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Guide to Buying Used Mobile Devices

Like most consumer products, smartphones start losing their value once they’re unboxed. Trade-in data shows that iPhones lose 49% of their value after just one year from the moment a new phone from Apple is released. Android phones depreciate at an even worse rate. The unboxing experience isn't worth the hundreds of extra bucks spent to get a brand-new device. 

Therefore, most buyers are leaning toward the used phone market for better quality at a reduced cost. This is especially true of companies that need reliable and high-performance devices for their daily activities. 

Are you considering buying used mobile devices for personal use or as a replacement for your old company devices? Our guide will help you successfully navigate the evolving market of used mobile devices. Specifically, you’ll learn the precautions you need to take and what to look for when buying a used mobile device. With Phonecheck diagnostic and mobile certification solutions, you’ll have the confidence required to try out used phones.

Why buying a used phone is a good idea

Used phones are highly cost-efficient. With the smartphone market now at an all-time high, how much you save by getting a used phone has become more significant than ever.


The older the phone, the higher the price difference and the more money you can save. For instance, a used iPhone 11 Pro Max with 256GB of storage is currently listed at $499 on Gazelle. That is about half the price of when it debuted as the top line phone from Apple’s 2019 series of smartphones.


The more recent iPhone 13 Pro Max with the same storage costs $700 more. Sure, it has a few more bells and whistles — but the difference in performance can hardly justify the price difference between them. You may also be able to trade-in your old phones for a more discounted price.


A significant argument against purchasing used smartphones is that you can get a brand-new mid-range phone at a similar price. However, most people don’t realize that you sacrifice performance for price with these mid-range phones. Furthermore, mid-range phones are often more expensive than used flagship phones.


A typical example of performance sacrifice is the 2020 iPhone SE. Compared to the iPhone 11 from two years before it, they run the same A13 Bionic chip. However, the iPhone 11 beats it in almost every other area performance-wise. Your savings margin is even more significant in the Android market. You can find the Samsung Galaxy S21 for less than half of the release price just a year after launching.


An often ignored benefit of the second-hand market is its environmental importance. Every year tech companies produce hundreds of millions of smartphones and other mobile devices. Every one of those smartphones would have ended up in landfills within the following one to four years when the users tire of it. When disposed of, the harmful chemicals from them can seep into the soil and contaminate the natural order. 

Additionally, the often scarce materials used in making these phones would have immediately gone to waste. Fortunately, the used-phone market keeps these devices in use for longer, decreasing e-waste.

Is it safe to buy a used phone? 

Despite the cost-saving benefits, many people are skeptical about buying used mobile devices due to potential issues. 

For a start, the phone can altogether refuse to work after a short usage time, leaving you with an expensive paperweight. However, you can mitigate this risk by buying from trustworthy retailers. For clarity, used phones have different grades. The refurbished grade, for example, goes through a rigorous testing process that fixes the major issues before listing.


Apple, Samsung, and other phone manufacturers sell refurbished phones directly. They test and fix these devices to a certain standard. Network carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T also list refurbished phones for sale. Refurbished phones from these sources are the most reliable, with performance guarantees. Refurbished handsets from carriers are some of the most expensive in the used phone market.


A few casual resellers of used cell phones are scam operators. Although they’re usually cheaper, avoid buying directly from an untrustworthy source. When purchasing from a listing website, stick with vendors with high reviews and a history of successful sales.


Some measures can help you avoid buying a stolen, lost, or damaged phone. For instance, you can request a phone diagnostic report. Such reports provide vital information about the phone’s functionality and ensure a smart investment.

Furthermore, with industry-standard solutions like Phonecheck, you can conduct an ESN check to ensure that you’re paying for an unlocked phone. Phonecheck’s mobile certification provides you with a certified device history report that, among other information, shows whether the phone is unlocked (clean ESN) or locked (bad ESN).

Where to buy a used phone

There are numerous websites and online marketplaces where you can find used phones for sale, including both large and small retailers like eBay, BestBuy, FaceBook marketplace, and Craigslist. Where you decide to buy a used phone largely depends on your personal preference and what you’re looking for. Some additional options to buy used smartphones include:


Swappa is an online digital devices marketplace directly connecting buyers and sellers. Swappa brings the best value available in the used phone market by eliminating intermediaries.


The platform creates standards that give qualitative structure and ensure transactions are carried out in good faith. Swappa regularly reviews its listings to ensure that mobile devices are ESN-clean, curbing the sale of stolen devices.


Swappa accepts PayPal payments, so sellers can take advantage of PayPal’s refund policy when the need arises.


Amazon is the most popular e-commerce platform in the world today. An active second-hand market for smartphones thrives on the Amazon marketplace. You can compare prices between different sellers and opt for the most valuable one.


Amazon has a robust feedback system where you can see reviews from certified buyers to judge the seller’s integrity. Amazon platform goes a step further by offering a 90-day warranty period on every device purchase. Amazon also takes care of the product delivery so you can enjoy a fast and dependable timeline, especially if you are on their prime service.


