More people are buying used/refurbished phones than ever before

2017 saw a lot of excellent phones get released, but it also signified a pretty steep shift in the cost of the devices we know and love. Apple's iPhone X debuted with its infamous starting price of $999, the Galaxy Note 8 and Google Pixel 2 XL can both set you back $950, and the newly announced Galaxy S9+ will put a dent of $840 in your pocket.

While there's no doubt these are all excellent gadgets, no one blames you for cradling and soothing your wallet after seeing those prices.

So, what do we do when it comes time to upgrade our phone and the market's most popular phones are selling for nearly $1000. According to the Wall Street Journal, a lot of folks are turning to refurbished and pre-owned options.

Per B-Stock Solutions Inc.'s (a marketplace for overstock and trade-in phones) Director of Mobile, Sean Cleland —

Smartphones now resemble the car industry very closely. I still want to drive a Mercedes, but I'll wait a couple of years to buy the older model. Same mentality.

Counterpoint Technology Mark Research reports that 1 out of 10 devices sold around the globe are now refurbished, and considering that refurbished phones can easily cost multiple hundred dollars less than their new counterparts, that's not shocking at all in a world of iPhone Xs and Galaxy Note 8s.

Smartphone sales hit one of its lowest points in years at the tail-end of 2017, and along with buying second-hand devices, WSJ also attributes a lot of this to leasing programs that carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint offer.

Another trend borrowed from the car industry that has helped consumers get around sticker shock: leasing. Instead of buying new phones, Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. allow subscribers to effectively lease them, allowing them to trade up for the latest device. That option, though, hasn't yet gone mainstream.

My current phone is the Pixel 2 that I bought brand-new in October for $649. It's been a great device, but it's the most I've personally ever spent on a phone. Prior to it, most of my handsets have been purchased during sales or pre-owned from sites like Swappa.

What about you? Do you often buy phones brand-new, do you lease them through your carrier, or do you go the pre-owned route? Sound off in those comments down below!

