Sirin Labs Finney review

Fascinating Finney phone is crypto in a nutshell: Exciting, but also terrifying

Sirin Labs Finney

Sirin Labs Finney

“The Finney is a doorway into the exciting world of cryptocurrency, but what’s on the other side is just too confusing and risky to make it worth the effort.”
  • Distinct, attractive design
  • Comprehensive range of cryptocurrency tools
  • Unique smartphone features for experienced cryptocurrency users
  • Highly secure version of Android
  • Average camera
  • Limited appeal for those with only a passing interest in cryptocurrency
  • Cold storage wallet screen is fiddly to use
MSRP $899.00

The Sirin Labs Finney is a smartphone built for the blockchain generation, designed to prepare us for a future, decentralized world where cryptocurrency is used to pay for all our goods and services. Sounds cool, but cryptocurrency, the blockchain, and everything around it is confusing and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Therefore it’s tempting to run a mile from the Finney, but Sirin Labs is so completely invested in making it work for everyone — Blockchain advocate or otherwise — that it’s impossible to ignore, or be caught up in their enthusiasm. Can it really be so simple to carry cryptocurrency securely on your phone, use it when possible, and for that device to be worth the $1,000 asking price?

The answer is no, not really, but that’s not entirely the Finney’s fault. Strap in as we explore why.

Sirin Labs Finney
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Distinct design

The Sirin Labs Finney bears a family resemblance to the Solarin, the first phone made by the company before it pivoted from luxury $13,000 smartphones to the blockchain phone company you see today. It’s no bad thing. The Finney is definitely individual-looking, avoiding the standard black oblong we’re used to seeing by sharpening up the top and bottom edge, chamfering the sides, and curving the glass and metal rear panel to match.

The build quality is good apart from a slightly out-of-place lip where the screen meets the top of the phone. The 203 gram phone feels solid and at 9.3mm thick, it’s decently comfortable to hold. However, it’s slippery and we often felt like we’d drop it. Annoyingly, the rear mounted fingerprint sensor is slightly too low on the body, and our finger naturally fell on the camera lens — not ideal, and reminiscent of the old Galaxy Note 8’s problem.

There’s a reason the fingerprint sensor and the camera lens are low down on the rear panel: There’s a second 2-inch OLED screen that slides up from the top of the device. This is the Finney’s secret weapon, a secure cold (meaning disconnected from the internet) wallet to store cryptocurrency. When we first saw the phone, we questioned whether we’d constantly be popping this up and down, but we don’t, and it’s because you need two hands to open it. The mechanism is quite stiff, and there’s no special grippy surface so you can open it with just your thumb. Instead, you have to grip the top of the phone and slide the screen up.

Once the cold wallet is open, it does wobble about a little, and we definitely think it will break if too much pressure is put on it from the front. This is at odds with the rest of the phone, and we fear that if the open cold wallet screen gets a hard knock, it’ll snap. The presence of the cold wallet also seems to balance the Finney, weight-wise, in a top heavy manner. Holding it at the base to type, for example, does emphasise the slipperiness of the phone, and it feels like it may topple out of your hand.

All this aside, no-one is going to mistake the Finney for an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy. It’s distinct, different, and pleasingly premium.

Cold wallet and cryptocurrency

Getting involved in cryptocurrency is the top reason most will buy the Finney. We opted to receive a “virgin” review model as this will be how buyers will receive it, although Sirin Labs did offer to provide one that already had the cold wallet set up. It’s easy to see why: Set up is a royal pain in the blockchain. To get started you use the Finney Wallet app that’s pre-installed, which prompts you to open the cold wallet. If it’s the first time, you have to go through a lengthy and sometimes frustrating setup process.

Job one is to pick a password. This protects actual money, so it needs to be secure, and you definitely don’t want to lose it. It’s entered on the 2-inch OLED cold wallet screen, rather than on the phone’s keyboard. Letters, numbers, and symbols are selected from a side-scrolling list, navigated slowly using left and right arrow keys. This needs to be done twice, and it’s fiddly as the screen is close to the top of the phone. Because it’ll be the first time you’re using it, the learning curve is severe. Push through, and it does feel a little more natural, but it’s not a great first impression.

