Coinmama allows you to buy Bitcoin instantly using a credit or debit card. If you’re new to crypto, you might not yet know that before you can receive BTC from Coinmama or anyone else, you first need a Bitcoin wallet. Buying BTC without having a wallet is like buying gasoline without a vehicle or container to put it in – without something to put it in, it’s not going to do you much good!
We’re presenting this article as a complement to our August guide, 3 Ways to Buy Bitcoin Instantly. That’s a helpful guide for anyone looking to get hold of some BTC in a hurry but it doesn’t offer any detailed wallet recommendations… And as mentioned, you’ll first need a Bitcoin wallet – also known as a Bitcoin client – before you can buy Bitcoin online!
In this article, we’ll cover 4 different Bitcoin wallets with a focus on practical considerations for a new crypto user. Before we get to the wallet recommendations, there are a few basic things you should know about Bitcoin wallets so you can make the best choice for your situation.
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The Basics of Bitcoin Wallets
Here are some key concepts necessary for understanding the pros and cons of the wallets we recommend in this article:
Private Keys and Addresses
Bitcoin wallets don’t store bitcoins per se. It’s a common misconception that wallets store coins, like a folder on your hard drive stores files. What wallets really store (and generate) are private keys. These privkeys are needed to transfer BTC from one Bitcoin address to another. All BTC is actually stored within addresses on the blockchain, which means that your coins exist on every computer and device running Bitcoin.
Does storing your coins in the cloud sound a bit unsafe? Don’t worry. Only you can actually spend your coins because only your wallet holds the corresponding private key – and no, it’s not mathematically possible for anyone to reverse-engineer your privkey if they know your address. That trapdoor function is one of the cool cryptographic tricks which make cryptocurrency possible.
Of course, if your wallet is malicious or vulnerable, or your privkey gets exposed somehow, then all bets are off… That’s why security should be your prime consideration when choosing and using a wallet.
While there are many different types of wallet, all wallets are either full or light wallets.
A full wallet downloads and verifies the entire blockchain but, thanks a feature known as pruning, only stores as much of the chain as specified. At the time of writing, Bitcoin’s blockchain is about 237 gigabytes so, even with a fast internet connection, it’ll take at least a few hours before a newly-installed full wallet is ready to transact. Full wallets require a lot of resources, primarily bandwidth but also storage and processing, so they’re unsuitable for mobile or devices or slow internet connections.
Light wallets rely on a third-party server. In other words, a light wallet connects to someone else’s full wallet and retrieves only that data which is relevant; the current state of your Bitcoin addresses. This means that the server knows your light wallet’s balance and transaction history, which reduces your financial privacy. Your light wallet also trusts the server to give it an accurate picture of the blockchain, which inevitably adds a little extra risk. Of course, only your light wallet retains the privkeys to its associated addresses, so there’s no risk of the server stealing your coins. The advantage of light wallets is, as their name implies, they have really light hardware requirements, which makes them suitable for mobile devices.
There are different wallets available for every type of device:
Wallets designed for desktop or laptop PCs are known as software wallets.
Wallets designed for smartphones or tablets are known as mobile wallets.
Wallets which run on a website are known as web wallets. These wallets are very convenient but the least secure option as the website controls the privkeys (“not your private key, not your bitcoins”).
There’s also a special type of wallet known as a hardware wallet (HW). This is a specialized electronic device designed for the sole purpose of securely generating and storing privkeys. As the privkeys never leave the device, even if your PC or phone gets hacked, your coins can’t be stolen. Hardware wallets are an excellent, easy, and convenient way to greatly increase your Bitcoin security level but, unlike the other wallets listed above, they’re not free. Expect to pay around $55 for a basic one.
Hardware wallet connected to a laptop.
Important Download Safety Note
You should only ever download a wallet (update) from its official website. In this article, we’ve linked to the official site of each wallet, which you should access via a bookmark if you intend to use that wallet. Ensure that any internet search, social media message, or website link directs you only to a wallet’s official site; otherwise you could install a malicious clone wallet which steals your coins! Furthermore, it’s good practice to always verify your wallet download – consult the wallet site’s help / FAQ / support section for instructions on doing so.
