Solana Saga Review - 2023
- Writer Eric Huffman
- andEditor Shannon Ullman
- May 8, 2023
- •7 Min Read
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At long last, the Solana Saga, a web3-centric Android smartphone, has arrived. In my hands-on Solana Saga review, I found the Saga to be more than capable of everyday phone tasks and a pleasure to use for the Solana ecosystem in particular. But it does have a few limitations, largely a slim-but-growing assortment of built-in dApps, a shortcoming likely to be remedied with future updates.
What Is A Solana Phone?
The Solana Saga is a new offering from Solana and OSOM that combines a flagship phone with a clever way to manage built-in wallet security for popular Solana wallets like Solflare and Phantom. So, basically, it’s a crypto phone — with impressive specs and dependable everyday performance.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, let's answer the question on everyone’s mind:
Why does this phone exist?
After all, I can download a Solana wallet from the Play Store on any Android device, and I’m off to the races — making poorly timed crypto trades like usual, right? Well, yes. But the Saga brings some unique features that put it ahead of the standard solution, namely built-in wallet management.
We’ll cover that in detail in just a bit. It’s worth understanding, and it’s a key feature that separates the Saga from other phones.
The Saga is part of a larger goal for Solana to onboard one billion people to the network. That’s a lofty ambition, and the Saga ultimately targets users who use their phones as their primary method of online access. In the short term, it targets crypto geeks — likely why I was chosen for the Solana phone review.
Traditional smartphones and wallet apps work well (sometimes), but there’s also lingering doubt about wallet security in a tech industry where “spying” on users or limiting functionality is commonplace.
The Saga’s innovative seed vault stores your wallet keys separately from the operating system, safely eluding digital snoops like Google, your mobile network carrier, rogue apps, or whomever else may have an inquisitive interest in what you do with your phone.
There’s also the question of dApps, decentralized apps that let users play games, swap crypto, earn a yield, and more. Mobile app stores often make it difficult to get apps approved — and then they take a cut of the revenue, like digital tax collectors. That might be fine for Candy Crush, but it’s a non-starter for many crypto applications.
The solution: The Solana Saga comes with its own dApp store, which operates separately from Google Play.
Solana Saga Phone Specs
|Network||Helium Network, T-Mobile, and other 5G (2 SIMS supported)|
|Storage||512GB internal storage + additional MicroSD support (MicroSD card not included)|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen1|
|Camera||50MP and 12MP ultrawide|
|Display||6.67 inch 1080p AMOLED screen 120Hz|
How Much Is A Solana Phone?
The Solana phone price is $1,000, and it's available now — or soon, at least. The official Solana Saga phone release date is May 8th, 2023. If you pre-ordered, you can get one now. If you haven’t ordered the Saga yet, you can sign up on Solana Mobile to get notified when handsets are available to ship.
- Seed Vault: The Saga keeps your private keys private. Not even the built-in wallet apps know the recovery phrase.
- Solana dApp Store: Choose from a selection of Solana-powered apps that are managed separately from the Google Play Store.
- Android 13: With the latest version of Android paired with powerful hardware, the Saga can be anything you want it to be.
Pros & Cons
- Solid build quality (if a bit heavy)
- Vivid 1080p AMOLED screen
- Seed vault for secure recovery phrase storage
- Older CPU than some flagship phones
- Limited audience at the price point
Milk Road’s Solana Saga Review
Solana was kind enough to send us a demo for our Solana Saga phone review. Sadly, we don’t get to keep it, but I wish we could. Overall, the Saga is a solid device with a promising approach to crypto wallet security.
We’ll get into the weeds on the security part in a bit.
Inside the slick-yet-discreet packaging, we have the basics you'd expect:
- Solana Saga phone
- USB-C charging cable (wireless charging supported)
- SIM card tool (but no SIM card; I popped in a T-Mobile SIM)
- Instructions (I read them this time, sorta)
- Seed phrase recovery sheet
The setup is standard Android (13) fare, centered on a Google account, with the ability to add additional accounts. If you’re an Android veteran, nothing new here — until you get to the seed vault, up next.
The Solana seed vault is where the Saga zigs while the other smartphones zag.
