How to Buy a Used Cell Phone:

7 Things to Check Before You Buy

Based on stagnating 2017 phone sales – including reports that Apple will no longer be reporting iPhone sales – it appears that more people are turning to pre-owned, gentle-loved cell phones as alternatives to upgrading or replacing their current smartphones

Whether it’s a lack of user interest in recent hardware innovation or users finally paying off carrier contracts and no longer wanting monthly payment, used cell phones have become a viable option for savvy individuals looking to get the latest gear without paying the highest prices.  And similar to the used car market, used phone buyers have many options – from online marketplaces, such as eBay, as well as online stores, like Victory Phone.


However, if you’re not careful that too-good-to-be-true, underpriced Apple iPhone posted on Craig’s List could turn into a lemon.  Like buying a used car, there are things you must consider to make sure you’re truly getting a great deal on a used iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone.


From incompatible cellular networks to unseen water damage, there are a lot of things to inspect to ensure you avoid a lemon when you really want an Apple!  Here are the 7 Things You Need to Check Before Buying a Used Cell Phone to make sure you’re getting a great deal on a used cell phone.

1. Make Sure It Has a Clean ESN/IMEI Number

One of the first things you should check to verify that the smartphone the genuine article by virtue of a clean ESN or IMEI number.  These unique identifying numbers are connected to that device by the manufacturer and activate by the cellular carrier.

What’s the difference between an ESN (electronic serial number) and an IMEI (international mobile equipment identify) designation?


CDMA Phones have an ESN – CDMA networks in the US include cellular carriers Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular (and their respective MVNOs 3rd party providers) feature mobile device handsets using the ESN designation.

GSM Phones have an IMEI Number – GSM network in the US include cellular carriers AT&T and T-Mobile (and their respective MVNOs 3rd party providers) feature mobile device handsets using the IMEI designation.


Action to Take: For Sprint, Verizon or US Cellular on GSM networks, you need a phone with a clean ESN number.  For AT&T or T-Mobile, you need a phone with a clean IMEI number.


Tools You Can Use: A reputable seller should be able to give you the ESN or IMEI number of the smartphone so you can verify that it has a clean ESN or IMEI number.  Take this number to any one of the following online resources:


2a. Make Sure It Can be Activated by Your Cellular Provider

Next, make sure the cell phone can be activated by your current carrier (or future carrier if you plan to switch carriers via a BYOP (Bring Your Own Phone/Device) plan.  

If you’ve done any previous searches online for used cell phones, you’ve probably noticed the seller emphasize two things: A) locked or unlocked and B) which carrier the phone is enabled, e.g. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile.  


Unlocked phones have the highest resale value (especially unlocked flagship phone models) because they’ve been sold through retail channels and were never assigned a carrier. Provided the SIM cards fit inside the phone, you should be able to swap SIMs out and interchangeably change cellular carriers on the same GSM or CDMA network.


What’s the difference between unlocked phones?


Roughly, 12% of the US smartphones are unlocked, meaning they are not bound to any one cellular provider, but they are bound to either the GSM or CDMA networks.


Unlocked GSM Phones – Unlocked GSM cell phones are GSM carrier agonistic which means provided the SIM card fits in the cell phone, they will work with any GSM carrier (AT&T or T-Mobile).

Unlocked CDMA Phones – Unlocked CDMA cell phones are CDMA carrier agonistic which means provided the SIM card fits in the cell phone, they will work with any CDMA carrier (Sprint, Verizon or US Cellular).




What are Locked Phones?  As the name suggests, locked (or carrier-locked) phones can only be used by ONE cellular carrier – the one that activated the phone.  Pre-owned locked cell phones were sold to the original owner, along with a cellular contract which has now expired.  And now, presumably, the owner is looking to part with the cell phone.


Action to Take: If you are currently on (or moving to) Sprint/Verizon/US Cellular, purchase an unlocked CMDA –OR–  carrier-locked Sprint/Verizon/US Cellular-ready pre-owned cell phone.  If you are currently on (or moving to) AT&T or T-Mobile, purchase an unlocked GMA –OR– carrier-locked AT&T/T-Mobile-ready pre-owned cell phone.


Tools You Can Use: WillMyPhoneWork is a convenient free online tool which allows you to check the cellular carrier compatibility of many different smartphone hardware configurations.


Simply input the cell phone’s original cellular carrier, brand and model and the new cellular provider you intend to use the phone, and WillMyPhoneWork will tell whether you’ll be able to access your desired carrier’s network from 1G up to 4G.

2b. iPhone?  Make Sure It’s iCloud Unlocked

If the used smartphone is an iPhone, you will also need to make sure the previous owner has removed iCloud from their Apple ID.  Apple ID, the user authenticated xasdfasdfsad, that syncs iCloud for backups to the iPhone. Thus, if a previous Apple ID has been synced via iCloud to an iPhone, iCloud will need to be removed in order to sync that iPhone with another AppleID (and iCloud account).

