Cold storage crypto wallets are becoming more and more crucial for crypto investors, representing one of the safest ways for your average hodler to store their precious coins. One of the most popular hardware wallets since its release in 2016 is the Ledger Nano S, but with competition in the market hotting up, including the new Ledger Nano X, how does the Ledger Nano S compare to the new kids on the block? We review this venerable game-changing device to see if the three-year old can still cut it.
Hardware and Packaging
The Ledger Nano S is small, easy to use, and easy to store, with its small black screen protected by a metal shield that has the Ledger name and logo engraved on it. The Nano S is nicely designed and doesn’t feel lightweight or cheap, and has stood the test of time three years after its launch. The device is controlled by two buttons on the top which, again, feel well made. Inside the box you also get a USB cable, a card for writing down your recovery words (more on this later), a keychain, and a cord for wearing round your neck, for those who like to take their crypto with them. The overall package speaks high-end, which you would have expected for a price north of $150 at launch time.
Setting Up the Ledger Nano S
Setting up the Nano S is very easy. Everything is done on the device, which must be plugged into a computer (any will do) to get started. The on-screen instructions guide you through the PIN setup screen, followed by the 20-word recovery phrase, which the Nano S will display word by word on the screen. The idea here is to write them down on the small card so that if your Nano S breaks or gets lost you can recover your funds on a fresh device. However, anyone who gets their hands on this card can do the same, meaning that the card should be treated it as though it is worth the same amount as the crypto stored on the device.
Ledger Live is the way you interface with your Nano S, and it’s a nice piece of software. Here you can view your balances and addresses, add wallets, exchange tokens, update the firmware on your device, and more. It is available for Mac OS, Windows, and Linux, and should only be downloaded from the official Ledger website. Once you’ve downloaded Ledger Live, hook your Nano S up to it and log in. The app is very intuitive and will guide you through the early stages, until you’re ready to install some wallets. Ledger Live currently supports 22 coins, with a separate wallet for each, although you can’t have more than a handful on the device at one time due to storage limitations. Once you’ve chosen a wallet, simply follow the on-screen instructions to set it up, and before you know it your address and QR code is displayed and ready to receive crypto. You can also use Ledger Live to send certain cryptocurrencies, but only a select few are included in the ‘send’ function at present, meaning for example that you will have to use a third-party application such as MyEtherWallet or MyCrypto to send ERC20 tokens (more on that coming up).
Many decentralized exchanges (DEXs) such as Binance DEX, IDEX, and Switcheo have Nano S integration, meaning you can hook up your ledger and transfer coins on the exchange using what’s on the device rather than having to create an account and send over funds, which puts to bed the suggestions that Ledger devices are just for cold storage. With DEXs becoming more and more popular, and better, this functionality will only improve over time.
Once you have your chosen wallets established, complete a test transaction into the wallet to make sure everything is ok, then fill your Ledger with all that lovely crypto. Once you’re done just unplug and store the Ledger safely away.
Flash Memory and Windows Issues Undermine the Hardware
Despite its positives, and there are many, the Nano S has two glaring faults that put it firmly towards the bottom of the hardware wallet wish list. Some people, including this author, have found that after several months of use the flash memory on the device gets so full that not more than 2-3 wallets can be present on the device at any one time, necessitating the temporary removal and re-addition of wallets to utilize the coins within them. Even a complete factory reset doesn’t solve the problem, so you’re in trouble if you want to store more than a few different cryptos on it.
A more pressing concern however is the well documented problems with sending tokens using Windows computers. In May 2019, Windows issued a security update which played merry hell with the two-factor security inside the Nano S (U2F). This meant that users of some browsers continually received timeout errors when trying to access services such as MyEtherWallet or MyCrypto and DEXs with the Nano S. Ledger released a workaround which resolved the issue for some, but a further update from Microsoft in August put the final nail in the coffin and ensured that all Windows users were prevented from using these services with their Nano S devices. Some have reported that they are able to send ERC20 tokens with the downloadable version of MyCrypto, but success seems very hit and miss and this still doesn’t help those wanting to use a DEX with their Nano S. Ledger have not issued any further advice on the matter, with their focus likely on future devices rather than the three-year-old Nano S, leaving holders of some tokens with very few options in terms of getting their coins off the Nano S, which it seems they may want to do sooner rather than later the way things are going.
Hi. Trying to transfer THETA to the Ledger Nano S, I am getting many error messages and booted out. I see on a Reddit thread from a month ago, this was being addressed. My problems are identical:”Failed to sign with ledger device: U2F TIMEOUT”. I’ve followed all ideas. Help!
— Sophia (@SophiaLove_edu) August 8, 2019
The Last Word
Taking everything into consideration, despite the Ledger Nano S being a great bit of hardware and the de-facto cold storage solution for some time, the flash memory issues that seem to be emerging and in particular the incompatibility with Windows computers mean that it cannot be recommended as a good hardware wallet any longer. Those looking for a hardware wallet are advised to look elsewhere, perhaps at a more recent product, given the lack of effort Ledger seem to be putting into fixing the current issues with the Nano S.