A Guide to Buying Used Phones: 11 Vital Things to Consider

A Guide to Buying Used Phones: 11 Vital Things to Consider

Buying used electronics is something that can be a bit of a complex task for a lot of people, being that, generally, electronics are be more complicated than other items. It’s hard to tell how long something will last after you buy it, and sometimes what condition it even is at the moment if not looking close enough. The feeling of uncertainty is amplified when buying over the internet, as there is really no way to inspect the item up close.

Nigerian Naira next to a used Android phone with WhatsApp.

Electronics as a whole, are a very diverse group of items, as there are a wide variety of machines and devices that server a variety of different purposes. However, there are definitely some categories of items that are sold and bought a lot more than others. Many sites have these items listed as they are a very common commodity nowadays and many people are always selling their old devices when upgrading- of course, I’m talking about cellphones.

I’ve bought used smartphones online for the past year as an entry-level smartphone enthusiast. Currently, of my fourteen phones, 5 of them were bought in a pre-owned condition, all of which were from eBay. I may not be the most qualified person to discuss and give my opinions on whether you should buy a used phone or not, but I will do my best to give my point of view.

Buying used in-person vs. Online Marketplace

There are definitely big differences between buying at a store in-person and online through a marketplace or retailer. However, due to the rising popularity of online marketplaces in the recent couple decades, many have stuck to buying online as a means of purchasing with convenience.

In-person stores have the obvious benefit of the ability to have a hands-on experience with the product before buying. You know what the product you are buying feels like before purchasing it, and in the context of technology, you can test it to see if if works to your satisfaction. Sellers on online retailers like eBay or Facebook Marketplace will have pictures and usually a general rundown of the product’s capabilities and condition. Generally, higher-rated sellers on those platforms are more likely to have a professional approach at this- professional inspections, cleaning, better shipping methods, and guarantees backing up your purchase are some perks that usually come with more reputable sellers.

Of course, it’s definitely possible that an electronic device will break straight away after being bought from a thrift store, or that a device bought from eBay will last for multiple more years. There is no catch-all statement for either side, and it’s best to do your research and use your own judgement when picking out a used phone to buy.

A lady in a thrift shop looking for used items

Thrift stores like Savers, Goodwill, and Salvation Army are relatively commonplace in cities and even some towns. There will also be lesser-known local thrift stores in most towns aside from the bigger ones. These stores (depending on the amount of donations) carry a wide array of different items, such as clothes, books, toys, shoes, and much more. Cell phones are one of those items that people may donate to these stores.

Getting a feel for the device

Thrift stores, as mentioned before, have the advantage of the in-person, hands-on experience. Not only can you tell the face-value condition and the functionality of a phone, but also the more precise and minute details that usually can’t be seen from a picture. The weight, screen, button feel, phone texture, fingerprint sensor usability, and many other things are usually hard to tell from an online photo that could possibly be edited.

Purchasing online from an unknown seller on eBay or Craigslist runs the risk of having a mismatched product. What you receive will not always be exactly what is on the listing, and smaller details are impossible to see or feel with just a few images of the product. If a misdescribed product is received, depending on the retailer, there might be nothing you can do about it. If buying from a bigger retailer (such as eBay), they usually have a guarantee that should stop any counterfeit items from being final sales, but even this won’t always side with the buyer. It’s best to do as much research as possible and have a reasonable amount of insurance in case something goes south.

Product selection

There are drawbacks to buying phones in person, as much as there are pros. First of all, what you see is all that they have. If the phone you are looking for is only in stock in too bad of a condition or is too expensive, then you can’t do anything about it. If they don’t have a specific model there, they don’t have it in-store and you can’t buy it. Sometimes all that’ll be in stock are Android phones from 2009, and there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, there will be nothing at all, and you are left with no option other than leaving the store and finding somewhere else to shop.

