If you’re the geek type, like me, you like the idea of owning the latest and greatest Android smartphone. Unfortunately, sometimes our budgets can get in the way of our goals, and flagship devices can cost as much as $1,000 these days.

For those of us who are bargain shopping for our next smartphone, some of the usual routes include buying a mid-range device that still offers a fair punch, keeping an eye out for sales, and finding a deal on a manufacturer-refurbished handset. But another great way to score a good deal is by buying a used phone.

I’ve bought a lot of used devices online over the years and, in most cases, the experience has been positive.

Used. It’s a word that’s weighed down by negative connotations “we’ve used it up, it’s no longer good”. That’s probably why so many retailers that sell used products tend to go with “pre-owned” to soften the blow. Scary word aside, buying a used phone doesn’t have to be a bad experience. I’ve bought a number of used smartphones online over the years, and the experience has been positive almost every time.

Wait… Almost every time? Yes, that’s right. I have run into problems in a few cases, but I learned from them. Even if you give the process of buying a used phone or tablet due diligence, things can still go wrong  but there are many steps you can take to lower the likelihood of an incident, and a backup plan never hurts in the event you do run into trouble.

The tips below should help you through the process of getting a solid used smartphone, and while written primarily with phones in mind, most steps should also apply to tablets. Without further ado, let’s jump right in.

1. Know what you’re looking for

You need to know what you need for before you start shopping. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have an exact model picked out, though.

Start by deciding the minimum specs you are looking for and the Android version you’re willing to live with. Also think about what screen size will suit your needs, and how much you can afford to spend. This should narrow down your choices to a handful of used smartphones.

How to know how much to spend on a used smartphone? Research!

How do you know how much you should pay when buying a used phone? Research! Visit Swappa, eBay, Craiglist, Amazon and other similar websites to compare prices.

Pay careful attention to the condition, not the median price. That scratched up Galaxy S7 Edge on sale for $200 on eBay shouldn’t be compared to the mint condition Galaxy S7 Edge on Swappa that costs $350. Compare mints to mints, goods to goods, etc.

Figure out what makes a phone mint, good, okay, or poor and decide on a minimum quality you’ll be happy with  from there, you can quickly figure out a fair price. Also. make sure the phones you’re comparing are either locked to the same network or unlocked, depending on what you are looking for.

Want to save some money? Time your buys with the release of the new iteration of the device you’re interested in. If your heart desires a used Galaxy S8, wait until the Galaxy S9 has been announced  or better yet, until it’s been on retail shelves for a few weeks.

2. Know where to buy from

Have a good handle on what you are looking for and how much you want to spend? Now it’s time to figure where to buy your used device. There are many options available, but I’ll focus on those I can vouch for.


Swappa is my absolute favorite place to go when looking for a used smartphone, or offloading the one I no longer want. What makes this site so compelling? It’s easy, there’s less BS to deal with and  as long as you are careful  you likely won’t get screwed over.

Swappa requires people to verify that the phone they are trying to sell is in their possession — they have to put a piece of paper with an identification number next to the device when taking pictures.

Swappa also works with PayPal, so you could ask for a refund if you do end up with a phone that doesn’t meet its description. However, this takes time — I once had to wait for more than a month to get my money back.

Things to consider…

  • Smartphones on Swappa can be more expensive than on Craiglist and eBay, probably because there is usually less risk. You’ll have to decide what’s worth more to you: keeping risk low or getting the best price.
  • Be careful when buying from Swappa sellers that have no stars. The ONE time I did this, the person never shipped the device. I’m not saying all one-star sellers are scam artists, but those with several successful sales under their belts are probably more trustworthy.


I’ve only bought three phones from eBay so far. I use the website as an alternative if I can’t find what I’m looking for on Swappa or elsewhere. That said, eBay can actually be a great place to get a used handset, as it tends to have some of the cheapest pricing around.

Like Swappa, there’s PayPal protection that can help you get your money back if you get scammed. Buying a used phone on eBay is also pretty easy, as long as you do some research on the phones and seller before you commit.

Things to consider…

  • Check that ESN! Ask the seller if you’ll be able to check the ESN independently before buying. Some will allow it, others won’t. It’s up to you to decide how much risk you want to take in this situation.
  • Be careful when picking a seller. Make sure they have a good rating and check out what they’ve been selling so far. If they sold 10,000 Pampered Chef items and this is their first phone, that might be a red flag. You want a seller that has successfully sold mobile devices in the past and not someone who generally specializes in something else. Why’s that? They should (hopefully) know how to ensure a good buying experience for their customers.
  • Grill them with questions! Ask about ESN, scratches, hardware damage and anything else you can think of. If their responses are vague, ask for more details. For example, if you ask about physical appearance and they say it has “a small scratch on the front of the screen”, make sure to follow up with “So the back and sides are all scratch free without any blemishes?”
  • Make sure you can return the product to the seller if you’re not happy with it. If the seller doesn’t accept returns, you’ll be dealing solely with PayPal if things go wrong.


