Before you hand over the cash and walk away with a new (used) phone, you’ll want to do the initial inspection. Is it broken? Has it been abused by its previous owner? Will it do everything it’s been advertised to do?

If you’re not tech savvy, this experience won’t be as straightforward for you. What to check when buying a used cell phone may not be immediately apparent. How can anyone tell the condition of a cell phone just by looking at it, anyway?

We’re going to do our best to teach you. Let’s get started!

Everything You Need to Know About Buying Used

Before you can assess whether the phone you’re buying is truly worth it or not, you need to understand what to look for when buying a used cell phone. These buying a used smartphone tips are necessary for finding the right device for you.

What to Look For in Used Tech Device

The primary things you need to look for on a used phone are signs of abuse. We’re not talking about cosmetic scratches or scuffs on the case. Those happen even if you’re extremely careful with a phone — that’s why it’s a good idea for everyone to store their phone in a protective case, too.

We’re talking about signs of severe physical damage, like water damage or rust, a cracked screen or broken buttons.

Pay attention to the seams on the device. If they seem altered, warped or stretched in any way, it’s possible the phone was opened up at some point. This could mean something as simple as replacing the screen or battery, or it could be a bigger hardware problem.

Phones with a replaceable battery have a small white sticker on the inside, usually right underneath the battery. It will remain the color white until it comes into contact with water. If this sticker is red or another color entirely, it means the phone was submerged in water at some point, and the hardware inside was exposed to moisture.

Moisture can do weird things to electronics, especially if they’re powered on when they come into contact with water. You don’t want any device with water damage. Turn it down if you notice this.

A broken display is not so much of an issue, so long as it has been repaired correctly. Certified refurbished phones are repaired and assembled by the official manufacturer, so there’s nothing to worry about if that’s what you choose to buy. A private seller who installed a new screen may not have taken the necessary precautions when doing the work, though.

If you buy from a private seller or third-party provider, by all means — scan the phone before handing over your cash, if that’s possible. Some only let you see the phone after a purchase has been made. If that’s the case, take full advantage of the review period, and return the device as soon as you find something wrong with it.

Conditions to Consider With a Used Smartphone

Want to know what to look for when buying a used smartphone, at least when it comes to the condition of the phone?
The conditions you will need to be aware of range from broken to excellent, or “like new”. These same conditions are used to classify your phone when you go to sell it as well.

If you’re buying a used phone, you never want to get anything worse than “good,” unless you’re absolutely confident you can repair the damage. Excellent or “like new” devices were most likely kept inside a protective case, or they were not used often. Whatever the case, these are the conditions you’ll want for a new phone.

When you’re selling, the condition of the phone will determine the final sale price. So, if your phone is in worse shape, sellers and providers will offer less.

Here are the condition descriptions we use here at The Whiz Cells:

  • Excellent or “Like New” — 100% functional and without any visible scratches, dents or wear. It looks like a brand new phone. Less than 10% of devices fall into this category.
  • Good — 100% functional, and without cracks or breaks. Wear and tear are moderate to light, with only minor chips or scratches.
  • Cracked Screen — 100% functional (you can see it still works), with a cracked screen or cracked glass ONLY. This means the LCD behind the crack still works, and the touchscreen functions are still operational.
  • Broken — The phone is physically broken or damaged. Water damage does not count. The phone must still be able to power on if you wish to sell it.

Used vs. Certified Refurbished vs. Open Box

For the final part of this buying used cell phone tips section, we’re going to detail the different options at your disposal. Essentially, there are three classifications:

  • Used — Someone else owned the device and used it for a time.
  • Certified Refurbished — The phone was returned to the manufacturer broken, or with defects. It was then repaired and updated by the official crew. It is now like new and in proper working order.
  • Open Box — Open box items were returned to a store because the customer did not want them. This does not necessarily mean they are broken or have defects.

Often, you can buy open box items from a store, like Best Buy, directly, for much cheaper than one in a new, sealed box. You’ll need to discuss the open box policy with employees at the store in question. Every store is different, and every store has a separate return policy. Some will allow you to return or exchange the item, while others will not.

As for used and certified refurbished devices, they are pretty much on the same level. Certified refurbished devices are generally in better shape and work fine, but they may have also been used for some time. This is why you can buy them at a discounted price, like used goods.

Buy Sell

Chapter 1: Where Can You Buy a Used Phone?Chapter 3: Physical Appearance and Condition