Sirin Labs Finney
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Then you get a list of 24 words to remember, called Seed words. You are immediately tested on  identifying all 24 in a multiple choice quiz, and if you get it wrong, you have to start the registration process again. If you’re new to all this, it’s something of a surprise, and errors generally are not tolerated by the Finney. We finally set it all up on the fourth attempt, after getting annoyed with the screen, accidentally mistyping our long secure password and getting kicked back to the start, eventually entering it correctly, then being confronted with a list of unrelated words (without explanation), which we promptly forgot.

Although the wallet is now set up, doing anything is a laborious process if your password is complicated and long, which it should be. Yes, payments can be made quickly when your password is “ahhhh,” but not when it’s 30 characters long and a mix of upper and lower case letters, and various symbols.

Filling the wallet

At this point, you’ve got an empty wallet waiting to be filled up. What happens next depends on whether you own any Bitcoin or Ethereum currency already. We’re going to work on the assumption that you don’t, as this was our situation. The Finney Wallet does not provide any way to directly buy cryptocurrency, so you have to go to a third-party app or other service. Being entirely new to this, we were recommended Coinbase to make our first purchase, although it’s not the only option out there. Don’t expect this to be a fast system if you’re connecting a bank account — it took a day to get approval, and then several hours to receive funds ready to make crypto purchases.

Transferring from Coinbase to the Finney wallet is simple enough, provided you have Coinbase installed on your phone. But again, it takes time. Nothing happens quickly in cryptocurrency, from what I saw.

With all the work getting crypto into my wallet complete, what’s next? You can try and spend it, but this isn’t easy — one coffee shop in London is listed as accepting crypto, and it’s miles away from where I live — meaning it’s a little bit of a letdown. It’s hardly the most easily usable feature right now, although that may change in the future.

Ultimately, if you’re a newcomer to cryptocurrency, do not expect the Finney phone to make this baffling world much less confusing and problematic. I carried on with the process because it’s my job, but if it wasn’t, I may have given up a lot sooner. Getting set up involves a lot of trust in companies you won’t be familiar with, using products and technology that are completely new, for very little benefit. The Finney, for all its basic accessibility, does little to convince me some bright crypto-future is very close.

Unnecessary notch screen

The Finney is guilty of a particularly heinous crime — it has a notch in the screen, which serves no purpose whatsoever. The phone has thick bezels above, below and around the screen for a start. Next, the Finney doesn’t have any kind of face unlock, so there’s no additional sensors, and worst of all, the notch simply holds the phone’s speaker. Viewed this way, it removes screen real estate, and looks out of place.

Sirin Labs Finney
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Perhaps its presence is necessitated by the cold wallet, but phones like the Honor Magic 2 manage to work around any pop-up module problems, so this seems unlikely. Even if it is a forced design decision, it looks like Sirin Labs is jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it, and that’s not good. That said, the 6-inch, 2,160 x 1,080 pixel screen is not lacking brightness or detail, but it’s a very ‘cold’ display. Compare it to the beautiful warmth of the iPhone XS Max or the Galaxy S9 Plus, and the stark blues and whites really show up.

Dull camera

Sirin Labs has not put much emphasis on the Finney’s camera. It’s a single lens, 12-megapixel camera with a f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization, and an HDR mode. It shoots 4K video at 60fps and has electronic image stabilization. The camera app is the basic Android app, and Google Photos is used for albums. All rather ordinary by today’s standards. There’s no portrait mode, no hybrid zoom, no flashy night mode, nothing.

This makes it a bit … boring. While the cryptocurrency stuff captures the headlines, the Finney is still an expensive phone that we have to use every day. Single camera lenses can be great, just look at the Google Pixel 3 and the Honor View 20, but when they’re barebones in terms of features, we’re left nonplussed.

