Ring ring, Solana’s web3-focused Saga phone is calling

About 10 months ago, Solana’s co-founder and CEO, Anatoly Yakovenko, announced the launch of Saga, a web3-focused Android smartphone. The phone is now being rolled out, and we got to test one ahead of its launch.

Solana says Saga was launched to make crypto products and services more accessible for users by offering them through a phone instead of the traditional way of accessing crypto platforms and applications, which is via computers.

I had an interesting few days using the Saga as my daily driver. Here’s what I thought about it.

Saga phone at a glance

Let’s get the basics out of the way: The $1,000 device comes packaged in a black box that includes the phone itself, a USB-C charging cable and a physical seed phrase paper card so you can write down your recovery phrase, which is a sequence of random words that you need to access your crypto wallet.

The phone’s operating system is based on Android 13, and it comes with 512 GB of storage with a 6.67-inch OLED display.

The setup process is your standard Android experience, involving the usual prompts for setting up your account and internet connection. You can skip most of that and set it up later, but I’d recommend setting up the fingerprint unlock, as it also serves as a verification method for signing crypto transactions.

I used Saga as my work phone for a few days. The phone’s 4011 mAh battery lasted me about 1.5 days starting at 82% on Monday night when I unboxed it to about 4% Wednesday morning. So I’d say it works well as far as battery life is concerned.

The phone also has a built-in mobile wallet adapter, which is part of the Solana Mobile Stack (SMS) that is invisible to users but is infrastructure that connects dApps to wallets, Steven Laver, the engineering lead at Solana Mobile, told TechCrunch. Similar to how MetaMask has a connect button on its desktop client, this adapter is a “comprehensive technology” that will bridge web dApps to mobile devices, he added.

The device also includes a web3-focused feature, the Seed Vault, which is embedded into the phone. Users can import a seed phrase from another crypto wallet or create a new one (Solana recommends creating a new one).

And that brings us to the core purpose of this phone’s existence: dApps.

A unique experience marred by bugs

Unlike typical Android devices, the Saga has web3 features and a “Solana dApp Store,” where you can find apps for web3 platforms.

The store has a slim handful of applications:

  • Four wallets: Phantom, Solflare, Ledger and Squads
  • Three DeFi apps: Marinade.finance, Jupiter and Mango
  • Three NFT apps: Nokiamon, Minty Fresh and TIEXO
  • Three social apps: Dialect, Audius Music and urFeed
  • And the dApp “workspace”

Interestingly, Magic Eden isn’t on the list of dApp stores, even though the marketplace shared plans to partner with the Solana Mobile Stack (SMS) last year when Saga was announced. After publication, Chris Akhavan, chief gaming officer at Magic Eden, told TechCrunch in a tweet its app would be live soon and is currently in a review state.

When the phone is released to the public “in the next two weeks” the Solana team is hoping more applications will be added to the dApp store, but Laver did not disclose to TechCrunch how many the store would eventually house.

“We’ve been reaching out and engaging with big players in the Solana ecosystem and those who recognize that mobile has won for everything else,” Laver said. “A lot of developers are realizing mobile will win eventually and they want to be there when it happens.”

Saga owners get $20 worth of USDC and 0.01 SOL, or 0.0026 of a dollar, as part of the dApp store welcome pack. The 0.01 SOL was not enough to play around with some of the applications, so I had a friend send my new crypto wallet a few dollars worth of SOL to test out the dApps.

The dApp Store currently gives Saga owners rewards, which includes an airdropped Saga genesis token, which is an NFT that provides access to rewards offered by dApps. The token is non-transferable and non-burnable, so users should make sure it’s not connected to a temporary wallet.

We tested out the Minty Fresh dApp and minted a picture of ourselves for 0.01197 SOL within seconds. It now lives forever on the Solana blockchain. The process itself was easy — and admittedly, fun — but using the phone was not the smoothest experience. The phone was sometimes slow, and I had to close and reopen dApps multiple times because the crypto wallet and NFT minting platform kept freezing.

It’s worth noting that I faced these issues the whole time I used the device, not just with dApps. I found myself having to close applications, tap the screen a number of times to unlock it or use dApps, or even order myself an Uber.

That’s not a problem you want to have with a brand new phone.

Rollout and future plans

Laver said that while the phone is still in its early stages, there will be software upgrades over time to keep things fresh.

Last June, Yakovenko said the phone would be delivered in Q1 2023, but deliveries have since been pushed to Q2. The phone is available for preorder with a $100 deposit.

A number of major web3 companies like crypto wallet Phantom, NFT marketplace Magic Eden and the now-collapsed crypto exchange FTX shared in June that they were partnering with Solana to help launch the phone, alongside a $10 million developer fund for people who build apps on it.

This phone is an attempt for web3 to compete with Big Tech providers like Apple, Microsoft and, of course, Android — but many are skeptical of its potential to do so given its niche market.

Last year, Yakovenko said the phone is “targeting the hardcore people who know what self-custody means. You gotta start with a group that loves this product and grow from there.”

On the other hand, Laver sees this as a device for a bigger crypto audience. He said Saga’s team is planning a marketing push with crypto-native users as well as people who are “crypto curious.”

“We want this to be someone’s phone,” Laver said. “This is the only phone I carry, I don’t have a second phone; it does everything a phone should do plus web3 things.”

Laver didn’t disclose the exact number of phones that were preordered, but said the number was in the “high single digits of thousands.” The phone is certified for sale in 33 countries and the company plans to expand to other countries in the long term, he added.

“We’re in this interesting place where we’re building interesting technologies, but also interested to see where people take it next,” Laver said. “We don’t have a roadmap of A, B or C. We’ve done ‘A’ of building this phone, but we’re excited to see where people take it next for ‘B’ and ‘C.’”