How to Buy a Used Smartphone

erica-manfred2Last week in Aging With Geekitude, Erica shared her favorite apps, sites and gadgets for your next road trip – read about them. This week and next, she’ll clue you in to her system for buying a good used smartphone. But don’t buy one this week, because next week she’ll tell you how to pick the right network and plan – a key choice before you pick a phone.


I have to brag. I just snagged the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the big, dazzling Rolls Royce of phones in mint condition for a mere $350 on eBay. I’d drooled over this phone at Best Buy when it came out last year and retailed at $799 – or $299 with a contract. But I refuse to get snookered into contracts. Pay as you go is the only way IMHO (translation: in my humble opinion).

Besides the price factor, I had been resisting buying the new Note because I’d had my Samsung Galaxy S3, a perfectly serviceable phone, for only a year. But the perfect excuse arose. I tried to update my S3 and learned it had been “rooted.” It worked fine – just like my root canalled teeth – but the factory settings had been eviscerated by some geek who wanted it to do stuff that the manufacturer did not intend.  (If you’re curious about why geeks can’t leave well enough alone, here’s a good article about rooting.) This meant that the operating system on my poor phone could not be updated except by another hacker, and I don’t happen to know any.

It was my fault. I’d traded my own gorgeous phone with my daughter, who had bought the rooted S3 from some “friend.” Why did I make such a bad deal? I don’t know how to say no to her. Maybe you’ve been there.

It was time to start bargain hunting for my dream phone.


Is It Safe to Buy an Expensive Phone on eBay?


Am I taking a chance buying a used phone on eBay? No, not really. You take a chance buying a phone from your daughter’s friends, but on eBay you have layers of protection. Their dispute process almost always favors the buyer. Plus paying through PayPal and using a credit card offers more protection. (Here’s how to set up a PayPal account if you don’t have one.

Try to buy from an eBay “Top Seller” with a rating of 99 percent or more. (You’ll see the top seller icon next to the listing.) There are reliable stores on eBay that sell thousands of used phones and don’t want a bad rating. I bought from Pangea, a top seller, but there are others, including the Gazelle store, alltechwholesale and others.


To Bid or “Buy Now”


It can be a challenge to find what you’re looking for in eBay’s listing system, which seems designed to confuse buyers. If you enter the name of the phone in the site’s search box and select “lowest price,” you’ll get pages and pages of related items like chargers, etc. To filter the search just for phones, you have to click on “Best Match” (you’ll see it on the tab furthest to the right). Then you can choose between Auctions and Buy Now, or All Listings, (ie: both). Buy now means that you don’t have to bid; you pay the asking price.

If you want to bid in an auction, choose auctions that are ending soonest. Then have fun trying to nab it when everyone else is trying to outbid you. The reality is that you can usually just select Buy Now instead and get what you want for the same amount or a few bucks more.


How to Get a Good Deal on a Good Phone


Evaluate the condition of the phone Look very closely at the description page. The big sellers use five stars to rate them as poor, fair, good, very good or excellent. In an eBay store, “good” means it has cosmetic flaws but should work perfectly. This category is where the buys are. If you’re buying from a private seller – and there’s no reason not to since eBay will reimburse you if the phone isn’t what the seller advertised – read very carefully how the seller describes the phone (you’ll find the description at the end of the phone specifications). A few scratches and dings are expected, but do not buy anything with a cracked screen. This is a big repair.

Do NOT buy any phone that say bad ESN or bad IMEI. They’re probably stolen.

If you’re buying an Android Buy a one- or two-generation old model of a brand’s flagship (top) phone.  For instance, the Galaxy S3 was Samsung’s flagship phone when it came out. Even though the S4 and S5 have superseded it, the S3 is still a great phone and is now affordable on eBay at $150 or under.

Other good used Android phones include the HTC One, the LG Nexus 4, Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (my baby, one generation removed); Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Here’s a good article for guidance.

One great advantage of buying a Samsung used phone is you can consult the Samsung geek at the Best Buy Samsung Kiosk. If you’re not going with AT&T or Verizon (see next week for carrier advice) Samsung will help you figure out your phone, do updates, and answer questions.

If you’re buying an iPhone You’re taking more of a chance buying a used iPhone because the batteries are built in, do wear out and are expensive to replace. Android phone batteries are removable and can be swapped out, which is what I do when my phone needs recharging. So when you get an iPhone, test the battery life and return it if it doesn’t last for a day.

You can pick up the Apple iPhone 5 for AT&T on EBay for under $300, and the Apple iPhone 4 is under $200.

Happy shopping – but before you buy, wait to read my article next week on which carrier to choose. Phones are wedded to certain networks and that choice is key to what you purchase.


See more Aging With Geekitude articles.

Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook.


2 responses to “How to Buy a Used Smartphone

  1. I’m in the market for a phone so this article was extremely helpful. I’m eager to read the next one as I live in a small town which often means limited access to carriers.

    As I read the article, I took notes so that when I actually get on EBay, I can refer to them while I’m shopping. Thanks Erika for another great article.

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