High-end phone prices continue to rise every year, and for many customers, used phones are the solution. Second-hand shopping can save you hundreds on a phone. this fact cannot be denied. But used smartphones aren’t always the cheapest option, and in some cases they’re even terrible value.
Used smartphones offer a great bang for your buck
Like cars, smartphones quickly depreciate in value until they are worth a fraction of their original retail price. And that makes aftermarket smartphones an incredible bang for your buck. You might not be able to afford the latest iPhone, but hey, this two-year-old iPhone does almost the same thing and costs a few hundred less.
These savings become even more significant when you buy a used Android device. Take the Samsung Galaxy S21 for example. This phone is nearly identical to its successor, the $800 Galaxy S22. But when the Galaxy S22 launched in February 2022, you could get a pre-owned Galaxy S21 for around $450. That’s almost half the price!
Well, I know you can buy a new phone for less than $300 – we’ll get to that. But I’m quick to mention that high-end old phones have better build quality and better cameras than cheap, new options. A used phone may not always be the cheapest option, but it usually offers the best value.
And for those who hate waste, shopping for used products can seriously limit your impact on the environment. Manufacturing new phones takes a lot of resources, but you’re not buying new phones. They simply extend the life of old equipment that would otherwise be thrown away.
But buying used comes with risks
Unfortunately, used products can be a bit risky. Even if a used phone looks good from the outside, you don’t know what it’s been through and you may not get your money back if something goes wrong.
Let’s say a used phone has had its screen replaced. While the phone may look and function correctly, the waterproof seal between the screen and body is now compromised. Not to mention, the replacement screen might not be as durable, meaning you might end up paying for repairs sooner than you expect.
Batteries are also a nasty problem. Even the most gentle and careful person in the world will deplete a phone’s battery – that’s how batteries work. If the phone has been used a lot, the battery may not last a full day. (To be fair, battery swaps are cheap and quick, and many resellers will replace a phone’s battery if it’s having trouble holding a charge.)
And hey, worst case scenario, you’re buying a used phone that’s broken or stolen.
Finding a reseller that offers a warranty, free returns, or a money-back guarantee will help you avoid these problems. That can mean buying from a well-known resale site like Swappa, a retailer like Best Buy, or a manufacturer like Apple. Of course, some brick-and-mortar stores and eBay resellers offer warranties and guarantees.
And cheap new phones are better than expected
Used phones are often very valuable, but are rarely the cheapest option. You can get a new budget phone for less than $300 these days, and in general, affordable phones are a lot better than you’d expect.
Take TCL’s affordable phones, for example. They only cost a few hundred dollars but feature modern 90Hz displays, fast mmWave 5G support, large batteries, and respectable processors. Not to mention, these phones are often offered for free through carrier promotions.
And if you don’t mind paying a few hundred bucks more, there’s always the iPhone SE or Google’s Pixel A-series phones. These devices pack flagship cameras, processors, and other perks, but cost less than $500.
Again, a high-end phone that’s a year or two old will usually outperform a cheap new device. It will have a faster processor, better set of cameras, and higher build quality. Cheap new phones are simply cheaper than many high-end used devices.
But wait, what if you’re buying a year-old budget phone? Won’t that help you maximize your savings?
Product life makes some used phones useless
I’ve spent most of this article talking about used flagship phones. But budget-conscious folks might notice that between the Apple and Samsung devices, there are plenty of used, no-name phones that cost less than $100.
Unless you’re desperate, I strongly recommend you avoid these devices.
Most Android phones only get security updates for two years, which means they quickly become vulnerable to malware and hackers. If you buy a used Android phone, you can need to find one that guarantees at least three years of updates. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a device that’s nearing the end of its life cycle – you’ll be wasting money replacing it.
Flagship Android devices from Google, Samsung, OnePlus, and other top brands are typically guaranteed security updates for at least three years. So buying a used, high-end Android phone is usually a safe bet, although I suggest googling the phone’s name with the words “security updates” to see how long it’s supported by its manufacturer.
If you’re an iPhone fan, you don’t need to worry about this crap. Apple grants updates for iPhones for around seven years. (Of course, that’s also why used iPhones cost more than used Android devices.)
When should you buy a used smartphone?
Buying a used phone is usually a good idea. Not only does it save you money, but if you’re on a tight budget, a high-end phone that’s a few years old might offer a better experience than a cheap new phone.
But you can’t just buy the cheapest used phone on eBay. I mean, you can do whatever you want, but you could end up wasting money if you’re not careful.
Due to product support cycles, Android users should only buy used phones with security updates guaranteed for several years. That usually means you’re buying a high-end device that’s a year or two old, which is a shame as cheap new phones often cost less.
Dedicated iPhone customers, of course, live in a different world. All iPhones receive security updates for around seven years. So if you want an affordable iPhone, you can just buy a used one without much worry.
But all buyers should look out for guarantees or money-back guarantees. You never really know when an old phone was, and to avoid heartbreak or costly repairs you need to find a reputable reseller.
A used phone can save you a lot of money if you’re careful. This fact cannot be denied. I have just one final note here – there are many ways to save money on a phone. Carriers and manufacturers often offer massive trade-in deals, and retailers sometimes sell open-box units at significant discounts.
You can find such discounts on sites like SlickDeals, which allow you to keep track of deals, discounts, and promotions around the web. Or hey, you could sign up for our free newsletter to receive all the offers we post here at review geek.
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