This article is all about the popular cryptocurrency hardware wallet called Leder Nano S. I’ve been using it for quite a while, and I wanted to write an unbiased review which will be easy to understand and follow up for people who are just getting into the crypto world.
Since you’re looking into buying a hardware wallet, I want to congratulate you. It already shows you understood the importance of keeping your private keys, hence your Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin or any other coin – safe.
With the exponential growth of interest and value of cryptocurrencies, hardware wallets are are becoming popular due to their vast advantages over software and paper wallets. This particular article will cover Nano S model, though Ledger, the French company behind the product has several other products.
What is Ledger Nano S?
Nano S by Ledger is a hardware wallet. Like any hardware wallet, its primary purpose is to store your private key securely. The device looks similar to a USB stick, but it’s far more sophisticated than conventional media storage devices. Thanks to its cryptography functions it saves all of your ”secrets” internally, on a microchip.
That means that you can use it on an insecure or malware affected computer, the private keys never leave the device. However, device derives addresses from the master key and will allow you to transact and store your coins. The wallet has few more functions like U2F authentication which will be covered in this article.
In my opinion, the most prominent selling points of Ledger Nano S is that it has secures your cryptocurrencies and isolates your private keys, supports by far the most currencies of all wallets and has a minimalist design. Furthermore, it’s designed by a company who’s been in the business for a while now. So far there haven’t been any reports of anyone being able to extract private keys from the Ledger Nano S.
Who is behind the Nano S?
European-based start-up is behind the hardware wallet. The company is called Ledger, and it was founded in 2014 by Eric Larchevêque, a serial entrepreneur from France. Since then, the company is under exponential growth with over million devices sold in over 165 countries.
Their offices are located in Paris (FR), Verizon (FR) and San Francisco (US). The company recently got USD 75 million investment which should help scale their operation and keep up with growing demand. At the moment of writing this article, Ledger Nano S wallets are getting harder and harder to buy. They are all sold out on the official website and available for a pre-order which will ship in 2 months.
How Ledger Nano S works?
Once you plug in the device, it will randomly generate a private key for you. The private key is the master key to all of your coins and should be kept offline and securely. Nano S has a microchip which enables internal generation of the key and does not require internet access to create.
The private key is your secret. It’s kept internally and never leaves the device. The Nano S allows you to pay and receive the payments by signing transactions privately and then spitting out the written confirmation without.
If this is a bit hard to understand, here’s a simplified example. Your Nano S is your safe. Inside that safe, you have an important password (24-words key) which gives access to your bank accounts. Elf inside that safe is constantly working, never leaving it.
He signs signing transactions inside based on your private key. When signed, he spits out the signed check. What amazing about cryptocurrency, in general, is that that signature is only valid for that set of input, it’s unique for each transaction, but it stills comes from the same elf.
What makes it different to other wallets
The most significant difference is that Nano S supports a large number of cryptocurrencies. It’s also an open-source except for a security chip, which is not available to the public.
Which coins can you store on Nano S?
At the time of writing this review, here’s a list of coins (cryptocurrencies) which you can store on Ledger Nano S hardware wallet.
|Bitcoin (BTC)||Ledger Wallet|
|Bitcoin Cash (BCH)||Ledger Wallet|
|Bitcoin Gold (BTG)||Ledger Wallet|
|Ethereum (ETH)||Ledger Wallet/ Ethereum
|Ethereum Classic (ETC)||Ledger Wallet/ Ethereum
|Litecoin (LTC)||Ledger Wallet|
|Dogecoin (DOGE)||Ledger Wallet|
|Zcash (ZEC)||Ledger Wallet|
|Ripple (XRP)||Ledger Wallet|
|Dash (DASH)||Ledger Wallet|
|Stratis (STRAT)||Ledger Wallet|
|Komodo (KMD)||Ledger Wallet|
|Ark (ARK)||Ark Desktop Wallet|
|Ubiq (UBQ)||Ubiq Wallet|
|Vertcoin (VTC)||Ledger Wallet|
|Viacoin (VIA)||Ledger Wallet|
|Neo (NEO)||Neo Wallet|
|Stealthcoin (XST)||Ledger Wallet|
|Stellar (XLM)||Stellar Account Viewer|
|Hcash (HSR)||Ledger Wallet|
|Digibyte (DGB)||Ledger Wallet|
|Qtum (QTUM)||Ledger Wallet|
|PivX (PIVX)||Ledger Wallet|
Ledger Nano S arrives in a firm, cardboard box wrapped with foil. The packing looks very clean and modern. On the front of the cardboard box, there’s a photo of the product. On the back, you’ll see product information.
