Ledger Review : Is it still the best cryptocurrency hardware wallet in 2021?

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Table of Contents

Introduction

When it comes to storing your cryptocurrencies, there’s no safer way of storing them than a hardware wallet. If you don’t already know, a cryptocurrency hardware wallet is a particular type of security device that allows users to store their cryptocurrency assets. Users can make payments or transactions securely and manage cryptocurrencies without exposing any sensitive information on the internet or a potentially compromised computer. Trezor and Ledger are two of the most popular cryptocurrency wallets on the market.

Ledger, a French startup founded in 2014 that has since grown to over 300 employees worldwide with a presence in Paris, Vierzon, Zurich, Singapore, and New York, is a direct competitor to Trezor. The two companies are often compared to each other in the crypto hardware wallet market.

In our review of Trezor’s cryptocurrency hardware wallets, we did a deep dive on the Trezor One and Trezor Model T. Similarly, Ledger offers two cryptocurrency wallets on the market, the Ledger Nano S and Ledger Nano X. The Ledger Nano S is the first generation Ledger wallet, while the Nano X is the latest and more premium model.

Ledger Nano S

Price: $99 SGD (approximately $73 USD)

After the release of the Trezor One in 2014, the world’s first cryptocurrency hardware wallet, it wasn’t long before they were met with an equal if not better contender. Two years later, in 2016, the Ledger Nano S was released to much acclaim, offering a reliable alternative to cryptocurrency investors looking to store their coins safely.

The Ledger Nano S has since sold over 2 million units worldwide and remains popular today among crypto holders even with the release of the more updated Ledger Nano X. Much of its appeal can be found in its reasonable price, security features, and reliable functionality. Ledger Nano S has also been touted as a great wallet to start with for beginners who are new to cryptocurrencies.


Design and size

Were it not for the display screen, the Ledger Nano S looks just like a standard rectangular USB thumbdrive. It’s available in seven different colours: matte black, saffron yellow, flamingo pink, jade green, lagoon blue, and transparent.

There are two physical buttons on the side of the device which will help you navigate a display screen measuring 128 x 32 pixels. It’s a relatively small screen but is good enough to carry out its core function of entering your PIN and verifying crypto transactions.

The main body of the Nano S is made from plastic but encased in a protective stainless steel cover that makes it more durable. Weighing only 16.2g (0.57 oz) and with slim dimensions of just 56.95mm x 17.4mm x 9.1mm (2.24in x 0.69in x 0.36in), the Ledger Nano S is very portable but can also be easily misplaced given its compact size.


Supported Operating Systems (OS)

The Ledger Nano S is compatible with computers and smartphones. It currently supports 64-bits computers (excluding ARM processors) that run on Windows 8 or higher, macOS 10.10 or higher, and Linux operating systems. On mobile devices, the Nano S is compatible with smartphones that run on Android 7 or higher. It’s unfortunate, but due to hardware limitations, the Ledger Nano S will not work with iPhones and other iOS devices.


Connectivity

You’re going to need an OTG (on-the-go) kit to connect your Nano S to your desktop or smartphone. The Nano S requires a USB Type Micro-B connector. Not a very common connector port type, but nothing that a converter cable cannot fix.


Wallet apps

To fully navigate the device on your computer or smartphone, you will be required to install the native Ledger Live app, which we’ll discuss in more detail later on. In addition to Ledger Live, you can install and set up the required wallet apps needed to store your coin or token of choice. The drawback here is that the Nano S has a limited amount of internal memory that only allows up to 3 wallet apps installed at the same time, despite the large number of different cryptocurrencies supported on Ledger. You might be able to stretch it to 6 apps, depending on the size of the wallet app.

The good news is that there’s a workaround to this issue, although it can get a little annoying. You simply have to download the required app for your token, store it in the wallet, and then uninstall the app. Removing the app from the Nano S will free up the internal memory for other apps, but you will have to reinstall the app if you want to access your coins or tokens again.

Furthermore, people may not feel too comfortable about removing apps related to tokens that they are storing in the wallet. It’s certainly troublesome, and may even sound like a design flaw, but remember that the Nano S was launched at a time where most people only cared for storing very few main coins such as BTC and ETH.

These days, new cryptocurrencies and altcoins are being created at lightning speed on a near-daily basis. You can also bypass this annoying step if you only intend to store a few (around 3) distinct tokens on your wallet. The Ledger Nano X solves the limited internal memory issue, which we’ll discuss next.



