Should I Buy a Used Cell Phone?

If you’re the geek type, like myself, you like the idea of owning the latest and greatest Android devices. In reality, sometimes our own budgets can get in the way of this goal, especially for those of us that prefer not to tie ourselves down to a carrier contract in order to qualify for subsidized pricing.

For those of us that are bargain shopping for our next Android purchase, some of the usual routes include buying mid-range devices that still offer a fair punch, keeping an eye out for sales, finding a deal on manufacturer refurbished device, or buying “new in box” versions of last-gen flagship devices. One other way to score a good deal is to consider going the “used” route.

Used. There’s just something about this word that seems to have a negative connotation, as in “we’ve used it up, it’s no longer good”. That’s probably why so many retailers that sell used products (games, hardware, cars, etc) tend to use the word pre-owned as an alternative. Scary word aside, buying used doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Personally, I’ve bought a number of used devices online over the years, mostly as secondary phones and tablets or to gift to friends and family. Almost every time, the experience has been positive.

Wait… Almost every time? Yes, that’s right. I have ran into troubles before, but I learned from them. If you give the process of buying a used phone or tablet due diligence, things can still go wrong but there are many steps you can take to lower the likelihood of an incident as well as ensure there are still a few options for recourse in the event you do run into trouble.

The above tips should help you through the buying experience, and while written primarily with phones in mind, most steps should also apply to tablets. Without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Table of contents:

  1. Know what you’re looking for
  2. Where to buy from
  3. Meeting in person
  4. Inspecting the phone
  5. Negotiating the price
  6. Wrap up

Know what you’re looking for

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Pretty obvious first step, right? You need to know what you’re looking for before you start buying. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have an exact model picked out, though.

Start by deciding the minimum specs you are looking for, the minimum Android OS you’re willing to live with, what sizes you are looking for, and the maximum budget you have to spend. This should give you an idea of what to look for and should help you narrow it down to just a small handful of handsets. You may find that your specs goals are too lofty considering your budget, and so adjust if necessary.

How do you know how much you should be paying for a used phone? Research! You’ll want to hit Swappa, Ebay, Craiglist, Amazon and just about any online source you can think of where they have used phones for sale.

How do you know how much you should be paying for a used phone? Research!

Pay careful attention to condition, not the median price. That scratched up beater of a Galaxy S4 on sale for $149 (buy now price) on Ebay shouldn’t be compared to the mint condition Galaxy S4 on Swappa going for $300. Compare mints to mints, goods to goods, etc. Figure out what makes a phone mint, good, okay and poor and decide on a minimum quality you want to be looking for — from there, you can quickly figure out a fair price. Likewise, make sure the phones you are looking for aren’t just the same condition, but they are both either locked to same network or both unlocked, depending on what you are looking for.

Want to save even more money? Timing is everything. Generally speaking, you’ll get a better deal on a phone that was released to six months ago then one released 5 months ago. At a year, the pricing goes down even further than a phone that’s ten or eleven months old. And even bigger jump occurs once the phone has been on the market for two years or more. Also, if possible, time your buys with the release of new iterations of the device. If your heart desires a used Galaxy S5, wait until the Galaxy S6 has been announced, or better yet until it’s been on retail shelves for a few weeks. Same goes for the Galaxy S4, it will likely be even cheaper once the GS6 hits.

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