Believe it or not, there are still many out there not spooked by recent market conditions and are doubling down on their efforts, including me. I look at these prices and think: yay, Black Friday sale! After all, the foundation for fortunes comes from bearish times, with the riches reaped during bullish periods. Having bought a bunch of tokens, the next thing to do is hunt for a good wallet to store them in, with many choosing a crypto desktop wallet.
When it comes to wallet types, there are primarily two types: cold and hot wallets. The former refers to hardware wallets that come in the form of a USB stick-type device and a desktop application as the UI for it. The latter are divided into mobile wallets, browser-extension/web wallets, and desktop wallets. In this article, we are going to focus on the last kind.
Table of Contents
What are Desktop Crypto Wallets?
The easiest way to think about desktop wallets is that they are wallet apps designed for computers. Technically- speaking, there are no mobile versions, so users can’t easily access it across multiple devices. However, some wallet developers want to offer users the option of a mobile app if they so desire. My suggestion is that if you choose the desktop version, ignore the mobile app. As inconvenient as it may seem, it’s also more secure because there’s only one way to access it. I would swap convenience for security any day when safeguarding my precious crypto assets.
Feel free to check out Guy’s video on his top 5 picks for free cryptocurrency wallets:
Choosing a Desktop Wallet
There are a few things to consider when looking to get a desktop wallet. Some of these considerations are based on your purpose for getting the wallet in the first place. Let’s look at some of those reasons now.
Some wallets only support one type of crypto, mainly Bitcoin or Ethereum. Other wallets support every token traded on major exchanges. Unfortunately, this usually doesn’t include newer tokens that only get listed in DEXs.
Full node vs Simple Payment Verification
When I first came across Daedalus, I didn’t realise until later that it’s an example of a full-node wallet. Whenever I boot it up to check on my ADA holdings, it’s downloading a copy of the Cardano blockchain onto my laptop. Unfortunately, the bigger the blockchain got, the longer it took to access the wallet on my poor laptop.
Unless you are looking to run a full blockchain node yourself, I would say that a full-node wallet isn’t something suited for everyone. For example, most of us use our wallets to transfer funds or do some staking. In this case, the Simple Payment Verification type would be sufficient to suit our needs. Most wallets in the market are of this type. It verifies that a transaction is in the blockchain without downloading the entire blockchain.
It’s standard to assume that any desktop wallet worth its salt should at least have seed phrase protection. You are also given a recovery phrase to access your wallet if your computer is stolen or destroyed.
Going one step up would be 2FA. Short for Two-Factor Authentication, the two-factor part refers to “what you know and what you have”. A password is an example of the former, and an Authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy is the latter. The app generates a 6-digit code entered in the wallet’s interface as proof of having something.
Some wallets even come with the multisig option. Short for multi-signature, it’s not enough for one person to sign a transaction independently. Instead, the number of people established initially all need to sign the transaction to show complete agreeance for the transaction to go through. That way, even if one person is compromised, the funds still can’t be moved. When choosing to use a crypto wallet and self custody your assets, security is paramount! You can learn more about how to keep your crypto secure in our comprehensive article Crypto Safety 101.
Hardware wallet connection
As long as something is online, getting hacked is always possible, even if that possibility might be quite low. If the desktop wallet is connected with a hardware wallet, this greatly decreases the risk of stolen funds since it still boils down to what you have. In this case, funds transfer needs to be approved with the USB device that is the cold wallet. Hackers from afar would be unable to get their hands on this device.
Check that the funds you want to protect are in the account or wallet address connected to the hardware wallet. For example, with browser-extension wallets, the connected account is not necessarily the default account, so you will need to transfer funds to the correct account.
No matter how secure the desktop wallet is, if the UI is poorly-designed, it’s not going to have many people using it, which defeats the purpose of its existence in the first place. It needs to have a certain level of intuition that most people can grasp without resorting to watching how-to-use videos on YouTube.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, reaching out to someone who can look into your problem is a great relief. One of the most common reasons for wanting to talk to customer support is when funds don’t show up as expected, especially if you can see that it was a successful transfer on the blockchain explorer. Email support would be the bare minimum. Chat support would be better but don’t hold your hopes up for phone support. Unless there is a financial entity behind the wallet, who will pay for the staff to chat with you?
