Coinbase review and comparison
Last updated: 10.18.18
I’ve been a Coinbase user since 2013 and a lot can be said about the company, good and bad. In this review, I’ll try to give you the full rundown so you can evaluate for yourself if Coinbase is trustworthy or not.
Coinbase is the one of the biggest cryptocurrency companies around, supporting 33 countries, with more than 20 million customers around the world. Coinbase has a wide array of services but their main service allows users to buy and sell Bitcoins through their bank account, credit card and debit card.
If you want to get familiar with Coinbase in depth, keep on reading. Here’s what I’ll cover in this review:
- Coinbase overview
- Coinbase services
- Currencies and payment methods
- Buying limits
- Supported countries
- Customer support and reviews
- Coinbase compared to other exchanges
- Conclusion – is Coinbase safe?
Founded in 2012 by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam as part of Ycombinator, Coinbase is one of the oldest exchanges around. Coinbase has started out only as a Bitcoin brokerage service (selling Bitcoins directly to customers), but additional services were added along the way. Coinbase is fully regulated and licensed.
The company has raised over $200m from leading investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Rabbit Capital and The NYSE.
Coinbase brokerage service
The main service Coinbase offers is a brokerage service for buying and selling cryptocurrencies. New cryptocurrency users often find themselves buying their first Bitcoin through Coinbase thanks to the company’s reputation, marketing and relatively friendly user interface.
On the downside, one of the main complaints users have towards Coinbase is the lack of control over their own funds. When you open a Coinbase account you don’t have direct access to your coins and you don’t get any private key or a seed phrase. Coinbase stores your coins for you – It’s the equivalent of putting your cash at the bank, you don’t own it, the bank does.
Formerly known as GDAX, Coinbase Pro is a cryptocurrency trading platform. As opposed to the traditional Coinbase brokerage service, which simplifies buying cryptocurrencies at a premium, Coinbase pro is aimed at more experienced users.
Coinbase pro allows users to trade several cryptocurrencies including BTC, ETH, LTC, BCH and ZRX. Fees are considerably lower than the brokerage service and there are advanced trading options as well. You can read our full Coinbase pro review here.
In 2018 Coinbase launched their independant mobile wallet for iOS and Android. The wallet stores the private keys on the user’s device and only they have access to the funds. This brings Coinbase full circle as it started out as a wallet, transitioned to an exchange only (claiming that they are not a wallet) and now they are offering wallet services again.
Coinbase supplies online merchants with the ability to accept cryptocurrencies on their website via a dedicated plugin. The plugin is supported by some of the biggest CMS (content management system) around such as Shopify, Magento and WooCommerce.
Aside from the above, Coinbase supplies additional services such as:
- Coinbase Index – Tracking the financial performance of all Coinbase listed assets.
- Custodian services – Safeguarding cryptocurrencies for institutional investors.
- Earn.com – A service acquired by Coindesk for filtering out spam emails.
- Paradex – A platform for trading directly from a user’s wallet.
Coinbase supports the following coins:
- Bitcoin (BTC)
- Ethereum (ETH)
- Litecoin (LTC)
- Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
- Ethereum Classic (ETC)
- 0x (ZRX)
Coinbase accepts the following payment methods:
- Wire transfer (including ACH in the US and SEPA in the EU)
- Credit cards
- Debit cards
Coinbase’s fee structure is a bit tricky so I’ll try to break it down as much as possible. When you buy Bitcoins from Coinbase the price you pay consists of the following:
- The market price on Coinbase Pro +0.5%
- Transaction fee – A flat fee for transactions below $200 or a percentage of the transaction (the greater of the two).
Most transaction fees are 1.49% for standard buy and 3.99% for credit card buys.
Depositing money is free via ACH transfer but otherwise costs $10.
The full fee structure can be seen here.
As you can see, giving a straight answer to how much you will pay in fees is a bit tricky with Coinbase and that’s also one of the main complaints the community has towards the company. Coinbase can also decline your purchase in cases of extreme price shifts, as happened many times in the past.
Having said all that, Coinbase still has one of the lowest fee structures around when comparing to other brokerage services like Coinmama and CEX.io.
Transactions between Coinbase accounts are free of charge.
Outside transactions to your Coinbase account will require 3 confirmations before they will show up in your account.
Once your Coinbase account is set up you will be able to buy a small amount of Bitcoins until you raise your limit. For example, US residents who have a credit card on file in their Coinbase account (as backup) will be able to purchase up to $1000 worth of Bitcoins a week.
In order to raise your limits you will need to do the following:
- Provide and verify your phone number
- Provide and verify your personal information
- Provide and verify your photo id
If you are a fully verified US resident you can reach the highest limit which is currently $25K a day. Limits may also be set depending on the payment method you choose to buy the cryptocurrencies. For example, ACH transfer has higher limits than buying Bitcoins with a credit card on Coinbase.
Coinbase offers its services in the following countries:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.
Coinbase has a very extensive knowledge base. Most standard requests will probably find an answer there. If you are submitting a support ticket via email, expect a response within 48-72 hours (from personal experience).