General-purpose sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace as well as specialized sites like Swappa or Gazelle most likely will have a much larger catalog due to the fact that their marketplace is online as opposed to a brick-and-mortar store where the stock is confined to that particular building. The userbase of these sites range across the entire globe rather than being stuck to those who are in close proximity to a thrift store, allowing for goods of all kind to be distributed in a much larger fashion. Unless the phone that you’re looking for is a very obscure model, chances are that there are a good amount of devices available for selection of the specific model you are looking for. For more popular devices, it’s also very likely that you’ll be able to choose between colors, internal specifications, condition, and much more.

Another small thing to note is the reputation of the seller. Most thrift stores take donations from a donation center, usually consisting of products owned by regular people who may not know too much about what they’re selling. Oftentimes, people won’t thoroughly test electronics before donating them aside from seeing if they work, whether this is because they don’t know how or don’t really care. Sellers on eBay have a storefront and a public reputation built up by customer reviews and their seller rating, an easy to comprehend system that is much more easily accessible than in thrift stores, who usually have anonymous donors.

Product descriptions

On sites like eBay or Facebook Marketplace, the seller will have a description of the product detailing the condition of the item, specifications, what specific model it is (in case the phone has different versions per region or other reason- the Galaxy S8 has 10), what parts are included, and more information that is at-a-glance.

Generally, higher-ranked sellers and businesses are more likely to have detailed listings, as having one is not a requirement. Many individuals don’t provide information about the phone or provide misleading information, whether that is with malicious intent or by accident. While most information is usually available to the seller in-person if they look at the phone’s about page in the settings menu, many buyers might not know whether the phone in their hand is the specific model they want, or even know the difference. If the carrier lock status, processor, storage amount, or other spec is not what they thought, the device could potentially be unusable by them.

Auctions and making offers

Although there are definitely brick-and-mortar stores and buildings that hold auctions, and there are places that allow you to haggle or make offers, eBay allows you to do this with the convenience of an online interface. Placing a bid for an auction is easily done with an input of a number and the click of a submit button. Being online, automatic bidding- a function that allows bids to be placed up to a maximum amount if you get outbid- is common and used by many people. Even other tools used to get ahead, like sniping bots, software used to bid at the last second of an auction (hence, “snipe), are allowed on eBay (although this doesn’t guarantee the win of an auction).

Sellers have option to allow potential buyers to make an offer for their listing. By clicking the “Make offer” button if available on a listing, you can enter a price at which you’d like to buy the item, with the option to add an additional message. The offer can also have a time limit. If the seller accepts the offer, the purchasing process will go on as normal. They can also choose to reject your offer, allowing you to be able to create up to four more offers, or they could counter your offer with another one, at which point you have the ability to choose to accept, reject, or counter that offer.

Return & protection policies


Lots of sellers allow returns on their items, citing free 30 day returns in their product descriptions or possibly paid 30 day returns. Likely, these will fall under the eBay Return Policy, allowing the buyer to return the product for whatever reason as long as it is in the same condition it was shipped in, or obtain a partial refund if the seller doesn’t take returns.

For free returns, eBay will have you print out either a prepaid label that you will slap on the item to ship it back to the seller. If the seller doesn’t offer free returns, you will have to obtain one from your mail carrier of choice. Once the package has arrived, the seller will may take up to a few days to honor your request, at which point they will refund your money back to the original payment method. Most popular payment methods like credit/debit cards, PayPal, payment processors like Apple Pay or Google Pay, and eBay credit are eligible for the guarantee. However, using multiple payment methods, cash, bank transfer, or some other payment method will remove your eligibility even if the item you received qualifies for a return.

If the seller doesn’t offer full refunds in exchange for the product back, they might grant a partial refund without having you send the item back. However, since they don’t benefit from this aside from a little feedback, it’s less likely that a seller offers this option.

The seller might not immediately process your request and may ask for additional information concerning your return. Be polite and straightforward, as they might change their mind if they encounter a rude customer. It’s also possible that the seller will straight up reject your return offer.

A seller's eBay listing for a used phone, with the return policy being highlighted
A listing’s shipping and payment details, showing that the seller offers free 30 day returns.

eBay has a track record for having good customer service that usually sides with the customer rather than the seller. Being the big company that they are, they also have a protection policy (the “eBay Money Back Guarantee”) in case you receive a different, misdescribed, or missing item. Most items that fall under certain categories (phones and electronics do) are eligible for this policy. In the case that you do get an item that falls under the protection policy, wrap it in its original packaging with everything included and nothing damaged as soon as possible.

