Trezor sets the bar with their Cryptocurrency hardware wallets
If you’ve kept up with our previous coverage on Cryptocurrency, you know that a hardware wallet is one of the best options for keeping your coins secure. Hardware wallets keep your private keys — the random numbers that grant access to your crypto — offline and away from hackers. They are also designed to avoid interacting with vulnerable software on your computer and, in the case of the wallets highlighted in this review, can sometimes even safely conduct transactions on malware-infected computers.
Having already reviewed a wallet running a variant of Trezor’s OS, I was curious to see if their hardware could reach the high bar set by their excellent software.
Trezor is arguably the biggest and most respected name in hardware wallets. As the creators of the original hardware wallet, they developed the basic framework that many other hardware wallets have built from. They are also widely celebrated for making their hardware and software open-source, meaning that any users can check for themselves if their wallets have any sort of vulnerabilities.
For the rest of us who aren’t coding geniuses, we can rest assured that a large community of security experts maintain a vigilant watch over Trezor’s continued security updates and new features, ensuring Trezor’s devices continue to function properly and maintain optimal security.
With Trezor, hardware simplicity is just as important as transparency; the Trezor One and Model T are both designed to be easy to use, even for someone with little experience in managing cryptocurrency. Trezor pairs their simple hardware with an equally accessible web application that takes the pain out of sending and receiving crypto.
Ease of use doesn’t just apply to operating Trezor’s hardware: it also provides security features that make it easier for users to send their crypto with minimal worry compared to less secure options like software wallets. Their wallets generate private keys that never leave the device, and therefore cannot be directly attacked by malware. Trezor wallets can safely operate even on compromised computers since the private keys are inaccessible to viruses and malware-infected software. This removes a lot of the hand-wringing over wondering whether or not every little piece of a transaction is clean and secure.
One of the major security features Trezor pioneered is its handling of PIN entry. On the Trezor One, when entering your PIN during a transaction the computer screen displays a keypad with dots where you would normally see numbers. At the same time, the wallet screen will display numbers from 1-9 in a random location. You enter your PIN by matching the numbers’ location with the corresponding location on the computer’s blank PIN entry pad.
This method prevents keylogging software — a common type of malware that records the keystrokes of users, thus stealing their passwords and other sensitive information — from recording your PIN.
They have improved this even further on the Model T by allowing you to enter your PIN directly on the wallet’s touchscreen, removing the computer from the equation entirely, securing the transaction process even further. This innovative form of PIN entry is another way Trezor gives their users more peace of mind about the safety of their crypto investments.
Trezor Wallet is the browser interface and web app for setting up and managing your Trezor devices and crypto, as well as performing device recovery. It is powered by Trezor Bridge, a piece of software that runs in the background and facilitates communication between the Trezor hardware and your web browser. Trezor Bridge is compatible with Chrome and Firefox, and is available on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
Each Trezor wallet uses a unique 12 to 24-word recovery seed for creating an offline backup of your wallet. A recovery seed is a randomly generated sequence of words used to restore your wallet and its contents in case your wallet fails, gets lost or stolen. Trezor’s wallets use a standard type of recovery seed known as a BIP39 mneomics. BIP39 is used by many other popular wallets, meaning the Trezor Bridge is capable of recovering the contents of many wallets, even if they didn’t manufacture them.
Trezor Wallet offers users a suite of nifty customization options. In addition to naming your wallet, you can choose a home screen image. The app has a number of premade images to choose from, ranging from logos of assorted currencies to memes (some of which are long past their shelf life in my opinion), and even a tragically hilarious Mt. Gox logo for the Trezor One. (See our crypto security article for context). If images of mismanaged bitcoin exchanges don’t float your boat, you can also upload your own custom image to truly make your Trezor your own.
Each Trezor wallet supports a separate piece of software known as Trezor Password Manager. The Password Manager runs on Google Chrome through a Chrome extension available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. The software links to your Google Drive or Dropbox account, which are used to store your passwords from around the web as data encrypted by your Trezor device. This makes your passwords as safe as the cryptocurrency you store in your Trezor wallet. You can even use the Password Manager to generate passwords for you, so you can take the guesswork out of coming up with a strong one on your own
In the event you want to set up your device while on the go, Trezor also offers the Trezor Manager App for Android. Although more limited in functionality than the Trezor Wallet browser interface — you cannot actually conduct transactions through the app — Trezor Manager still lets you set up, customize and recover your Trezor hardware. The Trezor One and Model T only include a micro USB to USB A and USB-C to USB-A respectively, so you will likely need to factor in the purchase of an additional cable or adaptor if you want to connect to your phone or tablet.
Even though you can’t send crypto through Trezor’s app, you can still conduct transactions through your mobile web browser using WebUSB, or through a third-party app like the popular Mycelium. As an iPhone user, I was unable to test out the Trezor wallets’ mobile functionality, but a look around the web didn’t turn up any big issues with Trezor’s app or connectivity.
I tested the Trezor One first, since I was already familiar with the general workings of the classic Trezor software and didn’t need to familiarize myself with much in the way of unique hardware intricacies. As the codifier of the hardware wallet interface, the Trezor One is easy to hook up and start using right away if you have any experience with crypto wallets, and has a minimal learning curve even if this is your first time using this kind of device.
