Sirin Labs Finney Review: Does This Crypto Smartphone Stand a Chance Against the Samsung Galaxy S10?

Journalist:
April 20, 2019

By CCN: The developers of the Sirin Labs Finney have created for themselves a monumental task. Not only do they desire to break into the fiercely-competitive smartphone market, but they also aim to spearhead cryptocurrency’s transformation from a niche curiosity into a mainstream financial instrument.

After raising nearly $150 million for its Israeli creator during the initial coin offering (ICO) boom of 2017, does the Finney achieve this lofty goal? Perhaps more pertinently, does it have any chance of competing with the unexpectedly crypto-friendly Samsung Galaxy S10?

Read on to find out.

Cold Storage Cryptocurrency Wallet

The Finney’s onboard crypto wallet offers the security of a hardware wallet with (most of) the convenience of a mobile app. | Source: Josiah Wilmoth/CCN

When Sirin Labs debuted the Finney last year at a launch event in Barcelona, representatives touted it as a solution to both grizzled bitcoin bear market veterans and crypto newbies alike.

Seeking to test the Finney on both of those demographics, my wife, who shares my ideological affinity for bitcoin but has no experience using it, was kind enough to help me test and provide a crypto novice’s perspective on the device. Both of us currently carry variants of the Samsung Galaxy S6 (yes, s-i-x), so keep that in mind when we discuss the phone’s performance and rave about its ability to hold a charge for more than three hours.

The Finney’s key selling point is its integrated hardware wallet, which is located on a “safe screen” that slides out of the top of the phone. Here, private keys remain isolated from the device’s operating system, ensuring that funds remain secure even if the phone become infected with malware.

I found the safe screen difficult to open and altogether unwieldy, though my wife didn’t seem to mind that it took two hands to open it. She did say that it reminded her of John Travolta’s cell phone in “Swordfish,” so I’m not sure which criticism is worse.

In any case, she did encounter difficulty when actually using the safe screen to enter her wallet password and restore her wallet “seeds,” as she called them.

Since the safe screen is too small for a keyboard, you must scroll through the alphanumeric characters and select them individually. Her password was only four characters long, and even that seemed like a chore to enter.

What makes this even more frustrating is that the scroll button is directly beside the delete key, which you will inevitably mash when trying to quickly type in your password.

The Free Money That Wasn’t

Once your wallet is set up, you can fund it with ethereum (or any other supported cryptocurrency) and then head over to the Finney’s on-device decentralized application (dApp) store, called the dCENTER.

The dCENTER could be a major selling point, except that almost no one actually uses dApps, and the Finney only supports a handful of titles anyway. The Decentraland dApp, which is featured on the device, doesn’t even offer mobile support.

That’s not a dealbreaker, though, because we all know what cryptocurrency is really about: lambos. To that end, the dCENTER offers users two ways to earn crypto tokens.

The dCENTER’s dApp offerings were a bit of a letdown. | Source: Josiah Wilmoth/CCN

During last year’s Finney launch event in Barcelona, co-CEO Moshe Hogeg spent a surprisingly considerable amount of time touting the dCENTER’s airdrops and “learn and earn feature,” through which crypto startups can bribe users to watch video advertisements and/or directly airdrop funds into their Finney wallets. He said that the device would come with $300 worth of incentives at launch and predicted that the device would eventually pay for itself as users claimed future airdrops.

At the time, I imagined that this would create serious headaches for crypto investors come tax time and provide a veritable buffet for the audit-happy IRS.

However, the device I reviewed only had two token airdrops that could be claimed, as well as two “learn and earn” opportunities. It’s possible that the options were limited since it was a review device, but I had specifically requested a sealed box so that I could test the “new user” experience.

Together, these airdrops and ads netted me about $5 in tokens.

The upshot was that I was forced to watch this video, which ranks among the most bizarre ads for an initial coin offering that I have ever seen. It’s seven minutes long, but I couldn’t peel my eyes away.

Ideally, users would be able to trade these airdropped cryptocurrency tokens in the Finney wallet’s native token conversion service, which allows users to exchange assets from within the wallet. Unfortunately, this service – which requires KYC verification – only supports a few assets since Sirin Labs is the liquidity provider.

All in all, the dCENTER proved to be a huge disappointment, and the $20 worth of ethereum that I used to fund the wallet is still sitting there, though at least the recent crypto market run has pumped its value up to $25.

Now on to the basics.

Design: Newsflash – It’s Large

The Finney is, to put it simply, large.

