Cryptocurrencies have grown in popularity as one of the best investment methods due to their decentralization, great returns, and accessibility. All these benefits of crypto come with certain “drawbacks” which most investors are aware of and actually embrace.
Putting full responsibility on the users’ hands, high volatility, and a complex ecosystem are some of those elements. While some see them as negatives, they are also a positive force that has allowed crypto to grow.
The skills that will differentiate beginners from veterans in the crypto world are usually involved in how they deal with what others consider risks. Veterans will have complex strategies to hedge against losses, do their research when using new protocols, and understand the technical aspects of crypto and blockchain.
While these skills take time and learning, there is an aspect of crypto investing that can be easily improved even by beginners: security.
The decentralization of crypto and blockchain means that more often than not, your crypto is not being held by someone on your behalf (e.g. how banks hold your fiat)…. And even when it is, they are most likely not liable if something goes wrong.
For this reason, one of the first tips every crypto investor receives when joining the crypto community is to use a safe wallet. In this guide, we will take a look at some options you can choose from to ensure you find the best crypto hardware wallet for your needs.
What and Why Are Crypto Wallets Important?
We have talked about crypto wallets in other guides. In fact, we have a whole section dedicated to the topic. This is because buying crypto does not exactly mean that you own it. The coin is held in the blockchain and you own the private keys that claim it as yours.
This means that anyone with access to the keys will be able to operate with the crypto, essentially owning it. This makes choosing a crypto wallet an essential part of crypto investing.
What many new investors are not aware of is that if you hold your coins in an exchange, the private keys are held by that exchange and not by you.
Does that mean that these exchanges are at the risk of losing all their user’s stuff in one great hack? Well… Yes. There is also the possibility that a disgruntled or unethical employee chooses to steal the funds, or something goes wrong and the platform just loses it.
While most exchanges hold the majority of their assets offline, this doesn’t mean there is not an inherent risk when keeping your crypto in a centralized exchange.. How can you safeguard yourself from such incidents? The answer is by holding your own private keys. The technology that holds your funds is called a wallet and there are multiple different types out there.
For one we have software wallets aka ‘hot wallets’. These are essentially software or applications that will store your private keys for you on your phone or computer. With such a wallet, you do get more control over your crypto.
You can hold your own private keys, and therefore your coins, while still being able to make use of your digital currency to pay for goods and services. Wallets like Exodus and Trust Wallet are an example of such wallets.
While hot wallets are convenient, they do still have an important downside. As they are connected to the internet, they can be theoretically attacked by hackers.
Stealing information from devices such as computers and mobile phones is still relatively easy for any persistent and intelligent hacker. This is why offline options are becoming ever more popular. If your assets do not have access to the internet, these simply cannot be stolen in the same way.
One such offline option are hardware wallets, also known as cold wallets. These are physical drives and devices that will store your private keys off the internet and keep them outside of the reach of any hackers.
Even if they are physically stolen, they will keep your crypto protected as you will need to secure them with a PIN number. This means that others still won’t be able to see your private keys should they even physically hold the wallet in their hands.
However, this additional layer of security means that it’s more cumbersome to move crypto in your cold wallets. Your funds are still accessible to you but it’s not necessarily as easy as pushing a button on an exchange. This means that hardware wallets are generally used more as long-term storage than active use.
In this guide, we’re going to be looking at what you should be looking for in a hardware wallet. We’ll also be looking at great options in hardware wallets to see what each one brings to the table. Finally, we’ll be looking at how you can choose the best crypto hardware wallet for your specific needs.
Key Features To Look For In a Hardware Wallet
Not all wallets are built the same. Let’s take a look at the key features that you should be looking for when choosing a Cold Wallet. What you choose in Hardware wallets can generally vary depending on your needs. There are a few factors to keep an eye on:
The first aspect you will need to consider is the actual security of your wallet. As we mentioned, one of the most alluring benefits of a hardware wallet is the fact that it’s entirely disconnected from the internet. While this by itself already results in an extra layer of protection, there is much more to hardware wallets in terms of security.
When using a hardware wallet you will be able to set a PIN code to protect anyone from accessing your crypto with the device. On top of that, you are generally prompted to set up a Seed Phrase that allows you to recover the wallet should you lose access to it.
Although these are features that have now become standard for most, some wallets provide additional features depending on what you’re looking for. This can vary from dummy accounts to actual kill switches. This means that you can find a wallet that will keep your crypto safe even in the most extreme cases.
Although all the wallets we’re showing are perfectly safe, some do shine for their emphasis on security.
Depending on how much crypto you have and the variety of your portfolio, you may be looking at different price points. As with any product, prices can vary depending on what is offered with the wallet.
