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.