4 Bitcoin wallets we like in 2019
Type: full wallet
Bitcoin Core is the evolution of the first ever crypto wallet, released by Satoshi Nakomoto in 2009. It’s the most widely-used and general purpose wallet, and is frequently run by miners, Bitcoin and Lightning node operators, and everyday users. Bitcoin Core has a very deep feature set, as most software wallet features and optimizations are introduced to the crypto space within Core. For this reason, many other Bitcoin and altcoins clients routinely copy and adapt Core’s code to their own projects.
Bitcoin Core is considered the reference client or software standard for Bitcoin. For that reason, upgrades or changes made to Bitcoin Core’s code tend to decide the direction of Bitcoin as a whole.
We think it’s a safe to assumption to make that Bitcoin Core is the most secure and reliable wallet. Here are some of our reasons for that statement:
Core has by far the most developers working on it, including most of the current and former devs known for their Bitcoin work. Core also has the highest number of devs considered to be leading experts in the field of cryptocurrency. More (talented) developers writing the code tends to mean better code.
As the most popular and de facto defining Bitcoin client, Core’s code attracts the most attention and scrutiny. The more eyes reviewing the code, the more likely it is that any problems will be discovered and fixed.
The Bitcoin Core team has demonstrated a conservative approach to making changes. Any proposed upgrades have to run a gauntlet of discussion and testing before being implemented. There’s a lot of financial and reputational value riding on Core’s stability, so no aspect of its development is left to chance.
As the first and most popular Bitcoin wallet, Core has been around the longest and had the most usage, which makes it the most “battle-tested.” Such real-world testing is really important as it’s impossible for developers to test every conceivable combination of user action, software environment, hardware setup, network conditions, and so on.
Type: light wallet
Platform: software & mobile
Electrum is a light wallet with a rich feature set. Although we have yet to test the mobile version, we can confirm that the software version has all transactional and other features a regular user is likely to require. These include:
coin control – select which addresses to spend from (mitigating address linkage),
Replace By Fee – resend transactions which don’t confirm in time with a higher fee,
multiple accounts – different sets of addresses for different purposes, and
address signing / verification – cryptographically sign or verify a message from an address.
Another really cool feature of Electrum is that it enables you to run your own server, via an ElectrumX full node. If you set your Electrum light wallet to connect to your own ElectrumX server, you can enjoy all the trustlessness and privacy of a full node with the low hardware requirements of a light wallet. This combination is a great option for security-conscious mobile wallet users.
Type: light multi-wallet
Platform: software & mobile
Exodus is unique among our recommendation in that it’s a multi-wallet, meaning it supports multiple cryptocurrencies. Currently the software version of Exodus supports Bitcoin and 103 altcoins and the mobile version supports 34 altcoins. Both versions include all the major altcoins, such as Ethereum, XRP, Litecoin, BCH, USDT, and so on.
Exodus makes it easy to manage a portfolio of multiple cryptocurrencies in one wallet. It features some great design work, with clear differentiation between coins. Exodus also features a helpful tab which shows the current balance of your portfolio as well as the current market details of all its components. Exodus even contains its own coin-only exchange, which lets you buy Bitcoin instantly for any Exodus altcoin – or vice versa.
One downside of Exodus is that, unlike the other wallets featured in this article, its code is not fully open source. This means you have to entrust your financial information and coin security to the Exodus project’s honesty and competence. However, you can mitigate any risk of coin loss by using Exodus only in combination with a Trezor hardware wallet.
Type: light Lightning wallet
Platform: mobile (iOS) & desktop
Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is really starting to take off, with Shopify adding Lightning support late last month. With hundreds of ways to use instant and nearly-free Lightning transactions and plenty more coming soon, there’s never been a better time to take the plunge and get a Lightning wallet.
Lightning wallets are still new and undergoing rapid evolution. As such, there’s no simple, non-custodial wallet which runs across all platforms just yet. However, Zap currently comes closest to this ideal. Featuring sleek and intuitive design, Zap is available for PCs and Apple devices.
This non-custodial Lightning wallet should suit most people’s needs but if you’re an Android user, then we’d recommend either the Bitcoin Lightning Wallet, which is one of the oldest (and thus, presumably, most tested) Lightning wallets around or the Wallet of Satoshi, which is designed for maximum simplicity and even includes an option to buy Bitcoin instantly.