Used iPhones are always in high demand and are a good option if you want to save money on an Apple smartphone. Like any second-hand purchase, there are some things you should check before handing over your money.
Basics of buying a used iPhone
Most of the tips below are intended for customers who can personally view the iPhone, for example when shopping directly from someone using a resource such as the Facebook Marketplace.
For online sales, this is not possible, so you will have to perform a proper online analysis instead. Reputable vendors will include a variety of photos detailing scratches and other damage, including detailed descriptions of the items they sell. Seller feedback is a good indicator of the quality of the item, but not everyone who sells their old iPhone will get much feedback.
If you are buying through an auction website such as eBay, paying via PayPal will provide protection to the buyer so you can claim a refund if the item is not as described. You should never buy items through local classified services such as Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree unless you personally review them because you do not have protection against many scams disguised as real ads.
When buying an item in person, you need to take care of your personal safety above all else. Meet in a public place like a coffee shop or mall and consider taking someone with you. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash, consider paying using a peer-to-peer service such as the Cash App or Venmo. If the seller insists on cash, first inspect the item and then withdraw (yourself) at the ATM.
Avoid meetings at night or in isolated places such as parking lots where possible. Agree on terms (such as payment methods and the ability to fully inspect the item) before agreeing to meet with the seller, as this will help deter potential fraudsters.
If the price is too good to be true, it is probably a scam. If the seller does not allow you to preview the item, there may be something wrong with it (or you are buying an empty box). If the seller insists that you bring cash with you before you see the item, do not take the risk.
Real sellers will understand your insistence on safety and intelligence. If they have nothing to hide, they will be happy to inspect the item. It is in their best interest to meet in well-lit, public places where they too will feel safe.
RELATED: How to see what something is worth using eBay
1. Does the iPhone turn on?
Perhaps the most important thing to check is whether or not the iPhone turns on. This may seem obvious, but some retailers may try to fake an iPhone that won’t boot as if it has a flat battery. Don’t fall for this and make sure the iPhone is running on the lock screen or at the “Hello” prompt.
Furthermore, you might want to insist that the iPhone also includes a charger and a wall adapter. It is more likely that the iPhone will be stolen without these items (although the seller simply decided to keep them instead). If possible, make sure the iPhone is also charging normally; consider carrying a portable battery and Lightning cable if you have them.
2. Is activation lock still enabled?
When the iPhone starts up, you should hopefully see a lock screen prompting the owner to enter the password. If you see a message about entering the password to activate the iPhone, the iPhone is probably stolen. Even if it is not stolen, you cannot use it in this condition, so it is best to leave.
Insist that the reseller activate the iPhone by entering your password. Activation lock can be removed from iPhone by disabling “Find my iPhone” under Settings> [Owner’s Name] > Find My.
3. If the iPhone has already been deleted
When meeting with the seller, the iPhone may have already been deleted, ready for sale. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it prevents you from fully testing the device. You may notice the message “Hello” or “Swipe to get started” if this is the case.
To adequately test the iPhone, you need to ask the reseller to log in with their data in order for the phone to be in working order. This may require them to insert their SIM card to activate the device. You can then perform some of the checks below before deciding that you want to purchase the device.
When you’re happy with the iPhone, insist that the retailer unlock the activation and delete the iPhone using “Clear All Content and Settings” under Settings> General> Transfer or Reset iPhone. This requires the reseller to enter their Apple ID password to disable activation lock, so you know you will be able to use the phone when you take ownership of it.
4. Is there any visible damage?
Most used iPhones will have scratches and scuffs, even if kept in a box for life. If your iPhone is given in a holster, always remove it to get a better look. Inspect the device completely for signs of visible damage, including scratches and small cracks around the edges of the screen.
Dents in the chassis are a little more troubling as this could indicate damage to internal components such as the battery. Make sure the iPhone is lying flat on the surface face down, as this will indicate if any force has caused the case to bend. Inspect the camera assembly to see if the lenses are damaged or scratched.
Don’t worry too much about surface damage, but take care of it when it comes to the price of the item. An iPhone in excellent condition that has had screen protection and a sturdy case since day one will be worth more than a scratched iPhone, so you can use this to see if the seller is asking for a fair price.