Gazelle also stands out as a reputable cell phone retailer. They provide mobile certifications before purchase. Mobile certification is a constructive software-based inspection to verify the condition of mobile devices. Therefore, you can go home in peace knowing your device is in great condition.


Gazelle also sells refurbished phones, carrying out major repairs to ensure 100% functionality and performance on these devices. Consequently, Gazelle lists their phones in three conditions based on the phone’s physical appearance: fair, good, and excellent. Gazelle also gives a 30-day return period for every phone you purchase from them.

Inspect the phone

When buying used mobile devices, you need to pay attention to details to ensure you are getting value for your money. You shouldn’t pay for a pre-owned phone without a thorough inspection. 

Let’s review some inspections you need to carry out. 

How to know if a used phone is in good condition 

Phone carriers and reputable online marketplaces use grades to categorize the different conditions of used smartphones.


Used phones labeled “refurbished or pre-owned” indicate that they had undergone thorough repairs. Some platforms label their listings as either “Excellent,” “Good,” or “Fair.”


Phones labeled excellent are in the best physical conditions with very few scratches. Some have had their shells, screens, or batteries replaced. Those labeled as good are next in physical appearance. You might see more noticeable markings and scuffs. But the screen is usually in perfect condition. The fair label is the lowest and least presentable of the three, and you might expect to find them with dents, deeper markings, or faded colors.


You should note that the higher grades are usually significantly more expensive. Regardless of the category you decide to buy and its cosmetic appearance, leverage diagnostic tools like Phonecheck to confirm that the device is in perfect working condition.

Make sure the phone isn’t blacklisted or stolen

One major problem with purchasing a used phone is the slight possibility that you might end up with a stolen phone. When a phone is reported stolen, the mobile network carrier locks and blacklists it across the industry, preventing its activation. When you unknowingly purchase such a phone, you’re left with a device that can’t perform essential functions like calls and SMS. In addition, law enforcement can track and seize such devices, leaving you with nothing. Aside from losing money, such a situation can sully your reputation as a used phone salesperson.

However, it’s not only stolen phones that get blacklisted. When the previous owner cannot pay the carrier network’s outstanding bills, the network can blacklist the phone. On purchase, you automatically inherit the account. Without sorting out the bills, you can’t get the device online.

To avoid these ugly consequences, ensure your device ESN is clean by carrying out mobile certification and getting a device history report before purchase. Phonecheck’s complete device history report provides vital information about a used phone, including lost or stolen status, repair history, network carrier financial lock, and more.

3 things to consider when buying a used phone

All things aside, before purchasing a used device, consider three primary things. We will walk you through what those things are.

Consider the warranty and return policy 

Although you need to carefully inspect the phone and ensure it’s in the best condition, the return policy from the seller is, however, an indication of its reliability. Money-back guarantees or an acceptable return policy give you extra peace of mind. You can return the phone when you discover any unexpected damage on time.

Check ESN 

Checking the device’s ESN is a quick way to know if network carriers have blacklisted it. Every mobile device has an identification number unique to it, and mobile carriers can track that. This identification number can either be the ESN or IMEI number, depending on the phone's network type (GSM or CDMA). Run the ESN through an online ESN check to see if it is blacklisted or not.

Pay attention to software support 

One area most often neglected is the years of support left on their devices. Mobile phone manufacturers usually have limited time support for every new phone. The software support duration left on your smartphone affects its performance and value.


Apple typically supports their smartphones for five years. Samsung recently stepped up their game for their Galaxy devices, including the latest s22 smartphones — offering up to four years of support for those devices. While Google Pixel phones only get about three years of software updates.


The support comes with software updates where your phones will have free access to the latest iOS or Android operating system available within its duration. The support also covers bug fixes, security updates, and better hardware optimizations that may come out within the guaranteed time frame.

Therefore, it is vital to pay attention to the software support available on the used smartphone you intend to purchase.

Phonecheck helps you buy used phones with confidence

Whether you’re buying used phones to replace old company phones or for personal use, the second-hand phone market offers you quality at a reduced cost. You only need to know what to look for and take the proper precautions. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to review a used mobile device before making a purchase properly. If you fall into this category, you may end up with a blacklisted device or, at best, a device with questionable working conditions and regret it later. That’s where Phonecheck comes in, though. 

Our industry-standard diagnostic and mobile certification software enables you to conduct a constructive software and hardware diagnosis of your used mobile device before purchasing. Aside from rooting out costly hidden software or hardware problems that may arise during usage, our software solution provides a certified device history report. The report contains vital information about the phone’s usage history, stolen status, functionality, etc. That way, you avoid buying a stolen phone.

When you know that your phone is in good working conditions and not locked by the network carrier, you can make your purchase confidently and with your mind at ease. Don’t buy a used device without a Phonecheck certified history report.

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