Again, most popular payment methods are supported. If possible, I try to use PayPal when possible, as they have a 180 day Purchase Protection program for extra insurance. More details, including a list of eligible items, is on their support website.

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace operates relatively simply, but quite differently from eBay. Since there is a much larger individual seller count as opposed to businesses, there are less sellers that are willing to do returns and/or refunds. Items that are bought with checkout on Facebook are generally returnable within a 30-day window, unless explicitly denoted that they are final sale. Items that are shipped and those for local pickup are not eligible for returns, although the seller can still issue a refund if they feel fit. Also, in most cases, the seller will require you to pay for the return shipping, as opposed to eBay’s general free-return community.

Facebook Marketplace also has a protection program, but individual sales are NOT covered by the protection program, so buying electronics from individual sellers is a tad riskier, especially with Facebook Marketplace having a more casual atmosphere than eBay. It’s good practice to use PayPal to pay for goods on Facebook Marketplace if possible to reap the benefits of the 180-day buyer protection policy.


Craigslist doesn’t have their own return or refund policy, as it’s a lot more of a peer-to-peer service than eBay or even Facebook Marketplace is. Sellers will have their own refund policy, although technically all sales are final, and it’s completely up to seller discretion to honor it. No intermediation will be provided, so it’s best to prepare for buying from a Craigslist listing. Generally, it’s far less risky to buy from somewhere with a protection policy, even if you get a lower price.


Swappa is a peer-to-peer used phone marketplace with a relatively good reputation. While the seller and buyer are connected directly, Swappa has policies in place to disallow any shady dealings and ensures that any devices listed on their website are acceptable and follow a set of guidelines. All devices go through a vetting process to make sure that they are functional and as listed. Furthermore, sellers are also required to ship devices within a timeframe of two days to ensure buyers get their devices on time.

Swappa sellers are strongly recommended to have their own return policy which follows their guidelines. Their guidelines are close to eBay’s in terms of leniency (aside from being allowed to return it for a reason other than a broken product), and subject the seller to a quick return process. Since all payments on Swappa are done through PayPal, PayPal’s return policy is enforced, and their 180-day protection policy is in place. Swappa also has a strong stance on blacklisted items- the seller is forced to replace the device if blacklisted within the 180 day PayPal window.

Shipping costs for returns are the seller’s burden if the item ships broken or misdescribed. However, if there is a disagreement on the condition of the item, the burden is usually placed on the buyer. Products being returned MUST have tracking and insurance to ensure no foul play.

What to look for

A for parts or used phone being repaired with specialized tools

Phones are pretty complex devices that come in many varieties, with a plethora of manufacturers with different models and versions of phones for sale. Multiple decades of mobile phone development has made a relatively diverse used marketplace on many platforms. Due to this, many people don’t know what they want or if a certain phone is better than another. How does the value of Phone A compare to Phone B? Does it operate faster and more efficiently? Does it have a better battery life?

Many of these questions can be answered with a lot of research. A good resource to check for phone specifications is GSMArena, which also has a “phone finder” and phone comparison tool at your disposal. Some other good resources for information are:

Of course, how much research you do is dependent on how much you know and how much you care. Generally, if you only need one that functions, finding a quick guide may be all you need.

Used/pre-owned, refurbished, open box, and parts only

Note: For the majority of this section, I’ll be using eBay as an example, as it has the largest mainly-used marketplace on the web and is the one I am most familiar with.

eBay items are generally sold as either new, used/pre-owned, refurbished, open box, or parts only. Most likely, you are not looking for a new phone- if you are, there are much better places to buy them. Straight from the manufacturer is generally regarded as the safest way. You also likely aren’t looking for a parts-only phone, since those are almost always not functional. While the large majority of phones you’ll find are used, occasionally there will be refurbished or open box phones listed.

Used or Pre-owned

An eBay listing for a used Pixel 3a phone.
A “Pre-owned” Google Pixel 3a on eBay.