More expensive wallets will usually have more bells and whistles. If you’re only holding a few select currencies, you may not need to be paying for the most expensive wallet. In such cases, the lower end of the spectrum may be all you need.
One thing that you do need to keep an eye on is whether or not the wallet you are eyeing supports the variety of coins that you hold. You don’t want to be limiting your holding habits because of the wallet you have.
Different wallets have different coins supported. While you’re sure to have the biggest cryptocurrencies covered in any wallet you choose, if you invest in lesser-known coins this might limit the wallets that you can have.
This is a real point that you should keep an eye on before you buy. You want a wallet that adapts to you and instead of having to change your habits because of your wallet.
Ease of Use
With an increased price, you usually get more features which can range from increased storage capacity, Bluetooth connection, or a live app. Being able to seamlessly make use of your wallet without having to jump through hoops is a definite benefit.
While these amenities are not necessarily the most important aspects, they are still worth considering.
Now let’s take a look at our selection of hardware wallets out there and let’s check out the different benefits and drawbacks that they provide.
1. Ledger Nano X
Looking at one of the best-known names in the Cold Wallet business we have Ledger. The Ledger Nano X is the flagship wallet of the France-based company.
This wallet is the big brother of the Nano S, which is reflected in all of its specifications. Ledger Wallets use applications to manage your cryptocurrencies. The Nano X excels in that aspect with its massive capacity of over 100 different apps, which means that you can cover most of your different blockchain networks all in the same wallet.
You can also be sure that most of the coins you are holding are covered with their massive coverage. The Nano X provides support for over 1,800 different cryptocurrencies.
When looking at the form factor, it is a portable device being only 72mm × 18.6mm × 11.75mm with a weight of 34g. This means that it can easily fit in a pocket or backpack without you having to worry about it.
Looking at the price, you should be expecting to pay $119 for the Nano X at the time of writing. Although this is more expensive than its counterpart the Nano S, the added cost comes with added benefits. The price still makes it highly accessible to most crypto investors looking for great security and convenience.
Connecting the Ledger can be done easily through USB-C and Bluetooth. You can use the Wallet with your computer and through their Ledger Live Mobile app. This mobile app lets you use the wallet on the go. Both Android and iOS are supported operating systems, which should keep most smartphone users happy.
If you’re thinking that the Bluetooth option makes the Ledger Nano X less secure, you can rest assured. Bluetooth connection is only used as a transport layer for public information. The secret keys are never exposed through Bluetooth.
The device is however limited by an 8-hour battery life, which means that you may need to charge it every once in a while.
Moving to security, these devices are at the top end. Ledger wallets store the private keys for your crypto addresses in a second tamper-resistant chip known as a ‘Secure Element Chip’ (CC EAL5+). On top of that, they provide PIN Code support and a 24-word recovery phrase. This recovery phrase lets you restore your wallet to a new device should the old one become destroyed or lost.
The hardware runs on their proprietary operating system, BOLOS, which keeps all the crypto applications isolated from each other.
Through this system, they communicate only through the OS with no exceptions possible for malicious users or developers. Not only that, but BOLOS also keeps the 24-word recovery phrase isolated. This means that you can have a variety of different applications developed by different parties loaded while not having to worry about any potential breaches.
One downside is that the operating system that the device runs on is closed source. This means that the software is not visible to outsiders and thus potential vulnerabilities cannot be reported by outside parties. That being said, All Ledger devices go through an audit from the French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems or ANSII and are certified by this agency.
All in all, the Ledger Nano X is one of the top wallets out there. It is easily a contender should you be considering a new wallet. If you’re looking to buy the Ledger Nano X, you can find it here: https://shop.ledger.com/pages/ledger-nano-x. However, we recommend you keep reading before committing to your first contender for the best crypto hardware wallet.
2. Trezor Model T
In the same price range as the Ledger Nano X, we can find their direct competitor: The Trezor Model T by SatoshiLabs. The Model T is the flagship model of the Prague-based company. As such it provides the services that you are expecting from a crypto wallet leading the market.
Buying a Trezor Model T will set you back $165. While this can be steep and is around $100 higher than their base Trezor Model One, the Model T does make up for it in features.
The flagship wallet provides coverage of over 1,000 different assets. The list of currencies supported covers all the big names and also the smaller coins out there. That means that you can rest assured that most of your currencies can be held by the device. You can find a full description of the currencies here.
In addition, the higher price point does come with an added full LED touchscreen that lets you easily interact with its user interface. It comes with its dedicated online application, the Trezor Wallet, and SatoshiLabs have added the Trezor Suite to the repertoire.
