Getting a second-hand phone doesn’t have to be overly complicated or stressful.
Over the last few years, the cost of smartphones has skyrocketed. As a result, it’s no longer uncommon to see phones being sold for $1,000 or more, making the decision to buy a new handset quite the investment. Thanks to the ever-growing used smartphone market, though, it’s rather easy to take the sting out of those increasing prices.
The used phone marketplace is a great way to save some cash on your next phone purchase, especially if you know where to buy used phones. Also, if you have old devices lying around that you aren’t using anymore, selling them allows others to use them while simultaneously putting extra money in your pocket — making it that much easier to get your hands on one of the best Android phones for yourself.
Things to consider before you buy a used phone
We’ve already talked about how to sell or trade-in your Android phone to get the most money, and you can keep all of those tips in mind as you go to buy a used phone. Go through the same sort of checklist — factory reset, SIM unlock status, original accessories, damage, sales history — to decide if the phone you’re buying has been given the care you would have given your own phone to sell. There’s a loose thought process to go through:
The first is what kind of used phone you’re looking to buy:
- A used phone purchased directly from an owner (e.g., Swappa, Craigslist, eBay)
- A refurbished phone that has been through a “touch-up” directly from the manufacturer or a partner (e.g., Verizon, Samsung, Amazon, Gazelle, Best Buy)
Know what kind of used phone buying experience you want before you start shopping around.
You can probably get the best deal by buying directly from someone else because no intermediary is taking a fee, but you also risk the phone having issues that the naked eye can’t see. If you know exactly what you want and know what to look for, you’re probably going to be comfortable buying a used phone from a direct marketplace like Craigslist, Swappa, eBay, or one of many buy/sell forums.
Buying through an intermediary marketplace like Gazelle could work really well if you don’t want to take any chances with the quality but still don’t mind a bit of wear and tear. The phones often come with (admittedly limited) warranties and money-back guarantees, which, as a buyer, offer considerably more peace of mind than the average “meet up at the nearby 7-Eleven and hand over a wad of cash” type deal.
Finally, buying a certified refurbished phone is your safest bet but comes with the least discount over a new product. Carriers, retailers, and third parties all refurbish and sell used devices with varying levels of discount and inventory options. Yes, these phones are used, but they’ve gone through a (varying) set of checks to verify their condition and details before being cleaned up and passed on to you. There’s a peace of mind associated with buying refurbished, but there’s also a cost associated. If you’re interested in going this route, there are plenty of options when looking for the best places to buy a refurbished phone.
Along with all of that, there’s something else to consider — your health.
Given the current pandemic, buying a phone that’s been used by someone else might be something you’re thinking twice about. It’s normal to have some apprehension about used phones right now, seeing how germs and viruses can stick on devices if not properly cleaned/sanitized.
While that concern is perfectly valid, we want to reassure you that the possibility of contracting a virus from a used phone is pretty minimal. That said, there are some precautions we recommend taking if you want to minimize any chances of that potentially happening.
The best places to buy a used phone
This is not an exhaustive list. There are innumerable places to buy a used phone on the internet. Also, depending on your country, this list may not be applicable (though we tried to highlight international marketplaces as much as possible).
Gazelle is one of the oldest players in the used smartphone game. While its business model recently changed to stop allowing anyone to trade in used phones online, it is still selling used devices through its own online storefront.
Gazelle tends to be slower to sell more recent smartphones on its website, but if you choose to buy something, the experience is pretty fantastic. Not only can you choose what condition you’d like your phone to be in (Fair, Good, or Excellent), but Gazelle also runs all of its devices through a 30-point inspection to ensure everything is in tip-top shape. If you get the phone and it isn’t a good fit for whatever reason, you’re protected by a 30-day return window.
You can buy from Gazelle and pay the full price of a phone outright, or if you’d like to go with a monthly installment plan, financing options are available with 0% interest — courtesy of Affirm. You can also add a device protection plan for a fee that provides one-year of accidental damage protection or pays for the repair of the device due to mechanical or electrical failure.
Good: Seamless buying experience with plenty of choices, all phones come with a charger and are guaranteed to work, 30-day money-back return policy.
Bad: Doesn’t sell every type of phone and can be more expensive than person-to-person marketplaces.
Craigslist relies on in-person meetings for a cash transaction, which can be hit-or-miss depending on how adept you are at identifying scams — of which there are many.
The main thing Craigslist has going for it is size and scale — it’s practically everywhere and has communities for almost every city in the world. You will be able to find a used phone on Craigslist, that’s not the problem; the problem is sifting through the thousands of listings to find something worth pursuing and ensuring that the phone you decide on does not have underlying damage or, worse, that its IMEI (a unique number that helps identify individual devices) hasn’t been blocked due to theft.
Good: Good prices, excellent availability, and plenty of choices, with the option of buying local to check condition.