5. How is battery health?
Lithium-ion batteries degrade over time, and every iPhone used must have a battery that will not hold 100% of its original capacity. You can go to Settings> Battery> Battery Status to check two important metrics: maximum capacity and performance capability.
Maximum capacity will give you a rough idea of how much battery power it now holds. Anything above 90% is good, but the smaller the number, the less time you will be able to switch between charges. What is even more important is the battery performance.
When battery health is significantly reduced, the iPhone may begin to slow down as it tries to balance performance and longevity. If anything other than “top performance” is reported, it’s time to replace the battery because you’re not getting the most out of your device.
6. Have some parts been replaced and restored?
You can check if your iPhone is a refurbished model by going to Settings> General> About and looking at the entry “Model number”. If this number starts with F, it has been renovated by Apple or the operator. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you may want to know. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine if a device has been renovated by a third party.
If the reseller advertises that the battery has recently been replaced, you can check the parts and service history to make sure the original Apple part was used. Go to Settings> General> O and find the appropriate section below the “Model Number” field.
If nothing is listed, either the iPhone is not using iOS 15.2 or later or nothing has been replaced. On iPhones running iOS 15.2 or later, parts that have been replaced will be listed as “Genuine Apple Part” or “Unknown Part” if replaced by anyone other than Apple.
Original parts are generally considered to be of higher quality than many third party parts that are cheaper to manufacture. There is no way to determine for sure, but an original battery replacement (for example) can provide more peace of mind than something of unknown origin.
RELATED: Think twice before a third party fixes your iPhone (and back it up if you do)
7. What is the performance?
Use the iPhone a little and see how it works. Take into account the age of the device and keep in mind that older devices will be slower than newer ones. Look for obvious signs of slowing down that could suggest something is wrong with the internal component.
A few simple tests you can run include browsing sites like apple.com, browsing the app using Spotlight, launching and browsing the App Store, zooming and scrolling through the built-in Maps app, accessing the Notification Center and Control Center, and dragging between the widget and the application icons on the home screen.
8. What is the state of the screen?
If the iPhone has a traditional LCD with edges (as in the iPhone XR, SE and 11), make sure all the lights are working. If the iPhone has an OLED screen (known as Super Retina XDR as seen on the iPhone X, 12 and 13), then you should also check to see if it has burned out (permanent image retention). None of this will necessarily affect the operation of the device and may not be visible during normal use, but you should be aware of the problem before purchasing.
You can check both of these problems on a solid background, using different color shades. Use a YouTube video like this full screen and pause on various shades to check for problems. It is easier to spot problems with the backlight of the LCD on a completely white slide, while combustion can only occur on certain colors due to the way the subpixels are consumed during use.
9. Do the speakers and microphones work?
You can easily test the microphone by recording something using Apple’s built-in Voice Memos app. Test the speaker by playing a recording, viewing the ringtone under Settings> Sounds & touches.
It is also a good idea to check the volume of the handset, and the only way to do that is to make a phone call. It can be very difficult to use your iPhone if this speaker is damaged because the person on the other end of the phone may be too quiet or muted. If you don’t have an iPhone SIM card for this, consider connecting to a public Wi-Fi or personal hotspot and use FaceTime instead.
10. Check the other buttons as well
Make sure the mute switch, located on the left side of the iPhone, is working properly. Below this, you will find volume controls. These buttons are useful for boosting call volume and taking photos, plus you’ll need to use them if you ever want to force your iPhone to restart.
The side button on the right side of the iPhone is used to wake and sleep your iPhone, call Siri, forcibly restart and access Apple Pay and other wallet functions. Make sure everything works as expected and that it is good to press. The “mushy” button may be on the way out.
11. Do all cameras work as advertised?
Lastly, check all cameras and lenses. Open the Camera app and switch to the front camera, then use all the cameras on the back of the device (including ultra-wide and telephoto if you have them).
In good light, the image should be relatively clear and not grainy. The image should update smoothly (not like a slide show), and touching the screen should focus on that particular area.
Other money-saving options on the iPhone
You don’t necessarily have to buy a used iPhone to save money. There are several ways you can save money and still get a new or “as new” device. One of the best ways to do this is to buy a refurbished iPhone directly from Apple.
Thinking of buying a used Mac? Here’s a list of Mac-specific things you should check before you buy.