REVIEW: Ballet Pro and Real (Bitcoin Wallets)

Before our discussion from S5 E1, Bobby Lee really wanted me to try the Ballet wallets. So he arranged that I would receive samples of both products: Ballet Real Series and Ballet Pro.

It only took me 7 months to finally sit down and go through all the features in a video, and then it took me another couple of weeks to edit the recording and prepare a review which explains the pros and cons. I’m always happy to receive products to test and review, and I try to write and do videos about every item. So I apologize in advance to Jessie Yang and Bobby Lee for being so late with this one, but during the pandemic I’ve been pretty moody during this pandemic.

Now let’s talk about the two types of wallets: the Ballet Real and the Ballet Pro. From the point of view of build quality, size and functionality, they are identical. They’re made from stainless steel, they are shaped like credit cards, they are unexpectedly heavy and have that “precious” tangible feeling to them. Also, they can receive funds in the same manner through scanning the large QR code on the right side.

Furthermore, the two devices benefit from the same user experience in the Ballet Crypto App. You scan the QR code and then enjoy the simple watch-only wallet experience which allows you to receive bitcoins from two addresses: a legacy one and a SegWit one.

The bad news is that you can’t generate any more addresses, which is bad for your transaction privacy. If you’re going to receive lots of Bitcoin transactions, then the bits will get stacked in the same address and everyone sending will also be able to see from where you previously received any money.

On top of it all, since Ballet has created your Bitcoin wallet, they also hold your xpub (extended public key). This means that the company will know at all times how many coins you own, how much they’re worth, and when and where you send them. A newbie who holds small amounts will probably not care and compare the situation to bank which always know about your balance, but it’s always good to be cautious and consider educating yourself to upgrade your security.

Now let’s talk about the differences between the two types of Ballet wallets. The most obvious one is the color: the Pro is blue, while the Real Series is silver. But the most significant difference is in the amount of trust you put in Ballet.

The Ballet Real Series relies on a trusted setup which is slightly better than Mike Caldwell’s work with the Casascius coins. If Caldwell put his reputation on the line and made it clear that he will be honest for as long as he mints the physical bitcoins, Bobby Lee has added an extra layer of complexity by having two separate parts of the private key printed in different parts of the world.

More precisely, half of the private key gets printed in China, and the other half gets added in the United States of America. Yet according to the Ballet website, the company never generates the entire private key in either of the two places. The process is called Two-Factor Key Generation (2FKG) and entails that the intermediate code gets generated in the USA via BIP38, and then the Chinese factory uses this encrypted code to generate the encrypted private key.

Also, the computers involved in the key generation process are airgapped to avoid external tampering. The employees from the Chinese factory can only act in a dishonest way if they can decrypt the BIP38 intermediate code.

Yes, this setup is a step up from Mike Caldwell’s trust-centric approach to Casascius. But in the meantime, bitcoins have become much more valuable and the risks are far greater. Furthermore, the standard for security has greatly improved with the launch of Trezor in 2014, so we must strive to do better.

For those who prefer the trustless setups, there’s the Ballet Pro Series wallet – which is the Ballet version that I recommend to beginners. It costs 3 times more than the regular version, it requires 15 minutes of effort to generate your BIP38 intermediate code (as demonstrated in this video), and it also makes you responsible for managing the 12 or 24 words by yourself.

But if you’re going to onboard an older bitcoiner who has no patience to learn how to use an electronic device, then it’s your moral duty to promote the right principles of trustlessness.

In my review video, I’ve described the Ballet Pro as the “boomer wallet”. Because it’s basically a paper wallet that’s meant to impress older people with the build quality and the credit card skewmorphism. When you hold the wallet in your hands, it feels like that premium card that you only get from the bank if you’re holding a million dollars in your account. There’s nothing cheap and plasticky about it, so I suppose that the build quality is the major surprise and selling point.

If transaction privacy and advanced features are the two elements that you’re willing to sacrifice, then the Ballet Pro is the perfect choice for older nocoiners. Your Bitcoin-skeptic father, grandfather, or uncle will appreciate something that they can understand and will most likely HODL with pride. If you were giving them a hardware wallet, they definitely wouldn’t react the same way – Ballet is all about aesthetics and offering a gift that makes a good impression.

Ultimately, it’s the Ballet Pro Series wallet that I recommend for those who want to introduce older friends and family members to Bitcoin. The form factor and build quality will definitely look attractive, and the trustless setup offers a balance between security and the fact that you will be sharing the xpub with Ballet.

Yes, you can buy a Trezor One for cheaper – but not everyone is willing to learn how to use a new electronic device. Some people need to take baby steps and start with something they can understand.

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Vlad Costea

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