However, despite the lack of fancy features, it does take solid photos. Colors are bright and realistic during the day, and it handles problematic overcast days very well, accentuating a blue sky that was only just visible to the naked eye. Food photos were good too, and the Finney made the colors pop, while keeping the subject appetizing. Even low light impressed. Yes, grey skies lack realism, but there’s limited noise, and plenty of detail.

Weirdly, the front facing 8-megapixel camera does have a software-driven portrait mode to add bokeh or blur. It’s decent too, picking out faces and body shapes well even under harsh indoor light. However, the low megapixel count and f/2.2 aperture limit the amount of detail, and the selfies are not our favourites. Put the Finney alongside the iPhone XS Max and the difference is immense. The iPhone’s selfie gives my face color and life. The Finney makes me look washed out and lifeless. I know which one I’d want to share.

For $1,000, we’re left disappointed by the Finney’s camera.

Performance and software

The Finney is a 2018 flagship Android phone with a Snapdragon 845 processor and 6GB of RAM, along with 128GB of internal storage and a MicroSD card slot. Certainly enough for most tasks, but it has already been surpassed in terms of chipset ability and RAM expectations. Does this mean it’s slow? No, of course not.

We put it through our benchmark tests to assess its capability.

  • AnTuTu 3DBench: 289,045
  • Geekbench 4 CPU: 2,273 single-core; 8,823 multi-core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 4,310 (Vulkan)

We played a selection of games, with Asphalt 8: Airborne and Reckless Racing 3 taking up the most amount of time. Despite not looking like a gaming phone at all, the Finney is great for the casual gamer. Asphalt 8 is really enjoyable, with plenty of speed and a smooth frame rate, but what really enhances it is the shape of the Finney itself. The curved sides make holding it in landscape very comfortable over long periods. It’s a surprisingly strong gaming device.

Android 8.1.0 is installed on the Finney, with the January 2019 security patch. This means it’s missing out on Android 9 Pie, and therefore already technically out-of-date. Sirin Labs has customized Android with its own user interface called Sirin OS, which is a key part of the company’s long-term strategy. It hopes to license it to other manufacturers making crypto-focused phones due to its security features. Sirin Labs has plenty of experience here, having adapted the Solarin’s highly-secure operating system for use on the Finney.

It comes with the Sirin OS Cyber Security Centre installed, which monitors the device for threats and other security issues in real-time. The list of security features is extensive, and just as confusing as Bitcoin, with an intrusion protection system with machine learning, network attack protection, cyber threat protection, and the promise of security updates on a regular basis. That’s before all the firewall and secure elements protecting the wallet. If you want mobile security, only BlackBerry comes close to the Finney, though it’s hard to say how much of all this really works.

Other apps installed include the Finney Wallet and the dCenter app store (more on this soon). Otherwise, Sirin OS operates just like regular Android. Apps are stored in a slide-up app tray, Google Assistant is called up using a long press of the home button — no fancy gesture controls here — and the overall look has been left alone.

Decentralized app store

The Finney has its own app store for decentralized apps, called the dCenter. At the moment it contains 16 apps, most of which feature Pokémon Go-style collectables, sometimes in an augmented reality world, but all revolve around mining a token in the hope that presumably, it’ll be worth something more in the future. If you want to play a game, you know, for fun, the Google Play Store seems like a better bet. The constant mention of blockchain and mining will put off those unfamiliar with the technology.

Then there are the incentivized apps. These provide a financial reason to watch videos and interact with apps, rewarding you with some cryptocurrency. At the time of writing there were two campaigns, and I watched two very dull videos about the blockchain, for which I earned 7,500KUE, and 1,300SWC. Lucky me, right? Well, this currency is stored in my Finney Wallet, but as to what I can do with it, how much it’s worth — if anything — and the general benefit of having it at all is a complete mystery. Sirin Labs says in the future, more incentivized apps will arrive and it’ll be possible to offset the outright cost of the phone.

