If you’re looking for an easy way to store and spend your money — or if you’re a bitcoin beginner who wants the simplest option — a mobile bitcoin wallet on your smartphone is the way to go.
Mobile bitcoin wallets have come a long way in the past few years. What were once bare-bones and often clunky apps now look more like the instant messaging services you use every day. In fact, most of them are probably a lot more usable than the app your bank provides.
Security and privacy have improved with the development of HD bitcoin wallets and keys that live locally on your device. Most apps include fingerprint or PIN protection. In most cases, if your phone is stolen your bitcoins are still reasonably safe — and can be accessed with another device.
These days, the most popular wallets compete on other features. These may include links to exchanges for buying and selling coins, multiple cryptocurrency and blockchain token balances, and integration with other services.
You may want to consider the old bitcoin axiom: “if you don’t own the private keys, you don’t own the bitcoins”. Centralized, server-based wallets work like online bank accounts, with the key difference that if the company goes belly-up or gets hacked, you aren’t guaranteed to get your funds back. Having said that, many of these wallets are still popular for their ease-of-use, feature set and established reputation.
There’s a wide range of options out there, but here’s our pick of the most popular with the most compelling feature sets. We’ve included them (in no particular order) mainly for variety, so you can see what’s available out there.
Bitcoin Wallet by Blockchain
Great simple introduction wallet
Platforms: Android, iOS, web
Blockchain is one of the oldest, simplest and most popular bitcoin wallets. The software and UI have improved markedly with more recent versions, giving you a clean and more satisfying experience. The wallet is now HD, meaning you can restore it from a 12-word recovery phrase. You can also generate new addresses for added privacy.
Feature-wise, Blockchain mobile may be a little too “bare-bones” for some. However, that makes it a better option for beginners and it’s easy to set up and demonstrate. You can also log into your wallet via the website, and access more advanced features like buying bitcoin (through partner Coinify), importing wallets from cold storage (including BIP38 password-protected ones), and signing/verifying messages.
Alas, full bitcoin trading isn’t an option yet (it’s buy-only) and the exchange option isn’t available in all countries. Blockchain is working to introduce more countries soon, though.
Bitcoin Wallet by Coinbase
Popular wallet with bitcoin trading option
Platforms: Android, iOS, web
Coinbase is also pretty popular with US and EU residents, mainly for its simplicity and trading option — you can buy and sell bitcoin from Coinbase’s own exchange, directly from the app. This feature isn’t available in all countries but it is in 33 of them, so there’s a good chance yours is included. If it is, you can link the app to a traditional bank account in your region for deposits and withdrawals.
Coinbase also supports Ethereum’s ether currency, so you can have balances in both BTC and ETH.
You need a Coinbase account to use the app, which means your login credentials are stored on a central server. This makes it easy to access from multiple devices and recover lost passwords, but if privacy is your main concern you might prefer something that lives 100% local on your phone.
Lots of shopping and commerce features
Platforms: Android and iOS
AirBitz probably has the most advanced mobile feature set for daily commerce. You can have multiple wallets with different fiat currency balances, and keep track of where your money is coming from and where it’s going with the tagging function.
If you’re in the US or Canada, you can buy and sell bitcoin through the Glidera exchange. AirBitz also helps you find places to spend your bitcoins with a guide to BTC-accepting business in your local area, and even discount coupons. It supports transfers to other AirBitz users’ wallets via NFC and Bluetooth. You can set spending limits and also switch on additional features for merchants, such as accepting payments from multiple payees for one transaction.
AirBitz is mobile-only, meaning you can’t login from a desktop or browser. You login with a password, though all keys are stored locally on your device.
The developers are also working with BitID to add new features to the app, such as blockchain-based login and identity tokens for other (non-bitcoin) services, when they become available.
Long-time favorite with geeks, OTC traders and other bitcoin techies
Platforms: Android and iOS*
Mycelium probably has the most versatile feature list for managing bitcoin balances, but it’s probably a bit too complicated for beginners. It’s a favorite with old-time bitcoiners who like to move their massive coin stashes in and out of cold storage.
Wallets are all HD, meaning they can be backed up and restored from a recover phrase — and you can use a separate address for every transaction, increasing privacy.
Mycelium also has a “local trader” option where you can meet and interact with others who want to trade P2P, either in person or over the internet. You can also import keys from paper wallets and other HD accounts, and keep balances in three major fiat currencies through partner Coinapult.
Where Mycelium really shines though is its integration with secure cold storage devices, including Trezor, Ledger and KeepKey. Since this involves plugging your wallet hardware device directly into the phone, it’s only available on Android devices with USB2GO functionality.
Mycelium’s interface hasn’t changed much over the years, making it fairly straightforward and workmanlike. The developers are promising a complete overhaul for both major platforms in the near future, with additional features like distributed apps (DAPPs) and other third-party services.
*Note that Mycelium’s Android version is far more feature-rich. The current iOS version was developed separately and is very bare-bones by comparison.
Largest number of blockchain token and cryptocurrency options
Platforms: Android, iOS, plus Desktop application for MacOS, Windows, Linux
Jaxx is a very easy-to-use mobile wallet with lots of support for cryptocurrencies and tokens other than bitcoin. In addition to BTC, you can use the wallet to store ETH and Ethereum Classic, DASH, Augur REP tokens, Litecoin, ZCash… even DAO if you’re still inclined. More are coming soon.
There’s no sign-up or account ID, meaning your wallet is private and generally anonymous. It’s also HD, generating new addresses/keys for every transaction. You can pair the mobile app with any of the desktop versions, spending and receiving from the same balance despite not needing any account login.
Jaxx also integrates with the ShapeShift exchange for anonymous trading between any of the tokens both Jaxx and ShapeShift support.
There are plenty of others out there. Which mobile wallet do you use? Let us know.
Now that you have some options for mobile bitcoin wallets, you may have even more questions, such as:
Images via Pixabay, Blockchain, Coinbase, AirBitz, Mycelium, Jaxx