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A Crypto-Focused Smartphone Isn’t Actually Worth It

Been there, done that

  • The company behind one of the top 10 cryptocurrencies, Solana, is launching a new smartphone.
  • It claims the Android-based $1000 handset will help elevate the crypto experience on smartphones.
  • Blockchain experts question the ingenuity of the plan and how it won’t help address the inherent weaknesses of the Solana blockchain.
Exchanging digitally generated coins via smart phones
PM Images / Getty Images

Launching a $1000 crypto-centric smartphone in the midst of the worst crypto crash in recent years seems like a cruel joke.

Solana Labs, the technology company behind the Solana blockchain, has unveiled plans to release a purpose-built Android phone for its cryptocurrency ecosystem. Not all blockchain experts, however, are thrilled by the announcement.

“Cryptocurrency does not need crypto native phones,” tweeted Justin Bons, founder and CIO of crypto investment firm Cyber Capital. “It needs better software which can run securely on the phones we all already own!”

If it Ain’t Broke

Solana Labs’ CEO Anatoly Yakovenko launched the phone, dubbed Saga, at an event in New York. “We didn’t see a single crypto feature at the Apple developer conference 13 years after Bitcoin was alive….I think it’s time for crypto to go mobile,” noted Yakovenko.

In a press release, Yakovenko hailed Saga as a benchmark device that’ll set “a new standard for the web3 experience on mobile.”

“Everything is going mobile,” noted Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of crypto exchange FTX during the launch event. Acknowledging that the crypto experience on mobile is behind the times, he said the best solution to bridge the gap is to have “the actual wallet built into your phone.”

In an email exchange with Lifewire, Austin Federa, Head of Communications at the Solana Foundation, pointed out that one of the key differentiators in Saga is the Solana Mobile Stack.

“We live our lives on our mobile devices, except for Web3, which is still largely stuck to the desktop,” explained Federa. “The Solana Mobile Stack will give developers the tools they need to build amazing mobile experiences on Android and is built to support Web3 business models without extractive fees for developers or users.”

Saga will feature a Web3 dapp (decentralized app) store, a Solana Pay app to make QR code-based on-chain payments, a mobile wallet adapter, and a “seed vault” that will store the owner’s private keys.

Solana Saga promo image
Solana

However, just like Bons, Lumi, an independent blockchain researcher, isn’t impressed.

“Web3 or blockchain-enabled smartphones have been around since at least 2019, and they’ve all been failures,” Lumi told Lifewire over Twitter DMs, “regardless of being launched and supported by crypto payments teams or actual mobile manufacturers like HTC.”

Lumi explained that the ‘cryptophone’ genre is about jamming a physical hardware wallet into a mobile phone, which he thinks is perhaps the most questionable security practice he’s ever seen promoted in the crypto space.

“‘Don’t carry your portfolio around with you’ has and always will be a sane and smart security practice,” noted Lumi. “But, if you’re not carrying a portfolio around with you, why would you need a devoted hardware wallet?”

The Wrong Tree

Bons and Lumi also questioned Solana’s security track record. “Security is exactly what Solana is most famously criticized for,” claimed Lumi. “Their blockchain has been down at least seven times to date, often resulting in extreme negative price action for [Solana cryptocurrency] holders.”

In addition to the security issues, Lumi also pointed out faults in the Solana ecosystem. He specifically highlighted the recent event where Solend, a Solana lending platform, apparently had no qualms about going against the crypto ethos and granting themselves the power to take over someone’s account. The move was eventually voted against by an overwhelming majority of the people, and it didn’t sit well with its community.

Web3 or blockchain enabled smartphones have been around since at least 2019 and they’ve all been failures.

Bons believes the troubles with Solana are something to be addressed in software, not something that can be solved with a new smartphone.

“What’s worse is that despite the price tag, this phone won’t be competing with other premium offerings in the same price range,” pointed Lumi. “It’s not the new, boundary-pushing, really latest-gen anything.”

Saga includes a 6.67-inch OLED display, 12 GB RAM, 512 GB storage, and the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 Mobile Platform. It will be designed and manufactured by OSOM.

“Go ahead and buy it,” tweeted Bons sarcastically. “Just do not expect it to make any difference.”

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