At many of our physical locations nationwide, we buy and sell used phones. Here we’d like to help those shopping for a used phone or looking to sell a used phone. You have to consider many things when buying used phones, and this list will help you evaluate used phones you come across. Do not pay money for a used phone before following these steps.
What To Do Before Buying a Used Phone
Swappa ESN Check
This is the first thing we do to evaluate a used phone. Swappa runs an online person-to-person marketplace, so they created a solution for verifying whether an ESN is clean or not. The Swappa system checks an ESN or IMEI against nationwide databases. You can use the ESN, IMEI, or MEID (HEX or DEC) for verification. If a device shows up on a blacklist or whitelist from one of the major carriers, this checker will tell you. The carriers maintain these lists to track devices which have been reported as lost and/or stolen. They also list phones that still need to be paid off through a financing program.
Using the Swappa ESN Check ensures that you can safely proceed with a purchase or avoid buying an expensive paperweight! If you buy or sell used phones, a tool like the Swappa ESN Check can save you a lot of money and headaches. Keep in mind that you can only do up to 10 free ESN checks within a 24-hour period. An alternative tool is the Check ESN Free website.
Evaluate the Condition
For used devices, some wear-and-tear is natural and to be expected. However, it’s a matter of personal preference what you’re willing to accept. A few things to note here:
- A cracked screen – Small cracks are probably not a big deal. But remember, any crack is a weakness in the screen. They can easily spiderweb or shatter if they receive a mild drop or bump. Ask around for the cost of repair to that specific model.
- Scrapes and scratches – The body of the phone might look ugly, but see if it’s structurally sound. You might be able to get a good deal just from a dirty device! A little elbow grease typically makes a grubby phone look fairly new. If nothing else, you could pop it into a new case and never see any ugly abrasions.
- Look under the hood – If you can, pull the battery and check the trays for both the SIM card and SD card. Hold off on your purchase if any springs or clips are busted. Trust us, it’s very difficult to reattach those tiny parts! Also, make sure the water damage indicators have not been wet. You should see small crosshatching (X’s or +’s) if the phone has stayed dry. Otherwise, they’ll be smudged and red in color. If that’s the case, you never know what kind of damage transferred to the internal circuits – steer clear.
Factory Reset the Phone
Once you’ve established that the phone’s ESN is “clean” you need to Factory Reset the device or verify that the seller has done so. This accomplishes several important things:
- A Factory Reset clears any and all previous personal data and files off of the device.
- Once the phone reboots, you should see an activation screen. An iCloud lock or Google account lock on the screen means that you will need the password from the original user. If your seller cannot provide that information, it is probably a stolen device!
- Check for a screen lock, whether it’s a pattern or PIN. If the phone is locked and you cannot perform a factory reset, do not buy it. Again, the seller will have that PIN or pattern unlock unless the phone is not theirs to sell.
Check the Phone Carrier Eligibility
The next thing you should do is make sure that the phone you want to buy is eligible to activate on your carrier. At BestCellular.com we use multiple carriers, so if you call in with your ESN we can help you find the right one for your device. Most of the major carriers have BYOD eligibility checkers on their website. However, some of our customers have reported that these tools are not always up to date. Other sources online say that they may not actually run a proper check, but are used as a sales tool to bring customers into retail stores. Once inside, a sales rep will claim that the BYOD is ineligible and sell you a new phone off the shelf. All of that to say, check with your current carrier before buying!
Test the Phone’s Charging Port and Battery
Your typical used phone seller doesn’t provide a charger, so you should bring an extra one with you. That way, you can plug in the phone before you buy to make sure the charging port is good. Also, use this opportunity to verify that the battery is charging. You may not have the time to reach 100% but if you leave it plugged in and the battery has not charged at all, you may want to move on to another deal. Alternatively, if the battery is removable, pull it out and check for swelling or water damage. Any of these issues could give you the leverage you need to save some money! (While a bad battery can be a poor user experience, remember that batteries are a cheap replacement to buy online.)