What you might notice is that no tamper-proof stickers are securing the package. The reason for their absence is because Ledger uses attestation to prove the authenticity and legitimacy of the firmware running on your device. Basically on the boot
Once you remove the foil, you can open the box. Inside the box, you will notice the hardware wallet right away. The foam surrounding the wallet protects it in transit. Here’s what’s inside the package.
- 1x Leder Nano S Hardware Wallet
- 2x Instructions
- 1x Recovery phrase booklet
- 1x USB cable
- 1x keyring
- 1x lash
What caught my eye is that the instruction sheets (three of them) are packed into a neat looking envelope.
Design and build quality
Ledger Nano S size is smaller than expected. It looks well-built and constructed. It has a shape of a USB stick, so it does not drag too much attention. The device itself consists out of two parts. One is the Ledger wallet made out of plastic, and another is metal cover used to protect the wallet. The cover protector is metal-made and has engraved Ledger logo on the front. The back side contains the Latin saying “vires in numeris” which means “Strenght is in numbers.” I found this unusually neat and geeky.
Ledger Nano S Setup
It’s now time to configure and get Ledger Nano S up and running. One of the instruction sheets which you receive in a box provides information about device set up and tells you to visit their website start.ledgerwallet.com.
On the start page, you are welcomed with a warning saying never to use a Ledger device that has already initialized. Furthermore, they emphasize that you must choose your PIN code and write down 24-word seed yourself.
The reason for this is because lately, we’ve seen reports in the crypto community of people buying Ledger wallet on eBay which arrived with a pre-filled recovery seed card.
I consider this a crucial step and a user-experience improvement which can in a way prevent fraudsters from stealing coins from newbies.
To begin the wallet setup, you’ll have to select the wallet model, in our case the Ledger Nano S and click on the image. Next, you are welcomed with a few options. Click on the “Configure my device.” On that page, you’ll see the image explaining essential elements of the wallet. Below it, you’ll see the step by step instructions on how to set up the hardware wallet.
Connecting Ledger wallet
What I liked about the Nano S is that it does not need internet access or a PC to create a recovery seed! Being a bit paranoid, I took the opportunity and connected the Ledger S to the power bank. You can use whichever power source you wish, but I recommend a power bank. You’re going to need internet access and a PC connection later, but for initial configuration, you can use the power bank or a charger. Alternatively, you can plug the device into a PC and turn off the internet.
Plug the USB cable into your Ledger Micro USB port and connect it to your power source.
As soon as the device is powered up, you’ll see the welcome message asking you to press both buttons at the same time. Next message on the tiny screen says: ”Press both buttons when you want to confirm an option and use left and right buttons to navigate through different menus. Press both buttons again, and you’ll be prompted to configure the device, confirm again.
Setting up the PIN
Pin setup is a straightforward process. You have to use navigation buttons to select the number from 1-9. When you see the number, press both buttons to confirm it and move on to the next. There are eight slots, but the minimum required PIN length is 4. You can change the PIN, later on, it’s not indefinite. To make sure you PIN entry is correct, the device will ask you to register your PIN twice.
Recovery seed setup
Setting up the master seed is a crucial step. Please do it slowly and carefully. The device will show you 24 randomly generated words on the screen. Those words are your private key. Anyone with the access to your 24 words seed has access to your funds. Take the recovery seed booklet which you got with Ledger S and fill in the words in the exact order you see them on the screen. Write down the words. Do not photograph them, do not type them, do not store them digitally. Please. You want to do this correctly. Old school method is the safest.