Coinbase is also operating a phone support line, although from reader feedback we got, it seems it’s hard to get someone to solve your problem there.
As for the quality of the support, the overall impression is not too positive. Most of the time the support team won’t dig deep into your issue on their first response, and it is quite common to receive “canned responses” that don’t really address the problem. Many people in the community complain that Coinbase isn’t really very support oriented and that many times issues aren’t explained to the customer.
To sum it up, there has been a lot of controversy over Coinbase within the Bitcoin community. If you’re new to Coinbase, this is perhaps the one thing you need to take into account before making your decision to buy cryptocurrency through Coinbase. More on that in the following section.
Closed or frozen accounts
Account closures are probably the most commonly held grudge against Coinbase. Due to the company’s tight integration with traditional banking laws, such closures are inevitable. For better and / or worse, Coinbase prides itself on its legislative compliance.
Coinbase was first to receive US regulatory approval. As a result, Coinbase has AML (Anti-Money Laundering) and KYC (Know Your Customer) practices much like any bank.
Expect Coinbase to track how you spend “their” coins and to summarily shut your account for the following activities:
- Transactions related to adult services.
- Bitcoin gambling, including skill-based gaming.
- Sale or purchase of contraband through darknet markets.
- Resale of coins on other exchanges, particularly those without AML / KYC.
- Other arbitrary reasons which rub their algorithm the wrong way.
As you can see, you can get your Coinbase account shut down rather easily. While you will almost certainly get your money back, it will likely prove to be an inconvenient, frustrating and potentially costly experience.
Aside from the above, Coinbase has been the focus to additional criticism including:
Affiliate reward abuse – Coinbase offers a referral program however doesn’t always pay its partners according to what is stated (based on my personal experience).
Taking a stand in Bitcoin debates – There are many “internal debates” within the Bitcoin community that Coinbase voiced its opinion on. Usually it’s expected from a service to remain neutral in these debates and follow the natural market movements.
Patenting blockchain – Coinbase has 9 patent filings for cryptocurrency-related “innovations” including “Bitcoin exchange”, “hot wallet for holding Bitcoin” and “tips button”. Such patents are obviously not Coinbase innovations and obviously clash with the open source nature and the philosophy of Bitcoin. Coinbase expects people to trust them, and to refrain from using any such patents to block competition. Frankly, no company, agency or entity can or should be trusted with legal authority over any aspect of the Bitcoin ecosystem. Bitcoin was designed to obviate the need for such trusted parties.
In the following section I will compare Coinbase’s trading platform (i.e. Coinbase Pro) to other trading platforms around.
Coinbase vs. Coinbase Pro
If you’re new to crypto then it will probably be easier for you to use Coinbase (i.e. the brokerage service) than Coinbase Pro (formerly GDAX). As the name suggests, Coinbase Pro is for more experienced users that know how to handle advanced trading methods.
However, if you are an experienced trader, Coinbase Pro offers a much cheaper solution with 0.3% fee at max, which is one fifth of what you would pay for the brokerage service (and in some cases even less). You can read our complete Coinbase Pro review here.
Coinbase vs. Gemini
Gemini is a crypto exchange founded by the Winklevoss brothers. Gemini’s fee structure is even more complex than Coinbase’s, and overall fees are higher. The starting point for Gemini is 1% whereas Coinbase Pro charges 0.3%. In order to beat that, Gemini users will need to trade over $50K in a 30 day period.
Having said that, you should always check the market exchange rate on both exchange since there can be some differences. While most of the time they are more or less the same, in some cases price differences can occur and then the overall price you pay may be cheaper on Gemini (since the lower price compensates for the higher fee). Click here to read our complete Gemini review.
Coinbase vs. Binanace
At the time of writing Binanace is a strictly crypto to crypto exchange which means it does not accept fiat currency. This makes it hard to compare if to Coinbase Pro that accepts major currencies such as USD, EUR and GBP.
When looking strictly at crypto to crypto exchanges Binance wins the competition with an extremely low fee of 0.1% as opposed to Coinbase Pro’s 0.3%. Also Binance offers a wider variety of cryptocurrencies. Click here to read our Binanace review.
Coinbase vs. Robinhood
US investors can also use the Robinhood trading app to invest in Cryptocurrencies. However, unlike Coinbase or Coinbase Pro, they will not have direct access to their coins. This means that they cannot withdraw Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies from the app. This solution is good only if you’re looking to trade and not to hold cryptocurrencies.
Robinhood is available in 25 US states and claims to have 0% trading fees, which is very competitive, even when compared to Coinbase Pro. In addition to trading cryptocurrencies, Robinhood also allows you to trade traditional stocks.
Coinbase is simple and easy to use. The company has invested a lot of time and money into making their user experience smooth and painless. However you are not in control of your coins and your transactions are being tracked.
I think Coinbase is currently focused on growth and less on satisfying its existing customer base which can be seen by the amount of negative reviews they receive and that’s a shame. However, if you don’t encounter any issues then the price is fairly competitive.
My personal opinion is this – if possible, use Coinbase to buy cryptocurrencies, the service is solid. However, once you buy your coins get them the hell out of there to a wallet that you completely control, like a hardware wallet.