Person holding a cell phone

9 Tips for Buying a Used Smartphone

Smartphones are incredibly expensive and can range anywhere from $400 to $700, but you don’t have to pay so much when you purchase a used phone. There are plenty of used and refurbished options for you to consider if you know what to look for. Here are nine tips for buying a used smartphone.

  1. Understand that "refurbished" may not mean "used."
    You see the term “refurbished” everywhere now, but it doesn’t mean what it used to. We’re familiar with "refurbished" meaning the devices were fixed and returned, but refurbished doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing with smartphones. "Refurbished" for cellular companies means the box was opened at some point, in which case your smartphone could only have been used to test a line for proper functionality.

  2. Avoid buying a stolen phone.
    Stolen phones cannot be activated or used. Many phones have the service provider written right on the phone. If so, you can call the service provider and ask for information regarding the phone’s ownership and find out if it’s stolen. The best way to avoid buying a stolen phone is to only purchase from a reputable seller—especially if you’re purchasing online—and verify the seller’s information.

  3. Avoid websites like Craigslist or Facebook.
    Sites like Craigslist or Facebook may seem like a great option to get a used smartphone for an inexpensive price. However, you’re more likely to run into a scam when purchasing from these types of websites. If your deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never send money online to someone you don't personally know who isn't backed by a good reputation.

  4. Make sure the phone doesn’t have a passcode.
    Before you purchase the phone, make sure it isn’t locked before you buy it. When you have the phone in your hand, press the “lock” button twice to see if the passcode has been cleared. Again, be sure you purchase from a reputable dealer, and a locked phone shouldn't be a problem.

  5. Research the phone's capabilities.
    Along with the operating system, you should know the phone’s specs—or what it can do. For example, if you’re looking for a phone that can handle a new app that requires a lot of RAM, you shouldn’t purchase an early model Samsung Galaxy. Make sure you’ll be able to do what you want to do with the phone.

  6. Examine the physical characteristics of the phone.
    Look closely at the phone. Take the back of the phone off and inspect for damage. You should use all of your senses. Don’t just look the phone over, but feel the device. While it may seem odd, you can sniff the smartphone to gain more information. If the phone smells burnt, then there is a defective component, and you shouldn’t purchase it.

  7. Turn it on and use it for a moment.
    If at all possible, turn the phone on and use some basic apps. Test the keyboard to make sure it’s intact and there aren’t any dead spots on the touch screen. You can check it by opening up the phone app and pushing each of the keys. Also test the camera to make sure it’s functioning.

  8. Know the return policy.
    If you’ve chosen to purchase your phone online through Amazon or a similar retail website, you aren’t stuck with an “as-is” policy. Before buying the phone, be sure you read and understand the return policy for the phone. You don’t want to end up with something you don’t like without the ability to return it.

  9. Consider purchasing a new battery.
    If you’re getting a used or refurbished phone, you should consider getting a new battery. The old battery in the phone may be worn out from improper use such as charging when unnecessary. Purchasing a new battery is a good way to extend the life of your phone without spending a lot of cash.