When you first set up the Trezor One, the Trezor Wallet web app will ask you to verify that the holographic seal over the Trezor One’s packaging was still intact before you opened it. The seal is designed by Trezor to make any tampering to the packaging evident, cluing the user into the potential of their device being compromised. After this, the app will install any updates if necessary, and then ask if you want to create a new wallet or recover a wallet using its recovery seed. Since the last wallet I reviewed used a BIP39 mnemonic recovery seed supported by the Trezor, I decided to recover the funds I had left over from that device.
The recovery process is easy but a bit time-consuming. The Trezor One’s screen will ask for a specific word in the seed (i.e. What is the 14th word?), as you answer on the computer screen one at a time. After that, having entered everything correctly and successfully retrieving the contents of my old wallet, I created a name for my new wallet.
Newegg accepts Bitcoin as payment for select items, and originally it was my plan to buy a small item from there using the Trezor. But I already did that in a previous review, and I want to explore another dimension of the cryptocurrency hardware wallet.
I am fortunate to have a few friends that take a casual interest in crypto like me. While none of us have any large stake invested across a broad range of coins and token, we’re savvy enough to conduct the occasional crypto transaction. I contacted one of these friends for assistance and asked if I could send him some money, which he was surprisingly okay with.
Conducting transactions on the Trezor One is as easy as everything else on the device. The intuitive UI of Trezor Wallet displays the option for sending and receiving crypto at the top of the home screen. After opening the “Send” tab, I was given the option of entering the recipient’s address or scanning it from a QR code. I keyed in the address my friend provided, specified the amount I wanted to send — which can be done in either units of crypto or fiat currency — and clicked “Send.” (If I wanted to, I also could have sent to multiple recipients in a single transaction and added a comment for the transaction). Then, the Trezor One came back into play, as I was asked to confirm the transaction amount and destination. Acknowledging that both were accurate, I clicked the right button to select “Confirm.” A few moments later and my friend was 50 cents richer. What a lucky guy!
The temptation is always strong to go right to recommending the shiny new hardware over the old stalwart, but the Trezor One is still a great low-priced option for someone needing a secure solution for their crypto holdings. Many hardware wallets on the market are either direct clones or devices heavily inspired by the Trezor that attempt to iterate on its own features.
In my opinion, most of those wallets don’t do enough to make me recommend them over the Trezor One, and have barely moved the needle on innovating with the way we use wallets. That much-needed innovation does come in the form of the next Trezor wallet I tested, however.
Trezor shakes up the category they created with their new crypto wallet, the Trezor Model T. Rather than a radical reinvention of the way hardware wallets function, the Model T instead takes the best of the Trezor One and molds it into a new device that adds more modern quality of life features empowered by its touchscreen UI.
The Model T is on pace to offer support for far more coins than the Trezor One. Possibly the biggest addition is Ripple, which at the time of writing is jockeying for position with Ethereum for the second-most valuable cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. If you’re looking for the most potential support for new coins, I would lean towards going with the Model T. From looking at Trezor’s upcoming support plans, the Model T seems like a more future-proof option. If you want to reference the list of supported coins yourself, it can be found here.
Setting up the Model T is similar to the Trezor One, but thanks to the touchscreen on Trezor’s newer wallet, setup is even easier. PIN creation and entry is performed entirely on the touchscreen, mercifully streamlining a process that could be a bit of a headache on the Trezor One, with all the looking back and forth between your wallet and computer screen.
Recovery seed creation and the recovery process itself are similarly fully performed using the touchscreen. When creating a recovery seed, the words show up four at a time, as you swipe the touchscreen after writing down each set. You can swipe back and forth to confirm proper recording, then hold the “Hold to confirm” button on the screen.
You are then tested to ensure that you took down the words correctly, as the Model T asks you to enter in a specific word of the seed using the alphanumeric keyboard on the wallet’s touchscreen.
After setup, the Trezor Wallet app home screen offers up links of assorted exchanges for purchasing cryptocurrency. Having already transferred the contents of my old wallet on the Trezor One, I opted to transfer the remainder of the bitcoin I had stored on Coinbase, a popular online exchange.
Sending and receiving crypto on the Model T works about the same as on the Trezor One. To receive the bitcoin from Coinbase, all I needed to do was click “Receive” in the Trezor Wallet web app to get my receiving address. The Trezor’s screen then asks to confirm the address, ensuring that it matches what is on screen: if not, your computer is likely infected. After initializing the transfer on Coinbase, the payment was displayed under the transaction panel in the browser app. After it was approved by the blockchain, the transaction was marked as confirmed. Although I could have proceeded to send these coins somewhere before confirmation went through, Trezor recommends waiting for at least three confirmations before conducting any transactions. In short, conducting actual transactions on both Trezor wallets is mostly the same, it’s more just a matter of touchscreen buttons versus physical buttons.
Trezor is the original name in hardware wallets, and my time with their devices was enlightening in how it showed me how much they continue to pioneer in crypto security. Although I found the Trezor One to be easy to use and intuitive, it kind of feels like a device from the past, with it’s black and white screen and two button usage. Navigating the UI is akin to navigating an old Nokia brick cell phone.
By comparison, the Model T is a much more modern design, its touch functionality more at home in our smartphone-dominated world. It retains the user-friendly design of its predecessor, improving on the light headaches of PIN entry and wallet recovery, and further cements Trezor’s position as the premier innovators in their field.
If you want to get on board for the next-generation of hardware wallets, the Model T is without question your best option. But even though I preferred the Model T, either way you go you’re getting the most robust crypto security around.
“Note, all prices and products are accurate at the time of article publication, although some may have changed or are no longer available.”