In fairness, I’m disproportionately biased against thick phones. To be completely honest, I absolutely loathe them. I treat “phablet” like a four letter word. I place my newly-acquired devices in Otter Box cases amid much weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the only reason I bring myself to do it is that I hate the idea of spending money to replace a broken phone even more than I despise carrying a brick around in my pocket.

Speaking of cases, accessory support is another problem that Finney users will face since third-party manufacturers are unlikely to produce accessories for the device. The Sirin Labs store offers one $35 “styling case” in six different colors (two are sold out at the time of writing), but the case offers little in the way of physical protection, and the design of the hardware wallet makes it unlikely that there will ever be a LifeProof-style solution for this device.

Now, Finney partisans would argue that while the device might be thick, it’s less bulky than carrying around a phone and a traditional cryptocurrency hardware wallet like a Trezor, Ledger Nano S, or the cinder block more commonly known as the KeepKey. And they’d probably be right – but most crypto users don’t carry their hardware wallets around in their pockets.

In any case, the Finney’s size didn’t bother my wife, though the lack of protective cases did.

The Finney does have a fingerprint scanner, which is pretty neat – privacy concerns notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the location of the device’s rearmoutned fingerprint scanner directly next to the camera also seems ill-conceived, as you will inevitably get fingerprints all over the lens when unlocking your phone.

Sirin Labs Tricks Out Device with Flagship Specs

The Finney features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM, which seemed sufficient to handle everyday tasks, but we didn’t subject it to any benchmark tests.

The device utilizes an “ultra-secure and Google-certified ‘fork’ of Android” called Sirin OS, which will be familiar to the handful of customers who owned Sirin Labs’ first smartphone – the $16,000 Solarin.

Sirin has said that it plans to license the operating system to other device manufacturers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make this the core focus of their business as more mainstream device producers add native support for crypto (reports that the company has laid off a quarter of its workforce seem to bolster this theory).

The device did come with a few bloatware apps that could not be uninstalled, which was disappointing, but unfortunately par for the course.

My wife remarked that she was very impressed with the quality of the Finney’s 12-megapixel camera, but again, she’s comparing that camera with the one on her Samsung Galaxy S6 Active – which to be honest is probably clouded by toddler fingerprints – not a true present-day flagship.

Samsung Galaxy S10: The $999 Elephant in the Room

The Samsung Galaxy S10 threatens to gobble up Sirin Labs’ niche market share. | Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP

At this point in the review, it’s time to discuss the $999 elephant in the room. That, incidentally, is the price tag for both the Sirin Labs Finney and the Samsung Galaxy S10+, which is the first flagship device from a mainstream smartphone manufacturer to feature native cryptocurrency support. The base model S10 is even cheaper, with an MSRP of just $899.

Though less secure than the Finney’s isolated hardware wallet, the S10 wallet is a major step up from the third-party wallets that most users download from app stores. The S10’s crypto wallet also reportedly features Samsung Pay support, which could be a game-changer for crypto payments.

Suffice to say that bitcoin evangelists will have a far easier time convincing their crypto-curious friends and relatives to experiment with cryptocurrency using the native wallet on the Samsung Galaxy S10 they were going to purchase anyway than persuading them to plunk down $1,000 on a device named after a crypto icon they’ve never heard of produced by a company they’ve also never heard of.

Still, the Finney wallet makes a nice conversation piece.

Verdict: This Luddite Will Probably Stick with His S6

My wife decidedly preferred the performance of the Finney to her years-old Samsung Galaxy S6, but access to an onboard cryptocurrency wallet and native dApp support didn’t make her any more likely to actually use them.

As an early Finney skeptic, I’m also far more impressed with the device than I ever expected to be, criticisms notwithstanding. Still, if I owned a large amount of cryptocurrency, I don’t think I would feel comfortable carrying it all around on my person. If I was in the market for a $1,000 smartphone on which to store my funds, I would probably buy an $899 Galaxy S10 base model and use the remaining $100 to purchase a conventional hardware wallet.

The Sirin Labs Finney in many ways feels like a device ahead of its time. The problem is that when its time finally does arrive, companies like Samsung will be the ones to reap the profits.

Even so, Sirin Labs has accomplished something that a shockingly low number of ICO-funded projects have failed at, namely, producing a working product.

And hey, at least its flaws aren’t nearly as bad as #PeelGate.

Last modified (UTC): April 21, 2019 13:58

Josiah Wilmoth @Y3llowb1ackbird

Josiah is the US Editor at CCN, where he focuses on financial markets. He has written over 2,000 articles since joining CCN in 2014. His work has also been featured on ZeroHedge, Yahoo Finance, and Investing.com. He lives in rural Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @y3llowb1ackbird or email him directly at josiah.wilmoth(at)ccn.com.