As experienced Solana users know, Solana wallets like Phantom and Solfare use a 12-word seed phrase to build or restore a wallet’s private keys (the keys that let you spend crypto). Solana’s seed vault ups the ante by creating a secure key with a 24-word seed phrase in encrypted storage and then letting select apps — the aforementioned Phantom and Solflare wallets — access the seed vault for secure transactions.
These apps aren’t installed through Google Play but rather through Solana’s own dApp Store.
Think of it like compartments:
- Encrypted seed vault (knows your seed phrase)
- Solana dApp wallets (don’t know your seed phrase)
- Solana dApps (just talk to the wallet)
- Solana dApp wallets (don’t know your seed phrase)
- Android 13 OS
- Other apps
This setup keeps your seed phrase separate from the OS and other apps.
Of note, the seed vault only works for Solana and the two wallets mentioned above. If you need to use another blockchain, the setup works as it would on any other Android phone; you set up or restore the seed phrase from within the app itself.
The seed vault’s 24-word seed phrase works with other Solana wallets as well.
In the interest of science, I imported the wallet into the Phantom Wallet Chrome extension without issues. After a couple of tries, I was able to do the same on another Android phone, but the difficulty may have been a hardware issue. The phone in question was once rescued from an ice-encrusted snowbank in what we’ll just call “The Klondike Derby sled incident.”
In short, if you were to run over your shiny Saga with a heavy, hand-crafted sled, for instance, you can still recover your crypto wallet, albeit in a less secure way than using Saga’s seed vault.
Solana dApp Store
What good is a wallet without apps? The Solana Saga answers this question as well, sorta.
The Solana Saga phone comes with 18 available dApps you can download. During seed setup, you can automatically download one or both of the wallets. Other dApps, like Marinade (liquid Solana staking, anyone?) and Jupiter (swaps galore), are available to install through a dedicated dApp store.
Updates and permissions for these Solana dApps are also separate from the Play Store.
While the dApp selection is slim pickin’s thus far, some of the top names are already there, and you can expect the selection to grow over time. The dApp store is built around the Solana Mobile Stack (SMS), which is an open-source toolkit that helps developers build mobile apps.
Here’s what you’ve got to play with:
If you have a favorite wallet between Phantom and Solflare, you might be happier just choosing one. I ended up removing Solflare to cut down on the number of screens I had to navigate to perform simple tasks. I also encountered an error on Solflare when minting an NFT.
Pilot error, perhaps. But like main squeezes, wallets are generally more agreeable if you only have one.
Each of the wallets supports the seed vault as well as biometric authentication. Approve transactions with the touch of a finger. They both also have links to some additional dApps within the wallet apps themselves. For instance, Phantom features Solend (a crypto lending app), and Solfare has a built-in browser, so you can venture off into the DeFi weeds if you’re so inclined.
Alternatively, you can use Chrome or another browser to reach DeFi apps. I connected to Solend and Marinade through Chrome by choosing “Mobile Wallet Adapter” in the connect menu. This magically summons your seed vault wallet of choice, Phantom in my case.
I couldn’t resist. The Saga, with a bit of help from Minty Fresh, made minting what might be the first-ever Milk Road NFT a breeze. Minty Fresh is among the 18 apps available in the dApp store, and it’s super easy to use.
The NFTs you mint on Minty Fresh come from your own images or photos. If you’ve always wanted an NFT of your big toe or your dog who barks like a nut during Zoom calls (I have one of those), this is your chance to mint one for pennies.
Separately, the Saga comes with a complimentary Genesis NFT — and a few bucks to get you started on your Solana journey. Nice touch.
Jupiter And Marinade dApps
Free money is great and all, but most of it was in USDC, which won’t appreciate in value. That won’t do, so I swapped it for some SOL on Jupiter (a Solana-powered decentralized exchange) and then staked some SOL on Marinade to earn a yield with liquid Solana staking.
You can also just swap for mSOL (Marinade staked SOL) to save a step.
In fact, there isn’t much you can’t do in the Solana ecosystem with the Saga’s installed apps, but it would be nice to see a greater selection — a minor complaint likely to be sorted as more developers port their dApps using the Solana Mobile Stack.
