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7 Things You Need to Check Before Buying a Used iPhone

Michael Harris
08.03.16
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Buying a Used Iphone
When you drop your iPhone in the toilet or leave it on the hood of your car as you back out of the driveway, you need to replace it quickly. It's also a bonus if you can replace it affordably. With iPhone prices well over $500 nowadays, buying an affordable one can be a daunting idea. Buying a used iPhone may seem like the best option.

However, unless you're purchasing from a trusted friend or family member, you might not know what you're getting into. You can purchase certified pre-owned iPhones from trustworthy vendors like Gazelle. Many people turn to auction or classified sites like eBay or Craigslist. You can even pick up used iPhones at pawn shops.

The price difference between an iPhone sold through Gazelle and eBay can be significant, however. It's tempting to pay only $50 to an eBay seller as opposed to a hefty $500 for a certified pre-owned phone. How much risk are you willing to take, however? Here are a few factors to consider before you buy a pre-owned iPhone.

Consider Your Carrier

Two models of iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are sold in the U.S. These models are compatible with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile. However, each phone offers one model that supports the Wireless Communications Service, or WCS, band.

This extra LTE band is licensed by AT&T and doesn't have as many users as the other bands. If you live in a crowded area, you may be able to take advantage of faster speeds with the WCS band if you have AT&T.

If you have AT&T and you're purchasing the iPhone 6S, you should look for the A1633 model. If you buy the 6S Plus, you should get the A1634 model. If you're with another major wireless carrier, your best bet is to purchase the iPhone 6S A1688 or the iPhone 6S Plus A1687.

What if you buy an iPhone that's older than the iPhone 5? GSM iPhones work only on the AT&T and T-Mobile networks. CDMA iPhones work only on the Verizon and Sprint networks. Apple offers an LTE page that lets you know the best iPhone model for smaller carriers.

Ensure That The Seller Is Legitimate

If the iPhone that you're purchasing has been stolen, the original user can block the phone, rendering it useless. How can you tell if a seller is offering you a stolen phone? Check your IMEI.

The IMEI is a unique identification number that is unique to one phone. It can be found on the exterior of the phone or on the phone's display. If your phone has been stolen, you can block it from gaining access to any cellular networks.

Using the IMEI number, you can also check whether the phone that you're trying to purchase has been blacklisted or blocked. You can Check your IMEI here to make sure that the phone you want to buy hasn't been stolen or reported as lost to the GSMA.

Confirm That The Phone Can Be Activated With Your Carrier

You can also use the IMEI number to confirm that the phone can be activated with your network. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile allow you to check the IMEI number on their websites.

Do Some Quality Control

If you can see the phone in person before you buy it, make sure that it isn't excessively damaged. There might be some wear and tear on the exterior of the phone.

That's normal if it has been used by the average person. If there are cracks that spread across the screen, however, they're likely to get worse over time.

Some other items to inspect for damage and usability are:
  • Buttons and touch screen – Make sure that the home button works and all of the areas on the screen respond to your touch.
  • Headphone jack – Plug in headphones and make sure that you can hear sound.
  • Speakers – Turn on the speakers without headphones and test the volume control.

Inspect It For Water Damage

Water damage – All iPhones contain Liquid Contact Indicators that will activate when they're exposed to a liquid that contains water. The Apple website shows you where these indicators are located. While you're at it, verify that the IMEI number on the case matches the IMEI loaded in the software.

To check this, click on Settings, then navigate to General > About. Scroll down to IMEI to pull up the number that's saved in the phone. This will let you know if the case has been changed, which could be an indicator that the phone has undergone more wear and tear than you might notice with the naked eye.

Test The Battery

You can typically get about 10 hours of talk time on 3G with the iPhone battery. It doesn't last forever, though. As the recharge limit is reached, the battery capacity is lowered. Factor in the cost of putting in a new battery if you're buying a used phone that's well over a year old.

Check The Warranty

All iPhones are covered against manufacturing and hardware defects for one year. There are many tools that allow you to check whether your iPhone is still covered by the warranty. All you need is the IMEI or the serial number.

Many people sell their iPhones within less than a year simply because of personal preference. They decide that they want to try another model, or they don't like the software. These iPhones can seem practically brand new to you.

The Bottom Line

Buying a new iPhone can be a huge financial burden. However, iPhones tend to last longer than many other phone brands, so they often give you your money's worth. Because they endure, used iPhones can still feel very new to you. Plus, you can find some great deals on used iPhones.

There are always shady characters out there, so if you're buying a pre-owned iPhone, just make sure that you're getting what you're paying for. Check the phone's specs using the IMEI number, and inspect the phone in person before giving away your hard-earned cash.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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