The Trezor Suite is a desktop application and browser app that provides its users with a dedicated location to gain access to their portfolio, as well as a crypto exchange. The Suite gives you a place to update your Trezor’s firmware, recover your keys, and change the PIN code.
One aspect that the Trezor Model T does lack compared to the Ledger Nano X is any sort of Bluetooth capability. Users are required to make use of the Trezor Bridge through USB to be able to have the Model T communicate with the supported browsers.
Regarding the dimensions, the Trezor Model T is approx. 64 mm x 39 mm x 10 mm in size and weighs 22 g. The casing is made of reinforced plastic providing it with great durability.
In terms of security, Trezor is on the leading edge. They store the private keys on a single-chip base that never leaves the device. This is also backed up by a PIN code and a backup passphrase.
Concerning backup. The Trezor Model T supports the Shamir Backup. This lets users split their backup seed into multiple different shares, letting users set how many of these different shares of the amount generated are needed to recover your wallet.
This way, if some shares are lost or stolen, you can still recover your wallet with the remaining shares. The Shamir backup gives users much more control over how they administer their recovery shares.
The software for the wallet is entirely open source. That means that anyone can access it and review it, allowing anyone to report possible security breaches. This is a definite one-up from other companies such as Ledger, with closed-source operating systems.
All in all, the Trezor is a great hardware wallet. It provides a great design and is produced by a company that is well regarded in the crypto world. If you go for their wallet, you can rest assured that your assets are well stored. You can find a purchase link for the wallet here: https://shop.trezor.io/product/trezor-model-t.
3. ShapeShift KeepKey
Third, on our list, we have KeepKey, a wallet from the Swiss crypto exchange ShapeShift. The KeepKey company was originally founded by the US-based Darin Stachfield in 2015 but this was later acquired by the SwissShapeShift in 2017.
KeepKey stands out for its sleek and simple design. In terms of dimensions, it is 38.0 mm x 93.5 mm x 12.2 mm, making it easily fit in a backpack. That being said, it is on the heavier end weighing 53.3g.
It holds a large screen that covers the whole side of the device. An advantage is that it lets you see the entire crypto address you’re sending to without having to scroll. One downside of the large screen is that over time and use, it will end up with scratches that will take away from its appeal and show its age. While the front is a large screen, the backplate is made of aluminum, giving it an attractive look.
In terms of security, the KeepKey provides the standard security features that one can expect from hardware wallets nowadays. One such feature is the up to 9-digit PIN protection that one must input before being able to access the device.
In the case of KeepKey, an incorrect input will eventually result in lockout timers that will extend as more attempts are failed. This feature ensures that the device cannot be brute-forced.
In addition, it comes with the now-standard Recovery Seed Phrase. Once set up, should you ever lose access or your KeepKey be destroyed you can easily recover your wallet.
A large limitation of KeepKey are the coins available on its platform compared to its competitors. With only having 40+ coins available, this does fall short of what other wallets can provide. That being said, it does provide total integration with the ShapeShift exchange, making trading relatively easy.
Previously users would be connecting their devices through their KeepKey Chrome extension. The old KeepKey Chrome app has since been retired, and there have been scam versions out there. Currently, ShapeShift recommends using KeepKey only with the ShapeShift web platform.
One benefit is the price tag. KeepKey does fall in the accessible range of only $49. This is in stark contrast with its original price tag of $239 when it first retailed. Should you be interested in getting a KeepKey, you can buy it here: https://shapeshift.com/keepkey.
4. Coinkite ColdCard Mk3
If you are interested in only holding Bitcoin and are adamant about having the best security, the Coinkite ColdCard Mk3 could be what you’re looking for. Where other Hardware wallets provide support for a plethora of different crypto assets, Coinkite ColdCard provides support for only one: Bitcoin.
The ColdCard is the brainchild of Coinkite, a Canadian company founded in 2012. The primary selling point of the wallet is security.
The company places heavy emphasis on the device being entirely ‘Air Gapped’. What they mean by that is that the device never actually needs to have access to the internet. In addition, it doesn’t even have to connect to a computer.
They achieve this by the device being able to confirm transactions through a microSD. Should you think that this is a bit overkill, you can still connect it to your computer using a USB. What you will be missing is wireless connectivity.
The ColdCard wallet also provides a huge range of other different security features. For one, the wallet uses a randomly generated 24-word recovery phrase that never leaves the chip. In addition, If you don’t trust their random number generator, you can generate the seed phrase using dice rolls. You can also find a plethora of other security features. Among these you can find:
- The Secure Element: The ColdCard uses Microchip’s ATECC 608A to store critical information, such as the 24-word seed phrase for your BIP32/BIP39 wallet. These are not held on the main microprocessor. The secure element ensures that anyone trying to access must know the PIN to access. You have a maximum of 13 failed tries before the secure element bricks itself.