Items that are labelled as “Pre-owned”, as the name implies, have been used by someone before (although not necessarily the seller). Here, I think the variety of conditions is the largest, with some being in pristine, like-new condition, while others seem like they’ve been run over by a semitruck. Because of this, for some item categories, eBay has different conditions that the seller can put the listing under. However, this is not the case for items in the Cell Phones & Accessories category- the seller has to use the description or title to communicate that information.

It’s always a good idea to look at the description instead of just the title before buying, as the description usually has much more information about the product than just the title. Even pictures can be deceptive- software issues and more minute details like a missing SIM card tray and the carrier lock status can’t usually be seen from a picture. However, the quality of the description is not guaranteed to always be good, but will usually be if buying from a more reputable seller.

An eBay listing for a used Google Pixel 3a phone.
An HTML page as a description showing a detailed description of the product from Top Rated Plus seller “Soonersoft”.


Refurbished devices can be either Manufacturer Refurbished or Seller Refurbished, meaning that the item was fixed up to a certain level of satisfaction by either the company that manufactured the phone or the seller of the phone. Generally, manufacturer refurbished phones are of higher quality, as they are fixed up with certain standards in mind by a large company and most likely come with a warranty. Seller refurbished phones, on the other hand, do not come with any warranty and are not guaranteed to work for any amount of time at any standard. Due to this, manufacturer refurbished phones are in most cases better, but other factors such as price and model will of course play a factor in your decision.

For parts

“For parts” devices are non-functional and are usually put up when a device is broken and the seller wants to get rid of it. People that buy for-parts phones are usually looking to repair them and re-sell them at a profit. If you aren’t confident in your ability to repair a broken device, it’s advised that you stay away from this category, as none of these phones are at all functional.

Open box

Open box items are simply items that have been opened but not used. They will be in a new condition but will usually not be in pristine packaging and sometimes will not be in the original packaging at all. However, if that doesn’t bother you at all, buying open box can save a little bit of money as opposed to buying new.

Carrier compatibility & data speeds

Phones can be sold either as “carrier unlocked” (meaning that they can work with any carrier as long as the phone supports it hardware-wise) or “carrier locked” (meaning that it can only be used with a certain carrier- generally the carrier you bought it from, although this doesn’t really apply for the used marketplace- even if the phone supports it on a hardware level. For instance, a phone locked to T-Mobile will not work with an AT&T or Verizon SIM card. An MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator; a company that buys a share of cell tower bandwidth and resells it) of a certain carrier will likely work with a locked phone if it uses its network. For example, a Mint Mobile SIM will most likely work with a T-Mobile-locked phone.

Be sure to look at the coverage map for your carrier and make sure that the area that you live in and frequently spend time in supports it with good strength. Generally, because of the population, urban areas are most likely to have support for the Big Three carriers (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile/Sprint), while suburban areas are less likely to have support and rural areas will generally have the least amount of support, if any. At the time of writing, Verizon has the largest 4G network coverage in the U.S., with around 327 million living in areas that support it. AT&T comes in at second with around 68% of the population covered. T-Mobile & Sprint, which are now merged, covers less ground than both Verizon and AT&T for 4G. However, they have the largest 5G network, with around 90% of the population covered.

3G vs. 4G vs. 5G

3G, 4G, and 5G are the three newest standards for cellular data speeds that are the only three that are currently usable.

  • 3G, which came out around 2002, is the oldest widely-used network standard in America currently, being the third generation of its kind, after 1G and 2G. Speeds have a maximum of around 3.1 Mbps (387 KBps).
  • 4G, which came out around 2010, is a cellular network standard that was the successor to 3G, being the fourth generation of its kind. Speeds can reach up to 100Mbit, as fast or faster than many home internet connections in a real-world scenario. Things like watching movies and videos at high definition, high quality video calling, running virtual meetings, and much more became possible. Stuff that was possible before, like visiting websites and texting friends became much faster.
  • 5G is the newest iteration of cellular technology, being released in 2019, although still being rolled out to many customers. Many current phones aside from newer flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S21 or the Apple iPhone 12 do not support 5G yet. Speeds can range from around 100 Mbps to a wild 900 Mbps for a lot of towers. In certain conditions, speeds might even reach 1 Gbps, allowing for seamless ultra-high definition movie streaming, low-latency gaming, and much more.