Ledger Nano X

Price: $189 SGD (approximately $139 USD)

Following the success of the Ledger Nano S, Ledger followed up with its premium wallet model, the Ledger Nano X, in 2019. The Ledger Nano X is better than its predecessor in almost every way, including a more prominent display and the more powerful ST33 Secure Element chip compared to the ST31 in the Nano S.

Mobility seems to have been a key focus of the Ledger Nano X developers, as there are now additional features such as Bluetooth capabilities and a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion 100mAh battery, increasing its mobility and convenience for users to access their crypto anywhere via a mobile phone.

Design and size

At one glance, the Ledger Nano X has the same aesthetics as the Nano S, with a plastic body enclosed by a stainless steel protective. Unlike the Nano S with 7 different colours, the Ledger Nano X seems to be only available in one colour: black.

With the inclusion of a more powerful ST33 Secure Element chip, the Ledger Nano X now has wider dimensions of 72mm x 18.6mm x 11.75mm (2.83in x 0.73in x 0.46in) and weighs more than two times the weight of the Nano S at 34g (1.2 oz). 

There are still only two physical buttons on the device, but the display now has twice the number of pixels of the Ledger Nano S, measuring 128×64 compared to the 128×32 pixels on its predecessor. The larger display allows transaction details and receiving addresses to be more easily verified and increases the overall ease of use and navigation. 


Supported Operating Systems (OS)

Just like its cheaper sibling, the Ledger Nano X is compatible with computers and smartphones, but with improvements on its smartphone compatibility in particular. It currently supports 64-bits computers (excluding ARM processors) that run on Windows 8 or higher, macOS 10.10 or higher, and Linux operating systems. On the mobile phone front, the Ledger wallet has finally come to iOS devices, now compatible with iOS 9 and higher.

It’s also compatible with smartphones running on Android 7 and higher. If you are an iPhone user, the Ledger Nano X would be your natural choice over the Ledger Nano S.


Connectivity

The Ledger Nano X connects to a computer via a standard USB Type-A port and has a USB Type-C port on the device itself. A USB-C to USB-A cable is included in the box when you purchase the Nano X. Note that if your computer only has USB Type-C ports, as in the case of most Macs, you will have to get an adapter.


Bluetooth and battery

The Ledger Nano X has been designed with mobility in mind, as evident in the device being fitted with Bluetooth capabilities (version: Bluetooth Low Energy 5.0) and a lithium-ion 100mAh rechargeable battery.

The Bluetooth function represents a way for the Ledger Nano X to connect to your smartphone wirelessly. This feature makes using the Ledger Nano X anywhere you want a hassle-free process. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use Bluetooth to connect to your computer, and Ledger has mentioned that they are looking into adding this function in the future. 

There are also concerns that having Bluetooth enabled on the wallet represents a security risk, but Ledger has assured users that the Bluetooth connection is end-to-end encrypted to protect user privacy and that the private keys will never leave the secure chip. As such, the Bluetooth connection will not expose the Ledger Nano X to any additional security threats.

If you are still concerned, there’s always the option of deactivating the Bluetooth function since the Ledger Nano X can still be used with a USB cable. To deactivate Bluetooth, you simply have to hold both buttons to access Control Center, where Bluetooth can be directly disabled. Then connect the USB cable to your computer.

The Bluetooth function is accompanied by a lithium-ion 100mAh battery that can be charged whenever you connect the wallet via USB. Ledger claims that with the battery, the device will last several hours when in use and a few months when idle on a full charge. The downside here is that the battery cannot be replaced and is designed to only last 5 years.


Wallet apps

The upgraded ST33 Secure Element chip on the Ledger Nano X not only makes for a more responsive device but also brings an increase in memory space. The Ledger Nano X can store up to 100 external wallet apps (depending on app size), a significant increase from the Ledger Nano S.

Previously, the limitations on internal memory on the Ledger Nano S would have made it annoying to keep reinstalling wallet apps that you want, so this huge increase in memory is certainly a welcomed feature on the Ledger Nano X.



Key features in Ledger wallets

Supported Cryptocurrencies

At the time of this writing, both the Ledger Nano S and Ledger Nano X supports over 1,800 coins and tokens. You can store, buy and exchange them either through the Ledger Live native app or through the use of 3rd party wallet apps such as Exodus, Electrum or Wasabi, which are available for free. Popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), Cardano (ADA), Tether (USDT), Ripple (XRP), Stellar (XLM), and EOS are supported by both Ledger wallets, with more being added as you read this.

