Ledger Unplugged First Look

I am a big fan of bitcoin hardware wallets and bought one of the new Ledger Unplugged wallets to review.

Ledger Unplugged

The Ledger Unplugged is a new bitcoin hardware wallet that sells direct for 29 € or about $31. It is an open source Java card applet running on a Fidesmo contactless card. You can use it with any NFC compatible Android phone.

Unplugged is a white plastic card the same size and thickness as a credit card. Also included in the shipping box are a nice leather sheath for the Unplugged, a security card you use when signing transactions and a recovery sheet.

The recovery sheet is used when you first set up the Unplugged. You will be given a 24 word seed to copy in case you need to restore your wallet. Here is the video explaining setup directly from the folks at Ledger:

I use Trezor and usually transfer bitcoin for daily shopping from my Trezor to the Mycelium wallet on my Nexus 6P. I also often carry the Trezor and a short cable with the phone. It is a little more to carry but works.

I hoped the Ledger Unplugged would offer an easier way to carry bitcoin securely on the go at one third the cost of the Trezor. Less to carry seemed like a good idea. There is already a thread on reddit about the Unplugged so I got one in to see for myself. Would I prefer the Unplugged to Trezor?

Using The Unplugged

After set up the Unplugged is used to sign transactions created in Mycelium or Greenbits Android wallet.

In contrast to the video I found that the Unplugged was finicky about communicating with my phone. The card had to be oriented just so to sign a transaction. Once I found the orientation that worked I was reliably able to sign transactions.

However it was not just simple tap and sign; the card would only communicate with the phone when held just right in contact with the glass for the five seconds or so it takes to sign a transaction.

I mentioned the problem to the CTO of Ledger and his reply was:

NFC reader support is quite different from phone to phone, so I’m not too surprised. We’re compiling a list, but we did not have information about the 6P yet. Sometimes it helps to move the card slightly around (or turn it a different way).

On the aluminum body Nexus 6P all sensors are located behind the Gorilla Glass 4 window at the top of the phone:

Nexux 6P NFC Sensor

As well as the NFC chip all other sensors like WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS are also behind the black glass bar (otherwise the aluminum case would interfere with reception.)

There is no problem with NFC on my 6P as Android Pay works fine. The only negative I found about the Unplugged was the need to hold it steady in contact with my phone while signing transactions.

Conclusions

Ledger Unplugged is an innovative way to hold your bitcoin in cold storage. It is easy to carry, very stealthy and wins points for coolness and low price. However, if you need a solution you can easily use in your hand while shopping Trezor gets the nod over Unplugged.

Why? The reason is the Unplugged was touchy about orientation with the sensor on my Nexus 6P. Imagine holding your phone in one hand using your fingers to press the Unplugged against the NFC sensor. Then use your free hand to read the security card and input data to Mycelium.

The Umplugged had to be held very steady in contact with the phone while signing transactions. I found the most reliable way to use the Unplugged was not in hand but on a table as shown in the video.

In comparison while the Trezor did require a short cable to connect it was easy to sign transactions in hand. If you use Unplugged on a table or other flat surface while signing there is no problem.

I think the Ledger Unplugged would be the ideal bitcoin hardware wallet to carry when traveling. Exactly the size of a credit card, it takes up little room in your wallet and would raise no red flags at airport screening as a Trezor might.

My preferred way to use the Unplugged is on a desk to top up Mycelium for the days’ shopping. At $31 I think Unplugged is a bargain and recommend you buy one to try for yourself.

  • BTChip

    > There is no problem with NFC on my 6P as Android Pay works fine. If the Unplugged is touchy to use with Google’s flagship phone I have to wonder how other phones will fare.

    Ledger CTO here.

    Unfortunately, it’s slightly more complicated than that. There’s absolutely nothing in common between the performance of card emulation mode (used by Android Pay – the phone fakes being a card), and card reading mode (used here – the phone actually reads the card).

    As I mentioned we did not have the opportunity to test on a 6P yet, but it works pretty well on older flagships (such as the Nexus 5), and pretty much all the recent Samsung range. From your results, I’d also argue that it’s still usable on a 6P.

    However we are in the process of compiling results from our users and provide a list of the best suited phones, and happily refund users that experience too many problems. I’m still pretty convinced that Unplugged along with our partner Fidesmo provides an unrivaled experience for people interested in customizable security and privacy applications. Make sure to check their website at http://www.fidesmo.com for a list of additional applications you can use on Unplugged.

    • Thanks for your comments! I like the concept of the Unplugged very much. The Fidesmo card may just not like the Nexus 6P and I hope other readers post experience with their own phones. I was certainly able to make the Unplugged work with the 6P but it was finicky about placement. Also using the card with phone in hand is more difficult than flat on a desk.

      • Mark Fiore

        works fine on my 6p

  • Ben

    Do you happen to know if it is possible to change signing to a simple tap, so that you don’t have to pull out the security card every time? That’s all I was really interested in. Tap for 2FA.

    • No sorry. If you are looking for a way to tap and pay with bitcoin Circle already lets you do that with their mobile app for Android phones. You just have to shop at a merchant who has a bitcoin NFC terminal.

      • Ben

        I think you may have misunderstood. I didn’t mean to pay a merchant. I meant if I’m sending someone bitcoin via Mycelium, is there a way to just tap my ledger to sign the transaction without having to pull out the security card as well?

        • No sorry, the security card is integral to sending bitcoin with Unplugged.

  • alam

    Some one might Earn guaranteed and risk free 3% daily from https://coince.com/?u=C0538454