Motorola study sheds light on how addicted we really are to our phones

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • It's the age of the battery among other things that keep me from buying a used phone. I find it better to buy an upper tier phone that's generally 65% to 70% lower priced a year later than a used one.
  • Bingo. Best way to buy a new phone at a good price.
  • I bought a used S8 Active for $450 off eBay two days ago. It's the Samsung device I really wanted, but I waited for it to be cheaper. Bigger battery and more internal storage than the S8.
  • I bought a used Nexus 6P; I had to replace the battery, but the most strenuous issue I had with that was the drive. A year old used phone might have a decent battery, so that's definitely something to look into if anyone's interested. Of course, getting a used phone with a removable battery would be easier. ...this story got away from me, but I'm gonna just leave it here.
  • The best alternative might be to buy last years flag towards the end of its second year. Ive been noticing some super attractive prices on the Galaxy s7 that are even tempting me, a confirmed low-ender. Whatever I buy has to be new. Used phones aint my thang.
  • Agree with this. Wait 6 months to a year and get a much better deal. Phones aren’t making these huge leaps in technology anymore. So a year old phone for half the price is the best option if you want to save money. Even better imo, than a midranger.
  • This is where companies like OnePlus, Huawai, Motorola and few others out there will really start to shine, While I can afford a $1000 phone I would never be silly enough to spend that, especially on the iPhone since it doesn't offer any increased productivity for that money, some are justified in a Note8 though as I work with users that can't use anything else and I can personally vouch for that after seeing their workflow process, its amazing what you can get done with that pen. Sales will continue to drop and when they priced themselves out the will drop back down a bit, but I still won't spend 6-700 and many others won't either. Look what Oneplus does for $499, it just doesn't make sense anymore. The rich don't get rich buying $1000 toys, hell my CEO carries a iPhone 6 and hes worth god knows how much, he just doesn't waste money like that and its one of the things I respect most about him.
  • The problem for me is that most of the bargain phones won't work on Verizon
  • My CEO bought a Note 8 the day it came out, so your point is irrelevant. What phone you buy says nothing about who you are. People just buy what they want.
  • The most I've ever spent was the $450 I plunked down for my 2014 Moto X back in early 2015. I am using that phone to comment now, although it's not my daily driver now. But, it easily could be still. I've got Lineage on it (7.1.2), and other than a degraded battery, it is still fast and smooth. In reality, phones could be used for 4-5 years pretty easily before upgrading.
  • The real question is why are phones still so expensive? Each generation is supposed to get cheaper as with most technology...phones instead are getting more expensive, and usually for no real reason. Anyone remember the $1,000 VCR? Or the price of flat screens 10 years ago?
  • Phones are most likely getting more expensive due to the quick turnaround of technology and the hype that people fall for. Supply and demand is the game. How we turn that around to help lower the price as consumers isn't clear to me yet but not buying everytime one comes out may help.😏
  • I don't want a phone with a notch or a curved display or a 2:1 display ratio. That doesn't leave me much choice anymore and I'm certainly not going to pay close to $1000 for a phone.
  • There is literally no difference in performance between a Chromebook laptop and the best Android phones, such as a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Therefore, I understand the $1000 USD price. The specs are equivalent to many Chromebooks. To take it a step further, I'd argue the Samsung DeX is what is overpriced, at $249. All it does is be a hub where your phone connects to a monitor and keyboard. No chance I'm paying that price! Nothing wrong with used phones, or buying last year's top model... Or not bothering with a premium, top end phone if it isn't your primary online device! Prices will drop if sales collapse... But they haven't. I can't believe anybody is paying top mobile prices given how close we are to seeing 5G mobile networks. My next phone will have a 5G modem. If Samsung and others are smart, they will get 5G modems into their top phones asap, so they can work on the as yet unavailable 5G networks. Personally, I will always buy a new phone. However, I won't upgrade often. I could not be happier with my Note 8, which I use as my sole online device. I'll probably replace the battery in two years, and can easily see keeping the phone 5 years. The majority of my online network use is through my residential WiFi network, so even when 5G rolls out, I don't use mobile networks for data much... So it doesn't matter.
  • Of course in two years it will be an insecure mess when Samsung quits providing security updates for it.
  • I wouldn't agree with that idea. 2 1/2 years in and my Note 5 just got another security update yesterday.
  • I'd rather buy new, regardless of cost.
  • If the "refurb" process includes replacing the battery with a new one, I'd consider getting a refurb. Otherwise, no.
  • I've had nothing but great experiences buying refurbished electronics. Been doing it for years and will continue to do so. People mistakenly think the items are used, they are not. They come in flawless condition for significantly less money. Just bare in mind, there's different grades of refurbished and a difference between 3rd party and manufacturer refurbished. I only buy grade A manufacturer refurbished, they're practically new. Battery is fine because they're not used.