Aside from providing a safe space for you to store your funds and allowing you to send and receive funds, some wallets also have other functions like crypto-trading or staking. These wallets integrate with a trading platform so that you can trade while still retaining custody of your funds. There’s also no need to trade on a decentralised exchange which entails going to a different website. However, this is not the cheapest option. I guess that’s the price for both convenience and security.
Desktop Wallet: Risks and Concerns
Nothing is perfect and expecting anything like that is just an invitation to disappointment. Here are some of the things to watch out for when using desktop wallets:
- Keep your computer safe since any damage to it might result in a loss of cryptocurrencies. Make sure you have a physical backup copy of your recovery/seed phrase so if your computer goes bust, you will be able to restore the wallet on another device.
- Check that the wallet you are using encrypts the seed phrases for your wallets. Unencrypted phrases have a higher risk of getting hacked or exploited.
- When online, your IP address can be traced. If possible, pay for a reliable VPN service and make it a habit to always go on a VPN when doing anything with the wallet. Heck, do it for any crypto transactions you make if you’re at it!
- Ensure that the computer has good internet connectivity. Sometimes it’s because the network is patchy, but it could also be due to the computer having connectivity issues.
- Very important– Your wallet is only as secure as your desktop. Use a good anti-virus and avoid downloading torrents and files from shady websites. A virus or malware on your device can put your crypto funds at risk.
Now that we have covered most of the bases let’s get cracking looking at what’s available to choose from in the marketplace and cover our picks for the best desktop wallets!
Before Satoshi, there was Trezor. Or so they would like to claim. In reality, the first Trezor model was launched in August 2014., the same year Mt Gox went kaput. Having been around the block, it is one of two top hardware wallets in the industry. Sorry if I have to cheat a bit here by including it in this article as the Trezor is a hardware wallet, but it has a desktop interface and doesn’t come with a mobile version, so let’s just let that slide, shall we?
The wallet comes with what looks like a fancy car key as the hardware component. This is paired with the desktop app for managing the assets supported by the wallet. The interface is relatively clean and straightforward and supports pretty much any token under the sun.
Aside from retail owners, Trezor is also used by many significant enterprises and endorsed by Coindesk, Forbes etc. If these companies trust Trezor to do their job, there is no reason for you and me not to.
Setting up and using a Trezor crypto wallet is also incredibly easy. You can see for yourself just how easy it is in Guy’s Trezor Setup Video.
Trezor’s no. 1 competitor is Ledger, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual between them. The company started in 2014, the same year as Trezor and is based in Paris, France. The desktop app, known as Ledger Live, is the interface for their hardware wallet, of which there are three models. Through the app, you can stake, swap assets and even manage your NFTs directly.
Unlike Trezor, which needs to rely on a third-party intermediary like Metamask to manage NFTs, you can send, receive and see your NFTs in the Ledger Live app. However, only Ethereum and Polygon-based NFTs are supported currently.
Another function in the wallet is that you can buy bitcoin directly in Ledger Live through their partnership with Coinify and Wyre via credit/debit card. One of the things that always makes me antsy about buying bitcoin is the time it takes to transfer it from wherever to the Ledger wallet (Disclaimer: I own a Ledger wallet). So being able to go from buying to storing in a cold wallet in one shot is as safe as it goes for making a crypto purchase. However, the rates aren’t always the best as it’s pretty much a spot purchase, i.e. buying based on market rate and the fees are also something to consider.
3. Electrum Bitcoin Wallet
One of the most well-known bitcoin wallets, Electrum is a multi-sig wallet with cold storage capability for storing your precious bitcoin. Although it also has a mobile version, we’re just going to focus on the desktop version for our current purposes. They partner with TrustedCoin in providing the 2FA service. How the multi-sig wallet works is that it has three keys. The user owns two of the three keys, and the third key is in a remote server. A small fee is charged for every transaction using that server.
Featuring a no-frills UI and integration with Trezor and Ledger for additional security, this is a basic wallet for all things Bitcoin, including the Lightning network. When setting up the wallet, you can choose from a series of options.
