Solana Saga's comeback: how a failed web3 phone defied expectations
The origin story of the Solana Saga, the web3 smartphone that almost fell into obscurity.
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The Solana Saga phone has been the talk of the proverbial crypto town this past week, with the craze of Solana and BONK doing the rounds in just about every corner of crypto discussion.
Recent reports indicate that some units have sold for as much as $5,000 on eBay. This was possible because of the hype surrounding BONK, a Solana-based meme token that saw massive gains driven by social media hype and community excitement. To date, BONK is ranked as the third-largest memecoin by market capitalization.
From being on the brink of obscurity when it launched, to reaching unprecedented levels of attention, the Solana Saga has come a long way. But what really makes the Solana Saga stand out? Is it even as decent as a regular smartphone without its web3 features? Let’s look back at how it all began.
The Solana Saga was a “web3 smartphone” project developed by Solana Labs through its Solana Mobile Stack (SMS), an open-source software toolkit for Android enabling native Android web3 apps on Solana. The Solana Saga’s hardware was developed with OSOM, a privacy-focused tech startup.
OSOM might sound unfamiliar, but the people behind it bring serious street credibility from the smartphone design and engineering world. OSOM(Out of Sight, Out of Mind) is headed by Jason Keats, who previously served as a Product Design Engineer at Apple under the guidance of legendary designer Jony Ive.
Keats later joined Essential Products, a now-defunct smartphone startup known for making the Essential Phone. This high-end smartphone stood out for its distinctive design and innovative software capabilities.
OSOM tried to recapture the spirit of the Essential Phone with OV1, which later became the Solana Saga smartphone through a partnership with Solana Mobile.
In many ways, the OV1/Solana Saga was designed to be a spiritual successor to the Essential Phone. It had the same level of attention to detail and craftsmanship, evident in its use of premium materials.
For its chassis, the Solana Saga was built using a zirconia ceramic back panel housed in a stainless steel frame finished with titanium accents. For internals, the Solana Saga was, at least at the time it was released (May 2023), in the mid-grade tier for smartphones. Initially sold at $1,000 and later at $600, the device featured a 6.67″ OLED screen, a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 for the processor, and half a terabyte of storage.
Out of the box, the Solana Saga was shipped with Android 13 bundled with crypto and privacy-oriented apps, such as OSOM’s Seed Vault utility (rebranded to Solana Mobile Stack Seed Vault), which enabled on-device self-custody for crypto. The phone prominently features the Solana dApp store, which allows direct downloads of Solana-based web3 applications.
The phone featured wallets like Phantom, Solflare, Ledger, and Squads at launch. By default, the Solana Saga features three DeFi apps: Marinade.finance, Jupiter, and Mango. The phone also has Nokiamon, Minty Fresh, and TIEXO for NFT access while also featuring decentralized social apps such as Audius, urFeed, and Dialect.
Aside from the web3 features, one of the critical elements of Solana Saga’s security by design was the ability to sign transactions with biometrics: the phone has a rear-mounted fingerprint reader. This is one of the few mobile operating systems (in this case, a build on top of stock Android) that offer privacy-enhancing features by default, such as those found in GrapheneOS, CalyxOS, and PureOS.
By the time the Saga finally launched in April 2023, the crypto market and the global economy were plunging into uncertainty. Solana faced a slump at the time, trading between $20-23 from an all-time high of $259 in November 2021.
Tech reviewers even wrote it off as just another middling smartphone trying to be unique at an unusually high price, with popular tech YouTuber MKBHD advising his followers not to buy it. MKBHD later awarded the Solana Saga as “Bust of the Year” for his 2023 Smartphone awards.
For a device betting so heavily on crypto and web3 features that few were asking for, it looked as if the Solana Saga phone was set up for irrelevance from the start. By the first week of December 2023, the Solana Saga had sold less than 2,500 units. Solana co-founder Anatoly Yakovenko even went on record to admit that he’s only using it as an “NFT Phone.”
📱 Solana’s Saga phone was a flop 🩴
It sold ~2,500 units, and even @aeyakovenko uses it as his “NFT phone.”
🔮 Here’s what Solana Labs is thinking about the future of the Solana Saga.
— Laura Shin (@laurashin) December 5, 2023
Fast forward to today, the tables have turned. The craze surrounding BONK is immense. Solana is on a rebounding trajectory. Anyone who bought the phone when it launched at $1,000 has paid off that price through the BONK airdrop.
Will the hype cycle last, though? The current scene looks like it’s bound for another one. There are many sides to a story, and this episode of the Solana Saga could well be a prelude for what’s next.