  • I usually just buy a flagship device and hold onto it for 3 years. By then the upgrade feels significant enough to warrant the price tag.
  • I got the Moto Z2 for 300 on Cyber Monday with T-Mobile. But before I got the V20 for full price when it came out. That would be probably the last time I purchase a phone at full retail price.
  • They are now way too expensive for the average consumer. Personally, I could easily have purchased a Pixel 2 XL but I just couldn't justify it, no matter how good the camera. I ditched my S7 and bought a OnePlus 3 a couple of months ago and though the camera isn't all that, this thing FLIES! The performance really is excellent. If you have stock Android and timely updates, there's no need to buy a new phone every year. Maybe OEMs should think about ditching the annual upgrade and just do it every 2 years instead....?
  • They want your next $ today... So there will always be an annual phone, no matter how superficial an improvement it is. To your Android point... Please... Nobody cares about Oreo. 8.0 and 8.1 are installed on a combined 1.1% of Android devices, now entering a 7th month since being released. The bulk of devices operate on an Android version over two years old. Newer Android updates offer superficial update s to stuff like sub menus.... The updates are emphasized by blogs like this one by selling fear... Fear of volunersbility, security. Please, what a pile of nonsense. 98.1 % of Android users somehow manage to get through life on older Android and haven't had their lives destroyed by hackers due to old android... Lol... I could care less about having the latest mobile OS. I had a good laugh when talk of an Android P release in 3 months began to start.🤣
  • ⬆️⬆️⬆️ Exactly! Android P. When will we see it?
  • NorthernArbiter..this is the truth that no one cares to hear. I admit I'm in the throes of considering buying the pixel 2, even though my Nexus 5x is chugging along just fine, all for the illusion of being "current"
  • I didn't say that was what people were after... I said if you've got timely updates, who needs to upgrade every year. It's true that 99% of people couldn't give a monkeys about what software version they're on anyway! What I'm saying is, there's less n less reason to upgrade every year. No need for it.
  • I bought a Moto Z last year for $350. First used phone I've purchased since my T-Mobile G1.
  • I feel like there's a lot of good deals to be had on new phones. I got my Moto Z brand new for 120 with 2 mods. Can't really beat that.
  • I bought a less then year old v20 for 280. Great phone. Not spending 700 plus on a phone. I'll go back to a dumb phone at that point.
  • Yah but I can get brakes, tires and oil changes [read: updates] on my car for years to come, and from a larger range of service providers at the time of my choosing (given the shop is not too backlogged). Phones are nothing like cars. They barely like desktops and laptops. We have far less control over milking longevity out of our phones.
  • Totally understand this, but one has to be careful. I've purchased an iPhone and a Galaxy from Gazelle. I feel like I can actually trust them. My current Pixel I got from Verizon several months after release for a great deal and no trade-in necessary.
  • Carriers stopped subsidizing the phones and the prices of said phones increase year after year after year. Ontop of that Carriers want to charge more for the phone then the manufacturer. Then to add more frustration more and more manufacturer have gone for the trend of removing the headphone jack while customers continue saying they do not wish for its removal. It's not all that surprising to me that people are buying new/refurbished. Hell, why do you think carriers dont subsidize anymore? Prices are getting outta hand. As the old saying goes "speak with your wallets".
  • I've wanted the Pixel 2 XL since it was announced but couldn't justify $850 + tax and shipping. Found a refurbished unit on Amazon Prime for $671 and bought it. The device doesn't have any signs of wear and performance is fantastic. It also has a 90 day warranty which is backed by Amazon. I'm very happy with that deal!
  • I just looked... Hmmm.. yes... Premium mobile prices are high, including tablets, vs. the PC market. A Samsung tab S2 ve tablet goes for $629, we all know premium phone costs... But the PC market has crashed. A serviceable enough 8GB ram laptop with 1 TB storage can be had for $549 here in Canada... No ear splitting specs... But it is a good machine... A lower end acer. A tablet would be nice.. but not $629 nice... Large smartphones have killed tablets, their primary use being elementary schools.
  • I don't think I could ever but a used Android phone, because of their potential risks of a worn out battery and the condition the phone might be in, sorry but for me, I'll always buy a brand new phone.
  • I wasn't planning on getting a new phone, but last fall T-Mobile offered buy one get one free on the S8. My wife needed a new phone at the time, so I jumped on it. That's a new S8 for $400. Sometimes the best deals are on last years flagship devices.
  • I would never spend more than £300 on a phone. My current device, a Smart Platinum 7, cost £280 and it dose everything I need it to do and more. I'm not into posing.
  • I agree 💯
  • With AT&T announcing their 5g network being rolled out to 18 cities by year's end, I think it pays to wait on new purchases. Why pay top dollar for a 4th generation phone when you will need new hardware in a few months to take advantage of the new high-speed network?
  • "18 Cities by year's end." You could buy a 4th generation phone new today and by the time you're ready for your second new phone, 5G won't be Nationwide.