One of the most popular wallets around, I know quite a number of people who swear by Exodus. It’s also a top wallet recommended by many in the know, including Investopedia, for beginner users, according to their website. The wallet comes with both a desktop and mobile option but feel free to ignore the latter if you choose the former. It’s also integrated with Trezor to provide an extra layer of security.
What struck me about the wallet is that it makes full use of the space allocated for a desktop app. Aside from showing the portfolio with key numbers, you can also see the chart for a chosen asset and other useful information. While there is quite a bit of info packed into it, the layout is still pleasing to the eye and, more importantly, not overwhelming.
Not content with being just a multi-asset wallet supporting more than 200 assets, Exodus also features an exchange within the wallet, allowing for easy swaps between assets without any additional sign-in or navigating to other pages.
Another partnership that benefits users is with Compound Finance by allowing them to earn yield from the DAI in their wallet. Sports-betting is also possible with Exodus, and not just for regular sports such as baseball, basketball etc., but also for E-sports like League of Legends. In the meantime, other apps are in development and will no doubt be unveiled when they are ready.
A key selling point of the wallet to newbies is its 24/7 human support. They also have an extensive Knowledge Base section that includes a section on blockchain education so users can learn a bit more about the assets they have. The Exodus wallet is designed brilliantly and it is simply, one of the best multi-cryptocurrency wallets in the industry. You can learn more in our dedicated Exodus review.
Every now and then, I’d come across certain things that seemed to pop up repeatedly. The Guarda wallet is one of those. It’s a wallet under most people’s radar, yet the reviews are mostly positive, as seen on this page from TrustPilot.
The wallet is aimed at the mainstream crowd with the following features:
- Easy on-ramping into crypto with the ability to buy tokens with your credit card or SEPA bank transfer
- Staking for ten tokens together with a page on the website for you to estimate your rewards if you were to stake with them.
- Exchange tokens within the desktop app
The website also features quite a sizeable section on crypto education where one can learn about crypto basics, written in pedestrian language, i.e. language that most people understand. This messaging is consistent with their approach of being the wallet for the everyday Joe. Customers can talk to someone via Live Chat to answer any questions or concerns they may have. At the same time, email support is available during the after-hours period.
One of the things you might notice as you browse the homepage for Coinomi is its claim to being the oldest multi-asset wallet. It was established in 2014, which in most cases, being less than a decade old, doesn’t seem much, but in crypto-land, where six months is equivalent to 1.2 years in normal speed, that does seem shy of being next to the dinosaurs. It also makes it impressive and maybe suitable for the casual crypto user because it supports a wide range of fiat currencies in more than 20 languages.
With versions available for Windows, Mac and Linux, it is one of the wallets on this list that has a decent social presence, with communication channels on Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, Reddit and Instagram, pretty much covering all the major age and gender groups, with TikTok being the only channel they don’t have a presence. Additionally, they offer 24/7 live support, undoubtedly music to a beginner’s ears, as they can expect some handholding when exploring the wallet’s features. They also feature YouTube tutorials if you prefer to learn by watching than reading.
Some interesting features of the wallet include:
- Cold staking – the ability to earn rewards even when offline
- Gift cards – convert crypto into gift cards that can be used at stores via their partnership with Bidali.
- NFT support – only for ETH NFTs though and must be ERC-721 tokens.
- Custom and Dynamic Miners’ fees – users are able to set their own gas fees when transacting with the wallet.
- Built-in exchange within the wallet.
The Armory wallet is another single-asset desktop wallet for storing Bitcoin with cold storage and multi-sig support. They pioneered managing Bitcoin offline with a computer that never touches the internet. Instead, transactions are made with a “watching-only wallet”, but the private keys themselves are stored in the offline computer. This greatly reduces the attack surface for hackers.
The source code for the wallet is open-source and available for audit and views on GitHub. So in the unlikely event the entity behind it goes under, it is still possible to access your funds with a bit of know-how.
The website also has a tutorial section on using the wallet for various functions. As it was designed for developers to use, the UI is very basic. But enough to do what needs to be done. When it comes to security, though, it’s pretty top-of-the-line. Given the opportunity, I wouldn’t mind storing my bitcoin in this wallet. For a free wallet, it’s as good as it gets.