Outside of network fees for transactions, swap fees, and staking fees (all normal), I didn’t encounter any extra fees at all. Thus far, the Solana dApp store is free to use with no hidden costs. This might change at some point in the future. There are no guarantees in crypto.
I read more than one Solana Saga review while waiting for the test phone to arrive. Some suggested issues with the fingerprint sensor, a feature that can come up often when using your fingerprint to authorize wallet transactions. I didn’t find any problems in that regard — outside of my faulty aim. Your mileage may vary.
To reduce the number of interactions with the fingerprint sensor, you can “trust” certain dApps, reducing the number of times the Saga asks you for permission. I trust no one, so I opted not to do this. Alternatively, you can use a PIN.
My daily driver is an old phone that was run over by a sled, so I can’t compare the Saga to my iPhone 14 or Galaxy S23. But for most folks’ needs, the Saga is a solid device with zippy performance, great battery life, and a clear, bright screen. This phone offers more power than needed for most use cases. The seed vault and dApp store just add to the appeal.
Oh, and the pictures it takes with that 50MP camera are gorgeous.
The Saga is built by OSOM, a company focused on privacy tools (like the seed vault). Support, however, is accessed through Solana Mobile. The site offers a ticket system or a chat (email required), as well as several FAQ-style help articles. We didn’t find a phone number for support.
The Saga comes with a 1-year limited warranty against defects available for the original owner only.
Who’s The Solana Saga For?
- Solana ecosystem users: The Saga has a niche audience. For the same money, you could wrangle a deal on a Samsung S23 with similar specs and a Gen2 processor. Buuuuut, you’d forgo the seed vault, which is super cool if you’re a Solana ecosystem user. And honestly, the Gen1 processor is plenty fast.
- Solana devs: If you’re developing for this phone or future Solana Mobile endeavors, you need one to test the user experience. The good news is that the Saga is more than just a dev toy. It’s a solid device worthy of everyday use.
- Casual gamers: I absolutely crushed my competitor in Clash Royale. The Saga’s bright colors and crisp sound made victory taste even sweeter.
Who’s It Not For?
- Budget-minded buyers: You won’t find a free (with a 2-year contract) phone offer on the Saga. The Solana phone price is $1,000, with no apologies, and there’s a waiting list.
- Apple ecosystem people: The Saga won’t AirDrop an Instagram pic to your MacBook Air or FaceTime to your Apple Watch. This phone is better suited to Google ecosystem people or those who simply want the Saga for its crypto-centric approach.
What Could Be Better?
If the goal of the Saga and the Solana network as a whole is to onboard a billion people, the seed vault is a step in the right direction — but only the first step of a long journey. We still haven’t escaped the recovery phrase paradigm that’s challenged the industry since the beginning.
Is there a way to hide this geekiness in the background for average users? Most people won’t want to fuss with a 24-word recovery phrase, keeping it under lock and key. A new approach might be needed at some point to reach Solana’s goal. (But it’s still a great phone.)
Final Thoughts On The Solana Saga Phone
One of the first things we did in this Solana Saga review was to answer the question Why — as in, why does this phone exist? The Saga isn’t the most powerful phone out there, nor is it the cheapest. But its innovative approach to wallet security is something you won’t find anywhere else. And all things considered, it’s a solid device with plenty of power and storage for average users. It looks cool too. Gotta love those green buttons. Sold. I’ll take it.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you buy a Solana phone?Expand to learn more
Visit Solana Mobile to buy the Saga phone. The official Solana Saga release date is May 8th, 2023. If you’ve already preordered, Solana Mobile provides information on how to complete your purchase. If you didn’t preorder, you can sign up to get notified when there are handsets available to ship.
When is the Solana Saga release date?Expand to learn more
The Solana Saga phone launches officially on May 8th, 2023. Initial availability prioritizes customers who pre-ordered a handset. You can also sign up to get notified by email when the Saga is ready to ship.
Eric Huffman is a staff writer for MilkRoad.com. In addition to crypto and blockchain topics, Eric also writes extensively on insurance and personal finance matters that affect everyday households.
Shannon Ullman is the managing editor for Milk Road. She specializes in cryptocurrency and personal finance content. Her work has appeared in publications like Insider Inc.
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