Ledger will display the word number Word #1, Word # 2, etc. Once you wrote the word down, click on the right navigational button to go to the next one. Once you reach the 24th word, you’ll have to press both buttons. Unfortunately, there’s no instruction on the device that you have to push both buttons once you wrote down 24th word. Press both buttons, and only then you’ll see “4. Confirm your recovery phrase” press both buttons again.
Recovery phrase confirmation
Instead of making you double check each word, the device will now randomly ask you to select specific word # from the seed. In my case, it asked “Select Word #2”. Navigate to right/left button until you see the word which matches the number. If you make a mistake, “Recovery words do not match” message will appear on your screen. You have to confirm two words. After you do that you’ll see “configuring” and then “Your device is now ready” messages on Nano S screen. Press both buttons to confirm and next, let’s set up the wallet.
I think that Ledger should have better instructions and warnings for recovery the seeds. It would be nice if on the device it would show an indication that you should not keep your seeds in digital format and never photograph them. On the other hand that might be a bit tough to achieve on a tiny screen.
The next step requires Ledger applications. If you set up the wallet via an external power source, like a power bank, it’s time to unplug it and install the apps.
At the time of writing this article to access your cryptocurrencies and other Nano S functions, you’d have to use Google Chrome browser, and it’s apps. There is a tendency that this will change in future since Google plans to shut down Chrome applications, but not before July 2018. Ledger is working on a solution, which you can see on their roadmap.
I am quite happy for this because I was not a huge fan of a whole user-experience that these apps provide. Regardless, let’s go through them and explain how Nano S apps work.
To install a particular coin or a feature, you’ll have to install an app. The main app is called Ledger Manager.
Think of it as Google Play store. It’s the app which helps you find, manage and install other apps. Apps, in this case, are the features and the cryptocurrency coins and tokens. All of the apps are listed in the Ledger Manager interface. You can install them and remove them very quickly, with a single button click. You need to have a device plugged into your PC and to connect to the manager.
Ledger does not have vast storage space, so you can’t have too many apps installed at the same time. In my tests, you can have around 2-3 more cryptocurrencies besides default ones at the same time. This makes a total of 5 coins or features installed on the wallet itself.
This does not mean that removing the app removes your cryptocurrency coins. By default, Nano S has Bitcoin, Ethereum and U2F apps installed. You can install a few more and use them at the same time.
For example, if you wish to add Litecoin and Dashcoin, you can install those wallets. However, if you’d like to add one more app like Dogecoin, you’ll have to remove one of the apps. It is essential to understand that eliminating these apps or wallets does not delete your balances or cryptocurrencies.
For instance, if you want to send Dogecoin to a friend, you’ll have to remove Dash wallet, install Doge and send it to a friend. Now, another friend wants to send you Dash. You’ll have to remove Dodge app, install Dash. Your Dash coins will still be there; it’s your master key which holds them, not the app. Apps, in this case, are just the user interface bridge which helps you transact.
This may sound a bit confusing, and honestly, it is. Even though the apps are very well-designed and easy to navigate, use, minimalist and straightforward, the process of having to add and remove them continually ruins the user experience quite a lot, especially if you’re a trader. I can imagine that someone frequently transacting with several coins might be frustrated with the UX, but eventually, you’ll get used to it.
To make this whole thing a bit clearer. Here’s an example. Your Nano S is a phone with limited memory. You can have only a few apps installed at the same time. When you remove one app to fix the another, the phone keeps all the info encrypted. Which means when you install the app you previously removed, all the info will be there.
In case you experience any connection issues with the Nano S not being able to connect to the Wallet or Manager up on Linux, try this tweak, it solved the problem for me. Make sure you’re using the original cable which arrived with your device and checks if the Setting > Browser Support is set to NO.
Depending on your wallet, you’d have to download Ledger Wallet App. I tried to connect my Nano S with Linux, but at first, I had an issue. The device just did not get recognized. I tested it in Chrome and Chromium and got zero luck. So after a bit of digging, this tweak solved my issue.
When you open the Bitcoin Ledger Wallet, you need to select Bitcoin on the device and click onto “use wallet to view accounts” Slightly cumbersome UX, but after a while, you get used to it.
