Review: Opera for Desktop Cryptocurrency Wallet (Beta)

Browser-builder Opera has delivered on its promise to integrate the cryptocurrency wallet functionality first introduced on its Android browser into its desktop software, but the current beta release reveals that the company has some way to go before it could consider the feature ready-to-ship.

Mobile-First Development

Opera’s decision to concentrate its efforts on adding cryptocurrency functionality to its mobile browser first makes perfect sense. Your smartphone, like your fiat wallet, is something you’re likely to have with you at all times, making it ideal for on-the-go payments. Most are also protected with a PIN, passphrase, or biometric, providing some level of security, while Google’s Android operating system provides secure enclaves for wallet data which – in theory, at least – protects it from abuse by malware.

It’s no surprise, then, to find that the promised cryptocurrency wallet function in its desktop browser isn’t quite what was originally expected of the company: rather than getting its own dedicated wallet functionality, the desktop Opera browser has now received a system which ties it in to the Android version – allowing the desktop to make transactions using the smartphone wallet.

Impressively Fluid

Like Opera for Android, the cryptocurrency integration in Opera’s desktop browser is particularly fluid: after a brief setup process, in which users are prompted to install the cryptocurrency-enabled Opera for Android beta release, create a wallet, and then link it to the desktop via QR code, the wallet becomes available from the browser’s side bar. Initially, it does little beyond link the user to Opera’s list of compatible decentralised applications (Dapps) which the user can then follow for everything from buying mobile top-up vouchers to Cryptokitties-style collectables.

When spending from the wallet, you’ll need your smartphone to hand. The wallet itself lives entirely on the phone: after setting up a transaction, Opera for Desktop provides an ‘open in wallet’ option which triggers the side bar wallet; this, in turn, activates a prompt on Opera for Android confirming the payment details, including recipient address and amount. The payment must be authorised on the smartphone to continue; it’s impossible to send anything from the desktop alone.

Not Quite Finished

Unfortunately, it’s during the payment process that the first real glitches begin to appear. Perhaps the biggest is that the automatically-generated avatar image for the recipient address, used as a quick verification that the address hasn’t been tampered with by malware between the smartphone and the desktop interfaces, doesn’t match: one image is shown on the desktop and an entirely different image on the smartphone, even for the same address – leaving users concerned that they might be sending their crypto to the wrong destination.

Less serious, but arguably more annoying, is that for all the fluidity of the spending process the desktop wallet has absolutely no other functionality to its name. It’s impossible to bring up a wallet’s address from the desktop interface, either as a QR code or a copyable string, and there’s no option to view your wallet’s current balances. If you need either of these, you’re stuck using Opera for Android instead – and manually copying and pasting your wallet’s receipt address if you need it on the desktop.

Security a Plus

When Opera launched its Android wallet feature, it did so with the promise of considerable security for your cryptocurrencies – despite the web browser being the most commonly-targeted attack surface of any modern smartphone. By tying the desktop version into the mobile version it benefits from the same security features, effectively acting as a hardware wallet and second-factor authentication for every payment you make.

The Android version has also been available in beta form for a little while now, and to date nobody has come forward with a report of being able to access currencies without authorisation. While that doesn’t mean that Opera’s implementation is guaranteed secure, it at least suggests that the company hasn’t made any obvious errors that could leave funds unprotected.

Verdict

Having a wallet integrated directly into your browser is undeniably convenient, and even in beta form Opera showcases just how fluid cryptocurrency payments can be. The company still has a lot to do in order to bring the functionality up to the level of a dedicated wallet application, though: being able to view balances and copy receipt addresses is a must, and hopefully something we’ll see as the software progresses through the beta-test process.