8. Bitcoin Core – A Full Bitcoin Node Wallet
For any hardcore Bitcoin enthusiasts, this may be the wallet for you.
The Bitcoin Core wallet is a pioneer in the world of cryptocurrency wallets, emerging as a product of the Bitcoin network itself.
The Bitcoin Core Wallet encompasses software that supports the complete Bitcoin blockchain, offering a digital wallet for the storage and execution of Bitcoin transactions. It is not a standalone application but rather part of a suite of applications that facilitate the implementation of the Bitcoin blockchain. Users who opt for this wallet not only gain the ability to store and transact with Bitcoin but also have the opportunity to contribute to the decentralized Bitcoin network by validating and verifying transactions on the BTC blockchain, as it supports a full node.
I will be the first to admit that this is by far, not the most visually appealing wallet, and perhaps not suitable for beginners as it requires some technical knowledge, but users who truly want to experience and support the Bitcoin network in its entirety will likely opt for this wallet.
Currently, the Bitcoin Core wallet is compatible with the following operating systems:
- Mac OS X
- ARM Linux
While the Bitcoin Core client boasts an array of technological capabilities, it does not provide the option to use its wallet as a standalone application. Therefore, users must possess the entire Bitcoin Core software suite to utilize the wallet’s functionality.
Now, let’s delve into the characteristics of the Bitcoin Core wallet:
- Wallet Type: The Bitcoin Core wallet is classified as a hot wallet, meaning it remains directly connected to the full Bitcoin network node and resides on a device with internet connectivity.
- Supported Cryptocurrencies: The Bitcoin Core wallet exclusively supports Bitcoin.
- Fees: While there are no fees associated with downloading the Bitcoin Core wallet software, users should anticipate costs when utilizing the wallet. These costs encompass bandwidth consumption (data) and transaction fees. Users have the flexibility to set their preferred transaction fees using a sliding scale, which factors in transaction priority.
Considering security, the Bitcoin Core wallet incorporates several notable features:
- Compatibility with Tor: The wallet seamlessly integrates with Tor, an anonymizing service that conceals users’ IP addresses, making it arduous for third parties to trace transaction details.
- Transaction Privacy: All transactions to and from the Bitcoin Core wallet traverse a vast peer-to-peer network. This decentralized network structure renders it significantly challenging to trace individual users’ transactions compared to lightweight peer-to-peer clients.
- Hierarchical Deterministic Algorithm: The wallet employs an automatic key generation system, creating a tree of keys accessible through a 12- or 24-word phrase derived from the key tree.
- Open Source Design: Built upon an open-source framework, the Bitcoin Core wallet allows for code auditing, empowering users to scrutinize the system and propose enhancements. This transparency enables the identification and resolution of potential bugs within the Bitcoin system before they can cause harm.
Considering the aforementioned security features, the Bitcoin Core wallet provides a commendable level of security for its users. Though as this wallet is quite different from the other mentions on this list, I would like to quickly outline the pros and cons:
- Non-custodial: Full user control over crypto funds
- Full Node Wallet: As a full node that validates transactions and relays them on the Bitcoin network, the wallet does not require third parties for transaction verification.
- Open-source Wallet: Full transparency
- Enhanced Privacy: The use of rotating addresses and the option to use Tor as a proxy to protect anonymity
- Supports the Bitcoin Ecosystem
- Limited features
- The initial download takes a lot of time and data
- Resource Extensive: it is a full Bitcoin client, needing over 100 GB of hard drive space and requires a download capacity of 500MB per day or 15GB per month and an upload speed of 5GB per day.
- Less Secure than a Hardware Wallet: Any wallet installed on a software wallet is in its nature less secure than a hardware wallet due to being installed on a device with internet connectivity
- Not easy to use: Beginners may find the wallet confusing
Best Desktop Wallets: Conclusion
We’ve covered some of the more well-known ones available in the market. It is by no means an extensive list but to give you an idea of what is considered standard functionality and what is a unique selling point. Most importantly, it’s about finding a wallet that fits your needs, and it’s ok if no single wallet fulfils all of them. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to diversify a bit by having two or even three wallets for your crypto. That way, if anything bad were to happen to one of them, you’d still have your assets safe in other wallets. Just don’t spread yourself too thin that you can’t manage what you own.