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Buying used Pixel phones: How to save money and avoid the pitfalls
Second-hand and refurbished Google Pixel phones are available from many retailers and private sellers, but should you buy one? And if you have 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
- Clean software experience: Being Google phones, Pixel devices offer among the best software experiences if you value simplicity and a clean UI. These come with no bloatware, added skins, or an overload of features you’ll likely never use. It’s the near-stock Android experience as Google intended it to be.
- Timely updates: Additionally, Pixel phones get updates straight from Google. This means that updates don’t have to go through a third-party manufacturer or carrier before reaching your device. Pixel phones are always among the first to get software updates and new Android versions.
- Good update promise: 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. With its latest phones, Google promises three years of software updates and five years of security patches. Some other manufacturers, like Samsung, already offer more, though. Regardless, Google is still one of the most competitive in this department.
- Excellent cameras: Pixel phones, even older, cheaper ones, are famous for their great cameras.
- Pixel-only features: While Pixel devices offer a clean experience, this doesn’t mean Google can’t throw some fancy features into its handsets. Pixel owners often enjoy exclusive features like Screen Call, Hold For ME, Direct My Call, Motion Mode, Top Shot, Face and Photo Unblur, Magic Eraser, and more. Learn all about them in our guide to the best Pixel-Only features.
Top reasons to pass on buying a used Pixel
- Customer support: 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.
- They don’t always age gracefully: Pixel phones don’t always come with 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. This seems to be changing with newer series like the Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 launches, though. These come with Google’s more powerful TEnsor processors, much nicer designs, better materials, and more.
- Pixel A devices: You might not need to buy a used Pixel phone to get all the benefits Google offers. Google’s Pixel A devices offer some of the best budget options in the market. Many of you could live very happily with a Pixel 6a, for example. Something like a brand-new Pixel 6a will likely cost you as much as a higher-end Pixel device would cost used.
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 cheaper offering is the Pixel 6a, which has a $449 MSRP. The price is often as low as $299, though. A used Pixel 7 is going for about $400 to $500 on eBay. The Pixel 7 is definitely a better phone, and you’ll often find it used at very similar prices compared to the 6a, but you might prefer having a new handset.
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 capable mid-range devices out there.
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:
- Ensure you’re not overpaying: Assess the phone’s condition and check the average price of similar Pixels (same model and same condition) on eBay, 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 with a battery that 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 the following:
- 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 bad.
- 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. For example, the Pixel 4 stopped receiving updates in October 2022. The Pixel 4a and 5 will stop getting updates later in 2023.
- 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. Make sure the device works with your carrier or is SIM unlocked.
Used Pixels: What to avoid
Avoid really old Pixels
In general, it’s best to avoid used Pixel phones that are more than three years old — that means Pixel 4 series and older. The main reason is the battery, which is likely to be degraded on old used devices due to repeated charge-discharge cycles. While you can use an app like AccuBattery to evaluate the battery’s health, the safest thing to do is 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.
Make sure you’ll at least get security updates for a while
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, or will stop receiving them soon:
- Pixel 5 (Updates end on October 2023)
- Pixel 4a 5G (Updates end on November 2023)
- Pixel 4a (Updates end on August 2023)
- Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL
- Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL
- Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL
- Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL
- Pixel 1 and Pixel 1 XL
In addition, the Pixel 5a will only get updates through August 2024, according to Google’s support page. That one still has a bit of life in it.
Beware of phones that are cheaper than they should be
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 an excellent place to check. If the Pixel phone you’re considering is much cheaper than the average, it’s worth paying extra close 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 boot loops, fast-discharging batteries, cameras that don’t perform as usual, and water damage, just to name a few.
The best places to buy used Pixel phones
Buying used Pixel phones from retailers
Buying a phone in person can mean a lower price, but it’s inherently riskier than buying from a retailer. You will also likely miss out on warranty, return options, and other protections retailers must legally provide.
Buying used Pixel phones from people
If you prefer buying directly from the seller, in person, locally, we can only urge you to be careful. Make sure you meet up in a safe place for both of you, and make sure to inspect the device thoroughly.
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.
Our favorite places to get renewed Pixel phones:
Is it a good time to buy a used Pixel?
At the time of this writing (March 2023), 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 7a soon, likely at its Google I/O 2023 developer conference on May 10. There are also rumors of a Pixel Fold and Pixel 8 coming later this year. The release of a new generation tends to make current models cheaper, and that holds true for pre-owned Pixel phones. Additionally, you might want to consider one of the latest models.
If you’re after a higher-end used Pixel device, waiting a few months might help you net some savings. The Pixel 7 has only been on the market for a little over six months, so the offer for used Pixel 7 handsets is still limited. Holding off until closer to the holidays may also be smart, as we often see amazing deals towards the end of the year.
Buying used phones can be safe if you know where to go, and how to go about it. If you get a used phone from retailers like Amazon or Best Buy, you get a certain level of security because you can always go to them for help, and a warranty is usually involved. The same doesn’t apply to all sites, or when you buy a phone straight from another person. By the way, you should take some precautions when buying from other people. Make sure the deal isn’t some kind of scam, meet at a safe place, and make sure to inspect the device thoroughly.
Buying a phone in person, directly from a seller will usually prove to be a better deal for both the seller and the buyer. You can also look at websites with a lot of competition, like eBay. More competition usually means better prices.
Finding out your used phone’s value is a bit complex, as a lot of factors will affect the going price. A phone in pristine condition will obviously go for more money than one with a cracked screen. Our best advice to get a general idea of a product’s value is to see how much a similar device is going for on eBay. Or compare prices within your area checking out multiple posts from various sellers.
This is one of the tricky parts regarding buying used phones. You never know how the seller obtained it, or what happened to the device before the transaction. If a person gets a phone on a payment plan and stops paying it, carriers will usually blacklist them, and you often won’t be able to unlock it or use it. There are many online tools to check if a phone is blacklisted. You can start by trying Swappa’s free IMEI check tool.