Most phones in circulation at the moment support 4G at most, although 5G-capable phones are getting more plentiful and affordable for the public. However, the large majority of used phones on the market were manufactured before 2019 and will not support 5G.

Some phone service companies may advertise “unlimited 2G data” after your 4G or 5G high-speed data runs out. This doesn’t actually run on 2G infrastructure, as that has been long gone and replaced with newer technologies. Usually, the carrier will run it on the 3G/4G/5G network but throttle your speeds down to 348 Kbps. Basic tasks like checking email should be alright with these speeds.

Dual-sim phones

Some phones allow for multiple SIM cards, allowing for switching between the two when texting, calling, or using data. Generally, this is much more popular outside of the U.S., as the coverage between the Big Three is much better when compared to other countries. Due to this, it’s very rare that a new phone comes out in the U.S. that has dual-sim capability. But since we are shopping for a used phone, which can ship from anywhere in the world, this limitation is hardly an obstacle.

Most dual-sim phones these days are dual-sim dual standby (DSDS), allowing the phone to have both SIMs able to receive calls and texts, but only one able to be used at a time (i.e. you can’t call from both numbers at the same time, and you can’t receive calls or texts from one sim if the other one is in a call). There are also dual-sim dual active (DSDA) phones, allowing both SIMs to be used at the same time, and dual-sim passive (DSP) phones, which only allow one SIM to receive or send calls/texts at a time.

A lot of the time, phones will have different versions with small features that differ between them- the amount of SIMs being a common one. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has a multitude of models- the G950U, an unlocked American version, only has one SIM slot, while the G9500, a Chinese version, has support for dual sims.

Android or iOS version

A used Android phone on the ledge of a table

Another big thing that will likely impact your decision is the operating system. Both Android phones and iPhones are plentiful on the market, although due to Android’s open-source nature, there are a lot more Androids on the market than iPhones.

For a small rant about the current state of Android, read here.

Custom software, rooting, and jailbreaking

Even though there is a definitely existing discrepancy regarding update times between Android manufacturers, because Android is so flexible, using custom software is freely available phone models. Custom ROMs are operating systems that you can install in place of the stock Android ROM, allowing you to have a completely different experience on your phone. A popular ROM is LineageOS, built by a team of incredible software engineers to improve the Android experience by making it light, clean, secure, and more community-driven. However, there are many more custom ROMs available for download, and the more popular ones will likely have a build for your device.

Among many smartphone enthusiasts are people who root their phones- changing many protected settings, customize the device in many ways, allow their applications to have root (top-level) access to the device, and much more. If the carrier allows, all Android phones can, in theory, be rooted. This is usually done via software on a desktop computer while the phone is attached to it.

A big reason why people choose to install custom ROMs on their device is to get a major update faster (i.e. installing a ROM based off of Android 11 when your device has yet to receive it from the manufacturer), or in the case of many used or old phone owners, to get an update that their phone does not support. For example, there are LineageOS 17 (Android 10) builds for the HTC One M8, which last officially supported Android 6 in 2015.

Jailbreaking, as you may have heard, is the iOS “equivalent” of rooting an Android, allowing software restrictions placed by Apple to be removed, allowing for more customization, installing applications via an outside app store, and giving the user more control over their device. However, Apple does not condone jailbreaking, and considers it a violation of their terms of service. Moreover, jailbreaks are more temporary than rooting in the sense that devices that are jailbroken via popular software are usually untethered- meaning that the jailbreak is not kept when the device is restarted. Support is also more limited, with many newer iPhones not being supported. Furthermore, it’s been said many times that jailbreaking gives iPhone users features that non-rooted Android users already have, so it’s good to do some research to decide which operating system you prefer.


