Once upon a time, flagship phones could be had for $500 or less. At one point, companies like OnePlus even argued that flagship quality could be achievable under $400 but, alas, those days are long gone. While you can still find some amazing deals on the best Android phones, the more economical and eco-friendly option is to just buy a used or refurbished one.
In years past, used phones used to be pretty disappointing because you almost always ended up with old software and outdated features. These days, however, companies like Samsung are supporting their phones for four to five years, meaning you can get an incredible phone with the latest features for a lot less and, as a bonus, contribute less e-waste to the planet.
Things to consider before you buy a used or refurbished phone
Why you can trust Android Central Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
When buying a used phone, in particular, there are a few things to keep in mind. Just as you might do when trading in an Android phone, you'll want to go through a checklist to ensure you get the best experience. Check the listing to make sure the phone has been factory reset, that it's not locked to a carrier you don't use, if it includes original accessories, any damage and, if possible, the sales history.
But all used phones are not created the same. Let's break them down into two main categories:
- A used phone purchased directly from an owner (e.g., Swappa, Craigslist, eBay)
- A refurbished phone that has been through a "touch-up" directly from the manufacturer or a partner (e.g., Verizon, Samsung, Amazon, Gazelle, Best Buy)
You can probably get the best deal by buying directly from someone else because no intermediary is taking a fee, but you also risk the phone having issues that the naked eye can't see. Craigslist is a great place to look for local deals but beware that people on these kinds of sites aren't always honest and there's no recourse for you if the phone doesn't work as advertised.
Instead, we recommend going through a marketplace that helps guarantee your purchase. Our staff favorite is Swappa, a second-hand online marketplace that charges a low, flat fee to sell phones, which helps keep the price down. Despite that, they promise that there is no junk, no jerks on its site, and if you do end up running into a problem, their customer service team guarantees 20 minutes or less response time.
Buying through an intermediary marketplace like Gazelle could work really well if you don't want to take any chances with the quality but still don't mind a bit of wear and tear. The phones often come with (admittedly limited) warranties and money-back guarantees, which, as a buyer, offer considerably more peace of mind than the average "meet up at the nearby 7-Eleven and hand over a wad of cash" type deal that sites like Craigslist offer.
Finally, buying a certified refurbished phone is your safest bet but comes with the least discount over a new product. Carriers, retailers, and third parties all refurbish and sell used devices with varying levels of discount and inventory options.
Yes, these phones are used, but they've gone through a (varying) set of checks to verify their condition and details before being cleaned up and passed on to you. There's a peace of mind associated with buying refurbished, but there's also a cost. If you're interested in going this route, there are plenty of options when looking for the best places to buy a refurbished phone.
The best places to buy a used phone
This is not an exhaustive list. There are innumerable places to buy a used phone on the internet. Also, depending on your country, this list may not be applicable (though we tried to highlight international marketplaces as much as possible).
Swappa began its life as a small Android-based phone buying and selling community, but it's since expanded to include other mobile devices like iPhones, tablets, Chromebooks, MacBooks, VR headset, and several other types of electronics.
Good: Plenty of listings with clear quality guidelines and good prices, great customer service, low fees, and shipping cost is included in the listing.
Bad: No inherent warranty or guaranteed accessories.
Swappa works on a set fee structure that's very different from most other platforms, and this is important: the buyer pays the fee. Most will pay $20 or under for the privilege, though, which isn't bad at all, and all payments are made over PayPal, which is incredibly convenient and secure. Why is a buyer fee better for both buyers and sellers? Because it encourages sellers to list their products on Swappa, adding inventory to a service that relies heavily on participation.
Plus, the shipping cost is included in the price of the listing, which should prevent post-sale price gouging. And because Swappa uses PayPal, all listings are protected, so if a device doesn't arrive as advertised, buyers have recourse to get their money back.
Swappa does not physically inspect devices, but it does a few things to ensure the buyer is getting what they pay for. All listings are verified by a human, who ensures that the IMEI is valid and can be activated. All listings must have good-quality photos that clearly show any damage, and the quality (fair/good/excellent) should match the photos.
Finally, Swappa's prices tend to be lower than many curated services, and because Swappa lists the sale history of phones of the same type, you're likely to get a fair price for the phone in the current market.
Gazelle is one of the oldest players in the used smartphone game. You can buy and sell through its online marketplace, and they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee for all purchases.
