Nothing has signalled that we’ve finally entered the cyber future more than the rise of blockchain networks and cryptocurrency. And that makes HTC’s blockchain-based smartphone, the HTC Exodus 1, one of the most cyberpunk (and strange) devices yet.
As with most things blockchain- and crypto-related, it can be difficult to get a sense of what the Exodus 1 actually is, and what makes it different from all the other smartphones you can buy. So, we’ve put together this guide to teach you more about the Exodus 1, including why you’d want (or not want) one—and how to get it.
What is the HTC Exodus 1?
The HTC Exodus 1 is a blockchain-powered smartphone that also serves as a digital cryptocurrency wallet and a secure data vault. It was conceived of and designed by Phil Chen, HTC’s “Decentralized Chief Officer.” Chen was also on the development team that created HTC’s Vive VR headset.
On paper, the HTC Exodus 1 sounds similar to other manufacturers’ flagship phones. Here are its general specifications:
Display: 15cm IPS LCD display, 1440×3120 resolution
Durability: IP68 dustproof and waterproof
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
OS: Android 8.1
Storage and Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB internal storage (non-expandable)
Battery: 3500 mAh battery, USB type-C charging, support for fast charging
Camera: 16-MP and 12-MP main camera, dual 8-MP selfie camera
Connectivity: 4G LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot
Headphone jack: Yes
By most measures, those are generally flagship-worthy specs. Of course, the Exodus 1’s real selling point is its blockchain integration and that it doubles as a hardware wallet for your digital cryptocurrencies.
Every Exodus 1 is a node in HTC’s own blockchain network, and the smartphone runs open-source, blockchain-based apps known as dApps (pronounced “dee-apps”) to process transactions. Each user within the network will be able to trade cryptocurrency with each other, their devices acting as a wallet for their digital currencies. This, of course, raises some questions about security.
If you aren't an expert coder but have been a keen armchair observer of Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and every other increasingly niche cryptocurrency, you might be wondering if it's feasible to create your own.
In short: yes. But there are quite a few different options to consider - and caveats to keep in mind - before you dive in.
How does the HTC Exodus 1 protect my cryptocurrency?
To keep your cryptocurrency safe, HTC implemented the TrustZone “Secure Enclave” on the Exodus 1, something you won’t find on your average Android phone. TrustZone is basically a hardware-based mini OS that acts like a digital bank vault, helping you manage your crypto assets and processes and running in parallel with the phone’s Android 8.1 OS. Any data protected by TrustZone is cordoned off from—and unreadable to—everything else on the phone, including the Android OS and anything running on it.
Exodus 1 users manage their cryptocurrencies via the Zion crypto wallet, which securely stores Bitcoin and Ethereum across a decentralized network. The wallet can even be used to make payments in apps with Zion integration (HTC has released the Zion SDK and Key management APIs for developers who wish to integrate support for Zion payments into their apps).
This security method differs from what is known as “cold storage,” the offline cryptocurrency storage method where keys are stored directly on a device, much like Sirin Lab’s upcoming Finney Blockchain phone. While cold storage is ultimately safer from hackers, it’s not without risks, since losing or damaging your phone would mean losing access your crypto keys for good.
Should you lose your Exodus phone, on the other hand, you’ll be able to regain access to your Zion wallet using Social Key Recovery, or “code sharding.” This works similarly to Facebook’s recently implemented account recovery system: You select up to five contacts who are sent part (or a “shard”) of a code that you can use to log back into a locked account. Be careful, though. The contacts you select will need to download an app, and if they lose access to their device or their part of the code then you won’t be able to regain access to your wallet.
Over the past few months, Lifehacker has written a lot of articles trying to demystify the world of cryptocurrency, but there's still a ton left to cover. You could probably spend the rest of the year reading about cryptocurrency and still have more questions than answers. I'm not recommending anyone actually do that, but if you want to, there's a website you should check out.
HTC is pushing for a decentralized future
The Exodus 1’s name is apt, as the device is part of the wider blockchain project to decentralize digital information and data at large, giving people control over their data and introducing transparency to various financial systems and marketplaces. As this quote from the Exodus 1's design principles explains: “We believe we can rebuild the Internet together by empowering the people to own their own identities, personal data, and assets.”
It’s even been suggested that the open-source, decentralized bookkeeping and computing of the blockchain could be used for everything from voting and healthcare records, to more demanding computer processes like graphics rendering.
Following the Exodus 1, Chen hopes to deliver a more affordable crypto phone aimed at unbanked and underbanked people throughout the world. These are people who have limited-to-no access to secure and affordable banking—whether that be due to where they live, their economic status, or other factors. Nearly 19 per cent of Americans are underbanked, while 6.5 per cent are unbanked, while globally its estimated about 20 per cent of the world’s population is unbanked. Because of this, even the UN has even expressed interest in Chen’s project.
Before that can happen, cryptocurrencies need to overcome their many hurdles, including their niche status; prohibitively long transaction times; high computing power requirements; and wildly shifting values, sometimes fluctuating by hundreds of dollars or more within minutes.
Furthermore, while Bitcoin, Ethereum, and a handful of other cryptocurrencies may be legitimate, there are endless junk currencies and outright scams looking to exploit “get rich quick” interest in the technology. Apple has banned crypto-mining apps from the iOS App Store, while Google prohibits mining extensions on Google Chrome to clamp down on developers slipping background mining into their software.
That said, the Exodus 1 and its contemporaries make the case that cryptocurrencies could see a wider adoption as more devices like them are released, ultimately ushering in the decentralization-revolution Chen and others evangelize.
How to buy the HTC Exodus 1
You can order the Exodus 1 if you happen to live in the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, or one of 30 other countries the HTC supports via its Early Access program, though there are limited quantities available. The phone is expected to officially launch (and Early Access orders will begin shipping) sometime this month.
As for the price, the HTC Exodus 1 will cost BTC (Bitcoin) 0.15 or ETH (Ethereum) 4.78. But as discussed above, cryptocurrency value fluctuates wildly — Bitcoin 0.15 converts to about AU$741 based on the current value as of this writing, and who knows what that might be a week from now.
In 2017, Bitcoin's value soared from $US1200 ($1,646) to around $US25,000 ($34,290) before dropping down to around $US16,000 ($21,946) at the end of the year. Since then, it's value has risen and dropped sporadically from day to day, dragging smaller cryptocurrencies such as Ether and Ripple along with it.
So, should you buy one?
Despite the tantalising premise and cool, radical Cyberpunk ethos, the Exodus 1 is still very much a “beta” product — a fact even Chen has been open about. It will take time, iteration, and cooperation with developers and users to achieve the decentralized future HTC envisions. As such, the Exodus 1 is marketed squarely at crypto-aficionados. If you fit that description, and haven’t already lost your fortune in the feverish cryptocurrency markets, the Exodus 1 may be worth checking out.
However, if you’re simply curious about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Etherium, or want to start mining, we’d suggest holding off on the Exodus 1. There are ways to start exploring and investing in cryptocurrencies right away that don’t require buying a specialised smartphone. And if you’re looking for a new phone, there are many others out there with equal or better specs to the HTC-1 that you can buy without needing $800 or so of cryptocurrency to your name in the first place.