Be sure to check the full list of supported cryptocurrencies here, as you don’t want to be disappointed by getting the Ledger wallet only to find out that your favourite crypto can’t be stored on it.


Ledger Live

Ledger Live is the native app that accompanies the Ledger wallets. It enables users to buy, exchange, manage, transfer and even stake or lend cryptocurrencies through a desktop or smartphone app. This makes it a one-stop feature for everything you need to do with your crypto. It’s also where you can download and install other wallet apps. 

Ledger has teamed up with players such as Changelly to enable users to exchange one crypto for another right from the Ledger Live app. Users can also buy and sell cryptocurrencies through the app, thanks to Ledger’s partnership with Coinify. Buying or selling through Coinify is a great advantage because it allows you to bypass transaction fees, as opposed to buying them from an exchange where you would have to pay high transaction fees to then transfer the coin or token to your wallet.

In addition, DeFi features such as staking and lending is made possible on the Ledger Live courtesy of Ledger’s partnership with DeFi lending protocol Compound. Lending crypto assets accrue interest as a reward for adding liquidity to the network.

Both the desktop and mobile versions of the Ledger Live are seamless and easy to use, and hooking up the Ledger wallet to the Ledger Live app is quite a straightforward process that’s done when you’re setting up the device. All you have to do is follow the instructions on the display and key in your 24-word recovery phrase, which we’ll discuss in more detail under the security features section below.


Security features

This is the single most important factor for a crypto hardware wallet, because after all, what good is it if it’s not very secure? The good news is that both the Ledger Nano S and Ledger Nano X have very tight security on the devices.

However, it’s worth mentioning that Ledger has previously experienced security breaches regarding personal customer information. In June 2020, Ledger suffered a security breach that led to the theft of 1 million customer email addresses and other sensitive identification information. Although this incident does not point to a flaw in the security features on the Ledger wallets themselves, it’s something that’s still worth noting if you are going to be a potential Ledger customer.

As for the wallet itself, Ledger uses a custom-built Operating System called BOLOS and a CC EAL5+ certified Secure Element (SE) chip (CC is an international standard for computer security certification). The overall security of the device has also been audited and verified by the French national cybersecurity agency, ANSSI. 

Setting up the Ledger wallet as a new device will generate new private keys that are stored offline. First, you will also be asked to set up a 4-8 digit PIN code. The PIN code will be used to unlock the device and sign off on any transactions, so use an 8-digit PIN code for optimal security.

Next, a unique 24-word recovery phrase will be generated. The recovery phrase will be displayed word by word on the Ledger wallet’s screen, and you should start writing them down physically on the recovery sheet that comes with a Ledger wallet purchase.

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to safeguard the recovery phrase, also known as seed phrase, as it is the only backup to your private keys. Anyone with access to your unique recovery phrase will also be able to gain access to your crypto, so guard it well! Here are some additional tips on keeping your 24-word recovery phrase safe:

  • Never store your recovery phrase on a device that can be accessed online, such as a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
  • Write down and keep your recovery phrase in a place that is safe from all the elements, such as fire or flood, and keep it in a secure place where it’s difficult to be found by anyone other than you.
  • Do not take any pictures of your recovery phrase.

The Ledger wallets also enable you to add another layer of security by using a passphrase. The passphrase is essentially a password to your 24-word recovery phrase that provides access to a whole new set of accounts within the wallet.

It can also be thought of as the 25th word in your recovery phrase, but you can add as many passphrases as you like for each set of accounts you create.

If for some reason, your 24-word recovery phrase was compromised, it will be necessary for the person trying to gain access to your funds to also have the passphrase. Just like your recovery phrase, you must remember the passphrase because, without it, you will not be able to recover your funds should you lose or damage your wallet.

The best security tip regarding the passphrase is to not write it down at all or record it anywhere. Just memorize it, seeing that it’s only one word.



Final thoughts

While the Ledger Nano X is certainly a big step up from the Ledger Nano S, both models have their own advantages and can complement each other as they cater to different user needs. Ledger has assured that the Ledger Nano S will continue to be fully supported in the future and sold alongside the Ledger Nano X.

An example of how both models can be used together would be to use the Ledger Nano X as an on-the-go wallet given its mobility and to use the Ledger Nano S as a backup hardware wallet to be stored in a safe or vault.

Whichever model you decide to go with, identify your needs first. Rest assured that the Ledger hardware wallets are one of the safest ways of storing your crypto assets on the market today.


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