Good: Seamless buying experience with plenty of choices, all phones come with a charger and are guaranteed to work, 30-day money-back return policy.
Bad: Doesn't sell every type of phone and can be more expensive than person-to-person marketplaces.
Gazelle tends to be slower to sell more recent smartphones on its website, but if you choose to buy something, the experience is pretty fantastic. Not only can you choose what condition you'd like your phone to be in (Fair, Good, or Excellent), but Gazelle also runs all of its devices through a 30-point inspection to ensure everything is in tip-top shape. If you get the phone and it isn't a good fit for whatever reason, you're protected by a 30-day return window.
You can buy from Gazelle and pay the full price of a phone outright, or if you'd like to go with a monthly installment plan, financing options are available with 0% interest — courtesy of Affirm. You can also add a device protection plan for a fee that provides one-year of accidental damage protection or pays for the repair of the device due to mechanical or electrical failure.
eBay is enormous, and today continues to be one of the top places to purchase a used phone. It has the biggest advantage of Craigslist — scale — with few disadvantages, especially since it uses its own payment system to ensure that payments can be recalled should there be a problem.
Good: Lots of selection with verifiable sellers with a money-back guarantee and buyer protection.
Bad: Potentially high cost of shipping, and you won't be able to see the device before buying.
eBay has a robust filtering system for buyers, allowing you to search for exactly what you want, with filters for price, carrier, condition, storage capacity, lock status — even color. You can even search for vintage phones! Of course, eBay still has its roots as an auction house, and that is how some used phones are still sold, but far more of them are sold at set prices.
There is also the option to search for phones under the "Best Offer" filter, which can save you extra if you happen upon a good deal at the right time. eBay charges sellers, not buyers, to host their listings, so all you need to do is find the right listing, and you're off to the races.
eBay's best feature is its Money-Back Guarantee, which, combined with the extensive seller profiles, makes it easy to buy with confidence. For example, if there's an issue with the device or the shipment, you can apply to get your money back, and, within reason, eBay will either cancel the transaction or, if it's already gone through, refund you. And seller profiles let you filter potential purchases based on trusted sellers that have been around the block once, ten, or ten thousand times.
UpTrade is another good choice if you want to keep the process of buying or selling a used phone as simple as it can be.
Good: Very streamlined, easy-to-use website for both buyers and sellers.
Bad: Can take a while to get paid. Have to supply your own shipping box.
If you're a buyer, just search for the phone you're looking for, and UpTrade will show what it has in stock. Every listing includes hands-on pictures of the exact phone being sold, including the UpTrade employee that inspected it and any inspection notes they made. All phones sold on UpTrade are "UpTrade Certified," meaning they go through a 50+ point inspection check and are sanitized by UpTrade before being shipped to you.
If you have a phone to sell, UpTrade makes things just as streamlined. Indicate the model you're selling, its configuration, and what kind of condition it's in. UpTrade gives you a quote for how much you'll get, and you can then get the full amount 14 days after the inspection or 1-2 days after the inspection at the cost of a 10% reduction in your payment. You need to provide your own box for shipping the phone to UpTrade, but you get a free shipping label. If you send the phone to UpTrade but change your mind, they'll send it back at no extra cost.
Back Market sells used and refurbished phones because it believes in prolonging the useful life of older devices to reduce the growing global e-waste problem and provide more affordable options to more people.
Good: Great selection, rigorous review process, and admirable social mission.
Bad: Not available in all markets, and Android selection beyond Samsung and Google is slim.
Back Market has one goal: to challenge people to rethink their technology consumption. To flip the script on the normal buying process, Back Market even refers to the process of buying a refurbished or used device as "adopting" a new phone/laptop/etc.
Back Market's review system considers the appearance and "technical condition" of the devices it receives and issues grades as Fair, Good, or Excellent. Sellers on Back Market have to pass their Back Label certification program to assure their devices conform to Back Market's high standards, and the company takes user feedback very seriously.
It offers buyers a 30-day money-back guarantee, a 12-month warranty, free shipping, and a variety of payment methods. You'll also see how many ounces of e-waste you have saved by buying it, which is a nice touch (note: for a used Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, that's about 8 ounces).
Back Market has a wide selection of phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, Motorola, LG, and more. So if you're looking for a quality used device from a company with an admirable mission, Back Market may be just the place you need to look.
Sign up for Black Friday email alerts!
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the Android Central team.