3. Inspect the Physical Condition

If you’re purchasing a used phone from an online store, such as Victory Phone, most adhere to a non-regulated yet widely accepted industry standard for product grading.  Obviously, the higher the grading, the lower the discount for buying used but you might find a great deal if the market is flooded with product models or variants.  (Note: Not all stores use this grading system, so you will need to check).


Grade A – Items in this grade will show very minor signs of any use.  Grade A product are almost like-new and are typically priced as such, but you still may be able to score an 8-10% discount on MSRP.  Under Grade A designation: All functions work and there are no scratches or cracks on the screen.


Who Should Buy: If you enjoy the bragging rights of owning the latest tech gadgets in your peer group, or buying a great gift at an equally great price, then a Grade A item is the right choice for you.


Grade B – Items in this grade will show normal signs of everyday use.  Grade B product are great for everyday usage in not-so-pristine environments.


Under Grade B designation:  All functions work and there will be minor dings (or dents) on the sides, back or corners.  There may be small scratches in the front but not enough to spoil your selfies.


Who Should Buy: Savvy tech buyers who want a great deal on a pre-owned smartphone for everyday use often choose Grade B phones.


Grade C – Items in this grade will show excessive signs of everyday use. Grade C product are an acceptable replacement phone for highly-active individuals who constantly drop or lose their phones.


Under Grade C designation: All functions work and there will be scratches, dings and dents on the sides and rear of the item (all of which can be easily covered up by a phone case).  Additionally, Grade C items are likely to ‘feature’ a single large (or several small) scratch(es) on the front display of the device.


Who Should Buy: Grade C phones the perfect choice for individuals who habitually drop or lose their smartphones.


Grade D or E – Items in this grade are basically salvageable for parts only.  Grade B product are defective and scrapped to refurbish other cell phones and should not be considered for purchased as a functioning unit.


To learn more about Victory Phone grading definitions to make the right choice when buying your next cell phone.


4. Check the Battery Life

No matter how pristine or careful the original cell phone owner was with the glass screen or phone case, the one component that still gets normal wear is the lithium-ion battery.  Specifically, the battery’s cycle count: the total number of chargers the phone has undergone.  It is estimated that a cycle count of 300-500 cycles will diminish a lithion battery’s life down to 80%.


It’s assumed that most people charge their phones each night, so you can guesstimate the phone’s cycle count based on when the previous owner started using it.  Fortunately, the operating system of both Android and iPhone have ways where you can check the diagnostics of your cell phone’s battery – ideal knowledge for the new owner who will taking over any fickle recharging behavior the phone may have.


Action to Take: Download and install the following apps to test the diagnostics of the used smartphone you're looking to buy.


Android Phones – AccuBattery app by Digibites in the Google Play store.

Apple iPhones – coconutBattery app or check the built-in iOS Battery Health Tool.


Certainly, it’s not the end of the world to purchase a used phone that doesn’t offer a great battery life – in fact, it could be a point of negotiation – but the replacement price for the purchase of a new battery – either removable or non-removable batteries (as with iPhones) – should be part of the price consideration.


5. Check Networking & GPS


We often forget that the primary purpose of a cell phone – in addition to taking selfies or posting cat photos on the social webs – is to make phone voice calls, access the data network and GPS location services, mission-critical if you get lost in the woods.  Your used phone is no good if you can’t do any of the following:


Connect to the Cellular Network (Data & Voice) – After inserting your SIM into the phone, you should be able to make a phone call via your cellular provider.  At the same time, you should be able to connect to your data network to browse the internet, check your email, access social media, etc.


Connect to Wi-Fi – After connecting to a Wi-Fi access point, you should be able to connect to the internet to browse, check your email, access social media, etc.


Connect to GPS Location Services – After enabling GPS location services on Android or iPhone, GPS-enabled devices should be able to identify your location based on cellular towers to navigate your location in apps, such as Google Maps, Waze, etc.


Action to Take: Test your device by making a call, browsing the Internet and opening any GPS-only app.



6. Check Multimedia Hardware


We often forget that the primary purpose of a cell phone – in addition to taking selfies or posting cat photos on the social webs – is to make phone voice calls, access the data network and GPS location services, mission-critical if you get lost in the woods.  Your used phone is no good if you can’t do any of the following:


Audio (Speakers) – After inserting your 

Camera (Front & Back) – After inserting your 

Bluetooth – After inserting your 


7. Check for Water Damage


After all the previous critical checks and tests you’ve conducted to get to this point, last but certainly not least, make sure the used phone you want to buy has not been exposed to water damage.  Excessive moisture or water damage may not show up right away, but they may cause trouble down the road.  


Fortunately, there’s an easy way to check the moisture indicator patch on most Android or iPhone


  Since most phones have unique hardware customizations, the easiest thing to do is to Google “moisture indicator [phone make] + [phone model] and read the most popular results.


In Closing:



Now that you’ve armed yourself You can find them on Ebay, asdfsad, or certified sites.


Seek out a reputable used phone vendor with experience


Finally, a Trusted Way to Buy a Used Cell Phone Online

Certified Pre-Inspections, Appraised Prices, 1 Year Warranty.

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