Setting up the wallet
Let’s now setup the wallet. Once you confirmed the recovery seed, you’ll see four icons on the screen :
- Bitcoin – Bitcoin wallet setup
- Ethereum – Ethereum wallet setup
- FIDO U2F – U2F authentication
- Settings – additional settings
In this example, I will configure Bitcoin wallet. Install the Bitcoin Wallet app, Select BTC icon and click both buttons. “Use wallet to view accounts.”
I’ll update this section with more information and sshotsshoots soon.
You can configure and tweak the wallet to suit your needs, here are available settings you can change.
- Brightness – adjust how bright the screen of your device will be
- Rotate screen – rotates the screen 180 degrees upside down
- Invert colors – reverses the screen colors
Inside this option, you can configure critical security-related functions. I advise you to do a bit of reading before doing anything that’s not set up by default.
Auto-locking is similar to the screen-saving function that most of the PC’s have. If the device is idle for specified amount of time, it will go into sleep mode. That means the device will disconnect from all the apps and wallets. When in auto-lock mode, the screen of Ledger Nano S will display “Vires in numeris,” the Latin saying which means “Strenght in numbers.” There have been reports of people panicking at first when this appeared on their screen since they mixed vires with “virus,” which was a bit funny.
This feature is handy when if you’re a bit oblivious and might forget the device plugged in in the office. If you set the time interval to 3 minutes for example, after the 3 minutes of inactivity, the PIN has to be entered for the wallet to wake up. It will also disconnect from all the apps. The intervals that can be selected are 1/3/5/10 minutes. This is an optional feature and can be turned off.
If you wish to change the PIN code of your Nano S, you can do it here. You’ll be asked to first ented the new PIN twice and then to enter an old PIN. When you confirm the change, “processing” message will appear on the screen and disappear quickly. You can change the PIN unlimited amount of times.
By default, when entering the PIN code, number 5 will always appear first, and you have to use navigation button from 5 to get the PIN code number. By turning on the shuffle, each time different numbers will appear on the screen. This feature can be handy if you’re using your wallet in public areas which might be under video surveillance. Someone with enough patience might be able to figure out your PIN just by the number of times you’re clicking on the buttons. This is still quite unlikely but adds one more layer of protection. I’d recommend that you turn it ON.
24-word seed represents your private key. If you own a private key, you have access to your Bitcoin. Your key your Bitcoin. Not your key, not your Bitcoin. Let’s do it one more time, your key, your Bitcoin, not your key, not your Bitcoin. Nano S generates the random key for you, internally on a microchip. It can be done without internet access as I already explained. While 24 seed is pretty secure (provided that you store it safely), there is one more protection layer you can add. That layer is called the passphrase.
The passphrase is the 25th word. This word, in theory, should not be written down anywhere, you should memorize it. Please understand that if you forget your passphrase, there’s no way to get access to your coins. It’s an advanced setup so please make sure to do a bit of research and reading before performing it.
Think of 24-word seeds like a computer. A passphrase is a new user account. Once you enter the passphrase, you create a new user with the new account. All of the crypto wallets will be hidden behind that passphrase. There’s no right or wrong passphrase; Ledger does not store information about it, so it’ll just create a new user for that 24-word seed. That’s why it is important to memorize this word which can be up to 100 characters long with or without capital letters and numbers. It’s like a password for a new PC user. A password which unlocks the access only to that user PC.
Why is it useful?
There are two particular use-cases of a passphrase.
- If a person gained access to your 24-word seed, it can’t access the funds of the accounts you have behind a passphrase.
- To protect you from a 5$ wrench attack, where an attacker could physically hurt you unless you gave him access to your account. You can have an unlimited amount of accounts. Let’s say you setup two passphrases. First one is “main account” where you store 95% of your assets. The second one is “second account” where you hold 5% of your assets. A thief walks in and demands you to unlock your accounts; you’ll enter 24 words plus the ”second account” passphrase, and they’ll only be able to see 5% of your entire assets. Furthermore, Ledger has a fantastic feature where you can activate the passphrase account with a PIN (you can set up a reverse PIN for example).
Setting up the passphrase in Nano S hardware wallet
There are two ways to setup a passphrase in Ledger Nano S.
