Bitcoin in the real world: Bitcoin Wallet review
Wednesday 11 June 2014
Well, after my hugely positive experience with Mycelium, I almost didn’t bother to continue this review series. There just didn’t seem like much point. Mycelium was so slick, so feature-rich and so easy to use that downloading anything else would have felt like going back to public transport after test-driving the Jaguar F-type. (I don’t know where you’re based, but I’m in the UK and the phrase ‘Public Transport’ here carries certain connotations of extensive inconvenience and unreliability.)
But this seemed a little uncharitable and closed-minded, so I took to the web again to find another popular bitcoin app, buoyed by the knowledge that however it performed I’d be be able to buy considerably more coffee for my coins than was the case a month back, in the grip of the bear market.
And so it was that I came to the fourth app in this review series, simply called Bitcoin Wallet.
Available from the Google Store for free, Bitcoin Wallet boasts that it is ‘the first mobile Bitcoin app, and arguably the most secure.’ Neither of these things filled me with confidence at the outset; being first is categorically not the same as being best (there’s a whole discussion about the 2000 American presidential election right there), and being ‘arguably the most secure’ is not the same as being the most secure, or indeed, simply secure. What I want from my bitcoin smartphone app is ease of use and security. Throw in a few extra cool features and I’ll be even happier, but usability and people not stealing my bitcoins are really entry level stuff as far as I’m concerned.
As ever, it was a breeze to download the Android app. It turns out to be a pretty simple interface, really nothing fancy but all very straightforward and superficially promising.
Your bitcoin address is displayed on three lines, broken into blocks of four characters. This struck me as slightly odd and inelegant, until I realised it was designed to make it easier to copy down without errors. This I duly did, typing the address into my Blockchain web wallet to transfer 0.01 bitcoins to the app. (It never fails to impress me that the transfer is practically instantaneous: you hear the ‘pip’ from Blockchain.info as the coins leave your account, and simultaneously the balance on the app changes.) The app obviously knew I was in the UK, as it displayed the amount in GBP rather than US. That’s a nice touch, though I’ve grown so used to converting to USD with bitcoin that it didn’t make much odds to me. The app congratulated me on receiving my first transaction, told me the payment should be spendable in a few minutes, and gently nagged me to back up my wallet. I ignored it but again, fair enough and thanks for the thought, Bitcoin Wallet.
To the pub
Once again, it was off to the Devonshire Arms, where I’ve tested every other bitcoin app I’ve reviewed to date. Once again, I ordered a coffee. At the last minute, some curious impulse possessed me and I found myself asking whether they sold pork scratchings? Indeed they did have some in at the moment, I was informed, and they were duly added to the tab. It’s been years since I’ve eaten one, and I can’t say exactly why I chose this moment to start again, but suffice to say that if I can’t celebrate my bitcoins being worth 50 percent more than they were three weeks ago by eating curls of charred pig skin, then what’s the world coming to? The barman brought my receipt over, and that’s where things started to go wrong.
The app simply wouldn’t scan the QR code.
I carefully lined it up (remember, I’m a veteran of this process now) and watched the little dots flashing
as they registered the corners, but nothing happened.
Nothing continued to happen for some time, except that I grew increasingly embarrassed.
Eventually I gave it up as a bad job and switched to Plan B, which was to use my regular Bitcoin app – Blockchain – which I know works perfectly. I have no idea why Bitcoin Wallet failed me in my moment of need. Perhaps it took exception to the pork scratchings. I will never know. I paid and took myself off to a table in the corner, where I consoled myself with a few pieces of salty shavings of pig.
No app should ever force me to have to apologise for using bitcoins. Isn’t life hard enough for us already, battling popular prejudice and the withering contempt of professional economists at every turn? One day the world will be ours, but for now it’s an uphill struggle. Bitcoin Wallet had just scored an own goal, and I wasn’t happy about it.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Bitcoin Wallet holds itself to a higher standard by proclaiming itself ‘arguably the most secure’ app around. I see precisely no evidence for this.
For starters, a pin code would be nice at the very least. The app is simple and there are only a few options in the menu, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss this. If there is a setting for it, it’s well hidden somewhere entirely inappropriate. What you will find under the settings menu is an entry entitled: ‘Warning. This is all unfinished stuff. Use at your own risk!’
It’s fair to say that Bitcoin Wallet does warnings very well. There is lots of helpful advice. Make sure you back up your wallet. Use this app only for small amounts of bitcoin. Try these features out at your own risk. To me, that’s a little like making a car with no airbags or seatbelts, and simply recommending that customers drive carefully and look in the rear view mirror on a regular basis. It doesn’t actually make it any more secure; in fact, it draws attention to the lack of security features.
Last but not least
One last gripe about Bitcoin Wallet: it deducts transaction fees without permission. When I came to return the unspent 0.01 btc to my standard wallet (using the on-screen QR code, which this time it managed without issue), there was no separate field to enter the transaction fee. Instead, it sent 0.0099. I know it’s not a big deal. It’s not even the straw that broke the camel’s back, since this particular camel has been circling the drain since I tried to pay for my coffee. But all the same. I was not impressed.
So ends the unfortunate saga of Bitcoin Wallet, an app I will be removing from my phone as soon as this review is finished. At times it showed flashes of mediocrity, but in all the whole experience left an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Though that might have been the pork scratchings.
Verdict: a solid thumbs down. 3/10, Bitcoin Wallet, go to the back of the class.
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