Does the world really need a blockchain phone? HTC thinks the answer is yes, and it’s got hardware to back it up.
I’ve spent a few days with the HTC Exodus 1, and while I do think that phones need to get friendlier with the blockchain, I’m not sure that the Exodus 1 distinguishes itself enough to become *the* blockchain phone.
The HTC Exodus 1 is a fairly powerful device, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 16/12-megapixel rear camera and an 8/8-megapixel dual selfie camera, as well as a 3,500mAh battery. Not quite up to par with the best phones right now, but not that far off either.
In design terms, the HTC Exodus 1 is a mixed bag. It has a transparent back that lets you see some of the phone’s parts. This is partially fake; some of the chips are merely drawings, but some of it is real, and overall I love the aesthetic. In fact, based on its rear side alone, it’s probably the nicest phone I’ve had.
On the front, however, the Exodus has a 6-inch screen with huge bezels on top and bottom. Two years ago, there would’ve been nothing wrong with that — and, technically speaking, there’s still nothing wrong with that — but it’s 2019, and the phone looks obsolete.
The HTC Exodus 1 should not be judged as just another phone, though. It’s strongly advertised as a blockchain-friendly phone, with a “Secure Enclave” element that protects your crypto keys, a built-in cryptocurrency wallet and a couple more features to come at a later date.
Unfortunately, all this mostly boils down to some pre-installed, third-party software. The Zion wallet, which comes with the phone, supports Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and sixtyish other coins. It’s alright, but if you’re working with cryptocurrencies, you likely already have a wallet that you like, and, since Zion is pretty basic, you probably won’t want to switch.
Zion does have a cool feature called “social key recovery,” which uses some clever cryptography to let you securely store your crypto private keys with your friends (without any of them individually being able to see them), but that’s about it.
As for the Secure Enclave, in theory it should make Zion safer than a regular, software-only wallet. It’s basically a chip that operates separately from the rest of the phone, and nothing on the Android OS (except Zion) can access the private keys stored within. It will take time and some testing from third party researchers to determine whether this is really the case.
Other crypto-friendly apps are built-in, like the Brave browser and cryptocurrency portfolio tracker Blockfolio — but then again, you can install them on any phone. In fact, some major manufacturers have already caught on; Samsung’s Galaxy S10 comes with a pre-installed crypto wallet as well.
The company just announced its partnership with the Opera browser, which can now take advantage of the Zion wallet API to interact with crypto services online while keeping your private keys safe. The company also announced a store for decentralized apps (dApps) that play nice with the phone. It’s a good start, and if more apps join in, it’ll be put HTC and its Exodus ahead in the crypto game.
The HTC Exodus 1 is available for purchase for $699, which is not a horrible price for what you get, but given the price of some pretty powerful phones that came out this week, it’s not exactly an amazing deal, either. Ultimately, if you trust HTC’s Secure Enclave, the Exodus 1 might be worth the price; if not, you’re probably better off with any other phone and a separate hardware crypto wallet.