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Ask Maggie: Trade-ins for white iPhone, waiting for a Sprint iPhone

This week's Ask Maggie offers advice on trading in an iPhone to buy a white iPhone 4 and perspective on whether Sprint will ever get the iPhone.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
10 min read

It's finally here. The white iPhone 4 has hit the market. So what should you do with that pesky-old black one?

Since Apple first unveiled the white iPhone last June when it released the iPhone 4, consumers have been clamoring for the white device. But soon after the iPhone 4 went on sale, Apple confessed that it had production issues with the white version. Some consumers chose to wait as Apple pushed back the availability date again and again. And now finally, nearly a year after Apple introduced the iPhone 4, the company started selling the white version this week.

Some customers may have patiently waited, but others were not so patient. They went ahead and bought the black version. So what should you do if already bought the black version but you really want the white one? In this week's Ask Maggie column, I spell out your options and provide some advice on selling or trading in your old iPhone.

I also answer a readers question about when I think Sprint might get the iPhone. And I explain how voice quality will be enhanced as carriers, such as Verizon Wireless, roll out 4G LTE service.

Ask Maggie is a weekly advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you've got a question, please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header.

Trading up for a white iPhone 4

Hey Maggie,
For some unexplainable reason, I want a white iPhone 4. I already own a black one on AT&T and was hoping you could give me some tips on how to exchange it with minimal loss for a white iPhone 4 now it's in stores.

Thanks a lot,

The white iPhone has arrived--finally.

Dear Socrates,
If you bought your black iPhone 4 within the last 30 days, you should be able to exchange it. That is if either Apple or the AT&T store near you has the white version in stock. The white iPhones just went on sale this week. And there were a lot of people waiting for them, so the demand may outstrip the supply for a little while.

If you are able to exchange the black iPhone 4, you'll still have to pay a restocking fee, which is 10 percent of the price you paid for the phone. So if you got the subsidy on a 16GB iPhone 4 and signed a two-year contract with AT&T, your restocking fee would be about $20. If you paid full price for your 16GB iPhone 4 without a contract, then you'd pay 10 percent of $499, which would be about $50.

Unfortunately, if you bought your black iPhone 4 more than 30 days ago, then you won't be able to exchange the device at either an Apple store or an AT&T store.

Verizon has a 15 day return policy. So if you bought a black iPhone 4 from Verizon Wireless, you only have 15 days to return it. It also has a trade-in program, so you could trade in your old phone and get a Verizon Wireless credit to spend on another device.

But even if you bought your device last June when it first went on sale, all hope is not lost. Apple products have great resale value. There are several places where you can sell used consumer electronics such as cell phones, laptops, e-readers, desktops, digital cameras, or whatever. Once you sell your old iPhone 4, you can use that cash to buy your new white iPhone 4. Since you're likely not eligible for an upgrade since you just bought your iPhone 4 within the last year, you'll have to pay full price for the white iPhone 4.

The unsubsidized prices for the iPhone are $499 for the 16GB model and $599 for the 32GB model.

Three of the most obvious places to go for selling used equipment are eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist. But there are also sites, such as Gazelle.com and NextWorth.com, which specialize in buying old gadgets. With these trade-in Web sites, you answer a few questions about your product, such as the make and model and its condition. And the Web site gives you a price for that product. Then you mail the gadget to the site using a prepaid shipping label, and you get a check in the mail.

CNET reporter Josh Lowensohn points out that eBay also has recently introduced a program that will buy your Apple products (and other gadgets), wipe them of any data, then resell them for you. This way, you don't have to deal with the auction stuff. They give you the money up front, much like Gazelle.com and NextWorth.com do.

I did an informal survey among the CNET News reporters and Reviews editors to see which sites they prefer.

  • Scott Ard, editor in chief for CNET: I have sold a couple iPhones on eBay very quickly and for good money. I have also sold a couple of iMacs on Craigslist very quickly and easily. For those who don't want the hassle (or top dollar), Gazelle.com seems pretty good. In general, I have found Apple stuff to have a high resale value. I got about $375 for the iPhone 3GS I sold and $450 for the iMac, which was nearly 4 years old and was the first Intel-based iMac.
  • John Falcone, executive editor for CNET Reviews : I got $399 for my 16GB Wi-Fi iPad on the Amazon Marketplace. But I sold it a couple of weeks before the new iPad 2 went on sale. Now it seems unrealistic to get that price since the second generation product is available. In fact, it looks like $399 is now the going rate for first-gen 32GB models.
  • Scott Stein, senior editor for CNET Reviews: I got $400 for my original 32GB Wi-Fi-only iPad a few weeks ago on Amazon Marketplace. Minus commission and postage fees, it ended up being $361 after all was said and done. I put if for the lowest price that was being sold, which was $400 just a few weeks ago. It sold in an hour and a half. I've also used Craigslist in the past for selling iPhones. The problem is that people from Craigslist haggle with you or they cancel meetings. Plus, it just feels sketchy to meet up and hand off your phone in a Starbucks.
  • Dan Ackerman, senior editor for CNET Reviews, actually wrote about his quest for finding the best price for his iPad. He ended up selling his 32GB iPad on Gazelle.com for $357. He originally paid $599 for it. Dan said he prefers the "ship-it-and-forget-it arrangement" when it comes to selling used products, so he avoids eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon Marketplace.

I hope this helps. And good luck!