Apple’s iOS, having only one company to build their operating system for, naturally has longer support for their phones. For example, my iPhone 6S, released in 2015, still will support the latest version of iOS- the seventh major release that the phone will support, at least. On the flip side, my Galaxy S6, which was released in the same year, stopped support at 2017’s Android 8.1 Oreo (Actually, my specific AT&T model can only be updated to 7.1- but the global version has 8.1 support).

Due to the many manufacturers that create Android phones, there is no strict update schedule, and for certain manufacturers, that could mean waiting weeks, months, or even years for the newest update. While Google, being the company that owns Android, releases new versions of Android to its Pixel line of phones immediately, only a measly 2% of smartphone owners use a Google Pixel. The largest smartphone vendor as of Q1 2021 is Samsung, with a large 22% of market share. Unfortunately, Samsung has had a notoriously poor reputation in the past regarding updates, with some of their previous flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra costing $1,399 but only providing 2 years of major OS updates. Although, Samsung has recently said that their Enterprise Edition devices will get 5 years of security updates, which led some people to think that they would eventually apply this to their entire lineup of devices- a step in the right direction.

Other operating systems

There exist other operating systems other than Android and iOS, but these are much less popular than Android and iOS, comprising only 0.32% of the US market share. The third most popular OS after Android and iOS in the US is the family of Windows Mobile operating systems, which was discontinued in 2019.

Due to the ongoing battle between the United States government and Chinese technology company Huawei, Huawei has released HarmonyOS as an alternative, de-Googled version of Android. Supposedly, it was built on top of the Linux kernel, only using Android as a source of inspiration, but many internet users have found a lot of similarities between it and regular old Android.

Non-smartphones, such as flip phones, are also existent, and also use a different operating system than Android or iOS. However, since it’s such a basic phone, there really isn’t much difference between each model or products from different companies that may run different operating systems.

Verification of the phone

A lady using her phone in public

Of course, before purchasing a product that you will possibly use for many years to come or even keep as a backup phone, you’ll want to ensure that it works fully. Even if it powers on and seems to have support for your carrier in mind, there are a few other details that could potentially hinder your phone-using experience.

Checking the IMEI number

Every mobile device that can use a SIM card has an IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number. The IMEI number is a 15 digit long number that uniquely identifies a mobile device that is always tied to it and does not change when the SIM card is switched. This is different from an IMSI number, or International Mobile Subscriber Identity number, which is tied to the SIM card instead of the device and allows the number to be transferred between devices.

A main use of the IMEI number is to prevent theft. If a person loses their phone and has no way to get it back, they can quickly get their network provider to blacklist the IMEI so the thief cannot use it on any mobile network, rendering the calling, texting, and data abilities on the phone useless. If the phone is recovered and the original owner reports back to their network provider and says it’s back in their hands, there is a chance that the ban will be lifted. Otherwise, any methods of un-blacklisting the phone via changing the IMEI are in an ethically dark area and are illegal in many countries (excluding the U.S., there is no actual law that prevents it).

Many mobile carriers will ask you to verify that your phone is compatible with their network by inputting your phone’s IMEI number when buying service for a phone you already own. However, be sure that the phone is unlocked or locked to the carrier that you are buying service for (or an MVNO), as the IMEI number doesn’t include information about lock status of a phone.

A lot of sellers will show the IMEI number in a picture in their listing to allow potential buyers to verify that the IMEI number is not blacklisted. If the seller doesn’t provide this information, ask them in a message if possible to show it to you for verification purposes. If they don’t, there is a likely chance that they are trying to sell a stolen phone.

Checking that it works in your area

While phones from other regions should work where you are in theory, make sure that the network bands align with cell towers in your area. If they don’t, you will have to choose a different carrier if supported, or will be unable to use your phone service if there is nothing compatible available. Using an app like LTE Discovery, you can check what frequency bands your phone is using to connect to mobile service. 4G bands are a one or two-digit number (ranging from 1 to 88) that have a certain specification, with the frequency being a big differentiator. For example, band 1 is a 2100MHz band, band 2 is a 1900MHz band, band 3 is an 1800MHz band, and so on. Generally, bands will be used in different regions by different carriers; bands 2, 4, and 12, for example, are in use by T-Mobile in the US.

