Skip to content

Ledger Nano S Review

Updated 8/27/2019


Pros


- Passphrase Capability

- Multi-signature Support

- Secure Element Chip

Cons


- Limited App Capacity

- Closed Source

Who Should Buy a Ledger Nano S

Crypto investors who want a wallet to use with their multisig

Crypto investors who own many coins

Crypto investors who want an inexpensive wallet

Why Do I Need a Hardware Wallet?

Hardware wallets allow you to store coins in what is called 'cold storage'.


Cold storage is the method by which private keys or other information is kept away from any contact with the internet, where security is easily compromised. 


Methods of cold storing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (such as paper wallets) have evolved over time.


Hardware wallets are one of the newest iterations and generally considered to be a good method for all users.


They are easily accessible and are a good balance of security and functionality.


Basics of Ledger nano S

The Ledger Nano S was first introduced in 2016 and is a multi-currency hardware devices.

It supports over 1,150 cryptocurrencies. It is designed to harness the security, flexibility and easy backup of the Hierarchical Deterministic (HD) Wallet structure.
The Nano S provides cold storage by creating and storing your wallet’s private keys offline. It can also be integrated with third-party wallets to manage ERC-20 tokens.

The price of the Ledger Nano S has dropped by about half since it was first released and currently retails for $59 USD making it the most affordable hardware wallet available.

The Ledger Nano X has since been introduced as a successor and holds a higher position in the Ledger product line by offering more features (more on the X below).

Ledger's Background

Launched in 2014, Ledger is a global company specializing in secure blockchain applications and devices. The company boasts sales of 1.5 million wallets in 165 countries to date.


Ledger has demonstrated a high degree of engagement with the community at large by providing abundant support and addressing specific issues and risks. High-quality information has been forthcoming in regard to their firmware updates. We've even written about some of the more common firmware update issues here and here.


Price

Of all the big three hardware wallet companies (Trezor, Ledger, and Keepkey), Ledger offers the most popular and inexpensive hardware wallet on the market at only $59.

This includes free shipping to most countries as well.

See how the Nano S stacks up against other competing hardware wallets

How Is It Different Than the Nano X?

The Ledger Nano X is very similar to the Nano S except for a few minor differences.


Ledger Nano X supports bluetooth connectivity

Nano X hard drive can hold up to 100 apps

Nano X chassis is a sturdier build quality

As you can see, the Nano X boasts a much larger hard drive than the tiny 5 app storage capacity on the Nano S.

It's also much stronger and heavier, and allows bluetooth connectivity.

This means that you can send and receive transactions while out and about by pairing the Nano X to your Mobile phone and managing the device via the Ledger Live mobile app.


However, some view the bluetooth capabilities as an added vulnerability, as bluetooth is seen more and more as a security loophole than an advantage.


It's up to you to decide if the added convenience of bluetooth is worth the trade off of potentially less security, though Ledger claims this is not a tradeoff at all.


Unboxing and Presentation

With the high degree of risk present in managing digital assets, due diligence of a hardware wallet begins with opening the package.


As of 2019, the Ledger Nano S branding is clearly visible on the outside of the box and is shrink-wrapped in plastic.



Previously, the upper and lower sections of the box were sealed with a tamper-proof sticker. This is no longer the case.

Instead there is now a reassuring card inside which indicates why. 

Regardless, never buy any hardware wallet device from anyone other than the manufacturer or an official reseller.


The box contains:

USB Cable

Lanyard

Keychain

Backup and Info Cards

The box is nicely made and worth keeping for easy storage.


In addition to the clarification about the security seal, three cards for your seed word backup are provided along with instructions to continue on to Ledger’s website to begin setup.


Device Description

The Nano S features two hardware buttons used to navigate the simple on screen user interface and confirm or cancel transaction signing.

The chassis is a textured black plastic finish that feels fairly sturdy, though i wouldn't recommend sitting on it or exposing it to high heat.


Security

The security features of the Ledger are unique in the industry.

CC EAL5+ Secure Element

The Ledger family of hardware wallets are the only fully-certified hardware wallets on the market certified by ANSSI, the French cybersecurity agency.

Both the Nano S and Nano X feature what is known as a 'secure element'. 

Specifically, the secure chip used is a ST31H320 with a CC EAL5+ certification. It is the black medium sized chip in the top left of the device above.