The advantage that wallet has is that all the typing is handled on a device and not onto a PC, so it’s immune to keyloggers. This on the other hand that with only two buttons, it will be a bit time consuming to enter a phrase.
By going to Settings>Device you’ll be able to check the firmware version of your HD wallet and also wipe the device and return it to its factory state.
For newbies seeking help, once you click on the “Assitance” Nano S will display the email for support and also the link where you can submit a ticket.
Recovering the seed
If you just want to test out if your newly created seed is working correctly, or you want to import seed from another wallet, you can do that by wiping the Ledger Nano S. Wiping the device will perform a factory reset. Your coins are safe if you have a seed written down.
Enter the wrong PIN 3 times in a row. You’ll be welcomed with the same setup similar to the initial setup of the device. Press both buttons. When asked to Configure as new device click onto left button > No. ”Restore configuration” > Yes. Choose your PIN code and confirm it. Now you’ll have to enter your recovery phrase. Confirm by pressing both buttons. Select the numbers of words to restore; this means to choose the length of your recovery seed. You can choose from 12, 18 or 24 words. You’ll be asked to enter the first letters of #1.
By navigating with left and right buttons find the first letter of your word #1 and confirm it. You’ll have to enter first few letters after which you’ll be presented with a few words you can choose from by navigating left/right select the word and confirm it. Repeat this step for all 24 words. Although a bit weird at first, once you get used to it, the process is not as slow as I expected. However, if you accidentally miss the word, you can swipe until you see the “clear word” and confirm it. Once you entered all 24 words, you’ll see the “processing” message on the screen and should see be able to access your wallets.
FIDO U2F – Second layer authentication
The support for Ledger Nano S is provided through their official website. You can find the link to their support system in the website top menu. Once you open the link, you’ll be redirected to the Zendesk support system. Very similar to Trezor they over a very well-organized knowledge base with plenty of article and FAQ. However, at the time of writing this review, contacting Ledger is a painful process. I understand that they want to reduce the number of emails they receive, but the solution to that is not to make it hard for customers to contact you.
Even though I consider myself a tech-savvy person, I had so much trouble trying to find the way to only reach out to the support. Although I am quite familiar with Zendesk ticketing system, Ledger does not provide an easy way for you to submit a ticket. They redirect you to their community forums, but I do not think that’s an appropriate way of handling the support. Purposefully or not after nearly 30 minutes of browsing through their support page, I was unable to find a way to support a ticket. Later I found this link that leads you directly to a new ticket opening, so use it if you want to contact them.
On the other hand, I have the understanding of the situation. The interest for their products and cryptocurrency in general sky-rocketed, so it caught them off-guard. From reading their community subreddit, they are seriously working on expanding their support team.
Overall, Nano S by Ledger is a very well-made, stable and reputable device made by a company residing in France. Their device proves some security features that others do not, such as direct passphrase and PIN entering on a device, completely isolating the environment. Furthermore, the device provides an extra layer of security with their plausible deniability functions protecting your assets from both online and offline attacks.
Even though I always received a reply to my tickets, they sometimes took time. I also believe that user docs should be organized better.
The most controversial thing about the device is their secure microchip. Since this is the only party of the device which is closed-source, it will always raise questions. It’s quite a political stand. Some believe the security is in open-source systems, others think otherwise. Personally, I would like if the device could be completely open-source. So far there have not been reports of anyone hacking the devices and stealing money from it.
The user experience is something Ledger should undoubtedly improve. The app adding and removal is not the best solution. Being forced to use Google Chrome will not be appealing to some people.
To conclude, I believe the Nano S to be a stable, well-made and secure product which currently supports the highest number of cryptocurrencies. It still has to improve when it comes to customer support and user-experience, but from what I read both of these issues are being targeted. Would I recommend it? Yes, I feel comfortable recommending it. Be sure to get one from the official store or a reputable, reseller.
- Supports large amount of coins
- PIN entering is done on a device
- Passphrase configured on a device
- Can be set up offline
- Minimalist design
- Neat packaging
- Partial open-source
- Secure chip is closed source (my personal political view, does not necessarily have to be a disadvantage)
- Customer support
- Clunky UX via apps