This may seem like a lot to do, but it is really the only way to avoid a lemon when buying used phones. Any seller who is unwilling to go through these basic checks is likely trying to pawn off a lost, stolen, or financed device and make a quick buck. Don’t fall for anyone who pressures you to skip these checks!
What To Do After Buying a Pre-Owned Phone
Connect Your Phone to WiFi and Upgrade Your Operating System
Even if you haven’t had the chance to activate the device, connecting to a WiFi connection is a great idea. You can login to your Google or iCloud account and start downloading your apps. That way you can test drive your phone! However, before your apps, we recommend checking for a system OS update. For iPhones in particular, this will resolve a lot of issues right out of the gate. It also provides your device with the latest enhancements for performance and security. A good WiFi connection will save your data when updating your OS.
As soon as possible, activate your used phone purchase. Unfortunately, people will try another scam if you don’t. They can sell you a perfectly good phone, then turn around and report it as lost or stolen. That way their carrier or insurance sends them a newer replacement, but you’re out a phone! Activate the phone right away so the phone is relisted in the carrier’s database as an active device. They will not deactivate or blacklist the device without your permission.
Another essential thing to do after buying a pre-owned phone: Update your device Profile and PRL (if you activated through a Sprint/PCS carrier). Your phone will receive the latest tower location updates and carrier settings, which gives you the best possible signal.
Phone a Friend
Placing a call with your newly active purchase will confirm a few things. First off, you can make sure that the phone is actually working! Call a friend or family member and ask them if they can hear you properly. Be sure to check the speakerphone as well, and turn your volume up to a comfortable level. Then, have them call you back. This gives you a chance to hear the ringer and also see if the vibration level is strong enough. It is a phone, after all, and you want to be able to use it!
Send a Text
This might seem like another no-brainer, but you need to check that the device will send and receive texts. Give your new number (if you got one) out to your friends and ask them to respond if they get the message. You can also test MMS as a group message or attach a picture.
Take a Picture
See if the camera works. You’ll want to get more than one photo, facing into both brightly lit and dark areas. Take a few selfies! You can send your snaps through MMS to test that service or post them on social media. Get some outside opinions on how they look and compare with and without the flash. If there are any cracks or scrapes on the lens, even if they’re tiny, you’ll find out.
Turn off your WiFi connection and open up Facebook, Twitter, or your Chrome browser. You want to check network coverage and speed for your mobile data. At this point, you might be thinking it’s a bit of a chore buying used phones, but you can’t be too careful! We have seen countless used devices that work just fine right up until you get online, due to internal damage to the cellular antenna from pressure or water. Since mobile data is a key feature for smartphones, this is an essential test.
Take a few minutes to lighten up your phone. Carriers like to preinstall all sorts of useless apps due to licensing and advertising agreements. Most of the time, you will not need these apps at all and they are safe to uninstall or disable. This especially applies when buying a used phone, since you are likely switching carriers from the previous owner.
It’s not hard to move all your contacts, pictures, videos, etc. to your new device. Check out the article linked above to see how many different ways you can move your files!
Set Up Your Voicemail
Last but certainly not least, change your voicemail carrier settings to your liking. Usually, you can just hold down the “1” key on the dialer, and follow the prompts. This is an important step but often overlooked. Many carriers reset your voicemail settings even when you switch devices onto the same account. Skipping this step means you’ll miss calls and whoever tries to get ahold of you cannot leave a message. Even if you don’t regularly check your voicemail messages, ensure the system is activated so people can reach you.
We mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating. You can save a lot of money on your monthly cell phone bill when you cut down on your data. That’s because mobile data is actually the most expensive thing from the carrier’s perspective, so they will charge you through the nose for overages. Check out our data-saving settings and tips and save some money as well!
Did you know that BestCellular.com does everything from the Swappa ESN check to your voicemail setup (and more!) on every device we sell? With our 45-point Phone Activation Checklist, you can buy with confidence that your phone is happy, healthy, and ready to activate! Give Best Cellular a call to get started today.