"A Secure Element is a secure chip that...embeds intrinsic countermeasures against many known attacks. This kind of chip is tamper-resistant and protects your device to a range of different attacks."

The secure chip is what differentiates the Ledger from other hardware wallets on the market in terms of key storage.

PIN Code

When you first initialize your Ledger, you'll be prompted to set up a 4 to 8 digit PIN code.

Remember that you yourself are responsible for creating a strong PIN. Use all 8 characters!

This PIN is what lets you open the device and use it; similar to your bank account PIN. It is very important, but also be aware that it is not needed to restore a wallet from the seed words.
It's just a simple password to make sure that if you lose your device, your coins can't be easily stolen.

If someone attempts to enter a PIN more than 4 times, the Nano S erases itself and the thief is left with nothing.

This prevents attackers from trying to brute force your PIN and gain access to your coins.

Backup via BIP39 Recovery Seeds

The Ledger Nano S allows you to backup your hardware wallet using a standard known as BIP39.

We have a detailed explainer of BIP39 you can read HERE, but in short, your private key is converted into an easily readable series of 24 words.

If you ever lose your wallet or it gets destroyed or stolen (or you forget your PIN), you will input this series of words into another wallet (hardware or softeware) and get your coins back.

Ledger provides a couple of pieces of paper to write down this series of words during device setup. 
However, backing up your Ledger in this way is not very safe. If the location of this piece of paper ever got flooded or caught on fire, you'd be out of luck.

This is why many people choose to use a device called a Billfodl to store this series of words on pieces of stainless steel, impervious to fire and flood.
One Billfodl customer had over $1,000,000 of Bitcoin backed up on a notebook in a fireproof safe, but when his garage flooded with 6 feet of rain, the safe became water-logged, and he lost everything.

Don't let this happen to you!
Keep your backup safe with something sturdier than paper. 

Passphrase Support

Ledger Nano S now supports passphrase (aka 25th word protection).

This security measure allows the user to add an additional word to their 24 word recovery phrase.

Why would you do this? There are a couple of reasons:
1. You want to add extra security to your recovery phrase in case someone finds your 24 words.

Remember - anyone with your 24 words can recover your coins and take them. Adding another word of your choosing means they will need to know the word you chose as well as the 24 words. 

2. You want to create a "dummy account" in your device that holds a small amount of coins. This protects you from what is called a "$5 Wrench Attack".
How a $5 wrench attack works
if you are ever the victim of such an attack and you have a passphrase set up, you have plausible deniability about your larger account of coins.

You only tell the muggers about your small account and hope they leave with very few of your coins.

We have created a video about how to set up passphrase on a Ledger Nano S, posted below:

Multi-signature Support

Some advanced crypto investors use more than one hardware wallet to sign transactions.

This protects the investor because it means that even if someone gains access to one of your hardware wallets (or finds a vulneribility in its software), they still need an additional hardware wallet to access your coins.  
Ledger Nano S can be used as one of these devices, which makes it more appealing than hardware wallets that can't be used in a multi-signature style cold storage.


Ledger Live and Device Activation

To use the device, you are first instructed to download the Ledger Live software for your computer or mobile device. This is necessary for you to authenticate the device, manage apps, create wallets, accounts and transactions.


The use of dedicated software is an improvement over the first iteration which utilized Chrome plugins.



Next you are prompted to create a passcode to secure and configure the Nano S device itself. Once this is complete you are presented with your 24 seed words, which you must confirm individually back to the device after you have recorded them.


This is the most important information related to both your wallets the Nano S device itself.

While having been provided three cards to back these up, paper should be recognized as the easily destroyed medium that it is.

An extra level of security and peace of mind is easily achieved by using the Billfodl which is a much more disaster-resistant medium to store your seed words in. 

Passphrase support is also available to provide a final fail safe security function in the event that your seed words wind up in the wrong hands.

Is it a Genuine Device?

Before going any further, you should complete a check to determine your device is genuine and hasn't been compromised.


Apps and Accounts

Once the seed words have been confirmed you may use the “manager” section of the Ledger Live software to install the wallet apps on the device. 



Only once the a specific app for each cryptocurrency has been added may you create accounts for it. Installation takes about a minute per app.


One drawback, however, is the limited number of apps which you may install at any given time. The maximum number of apps is 4 or 5 depending upon what selections you make. This is the most glaring limitation of the Nano S.


