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Buying used Pixel phones: How to save money and avoid the pitfalls

It's tempting to try and save money with a used Google Pixel, but there are some pitfalls. Here's how to navigate them.
By
May 5, 2022
Google Pixel 5 Pixel 4 Pixel 3 cameras
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Second-hand and refurbished Google Pixel phones are available from many retailers and private sellers, but should you buy one? And if you already decided you want one, what should you look for?

We’ve rounded the information you’ll need when looking for used Pixel phones. From the biggest pitfalls to avoid, to tips on how to get a pre-owned Pixel at a great price, here’s everything you need to know about buying a used Google phone.

Top reasons to buy a used Pixel phone

  • Google Pixel users enjoy one of the best software update policies out of any Android users. That means your used Pixel could get updates even if it’s been on the market for years.
  • By buying a used Google Pixel, you get to experience Android the way its creators intended and also be first in line for updates and cool new features. You get exclusive features that tie into other Google products, making Pixels the default choice for users invested in the Google ecosystem.
  • Pixel phones, even older, cheaper ones, are known for their great cameras.

Top reasons to pass on buying a used Pixel

  • While Pixel phones have come a long way, Google still lags Apple and Samsung when it comes to customer support, availability of retail and service channels, and third-party ecosystems.
  • Pixel phones are not known for their future-proof spec sheets. Most Pixel devices launch with specs that are adequate on day one, but may become sub-par after just a year or two.

Also read: Selling a used phone: Do’s and don’ts | Buying a used phone: Do’s and don’ts

Used Pixel, new Pixel, or others?

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably on a budget. But if you can spend a bit more, should you look into buying a new Pixel instead of a pre-owned one?

Google doesn’t discount its flagship phones early in their lifecycle, so if you want a new Pixel on a budget, you’ll need to look into one of Google’s mid-range offerings.

At the time of this writing, Google’s cheapest phone is the Pixel 5a, which starts at $449. For about the same price, you can buy a used Pixel 6 on Swappa, which we think is a better deal, considering its specs and features.

(By the way, the Pixel 6a is due to launch soon.)

If you’re open to other brands, there are plenty of alternatives to buying a used Pixel. Our roundup of the best cheap Android phones is a great place to start, but we recommend spending a little more on one of the more competent mid-range devices out there.

Some of our recommendations include:

Things to know when buying a used Pixel

We have a detailed guide on purchasing used phones that we recommend you read first. Buy here are some key things to keep in mind when making a purchase:

  • Make sure you’re not overpaying. Assess the condition of the phone and check the average price of similar Pixels (same model and same condition) on Swappa or Gazelle.
  • Ask about the battery. Repeated charging cycles take their toll on batteries, and that can be a problem for phones with small or average-sized batteries like Pixels. Ideally, you’ll want a phone whose battery has been replaced – Pixel phones that have been refurbished are more likely to have a new battery.
  • Give the phone a physical. If you can examine the Pixel before buying, look out for:
    • Scratches, dead pixels, or burn-in on the display
    • Problems with the charging port
    • Rattling, stuck, or otherwise damaged buttons
    • Any signs of bulging, which could mean the battery is dangerously degraded
    • Blown or buzzy speakers, including the earpiece
  • Check if you have a warranty. Even if you’re buying from a private seller, it’s worth inquiring how much is left of the warranty (if anything).
  • Check the software updates situation. Older used Pixels may no longer receive OS updates or even security updates. You’ll want to avoid these if you can.
  • Check if the phone has been lost or stolen. You can look up the device’s IMEI number and run it against databases of lost, stolen, or blacklisted phones.
  • Make sure the phone is reset and unlocked. If the seller hasn’t removed their Google account from the Pixel, you won’t be able to use it.
  • Is the phone compatible with your carrier? Pixel phones are pretty good in this regard, but network locks can still happen.
Google Pixel 5 vs Google Pixel 4 XL
David Imel / Android Authority

Used Pixels: What to avoid

In general, it’s best to avoid used Pixel phones that are more than three years old – that means Pixel 3 series and older. The main reason is the battery, which on old used devices is likely to be degraded due to repeated charge-discharge cycles. While you can use an app like AccuBattery to evaluate the health of the battery, the safest thing to do is to look for a newer phone. You can also replace the battery yourself if you’re able to, for an extra cost.

In addition, old Pixel phones may no longer be fast enough to provide a reasonably smooth experience without frequent lag and stuttering.

We generally recommend against buying phones that no longer receive security patches. With so much of our lives dependent on the security of our devices, it’s not something you should take lightly.

At the time of this writing, the following Pixel phones no longer receive regular security updates:

  • Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL (updates end in May 2022)
  • Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL
  • Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL
  • Pixel 1 and Pixel 1 XL

In addition, the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL will only get updates through October 2022, according to Google’s support page.

It’s a good idea to check the average price of a used phone — Swappa compiles data for phones sold on its platform, so that’s a good place to check. If the Pixel phone you’re considering is much cheaper than the average, it’s worth paying close extra attention and inquiring about any potential issues. That’s especially true if you’re buying from a private seller, which doesn’t afford you any protection. Hidden problems could include bootloops, fast-discharging batteries, cameras that don’t perform as normal, and water damage, just to name a few.

swappa
Bogdan Petrovan / Android Authority
The used electronics site Swappa offers helpful price charts that tell you the average price of used Pixel phones

Best places to buy used Pixel phones

Buying a phone from a private seller (via a local Facebook group, Craigslist, eBay, etc.) can mean a lower price, but its inherently riskier than buying from a retailer. You will also likely miss out on warranty, return options, and other protections retailers must legally provide.

If you’re open to buying from a retailer, here are some good places to start your search for an affordable Pixel phone.

  • Gazelle – offers 30-point quality inspection, 30-day returns
  • Swappa – lots of listings, commercial sellers, 30-day warranty
  • Amazon
  • eBay
  • Uptrade — tested devices, actual photos, 30-day returns

Refurbished Pixel phones

If you want a bargain, but also a little peace of mind, refurbished Pixel phones could be the right choice for you.

Refurbished phones (also called “renewed” or “reconditioned”) are typically sourced from used products or products that buyers have returned for various reasons. These devices are inspected, cleaned, tested, and if necessary repaired, before they’re put back on sale at a lower price.

Most refurbished phones come with a warranty and some are even guaranteed to look and work like new. That’s not something you typically get with used phones.

Refurbished Pixel phones are available from many retailers in the US. These include specialized refurbished sellers like BackMarket, SellCell, and Decluttr, but you can also find renewed Pixels at most large retailers.

As an example, in early May 2022, a renewed Pixel 6 Pro in “good condition” can be bought for $549 from SellCell, which is $250 below the price of a new phone. Decluttr has refurbished Pixel 5’s (in different conditions, storage versions, and carrier options) for $320-$380, with an additional $30-$40 discount when you check out. Meanwhile, you can get refurbished Pixel 3a XL for as low as $100 on BackMarket.

Here are some more links if you’re looking for renewed Pixel devices:

Is it a good time to buy a used Pixel?

At the time of this writing (May 2022), it might be wise to wait a little, especially if you’re after a mid-range second-hand Pixel phone. That’s because Google is rumored to introduce the Pixel 6a at its Google I/O developer conference on May 11-12. The release of a new generation tends to make current models cheaper, and that holds true for pre-owned Pixel phones.

If you’re after a higher-end used Pixel device, waiting a few months might help you net some savings. The Pixel 6 has only been on the market for a little over six months, so the offer for used Pixel 6’s is still limited. Holding off until Amazon Prime Day 2022 in July could also be smart, as the event usually includes deals on affordable phones.

Useful links