Should I buy a used phone right now? Concerns and questions answered

Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
Samsung Galaxy S7 edge (Image credit: Android Central)

Best answer: It's OK to be anxious about buying a used phone right now, but you'll more than likely be perfectly fine if you choose to do so. Yes, germs are a real concern, but you can take simple and effective precautionary measures to ensure you stay healthy and safe while saving some cash on a pre-owned handset.

Understanding the concern

Buying used/secondhand phones is often a great way to upgrade your current handset without having to pay the full retail price. Sure, there's something to be said about buying a shiny, brand-new phone, but it's also hard to justify coughing up $1,000 or more for a new flagship when you can save hundreds by buying pre-owned.

Used phones are fantastic for saving some cash, but it's also important to understand the added risks that come with them. Not only do you need to make sure you're buying from a reputable seller and the phone doesn't have anything seriously wrong with it, but there's also the concern of germs.

You're the first person to ever own a phone when you buy new, but with used phones, you have no idea how the previous owner treated it or what kind of health they're in. Now more than ever as we do what we can to fend off a global pandemic, taking on that potential health risk can make buying a used phone a lot less appealing than usual.

What you can do to stay safe and healthy

Cleaning supplies

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

While it's reasonable to be anxious about this right now, there are a lot of precautions you can take to ensure you buy a used phone without posing any sort of risk to yourself.

For starters, we want to reassure you that the chance of a virus sticking to a phone and then being transmitted to you is pretty unlikely. The current virus that's going around can survive for up to 72 hours on certain surfaces, such as stainless steel and plastic. By the time you buy a pre-owned phone, the seller packages it up, ships it to you, and then you finally have it delivered, any germs that were on the phone will more than likely be dead.

In fact, if you were to pick up anything during this process, it's more likely that a virus would find its way to you via the box the phone was delivered in — something you take a chance with for any online order.

High risk or not, there are a few simple steps you can take when your used phone is delivered to ensure you minimize the chance of picking up anything.

Once the phone arrives, put on disposable gloves before handling the box it was shipped in. If you have one, it's also not a bad idea to wear a mask during this just to cut down the risk as much as possible. Take the phone out of the box, give it a thorough cleaning, and wipe down any surfaces the delivery box came into contact with.

Consider buying from a different website

UpTrade Website Homepage

Source: UpTrade (Image credit: Source: UpTrade)

There are a lot of different places to shop for used phones, and if germs are an especially big concern for you, there are certain sites you may want to avoid.

Places like Swappa and eBay are among the most popular for buying/selling used phones, but with these sites, the person selling the phone is responsible for packaging and shipping it. Ideally, they'll clean and sanitize the phone before doing so, but there's no guarantee that they will.

Instead, consider shopping from places such as Gazelle and UpTrade. These sites handle used phone sales a bit differently, as the person selling the phone actually sells it to Gazelle or UpTrade, which then puts the phone in its inventory and re-sells it to you. The upside to this is that you know for sure that the phone you buy has been properly cleaned.

Per Gazelle's website, it promises the following:

  • All devices that are traded in and sold on are thoroughly cleaned with Isopropyl alcohol, including careful brush cleaning in all device ports
  • Employees wear gloves throughout device handling process
  • Devices sold to our customers are placed in sealed plastic bags before they are packed in shipping boxes

UpTrade is just as good in these regards, putting all of its phones through a 50-point inspection check and then sanitizing them before being shipped out to buyers.

Joe Maring

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