Hardware wallets are a great way to securely store your coins, and you can’t get better than the Ledger Nano S. This tiny device can easily fit in your pocket, so let’s see what all the fuss is about.
At the end of this review, we’re giving away a brand new and sealed Nano S, thanks to the kind folks from Ledger.
How Does the Ledger Nano S Work?
The concept behind the Nano S is surprisingly simple. All the private keys protecting your crypto-assets are securely held on the Nano S. The only way to gain access to the account is with these keys, and the only way to access the keys is through the Nano S. This first layer of security means that a thief needs to physically access the device.
The keys are securely protected by a secure chip and a pin, just like your credit card. This ensures that the keys are safe even if someone smashes the device and removes the circuit—they can’t reverse-engineer it.
Note: Not sure what we mean by “private keys”? Take a look at our introductory guide to blockchain technology!
This chip checks the integrity every time the Nano S turns on, so there are no worries about tampering either. The Nano S stores the private keys, but you interact with it via the free Ledger Live app, discussed in detail below. You don’t need to worry about losing this wallet, as you can easily recover your account with your backup codes, something Ledger force you to generate and check before use.
Priced at $99, but often available for far less, Ledger claim to have sold over 1.35 million units. That’s an impressive feat for any product. There’s no need to worry about fraud from Ledger either. Your private keys are generated through your 24-word mnemonic seed, and never ever shared with anyone. This means you can’t import an existing paper wallet. This isn’t a big deal in my opinion, but your circumstances may vary.
The Nano S supports over 40 currencies, and it does this through apps. Different vendors can and do produce apps to support their currencies. This ensures that the Nano S is constantly kept up to date with new cryptocurrency projects, and ensures it can still work in the case of any hard forks.
The Ledger Nano S: Hardware
The Nano S measures a diminutive 98mm x 18mm x 9mm and weighs just 16g. It’s easily small enough to fit in your pocket. This size is even more impressive when you consider the silver “cover”. Like a USB flash drive, this wallet has a hinged silver cover, which revolves out the way to reveal the USB port, buttons, and display.
There’s not much to the hardware. A small display shows basic information and two buttons allow you to configure basic options. Most features are managed through your computer, but there’s still some initial configuration to perform.
This display is a mini OLED panel like you’d find on a high-end smartphone. It’s only a single color, but it’s more than good enough for its use case and is easily visible in all kinds of light. There are configurable options to invert the display or change the brightness.
The buttons along with the main casing are both plastic, but they work very well. Each button navigates through the menu—either up or down. Pressing both at the same time performs an action, such as entering a wallet, or changing a setting. It’s a simple concept, but one that works really well. Presumably, this also helps keep the size and cost down, as you don’t need a touchscreen to operate it.
One end sports a USB Type Micro-B port. This is how you connect the Nano S to your computer through the included cable. This USB cable also powers the wallet—there’s no battery built-in.
The Ledger Nano S: Software
While the wallet hardware handles most of the hard work, it’s mostly controlled through the Ledger Live software. This connects to the Nano S, so you’ll need to connect it for any operations.
This software allows you to:
- Send and receive assets
- Check your balance
- Create new wallets
- Install apps
During initial use, Ledger Live insists on checking that the Nano S is genuine. In theory, this is a simple process, but it did give me some hassle. No matter what steps I took to mitigate, it would not complete the process. I disabled my firewall and tried several different cables. It was only after restarting Ledger Live several times, and switching to another USB cable (for the third time), that it started working.
It appears I’m not alone in this complaint, but it has been very stable since using the working USB cable. There have been several reports online of similar issues, but if that’s the biggest problem with the Nano S, then it’s not big deal.
Each different wallet you install requires an app installation to the Nano S itself. This is a seamless process, and once installed, new wallets show up on the Nano S itself. The storage capacity is limited, but you can uninstall apps all you like without losing coins stored on the wallet itself.
The Ledger Live interface itself is clear, well designed, and nice to look at. It works very well with rarely any crashes or instability. The beautiful interface is simple to navigate, and clearly shows your balances, installed apps, and any other settings you need to access.
Should You Buy the Ledger Nano S?
The Ledger Nano S is an incredible wallet. It’s slim, light, relatively affordable, secure, and it works really well. It’s hard to think of anything not to like about it. Minor USB cable issues aside, we can see why it’s so popular.
There have been reports in the past of security flaws in the Nano S, and while they have mostly been theoretical, it still presents an area of concern. Ledger has historically been very reliable at issuing quick software updates to resolve any issues, but there’s still the potential for a bug in the code to bring your crypto to its knees. Still safer than storing on an exchange though.
If you want to store your coins and keys yourself (and you really should be doing this, as demonstrated by these horrible examples of cryptocurrency hacks), then there’s not much better than the Ledger Nano S. We recommend it!
Buy it now: Ledger Nano S
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