*Prices are indicative and last updated on 19 March 2019.
The exact function of a blockchain phone depends on which one you get. But in general, blockchain smartphones offer the following advantages over regular phones.
Blockchain smartphones can provide additional security primarily through the built-in hardware wallet that’s common to most blockchain phones released to date.
This is essentially like a secure, offline safe for digital information on your phone. This can hold various types of data and then provide them on a case-by-case basis as needed. So far it’s mostly used to hold cryptocurrency private keys.
However, not all available blockchain wallets have this type of offline storage and different phones will have different degrees of separation between components, which can also add to security. The Sirin Labs Finney is the only one with a separated processor, secure element, display, touchscreen and keyboard.
In the long run there are many applications for this, because the secure element “hardware wallet” part of the phone can hold more than just cryptocurrency private keys.
For example, it could hold your personal information such as passwords to securely log in to different sites or sensitive personal information such as credit card numbers. If everyone does this, the world can move beyond the current system of assembling massive honeypots full of millions of people’s personal data and help cure the problem of endless data breaches.
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To this end, some blockchain smartphones will let you securely hold passwords on your phone’s built-in hardware wallet. For now it’s still mostly for cryptocurrency private keys. The benefits of this include:
- Cost: Hardware wallets can be expensive, so having one on your phone can be a saver.
- Portability: Most people probably don’t use cryptocurrency enough to bother carrying a hardware wallet around. Having it built into a phone can change that dynamic, by letting you keep it in cold storage while still carrying it.
- Direct dapp interface: Decentralised applications (dapps) are blockchain apps. They often involve cryptocurrency, so having more security can be useful. With blockchain smartphones you can directly pay into dapps from your phone’s cold wallet for added security and portability in dapp use.
You can already access dapps on mobile, such as with the MetaMask app for Ethereum dapps, but blockchain phones typically come with this functionality built in.
This is easier, as it’s one less thing to download and safer. The built-in hardware wallet lets you more securely access dapps on the go.
This easier and more secure dapp access also uncovers additional benefits, in line with the practical things cryptocurrency and dapps can do which regular money and apps can’t.
With better dapp access, you could do the following on a blockchain smartphone:
- Send and earn crypto: The key benefit is it helps you send money anywhere in the world as cryptocurrency just as easily and cheaply as sending a message. Some blockchain phones also run as blockchain nodes and pay the owner small amounts of crypto over time.
- Store non-fungible tokens: You can hold non-fungible tokens on your phone. This is most widely used in games like CryptoKitties so far, but more applications are emerging. For example, a non-fungible token that represents a certification you have so you can prove certain qualifications in a counterfeit-proof way through your phone.
- Secret sharing: You can use a secret sharing dapp to trustlessly distribute information fragments among multiple other parties in a way they can only be reassembled if everyone willingly agrees to do so. Some blockchain smartphones are pre-installing this kind of dapp to handle cryptocurrency private keys.
- Trustless gambling: Online gambling of all kinds is often rigged. Gamblers just have to trust they’re not being lied to and fleeced: in many cases that trust will be misplaced. Blockchain dapps are the only way to create and play provably fair online gambling (d)apps and online casinos.
- Extra censorship-resistant communications: Blockchain systems allow the transmission and publishing of information in a way that it can’t feasibly be censored or removed.
Although these applications are all quite specialised, they’re also things you can do with a blockchain smartphone today. As dapps continue rolling out and the world gradually leans into blockchain, the purposes will grow.Back to top
There are a few different tiers for the existing crop of blockchain smartphones, with the Samsung Galaxy S10 standing out as the most powerful one yet, with a relatively appealing price tag compared to others.
The hardware in the HTC Exodus and Sirin Labs Finney isn’t quite so advanced, but they’re both much more “native” to blockchain than the Samsung Galaxy S10, so could have some additional functions to that end.
The Pundi Xphone, with its combination of price and lower-end specs, is more distinctly aimed at crypto enthusiasts and is still much more in the nature of a limited test run than a serious phone with big goals.
The Electroneum M1, meanwhile, is clearly in a league of its own in its own way.
|Samsung Galaxy S10|
The Samsung Galaxy S10 is more of a conventional phone than a blockchain smartphone, but it still has some additional features most phones don’t.
Specifically it will offer dapp access through the Samsung Galaxy store and comes with a built-in cold wallet as part of its broader Knox security suite.
The Exodus aims to be a holistic blockchain phone with built-in hardware wallet and dapp access.
|Sirin Labs Finney|
The Finney is a security-oriented smartphone made by Sirin Labs, aiming to be an all-in-one blockchain and cryptocurrency smartphone.
It aims to combine reasonable specifications with advanced security features, a built-in cryptocurrency exchange and access to a wide range of dapps.
It also plans to create some of its own dapps, such as an incentivised learning program where people can get paid with crypto to learn.
|Pundi Xphone||Each phone is a node on the Pundi X blockchain and the vision is that together they’ll form a distributed network.|
Only 5,000 Pundi Xphones will be sold initially. The eventual plan is to license the software to other manufacturers so any phone can also be flipped into blockchain mode on demand.
The Electroneum M1’s most defining feature is that it’s cheap, clocking in at a recommended retail price of just US$80.
It’s primarily designed to be a cheap smart-ish phone for use in emerging economies, where it can interact with the Electroneum blockchain as a node.
According to Electroneum, the M1 is expected to be able to earn around US$3 per month as a node on the Electroneum blockchain.
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Disclosure: At the time of writing the author holds ETH