One final performance point worth noting is the speed with which the Finney starts up. It’s lightning fast, and it’s ready to go after just a few seconds. Compared to slowcoaches like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, it’s very refreshing.

Almost a full day of battery

The Finney has a 3,260mAh battery cell, and this relatively small size is reflected in its standby and use time. A day is the absolute maximum to expect here, and if you’re a heavy user, you may need to recharge it to help get you through a long one. Running a video test on the device from 100-percent to zero, it played a full-screen YouTube video at maximum brightness over Wi-Fi for six hours and 45 minutes.

Quick Charge 4.0 is onboard to recharge fully in about two hours, or 50-percent in approximately 30 minutes.

Price, warranty, and availability

Today you can buy the Finney phone for $900, a slight reduction to the $1,000 MSRP, from Sirin Labs’ own website. However, this lower price appears to be a limited time offer. It comes with a 14-day money back guarantee. It’s also scheduled to be available through Amazon’s Launchpad program. The device is not sold by carriers, but will operate on most global GSM networks including those in the U.S..

Sirin Labs provides a 12-month warranty internationally and 24-months in Europe, covering any defects, but not accidental damage. It’s a return service, so the phone will go back to Sirin Labs for repair, which will take less than 14 days.

Our Take

Living with the Finney has made it very clear that cryptocurrency is not ready for mainstream use yet. The problem is its main feature is only compelling to those who use, understand, and believe in cryptocurrency and the Blockchain. Yes, with patience, the total newcomer can have a secure crypto wallet set up on the Finney, but we just don’t see why you’d want to, or need to, at the moment.

Take away the cold wallet, cryptocurrency tools, and blockchain features and you’re left with a decent, super secure, but ultimately unremarkable smartphone.

Is there a better alternative?

If you are set on buying a smartphone with a built-in cold storage wallet, the Finney is your only choice. HTC’s Exodus may do something similar, but we’re still waiting for its release. For now, the Finney stands alone.

If you’ve got $1,000 for a new smartphone, the choice of alternatives is absolutely huge. If the cold storage wallet is something you want to play with, but don’t know anything about cryptocurrency, your money will definitely be better spent elsewhere. The $900 Google Pixel 3 XL or the $1,100 iPhone XS Max are vastly superior smartphones, as is the $1,000 Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Depending on its availability where you live, the 900 British pound Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a superb purchase too. Wait a while, and you’ll have the Samsung Galaxy S10 to look at as well.

You can spend half the cost of the Finney on a OnePlus 6T or the Honor View 20, or even a third on something like the Pocophone F1, and then have more than enough left over to buy a standalone cold storage wallet from a company like Ledger too.

If you really want a phone with something that pops up out the top, there’s the Oppo Find X.

How long will it last?

We have some slight concerns over the durability of the pop-up cold wallet, and there’s nothing more than IP52 dust and water resistance, so it’s not going to survive anything too harsh. The Android version is already out of date, and because Sirin OS deeply customizes the operating system, updates to Android 9.0 Pie or later may take a while to arrive. The Snapdragon 845 processor has already been superseded, but the phone still remains powerful and capable.

Cryptocurrency and the Blockchain are still emerging technologies, which may mean the Finney is ahead of the curve and will stay fresher for longer should this be the reason you want to purchase it. However, because the technology is still being shaped, there’s a chance alterations could render the Finney less useful in the future too. Technically, the phone will remain useable for two years at the minimum though, just like other modern smartphones.

Should you buy one?

If you’re simply curious about cryptocurrency, then no. The Finney certainly won’t demystify it for you, or suddenly revolutionize your world. If you already own cryptocurrency, or regularly speculate in the market, then there may be more for you here. But because the phone itself doesn’t excite, you can buy better everyday phones for the same money or less.

The Finney phone is genuinely ahead of its time, it’s just that for once, this isn’t really a selling point.

Editors' Recommendations