I’ve only dealt with Craiglist once so far. It went well, but I’m still leery about using it for mobile devices. The reason is that you have to make a judgment call on the person’s listing quality. And if you meet, you have to quickly do your best to judge the phone and the person selling it (shady people tend to sell shady things).

Things to consider…

  • Check the ESN. Also be sure to place your own SIM card into the phone to ensure everything is working.
  • Remember that even if a phone works with your SIM card and appears perfect, it could still be flagged as stolen (or for non-payment) later. That means you have to figure out if the person selling the device is honest, which is a judgment call that’s hard to make.
  • Made a mistake? You’re on your own. There’s no protection once the purchase is made.

Social networks and word of mouth

The Facebook logo.

Ask your friends and family if they have  or know anyone that has — an older phone they’d be willing to part with for cheap. Call a few people or spread the word you’re looking for a used smartphone on Facebook and other social networks.

Often times, these types of deals can give you the lowest pricing out of any of the other options mentioned.

Things to consider…

  • While buying from a social network can be safe, it’s important you trust who you are buying from. Stick to “true” friends and family if possible, and not the friend of a friend of a friend. Knowing where they live doesn’t hurt either.
  • Made a mistake? You’re on your own. There’s no protection once the purchase is made.
  • Check the ESN. Also be sure to place your own SIM card into the phone to ensure all is working.

3. Meeting the seller in person? Here are a few tips

Meeting the seller in person is a great option that gives you the chance to look at the phone before you buy it, instead of relying on pictures. Before you set the meet-up, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Before the meeting, let the seller know you’ll want to test out the device by inserting your own SIM, checking if it can charge and power up, and so forth. If the seller doesn’t agree with your request, you should probably find a different deal to pursue.
  • Make sure you meet in a public location as opposed to a shady alley. It should also be during the day for both safety reasons and because it makes it easier to see the phone.

4. Inspecting the phone

At first glance, this section might seem to apply only to those buying a device in person. However, the tips below are also useful when you get the phone in the mail. They will help you detect problems early, so you can either walk away from the deal when buying a used phone in person, or start the process of getting your money back if you already bought it.

Stuff to bring with you for the inspection:

  • A battery pack or a laptop, as well as a charging cable
  • A microSD card if the phone supports it
  • Headphones
  • An active SIM card that is compatible with the phone you are testing

Before you even boot the phone up, give it a visual examination. Start with the screen by checking if it’s scratched. If the phone has physical keys, test them to see if they are in good condition. Also check if the front camera is cracked or damaged in any way.

Next, move to the sides and check for scratches and dents; test the buttons to see how well they click and press. Finally, move to the back to see if there is any visible damage.

persom holding black android smartphone and 2 1 u s dollar 163069
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If all looks good up to this point, remove the back if that’s an option. Check the battery and other components. Make sure to check whether or not the battery is original  this can make a real difference when it comes to price negotiation.

Now it is time to put in the SIM and microSD cards and turn the sucker on. Test it out by making a call, sending a text, and connecting to the internet. Make sure to check if the device recognizes the microSD card and gives you access to your files.

While you are at it, check out all the ports. Plug in your headphones and test the audio with a song or a YouTube video  if the device has a headphone jack. Make sure to also plug the handset into a power source to see if it charges.

The last thing you should do is use an online tool to check the ESN. Swappa has a good one, which is free and can be used even if you’re not thinking of buying a device on its website.

5. Negotiating the deal

Before you start negotiating, you have to know the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for the handset. The first offer you give the seller should always be lower than what you’re willing to pay. If you can’t close the deal right away, start gradually increasing your offer until you can both agree on the final price.

But when you reach your budget, make it clear that you won’t pay any more than that. If the seller wants more money, walk away from the deal and find a different one. There are a lot of used smartphones on sale, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding an alternative. Buying too quickly or settling “because you need a phone” is a surefire way to end up with a raw deal.

Point out some of the bumps and bruises the device might have when negotiating.

When negotiating for the price, point out some of the bumps and bruises the device might have. Tiny scratches likely won’t affect pricing much but bigger ones  especially if they are on the display  are bigger negotiating points.


Wrap Up

If you take your time, watch out for shady characters, inspect the device, and are firm on what you are looking for, you can minimize the chance of getting burned.

Nevertheless, there are no guarantees when buying a used phone. Don’t let that scare you away though. I know many people who buy used phones all the time online and have never run into a problem. Sure, I also know a few that got scammed, but they could have avoided it by following the advice presented in this post.

Did I miss any important tips? Let me know in the comments.