More popular phones like Samsung’s S line, Google’s Pixels, and Apple’s iPhones will have support for nearly every band to cater to the widest amount of people possible. However, lesser established brands or smaller lines likely will support less bands. For example, the Google Pixel 4a 5G supports 29 LTE bands (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, 48, 66, 71), while the Tecno Spark Power 2 only supports bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 38, 40, 41 for a total of nine. While many people in multiple regions across different carriers will be able to use the 4a 5G without a worry, the Spark Power 2 might not be able to reach many people who don’t have a tower near them that works with those frequencies.

Also, while it seems like the Big Three support virtually everywhere in the United States, there are places where coverage is weaker than others for certain carriers and sometimes may not exist. This is more of a problem for rural areas than suburban and urban areas; it’s more likely that you have weak Verizon coverage in the middle of Wyoming than smack in the middle of Times Square, where there will likely be a strong connection for all three. Unfortunately, this limits options and the only way to solve this is to move or wait for more infrastructure to be installed in your area of residence. This is an even larger problem for people living in other countries that are less developed and areas with low population density. GSMA.com’s coverage checker is a great tool to check if a certain service provider has coverage for your area.

Checking for the correct model

A lot of phones on the market have different models or versions, usually for different markets. The hardware is mostly the same, but there may be a few slight changes to accommodate for a certain region better. As an example, Samsung has Qualcomm Snapdragon chips for their phones in the U.S. version of their phones, while the international market uses Samsung’s in-house Exynos chips- this being due to a contract with Qualcomm. The model number is different for these differentiations; for example, the Samsung Galaxy S21 for the American market has the model number SM-G991U, while the international Exynos version has the model number SM-G991B.

Generally, having a phone from a different region won’t affect much, but you will need to make sure that it is supported by carriers and bands in your area and other peculiarities that may arise from something specific from the region the phone you’re purchasing is from.

While in a lot of cases, the phone doesn’t come with a charging cable or wall adapter, be sure that if it does, it’s correct for your region. Buying a phone with an EU plug if you live in Australia isn’t the biggest deal, but it can save you a bit of time.

Additionally, be sure to check that the ports on the phone are correct. If you need storage expansion abilities, be sure to check that there is an SD card slot. For wired headphones users, make sure that there is a 3.5mm audio jack or get an adapter for the charging port- which could be micro-USB (ew), USB Type-C, Lightning, or something else.

Final Verdict

A lady using her phone while at work

Choosing to buy a used phone can benefit the buyer in many ways- depending on what device you get, it’s possible to save hundreds of dollars to get a slightly used device that’s still in good condition. Since an old device of someone else’s is being put to use, there is less e-waste going around, helping the environment a little bit by not spending the resources that it takes to create a phone.

Of course, while there are benefits, there is a reason that some of these phones are so cheap. A lot of listings on sites like eBay, which provide small businesses and independent sellers a place to sell their old phones, are not in a like-new condition or even sometimes an acceptable one. Cheaper phones tend to be older, generally sporting older software and less powerful hardware to run the device. And of course, since used phones are not sold by the original manufacturer, there is no warranty and the phone is prone to stopping at any moment without any sort of insurance.

Buying a second-hand device off of an online marketplace or brick-and-mortar pawn shop or thrift store also will require more research than buying a new phone. Making sure that the phone is fast enough to fit your needs, can work with your phone service carrier, and feels comfortable to use are things that all phone buyers need to consider, new or used. But since some people are less knowledgeable than others when it comes to technology, sometimes a listing doesn’t have enough information, the seller misguides you, the phone is in a different condition than specified, or something else- all things that could break the experience.

If maybe you think that buying used phones isn’t right for you, then that’s alright. But if maybe you are willing to go through the steps necessary to obtain a good deal and be satisfied with your purchase and savings compared to buying a new device, then it’s an option worth trying.

Thanks to Bruno Gomiero, Benjamin Dada, John Michael Thomson, Joel Rohland, John Tuesday, and Bruce Mars on Unsplash for the stock imagery.