Bad: Hard to verify sellers or the quality of the phones.
eBay is enormous, and today continues to be one of the top places to purchase a used phone. It has the biggest advantage of Craigslist — scale — with few disadvantages, especially since it uses PayPal to ensure that payments can be recalled should there be a problem.
eBay has a robust filtering system for buyers, allowing you to search for exactly what you want, with filters for price, carrier, condition, storage capacity, lock status — even color. You can even search for vintage phones! Of course, eBay still has its roots as an auction house, and that is how some used phones are still sold, but far more of them are sold at set prices. There is also the option to search for phones under the “Best Offer” filter, which can save you extra if you happen upon a good deal at the right time. eBay charges sellers, not buyers, to host their listings, so all you need to do is find the right listing, and you’re off to the races.
eBay’s best feature is its Money-Back Guarantee, which, combined with the extensive seller profiles, makes it easy to buy with confidence. For example, if there’s an issue with the device or the shipment, you can apply to get your money back, and, within reason, eBay will either cancel the PayPal transaction or, if it’s already gone through, refund you. And seller profiles let you filter potential purchases based on trusted sellers that have been around the block once, ten, or ten thousand times.
Good: Lots of selection with verifiable sellers with a money-back guarantee and buyer protection.
Bad: Potentially high cost of shipping, and you won’t be able to see the device before buying.
Swappa began its life as a small Android-based phone buying and selling community, but it’s since expanded to include other mobile devices like iPhones, tablets, Chromebooks, and MacBooks.
Swappa works on a set fee structure that’s very different from most other platforms, and this is important: the buyer pays the fee. Most will pay $20 or under for the privilege, though, which isn’t bad at all, and all payments are made over PayPal, which is incredibly convenient and secure. Why is a buyer fee better for both buyers and sellers? Because it encourages sellers to list their products on Swappa, adding inventory to a service that relies heavily on participation.
Swappa does not physically inspect devices, but it does a few things to ensure the buyer is getting what they pay for: all listings are verified by a human, who ensures that the IMEI is valid and can be activated. All listings must have good-quality photos that clearly show any damage, and the quality (fair/good/excellent) should match the photos. The shipping cost is included in the price of the listing, which should prevent post-sale price gouging. And because Swappa uses PayPal, all listings are protected, so if a device doesn’t arrive as advertised, buyers have recourse to get their money back.
Finally, Swappa’s prices tend to be lower than many curated services, and because Swappa lists the sale history of phones of the same type, you’re likely to get a fair price for the phone in the current market.
Good: Plenty of listings with clear quality guidelines and good prices.
Bad: Buyer pays the fee, and there are no warranty or guaranteed accessories.
UpTrade is another good choice if you want to keep the process of buying or selling a used phone as simple as it can be. If you’re a buyer, just search the phone you’re looking for, and UpTrade will show what it has in stock. Every listing includes hands-on pictures of the exact phone being sold, including the UpTrade employee that inspected it and any inspection notes they made. All phones sold on UpTrade are “UpTrade Certified,” meaning they go through a 50+ point inspection check and are sanitized by UpTrade before being shipped to you.
If you have a phone to sell, UpTrade makes things just as streamlined. Indicate the model you’re selling, its configuration, and what kind of condition it’s in. UpTrade gives you a quote for how much you’ll get, and you can then get the full amount 14 days after the inspection or 1-2 days after inspection at the cost of a 10% reduction in your payment. You need to provide your own box for shipping the phone to UpTrade, but you get a free shipping label. If you send the phone to UpTrade but change your mind, they’ll send it back at no extra cost.
Good: Very streamlined, easy-to-use website for both buyers and sellers.
Bad: Can take a while to get paid. Have to supply your own shipping box.
Back Market sells used and refurbished phones because it believes in prolonging the useful life of older devices to reduce the growing global e-waste problem and provide more affordable options to more people. It’s all part of the company’s commitment to challenging people to rethink their technology consumption. In fact, it refers to the process of buying a refurbished or used device as “adopting” a new phone/laptop/etc.
Back Market’s review system considers the appearance and “technical condition” of the devices it receives and issues grades as Fair, Good, or Excellent. Sellers on Back Market have to pass their Back Label certification program to assure their devices conform to Back Market’s high standards, and the company takes user feedback very seriously. It offers buyers a 30-day money-back guarantee, a 12-month warranty, free shipping, and a variety of payment methods. You’ll also see how many ounces of e-waste you have saved by buying it, which is a nice touch (note: for a used Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, that’s about 8 ounces).
Back Market has a wide selection of phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, Motorola, LG, and more. So if you’re looking for a quality used device from a company with an admirable mission, Back Market may be just the place you need to look.
Good: Great selection, rigorous review process, and admirable social mission.
Bad: Not available in all markets, and Android selection beyond Samsung and Google is slim.