Dreaming of a Sprint iPhone

Dear Maggie
I have heard lots of rumors on the Web about Sprint getting the iPhone 5, and I just wanted to get a professional opinion on this issue. I have been waiting for the iPhone to come to Sprint ever since 2007. I am very tired of waiting and holding off on getting new phones to save my upgrade. I won't leave Sprint to get the iPhone on another carrier, because my father and I have been loyal Sprint customers/fans for 18 years and counting. And no phone is going to change that. But I want an iPhone so bad. I love Apple and all of their products. So if you could please answer my question, I would be very very grateful.

Your CNET Fan

Dear Zachary,
I can't say for certain when or if Sprint will get the iPhone. But my guess is that Apple would very much like to have the iPhone on as many carriers in the U.S. as possible. It's just good for business. Look at Google. The Android platform is on multiple devices on multiple carriers and it's taken the top spot in terms of mobile operating systems in less than two years.

And now Apple is getting a little taste of the power of offering its device on more carriers. From the summer of 2007 until February 2011, the iPhone was exclusively on AT&T's network in the U.S. market. And it still managed to be one of the hottest selling smartphones in the U.S. And then it started selling the iPhone on Verizon in February.

After only two months on Verizon's network, Apple outperformed HTC, Motorola, and Research In Motion to take 14 percent of sales in the first quarter of 2011, according to market research firm NPD Group. The reason? It's simple: the Verizon iPhone.

"Apple and Verizon had a very successful launch of the iPhone 4, which allowed the iPhone to expand its market share that was previously held back by its prolonged carrier exclusivity with AT&T," said Ross Rubin, NPD's executive director of industry analysis in a statement.

So clearly, it's in Apple's interest to sell the iPhone on Sprint's network, too. Even though Sprint only has 33 million postpaid subscribers, who are on contracts, that's still a sizable market for the iPhone. And because Sprint uses the same CDMA technology and similar frequencies for its wireless service as Verizon Wireless, it shouldn't be difficult for Apple to offer a Sprint-ready iPhone.

When the Verizon iPhone 4 was launched a couple of months back, Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, made it clear that Apple would be looking for additional partners for the CDMA version of its iPhone. With this in mind, I imagine that Apple has at the very least talked to Sprint about the possibility of offering its phone on the Sprint network.

In fact, I know there have been low level talks. I met an Apple engineer at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February who told me he had dinner with some people from Sprint during the conference. Of course, engineers and other company representatives meet with each other all the time. A meeting at a trade show doesn't necessarily mean a deal has been brokered. So it's conceivable this was just an exploratory meeting. Apple didn't even have an official presence at the conference.

Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse was asked when an iPhone might sport the Sprint logo earlier this week on the company's quarterly conference call. Hesse joked, "I think that's like the fifty-fifth time I've been asked that question. And of course, we can't comment on any potential discussions with any of our suppliers."

There could be two issues that are preventing Apple and Sprint from striking a deal. One is that Sprint's two competitors, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, may have negotiated deals with Apple to keep the iPhone exclusive to those carriers for a period of time before opening it up to other U.S. carriers.

There is also the possibility that Sprint may want the iPhone with built-in 4G capability. And it's likely that Apple rejected the idea of putting WiMax in a new version of the device. I don't expect the iPhone 5, whenever it comes out later this year, to have 4G LTE in it either.

So, will a Sprint iPhone ever happen? I'd say chances are good that Sprint will eventually get an iPhone. Unfortunately, I can't tell you how much longer you'll have to wait. But given the fact that there hasn't been too much chatter lately, my gut tells me it will still be a while before Apple starts offering it on Sprint.

That said, there have been rumblings and rumors recently that Apple is testing a T-Mobile version of an iPhone, which seems strange given the fact that AT&T has announced plans to buy T-Mobile. But some people speculate that Apple may be testing the T-Mobile version for future compatibility.

Sorry I couldn't be more specific.

Can you hear me now?

Dear Maggie,
I have a Motorola Droid 2 and the voice quality is mediocre at best. Reading reviews on CNET and other sites, many other phones have similar sub-par voice quality. While I understand that a wireless phone will never have the quality of a landline, is it an unreasonable expectation, especially for high-end phones, to have very good voice quality? We all, from time to time, actually need to to talk to another person and it is helpful if we can understand what the caller is saying!


Dear Kaisermj,

I hear you. (No pun intended.) It seems like there has been quite a lot of technical innovation over the past few years when it comes to mobile data and turning smartphones into MP3 players, GPS navigation devices, and pocket computers. But voice quality has remained pretty the same as it has been for years. And most people would tell you that the voice quality on a cell phone is still far below what it is on a regular landline.

But I've got some good news for you. The next generation of wireless networks that use LTE will support what many call HD voice.

Ericsson and other wireless equipment vendors have already begun rolling out HD Voice on some GSM networks and they will soon be able to offer it for CDMA networks as well. But there's been limited support for the Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband codec, which is what's used to get the HD voice service. The reason why is that encoding the voice calls in this way takes up more room on the network. And as some carriers already struggle to keep up with capacity to serve new data hungry applications, they don't have the bandwidth to also enable this functionality.

But the next generation of wireless network that many call 4G will have much more capacity. LTE, the network technology that most wireless operators around the world will use for the next generation of wireless, is about 40 percent more efficient than current generations of technology. Verizon Wireless, which is the first major carrier in the U.S. to offer 4G LTE service, has already said that when it migrates its voice services to LTE sometime in 2012, it will use this higher quality codec to provide the enhanced HD voice service.

Verizon is testing the voice over LTE service that uses the HD voice codec, but it doesn't expect to offer full support for voice over LTE until the end of 2013, when it's covered its entire 3G network with 4G service.

Unfortunately, your Droid 2 won't be able to take advantage of voice over LTE or the HD voice functionality. But as Verizon rolls out the service, it will be introducing new phones that will have the functionality baked in.