Best used smartphone: what secondhand phone should I buy?

What used phone should I buy?

Phones, in case you hadn’t noticed, have gotten expensive in recent years. Let’s look at the Samsung Galaxy series. When the original Samsung Galaxy S came out in 2010, it cost £440. The Samsung Galaxy S20, released in early 2020, starts at £799, meaning the price has risen by over 80% in a decade.

At the same time, two-year-old phones are now as powerful as required for almost everyone. So why not buy a used phone and save money?

The question is which used phone to buy. I’ve made some suggestions on the best used smartphones below. This is based on specifications, features and whether they’re still being updated – important in a world where vulnerabilities are being exploited every day.  

At the end of the article, I provide a list of places to buy the phones. So, read on to find the best used smartphone for you.

Which secondhand phone to buy?

As a rule of thumb, when looking at which used phone to buy, you should consider phones that were cutting edge a couple of years ago. Here are three reasons why:

  1. If they were the best available then, then they’ll still be faster than a budget phone of a similar price in 2020.
  2. Flagship phones tend to have full support from the companies involved, meaning you’re very likely to get updates for the foreseeable future.
  3. Supply. People who buy top-end phones generally want the latest and greatest, so they tend to upgrade as soon as possible. That means, oddly, you may find 2018 flagships selling for less than 2018 mid-rangers, because there’s simply more of them available.

With that in mind, here are my pre-owned phone picks for 2020:

The best used smartphones

Best used smartphone: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

best used smartphone samsung

Because Samsung releases a new S device early in the year and a new Note device later, the company tends to throw everything but the bathroom sink at the latter to make it more appealing than the cheaper S. That means that the Note 9 is still a great handset today, with pretty much everything you could want: a top-notch screen, a speedy octa-core processor, 6GB RAM, at least 128GB of storage and a great camera.

In terms of extras, it’s also fit to burst. Wireless charging? Check. MicroSD card support? Check. 3.5mm headphone jack? Check. It even has a stylus (or “S Pen”) neatly tucked into the frame, in case you feel the need to note take.

Best used smartphone: Google Pixel 3

best used smartphone google pixel

For roughly the same price as the weaker Pixel 3a, you can get a preowned Google Pixel 3. It includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, making it considerably nippier, and it also benefits from wireless charging and an extra selfie camera round the front. 

Plus, because it’s a Google product, you get Android updates first. The company has pledged to support the Pixel 3 until at least October 2021, making it a solid choice as a stop-gap handset too.

Best used smartphone: OnePlus 6 or 6T

best used oneplus phone

OnePlus releases at least two phones a year, and the company tends to undercut the opposition, making pre-owned models even cheaper. 

By all means try and find a cheap OnePlus 7 or 7T, but frankly the OnePlus 6 or 6T should be fine for most people, packed with the Snapdragon 845 as they are. As for the difference between the 6 and 6T, opt for the latter if long battery life and an in-screen fingerprint reader is important to you. If not, the 6 is essentially the same, but cheaper.

Best used smartphone: iPhone X or iPhone 8

best used iPhone

If only Apple will do, then consider the iPhone X or iPhone 8, both of which have now been superseded enough to be available on the cheap, without (yet) feeling too sluggish.

Note that Apple products tend to hold their value better though, so if your seller is asking for over £350, then you may be better off buying a brand new iPhone SE for £420. Ultimately, it’ll last longer and be that bit faster too.

Where can I buy a used phone online?

Of course you could head straight to Ebay, which is many people’s first port of call when selling a phone. If you take this approach, read the description carefully and look closely at photos. Most importantly, check the seller’s rating and study the returns policy.

But for peace of mind, it might be worth looking at reputable resellers. These places work with pre owned goods all the time, so while you’ll pay a bit more, you’re less likely to get a nasty surprise. And if you do, most have decent returns policies for the first month or so.

Each of these places will give a grade rating based on the quality of the phone, but their definitions may vary. If one is suspiciously cheap compared to the same handset elsewhere, be sure to check their grading conditions before you pull the trigger.  

Of course, you could always buy a used phone in person via Facebook groups, Gumtree or Craigslist. Typically it’ll be cheaper to cut out the middle man, but there are possible pitfalls…

What should I look for when buying a used phone in person?

First off, it’s a very good idea to check the phone isn’t stolen. Even if you don’t care that someone has literally been robbed for it, on a practical level it’s a bad idea: if a phone is reported stolen, then it can be blocked via the network and simply not function. If you can find out the IMEI number, you can enter this into the CheckMEND website to find out if this is the case – though it will set you back £1.99 for this peace of mind.  

The next thing is to check it’s physically working. Ask to see it switched on to ensure the screen isn’t knackered, and ideally try plugging in a set of headphones, a charger, a microSD card and SIM to make sure it responds as you’d expect.

Finally, check it’s physical condition carefully. Even if you don’t care about little nicks and scratches, the weaker the condition of the phone the less you should be paying. Oh, and pay special attention to scratches on the camera lens – if you see one, ask to take a test shot on the camera to ensure it doesn’t impact photography.

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About the author

Alan Martin

Alan has been writing about tech professionally for a decade, and answering tech questions to family members on a voluntary basis for even longer. That should make him an ideal fit for Big Tech Question, then...

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