Accounts, portfolio, send/receive and the manager are all on the left side menu in Ledger Live. Unlike the apps on the device, wallet accounts are essentially unlimited and can be renamed as desired. 




This may not be clear to novice users, however. While the naming convention and context of a wallet address being an “account” is useful for conceptual purposes, it indirectly encourages the practice of address reuse which sacrifices privacy.


Sending and Receiving Coins on Nano S

Sending and receiving is straightforward once the apps have been installed and the desired wallet accounts have been created. Transactions are created in Ledger Live and then confirmed on the device as depicted below.


One small annoyance was understanding if the wallet should be unlocked before or after you begin creating the transaction. It is best to open the wallet and unlock it but wait until prompted to open the app until Ledger Live instructs you to do so.



The display allows you to confirm the address and amount before manually completing the transaction.


After the transaction has been sent, the details can be copied to the clipboard and links to a block explorer are available. The device itself will log out after a predetermined amount of time for security reasons. The Ledger Live software also has this set to default but can be disabled if you wish.

Account Overview and History

The top menu item aggregates all your wallet balances into one countervalue of your choosing. You may select from several fiat currencies, BTC or ETH and it displays the change in balance over spans of a week, month or year.



From the settings menu you can also export your transaction history in CSV format which makes accounting quite easy.


Supported Coins

At the time of this writing, Ledger supports over 1,100 coins, including the bigger ones below and all ERC20 tokens.
For a full rundown of the coins supported by both the Ledger Nano S and Ledger Nano X, see our blog post here.
In short though, Ledger supports Bitcoin, XRP, Litecoin, Ethereum (along with all ERC20 tokens) as well as all the largest coins, including

  • Bitcoin Cash
  • EOS
  • Stellar
  • Litecoin
  • Tether
  • Tron
  • Cardano
  • IOTA
  • Binance coin
  • Monero
  • Dash
  • Neo
  • And over 1000 more!

Operating Systems and Hardware Compatible with Ledger Nano S

  • Android

  • iOS

  • OS X

  • Windows

  • Linux


The Importance of the Screen

Any hardware wallet that does not have its own dedicated screen is a pretty worthless piece of hardware.

Why?

The whole purpose of a hardware wallet is to air-gap your wallet. That means you able to confirm transactions and verify addresses on a device that is not connected to the internet.

If you hardware wallet did not have a screen, it would need to show you the addresses and transaction data on a screen connected to an internet accessible device.

This would defeat the whole purpose of the device in the first place, since the data on your screen could be easily manipulated (for instance, telling you that you are sending funds to one address when you are actually sending them to another).

Similarly, another reason all hardware wallets should have a dedicated screen is because you want to be able to view your recovery seed on a device that is not connected to the internet.

This brings us to privacy with the Nano S.


Using Ledger Nano S Privately

There are a number of steps you can take to make using your Ledger Nano S more private and secure.

First, you can set up your device without using a computer at all. All the Nano S needs is a power source via USB.

You can also use the Ledger merely as a signing device and opt to use your own node to receive transaction broadcasts instead of relying on Ledger the company to hand that data off to you.

The best way to do this is with Electrum Personal Server, but this is an advanced option and not without its own pitfalls.


Summary

The Ledger Nano S is a worthy cold storage device, especially for newcomers. While the buttons, display and connectivity options have been improved upon with the Ledger Nano X, these are creature comforts. 


The slightly smaller feature set of the Nano S won’t diminish the experience of a long-term HODLer who will most likely leave the device unused for long periods of time. 


With the Nano S storing your keys offline and your seed words kept as backup in a secure location, the logical next step is to add a Billfodl to the picture. Committing your seed words to stainless steel will dramatically reduce the risk of fire, flood, chemical spill or most other catastrophe erasing your funds.


Pro vs Con

Pros

  • User friendly
  • Device must be connected for all operations
  • Multi-signature Support
  • Device times out after a period of inactivity (thanks to one of our founders)
  • Passphrase support
  • Ongoing development from Ledger


Cons

  • Limited app capacity
  • Closed Source
  • Doesn't validate change addresses on the device itself
  • Connection and Disconnection order unclear at times 
  • Indirect encouragement of re-using addresses

Rating:

4.5 / 5


x