access your funds with a bit of know-how.
The website also has a tutorial section on using the wallet for various functions. As it was designed for developers to use, the UI is very basic. But enough to do what needs to be done. When it comes to security, though, it’s pretty top-of-the-line. Given the opportunity, I wouldn’t mind storing my bitcoin in this wallet. For a free wallet, it’s as good as it gets.
Best Desktop Wallets: Conclusion
We’ve covered some of the more well-known ones available in the market. It is by no means an extensive list but to give you an idea of what is considered standard functionality and what is a unique selling point. Most importantly, it’s about finding a wallet that fits your needs, and it’s ok if no single wallet fulfils all of them. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to diversify a bit by having two or even three wallets for your crypto. That way, if anything bad were to happen to one of them, you’d still have your assets safe in other wallets. Just don’t spread yourself too thin that you can’t manage what you own.
Desktop Wallets FAQ
Are Desktop Wallets Safe?
Cryptocurrency wallets can only be as safe as the devices they are installed on. I often compare wallet security to that of a car. Your car can have the most advanced security measures in the world, but if you park it in a bad neighbourhood overnight and leave the keys on the hood, someone will take advantage.
It is recommended to always use a good antivirus and malware protector, and avoid shady websites and downloads on any computer you use for cryptocurrency management. VPNs are a good extra layer of security as well. Many crypto users will have a dedicated laptop for crypto, different to the one they use for daily web surfing. Remember, the more your device is interacting online, the more it is open to risks. That is why many opt for hardware wallets like Ledger or Trezor, as these devices have no online access and are the most secure way to store crypto.
Some crypto users also prefer mobile wallets if they believe mobile devices are less susceptible to viruses and malware, though this increases theft risk.
Check out our article on the Most Secure Hardware Wallets and Top Picks for Mobile Wallets if you want to explore these options further.
What is the difference between an Exchange and a Wallet?
An exchange is where you can buy and store cryptocurrency, and is where many crypto users keep their funds, but this may not be the best idea and we definitely do not recommend keeping substantial amounts on any centralized platform.
Any crypto left on an exchange is not actually owned by the user, all they have is an IOU promising that they can withdraw when they choose. The 2022 bear market has shown us why this is not the safest idea as companies like Celsius, Voyager, BlockFi and FTX froze customer withdrawals, denying them access to their crypto, and countless exchange hacks have resulted in the loss of customer funds.
Crypto exchanges play a similar role to a bank and hold the funds on a customer’s behalf, both banks and crypto exchanges can restrict access to user funds at any time and block account access. Crypto wallets allow users to truly hold, own, and manage their crypto, with no central authority that can dictate access. Crypto wallets can be compared to keeping cash at home in a safe, vs an exchange which is like keeping funds at a bank.
How to Choose the Right Wallet?
This can be a difficult choice and is up to the user’s needs in balancing risks vs convenience. There are many types of wallets, hardware wallets and software wallets which can be used with PCs or mobile devices, PC-only wallets, mobile-only wallets, and paper wallets.
The most secure wallets are the least convenient and vice versa. Let’s rank the choices from most convenient to least:
Leaving funds on an exchange/exchange wallet– Most convenient, least secure. The reason this is most convenient is that the funds are already where they need to be in order to be purchased, sold, traded, or put into platform products. Funds can often be moved around an exchange fee-free as well. This is very convenient but very unsafe as funds are at risk from hackers, and third-party centralization risks of the platform denying users access to their account or funds which we have seen happen in 2022 as Celsius, Voyager, and FTX denied all users access to their funds.
Though to play devil’s advocate, exchanges can be the safer choice for users who do not trust themselves with the responsibility of self-custody. Taking true ownership of funds is a big responsibility. For users who are disorganized and irresponsible or users who simply have no options for secure storage, self-custody may not always be the best choice.
This option is most suitable for frequent day traders, scalpers, or swing traders who keep funds on the exchange for active trading.
Desktop Software Wallets– The least secure self-custodial option unless the user is well-versed in PC and internet security, or has a dedicated computer for crypto. Desktops are the most vulnerable to viruses and malware, putting the PC-based software wallet at higher risk.
This option is most suitable for those with a good understanding of cybersecurity and who know how to keep their computers least vulnerable to cybersecurity risks. Also, a good choice for those who want to keep their crypto wallets securely at home, reducing the risk of mobile phone theft.
Mobile Software Wallets– This is a good balance between security and convenience. Mobile devices are less prone to virus and malware attacks, making them more secure than desktop wallets. Mobile phone access is convenient, making this the ideal way to use crypto day to day as funds can easily be sent or received, and mobile wallets are good for point-of-sale physical purchases.
Many users will keep the majority of their crypto assets in a hardware wallet, treating it like a safe, then the mobile wallet will be loaded with funds needed for day-to-day purchases. To compare this to fiat and traditional currency, a hardware wallet should be like a safe where you keep the majority of your funds, while a mobile wallet is more like a physical wallet holding cash you need for the day or week. The same as you do not keep your life savings in the wallet in your back pocket, large amount of funds shouldn’t be kept in a mobile wallet.
This option is suitable for those who frequently send and receive crypto transactions, or spend crypto at physical locations.
Hardware Wallets- This is a highly secure way to store crypto, but less convenient as you cannot easily access your funds on the go, nor is it possible to make point of sale purchases with most hardware wallets. The reason why these are so secure is that they do not have direct access to the internet which is why hardware wallets are known as “cold storage” or “air-gapped” solutions, removing the possibility for remote hack attempts.
Remember that the #1 risk for crypto wallets is that hackers can gain remote access through online methods, so the further removed your wallet can be from the internet, the more secure.
This is the most popular, highly secure solution. This is suitable for everyone who holds crypto and is best for keeping large amounts of funds safe. Best for long-term storage.
Paper Wallets- Last time I checked, it isn’t possible to hack a piece of paper, which is why many hardcore Bitcoin cypherpunks still prefer paper wallets. While these are secure, these wallets are very inconvenient as you definitely cannot send crypto from paper or make POS purchases. The biggest risk here is that paper is fragile, so be sure to laminate the paper or metal wallets are also available.
This is the best option for highly security-minded individuals who do not want any electronic access to funds kept in long-term cold storage. This option is less popular and far less convenient than hardware wallets, paper wallets are no longer commonly used.