  • Absolutely. 2G isn't even nationwide! You cannot get voice calling everywhere, so there is no hope for 5G.
  • No unlimited plans in Canada. AT&T unlimited plans throttle down network speed after so much monthly use... I doubt you will notice 5G speed much when it arrives. Here in Canada, most people use their wifi networks broadcast from their home cable internet packages...
  • I must admit when I visited USA a couple of years ago, I was astounded that the carriers can get away with unlimited data claims. We got local SIMs because it was cheaper than buying data on our home packages. But they only gave a small amount of data at a useful speed. Beyond that I do not know what sort of data you were supposed to be able to use the so-called unlimited data for. It was too slow and patchy for anything like music, or google maps, or basically anything modern.
  • Get a used (looks new? We'll see...) Pixel 2 today for $400 - my first used phone. In the past, I have been skeptical given battery longevity, but I am hoping to parlay this into a cycle that lets me refresh phones more often for lightly used or older models without spending $1000 every couple of years. It might not save a ton of money in the long run, but a more regular upgrade/sidegrade is worth it to me.
  • I used to buy lots of used stuff but no more. Today people want 75 - 80% of the new price for a used item. No way I would pay anywhere near that. I don't care if you bought it new yesterday, used is used. When buying used, I will only pay 50% of price for new.
    So now I just look for deals on 2nd or 3rd generation stuff that is new.
  • I only buy last year's models from Swappa in either mint or new condition, usually at half the MSRP or better. However, my next play could be Sprint leasing... I'll see what programs they offer for the HTC U12. Last year, the U11 was about $15 per month for a 18 month lease and just a few months ago they had the PH1 for $6 per month. I don't care that I won't own the phone and will have to surrender it at lease-end because by then I'll be ready for something new.
  • I bought my Note 4 certified pre-owned a few years ago. Never had any issues with it. My Note 8 was purchased new, but I got a good pre-Black Friday deal at Best Buy for it.
  • The question of refurbished phones, and deals on last year's Samsung flagships, are a bit amusing... We might actually see the next android OS install base numbers reported for 8.0 and 8.1 decrease. A recent article on Android P being released in three months was met with laughter.... Because only 1.1% of Android device users are using Android 8.0 and 8.1, combined... 7 months after its release... Nobody is out praising Android O... Because those people don't exist! Stop drinking the Kool aid in blogs here... The silent majority is still running Android Marshmallow... And their lives haven't been ruined. Even the new Samsung Galaxy tab S3 tablet being shipped this week is coming with Android 7.1.1 lol
  • Which new Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is that? Or do you just mean new as in very recently purchased, rather than new as in newly on the market?
  • I bought a brand new Note 5 last fall to use on Sprint for the free year deal. Was only $200 shipped and is great. Never spend more than $400 on a phone.
  • 1k phones... Yeah, used and referbs are going to become more popular.
  • Not 100% sure what I'm gonna get, BUT I bought an Honor 6X off of Wish yesterday! It was 2 bucks!
  • I ALWAYS buy my own phone. That way I do not get carrier bloat, and don't have to wait for them to bother to update the operating system. I typically save £100-£200 over any available lease cost. When I sell, it is an unlocked unbranded phone which is worth more.
    I have bought second hand, because it was the only way to get a Note 4 when my Note 7 order was cancelled. It failed about three months in following an operating system update which bricked many Note 4s. Private purchase, no come back.
    I've bought used phones for my sister and wife, and none of those have ever failed.
    I wouldn't buy a phone older than about 6 months unless it had a replaceable battery. Fast charging on modern phones makes them wear out too quickly.
    How I am going to keep finding flat screened flagship phones with 16:9 displays and no stupid notch, I am beginning to wonder. This one might have to last a long time.
  • I think if it's manufacturer refurbished then I wouldn't have a problem as phones are ridiculously expensive these days given the amount of support they get from their manufacturers.
  • I bought an Honor 6x to replace my $600 Lumia 950. I'm very happy. I will never pay a carrier for a phone again.
  • Cars have better value, I can use my car for 10 years, android and iPhone won't survive too long lol
  • The iPhone "won't survive Long" Not with the ridiculous prices But Android will as its a much more capable platform and can do so much more for less and its an open platform that gives you the freedom and flexibility to make your phone truly yours, can't say that about the overpriced, limited, inferior and increasingly buggy iPhone.
  • Bought my used 128 GB Nexus 6P in October 2016 for $400 on Craigslist (no tax). Although its battery is failing to the point I have to carry around an external battery, I'm hoping it will last me until the Pixel 3 comes out. But I know I won't be pleased with the price of the Pixel 3.
  • Always buy older phone. Last one was a LG V20 brand new in box for $300. New phones are not $600 better. In fact some are not as good.
  • The funny thing about waiting for a year, to almost two year old "new" phone is the price drops are different for certain brands. I remember blackberries were that way, back when. Hated it then, hate it now.