I’ve tried hundreds of smartphones, but personally keep coming back to the iPhone, both for my own personal use and for recommending to other people. Why?
- Intuitive user experience: There’s a reason toddlers can use iOS.
- Customer service: I don’t like Apple’s aversion to DIY repair either, but show me another company with a network of stores that will fix your device.
- They don’t crash: I have yet to own an Android phone that doesn’t require the occasional restart.
- Yes, the battery-throttling scandal was a huge bummer. But in general, if you keep an iPhone under its storage capacity, don’t expose it to extreme temperatures, and keep the battery in a healthy range, it’ll last for years.
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If all that sounds appealing, know that for most people older iPhones will do pretty much everything a new one will do, for much, much cheaper. Your camera might be less incredible than the latest model, and apps might take a bit longer to load, but so long as you’re only a few generations behind, your hardware will keep up with the newest software. iOS 12, which works with iPhones going back to the iPhone 5s, gives an appreciable performance boost to older phones.
Apple would rather you buy a new phone, of course, and so that process is much easier than trying to figure out the safest and best way to buy used. But we’re here to help.
Three Quick Tips
- Try to wait until right after the next iPhone announcement. Those annual September events are when new iPhones come out, which will make older versions cheaper.
- Whichever model you get, buy one with at least 64 GB of storage. Any less and you’ll fill up too quickly.
- Also, check which iPhone will work with your wireless carrier. Searching listings, for example, specific to T-Mobile or Verizon make this easier, but it’s a good idea to check if you’re buying from an individual or eBay.
The Safest, Most Reliable: Apple Refurbished
The secret of refurbished stuff is that it’s usually brand-new. For example, someone bought it and returned it because it was the wrong device without ever opening the package. These iPhones are inspected for any defects, then sold on this hidden section of Apple’s site, with the warranty.
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I’d buy an iPhone here. The phones typically aren’t much more expensive than the other services we’ll discuss, and because you’re buying directly from Apple, you get Apple’s customer service embrace. If you don’t see a specific storage size and color you want, check back because inventory changes.
Buyer Beware: eBay
You’ll need some savvy to make sure you’re not buying a stolen phone. (If you buy something with a serial number that’s been registered as stolen, you’re in for a hassle.) Look for five-star reviews, and avoid listings with stock photos. Ask the seller for photos of the specific device you’re looking to buy and the IMEI (serial number), if necessary. You trade off manufacturer support and some risk for the most savings.
A Safer eBay: Swappa
Like eBay and Craigslist, Swappa is person-to-person, but with some extra protection. It doesn’t let anyone sell broken devices, and when you browse photos of iPhones, you’ll see paper with a number next to the device. That code verifies that the phone in the photo is the specific model from the listing. Otherwise, the same practices as eBay apply: Check customer feedback, and contact the seller if you’re skeptical.
Where to Sell: Gazelle
Gazelle is best known for its buying service. Tell the site what old phone you have, and they’ll send you a box for free shipping and some cash depending on your device’s condition. Gazelle also sells used devices, but the prices are generally not as good a deal as Swappa or eBay.
Human Factor: In-Person
If you buy from LetGo, Craigslist, or if a friend is selling you their old iPhone, check it for water damage, make sure the headphone jack works, and adjust the volume with the side buttons. The battery is the first thing to go on any older phone, so factor in the cost of replacing the battery, either paying for Apple to do it or doing it yourself.