- The Duress Pin: This allows a ColdCard user to enter a different access PIN that opens a dummy wallet, separate from the main wallet. If anyone forces you to open the wallet you could load the duress wallet, giving no indication of that not being your main one.
- The “Brick Me” Pin: This is another PIN that can be set up. Entering the “Brick Me” Pin does what is said on the tin. It destroys the Secure element and renders the ColdCard useless.
- Anti-Phishing Words: The PIN code on Coldcard is divided into two parts. When you enter the first half of the code, you are prompted with 2 security words that are unique to your device. Only if you recognize these words should you input the other half. This protects you against a trojan-horse Coldcard that might look like yours but it cannot know those two words.
- Distraction Wallets: ColdCard supports BIP39 passphrases. This lets you create an unlimited amount of distraction wallets.
Regarding the form factor, the ColdCard is on the larger side, looking like a not-so-stylish small calculator. While you may think this is a disadvantage, the ColdCard is generally easy to work with, having a full numeric keypad. As to the price, the ColdCard costs $119, on the more expensive side of this list.
All in all, the ColdCard is highly specialized for one thing only: security. While this is a great upside, the fact that it is a Bitcoin-only wallet is a definite deal-breaker for some. It does target a security-conscious investor. Should this wallet interest you, you can find it here: https://store.coinkite.com/store/coldcard.
5. Ledger Nano S
Another of the more budget options is the little brother of the Ledger Nano X. This is the Ledger Nano S. It’s known for its sleek and simple design, ease of use, and accessibility all while keeping a reasonable price tag.
The Ledger Nano S is the entry-level wallet provided by Ledger and they have a price point to match. At $59 at the time of writing, it provides reasonable storage without breaking the bank. We have covered this wallet in more detail in our review.
Although it is a budget-friendly wallet, the Nano S does not skimp on security. It provides the same security features that you can find across all Ledger wallets we’ve already discussed when looking at the Nano X.
Where you will find differences is in accessibility and coin availability. Where the Nano X has Bluetooth capabilities, this is lacking in the Nano S. Should you want to perform transactions, you will be required to connect your device to your phone or computer through a USB-B cable.
Another aspect that can be found to be a bit lacking compared to the Nano X is the small storage capacity. The Ledger S lets you install up to 6 apps at the same time. This can provide some limitations to users should they decide to hold a large variety of coins over multiple blockchains.
While the Nano S does not provide the staggering asset support like its big brother, you won’t see yourself lacking. The Ledger Nano S handles about 107 cryptocurrencies and more than 1,100 tokens. This means that you will have all your bases covered. This falls in contrast to the comparatively small variety provided by their direct competitor at that price, the previously mentioned KeepKey.
One thing that iPhone users will be disappointed by is the fact that the Nano S is only compatible with Android devices and unfortunately not iOS. That being said, users can still use it over Windows, macOS, or even Linux.
Regarding form factor, the Nano S is 56.95mm x 17.4mm x 9.1mm with a weight of only 16.2 g. This makes the device highly compact. One downside of the compact dimensions is that the screen is on the smaller side and can be difficult to read if you need glasses. The brushed stainless steel cover gives it a sleek look too if you’re looking for something shiny.
Nano S may have some inconveniences compared to its big brother the Nano X but the accessible price point and the benefits that it provides makes it stand on its own merit. It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular wallets around. Should you want to join, you can get yours here: https://shop.ledger.com/products/ledger-nano-s.
Which Is The Best Crypto Hardware Wallet For You?
Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to say which of these options is the best crypto hardware wallet. This is because what makes a wallet the “best” is entirely dependent on your use case. As with all things, some people will find some aspects more attractive to them than others. We are surely not lacking in the variety department when we’re looking at Wallet Availability.
For those variety traders, we have both the Trezor Model T and the Ledger Nano X. Both are easy to use and have you covered concerning the variety of cryptocurrencies supported. It’s easy to see why they are at the top of the Cold Storage industry
If you are the type that is a bit more paranoid about security, you may be looking at the Coldcard Mk3. This has you covered for all those security questions that you may have. With the plethora of different edge cases they cover, it’s difficult to fathom how anyone would ever be able to steal coins stored on one.
On the entry-level, we can see the KeepKey and the Ledger Nano S. Both provide a great entry point for people considering a hardware wallet and provide great useability.
What you go for does entirely depend on what you consider to be the most important. While this is an overview of what we consider great options regarding wallets, you are not limited by this list. There are many more wallets out there and you can find the one that fits your pocket or purse.