Bitcoin in the real world: the Mycelium app

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Continuing our series of reviews of smartphone wallet apps, this week we’re taking a look at Mycelium.


First up, the name. ‘Mycelium’ is actually part of a fungus. It’s the mass of filaments that reach out absorb nutrients, branching and connecting wherever they are needed. It’s a nice analogy for the decentralised P2P network that is foundational to bitcoin. But what kind of fungus is the app? One of the intriguing, attractive and downright tasty ones? Or one that, frankly, stinks and makes you feel sick?

Mycelium


Just a quick look at the blurb on the Google Play Store page where you can download it, and it’s clear that Mycelium is an app that makes big promises. The question is, can it deliver?

  • Superfast connection
  • Full encryption
  • Total control over your keys
  • Cold storage function

Sounds outstanding. But the litmus test is: how easy is it to buy a coffee?

Installation
As was the case with the other two apps I’ve tried, installation was fast and straightforward. I’m a little uncertain why the list of permissions requested included knowledge of my location, but since the only psychoactive drug I’m going to be buying is caffeine I let that one go for now.

Launching the app (without a pin code: a nominal black mark there) gives you a nice home screen that includes an address that’s provided for you, plus its balance and a QR code to make funding it easier. You can scan keys and all manner of other complex things, but let’s leave that aside too for now.

I started by funding my new address with a small amount of bitcoin from my wallet on blockchain.info. After a couple of minutes waving Mycelium’s QR code on my phone in front of my laptop’s webcam, I gave up and entered the address manually. Not Mycelium’s fault. I was pleased to note that Mycelium displayed ‘Receiving 10mBTC’ almost immediately (especially as that was the amount I had transferred).

Mycelium Bitcoin App review on BitScanWhile I was waiting, I noticed a nice feature below the pending notice: ‘Buy/Sell Bitcoin’. This allows you to hook up to the Mycelium Local Trader network and buy/sell bitcoins in person, at a commission of 0.2 percent. When I explored further it gave me a list of sellers in the vicinity of Penzing, Vienna. Since I am based in the UK, this wasn’t super useful, though it did reassure me further than the Security Services were unlikely to be knocking down the door any time soon. (Some poor guy in Penzing may get an unwelcome visit, but that’s not my problem.) Fortunately you can change your location, which I imagine you will want to do unless you are happy commuting a very long way for a trade.

Back to the task in hand and it’s off to my favourite bitcoin pub to purchase a coffee: my standard routing for testing wallet apps (so far, blockchain has come out firmly on top).

Back to the pub
Back in the Devonshire Arms it was the standard routine of ordering a coffee and requesting to pay by bitcoin. I’m becoming a bit of a regular in there now.

When it came to paying, the process was so fast and natural that I pretty much missed it. I think my fingers did some tapping and I have a vague memory of scanning a QR code, but it was all so painless that it mostly passed me by. Intuitive? Yes.

While I drank my coffee, I took the opportunity to explore a few more of Mycelium’s features. And there are a lot of features. Not so many it’s overwhelming, but enough to do everything you would reasonably want to and then some. I found the pin code option easily and set one to prevent unauthorised transactions (6 digits, by the way), which was something I’d struggled with on the Coinbase app.

What really impressed me, though, was the PDF backup feature.

This allows you to export your private keys to a file, which you can then send somewhere else

for safekeeping in the event your phone is lost or broken.

You can also do all the things you ought to be able to, like change your default currency and which exchange the value is taken from.

Conclusion
Let me be very clear about this: I like Mycelium. A Lot. It’s really very, very good. In fact, I can’t find a single reason you shouldn’t use it as a bitcoin mobile app. The only reason I didn’t immediately switch myself is that the blockchain app integrates with my hot wallet on blockchain.info, and I find that too useful to ignore. You could probably do the same with Mycelium with a little playing around, but there’s no native hot wallet as far as I can tell.

Summary: Mycelium is slick, usable and feature-rich. Get it. Now. 9.5/10.

Check out our other reviews!

Preview Image: Rob Hille, Wikimedia Commons

Brandon Hurst


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