Explained: Looking to buy a used smartphone? Here’s where to start

5 min read

I’m just going to say it, smartphones are expensive. It doesn’t matter what or how you’re buying, you’re going to be spending quite a bit of money to get a decent smartphone, especially if you’re looking for a flagship. How can you save? Well there’s always the option to wait for a deal, or even get a device financed monthly, but there’s one option that many overlook, buying used.

Picking up a device second hand can be scary, but there are certainly some great ways to do it. So let’s talk about it.

Where Do I Buy?

One of the biggest questions I’ve seen regarding buying a used device is where the best place is to do so. There are a lot of places to buy and sell smartphones, but in my own personal experience, the following four and ones that have worked well for me.

 – Refurbished Units

One place place to look is through your carrier or retail store for a refurbished unit. A lot of times you’ll be able to pick up a device at a deep discount with nothing more than a little cosmetic damage or, in the best case, one that was simply bought and returned. These are my favorite deals because you’re getting an essentially brand new device, but without paying the full price.

 – Swappa

Swappa is without a doubt my favorite place to buy used electronics. Here you can not only find a device that fits your needs, but feel safe in doing so. I’ve purchased and sold multiple devices on Swappa and each transaction has gone great. Why?

To make a great experience, Swappa requires that any device sold must be in working order, and also in good condition. To verify that is the case, a photo is taken of each device (and approved by staff) which requires that a listing-specific code be shown to ensure the device seen is really the one being sold.


Swappa’s staff is quick to help out with issues, both for buyers and sellers, and I’ve never had any big issues buying and selling on the site. Better yet, Swappa has just released a new Android app last week, so you can browse and manage listings from mobile.

Visit Swappa


 – Amazon Warehouse Deals

Another place to look for used phones is through Amazon’s Warehouse Deals. From time to time you’ll find some killer deals here — for example, I once spotted a Nexus 6P in good condition for just $230. These deals are solid, but I do have to warn you that Amazon doesn’t have a 100% success rate here. Customers have sometimes received the wrong smartphone though this program, but for the most part you shouldn’t need to worry.

Unlocked Smartphones on Amazon Warehouse Deals


 – Craigslist & eBay

Obviously, Craigslist can be pretty sketchy sometimes. There have been a lot of scams, and a lot of things worse than scams on Craigslist. However, it is a great place to buy or sell a smartphone in your local area. I’ve used Craigslist a couple of times to buy and sell devices, and for the most part it was a good experience, just be careful.

The same rules apply for eBay. It’s definitely not my first place to go online when buying or selling something, but as long as you’re careful and buy from reputable sellers, you should be fine.

What Should I Look Out For?

When buying a used smartphone, condition is the first thing to look at. You’ll want to make sure there isn’t any significant damage to the device, such as major scratches or dents, as those will hurt your resale value if you ever try to sell it.

You should also always aim to buy the device unlocked and paid off. In this day and age when monthly payment plans are pretty much everywhere, it’s imperitive that you ensure the device you’re buying it’s still being paid for. If the person you buy from stops those payments, your device would stop working, so it’s best to buy a device that’s been paid in full. By buying unlocked, you also save headaches with the carrier.

Do we really need Quad-HD displays like on the Galaxy S6?

Another thing we’d recommend doing, especially if you’re buying the device in person, is to check the charging port. Try it with your own cable and make sure everything works properly — no one wants a dead charging port. The same goes for any other ports on the device, give them a quick test as soon as possible to make sure you’re not buying a device that’s broken.

The last thing is the IMEI. If someone has purchased a smartphone with payments and hasn’t been keeping up, eventually the carrier is going to blacklist that device, meaning no one can activate it. To verify that a device isn’t blacklisted, you can use Swappa’s IMEI/ESN checker. Simply enter the IMEI, ESN, or MEID number on a device and Swappa will run it against most carriers in the US to find out if it’s been blacklisted or not.

What Should I Be Paying?

To make sure you’re getting a good deal, you’ll want to compare the price you’re looking at against other recent sales. The two easiest places to do that are Swappa and eBay. On Swappa head to that product’s page and you’ll find a useful chart which displays recent average selling prices. This is usually a very good indicator of what you should be paying.

eBay is another good resource. Simply look up the product and give the Buy it Now listings a glance to see what you should pay.