Are refurbished eBay phones worth it? $650 later, I have some advice
I got an iPhone, two Samsung Galaxy phones and more for just $650 total.
Andrew LanxonEditor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
With the iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Galaxy Note 20 coming in at or over $1,000 and even the "affordable"
OnePlus 8 Pro
costing $899, I wanted to see what level of phone I could get without spending a fortune. So I went on a hunt with $650 of CNET's money (thanks, guys!) to see what quality of handset you can get when you buy used.
I'm based in the UK, so I mostly used
and a service called MusicMagpie that buys old, unwanted
, refurbishes them and sells them on. There are similar services in the US such as Gazelle. It also means that the phones were paid for in pounds, but I've given currency conversions throughout for reference.
Watch this: What $650 worth of used phones look like
Actual condition: Almost as new. No scratches on glass front or back, no notable scuffs to metal edging, slight cosmetic wear to metallic edge around camera unit. Screen and headphone jack in perfect order. MicroUSB power socket might be loose and sometimes requires cable to be jiggled before it charges.
Do I trust it? Despite the slight issue with the charging cable, this phone performs well and everything else is in perfect working order. I've had no unexpected crashes or other glitches that would hint at faulty hardware. I'd have no problem using this as my main phone.
Actual condition: Aside from a couple of small marks on the top-right and bottom-left corners, very few noticeable signs of wear and tear on the phone casing. Display, charging port and headphone jack all in perfect working order.
Do I trust it? Absolutely. I've had no crashes, no restarts and the phone seems just as smooth to use as I remember it being when I reviewed another model back in 2014.
Advertised condition: "Used -- condition is excellent"
Actual condition: Minor wear to the rubber backing material of the phone but otherwise no major marks to speak of. Screen is scratch-free and works well.
The battery, however, seems to have serious issues. Multiple times the phone has shut down without warning, despite the battery level being over 50%. The phone would then flash up a battery empty symbol and not turn on until plugged into a power source. At which point it would display the same battery level (over 50%) and would let me restart the phone. On other occasions, it would power on only to immediately shut down again.
Do I trust it? No. It's difficult to pinpoint whether the issues I've seen so far are to do with an aging battery (which would be expected to an extent in a six-year-old phone) or another issue entirely. Regardless, having the phone shut down like this is a major problem, and I wouldn't be comfortable using it, not knowing if it's going to quit without warning.
It's a shame as the
's "Pure Edition" Android -- a pared-back version of the operating system -- operates extremely smoothly for such an old device, with no noticeable lag as you swipe around. This phone does not qualify as "excellent" condition and I'll be attempting to send it back for a refund -- watch this space.
Advertised condition: "Grade B: good condition -- The housing may have slight scratches and scuffs; There may be signs of scratches on the screen which may have been picked up from day-to-day usage."
Actual condition: Almost no noticeable signs of wear and tear on the body or display of the phone. Came with a screen protector preapplied. The battery has aged, however. The phone shut down without warning and on restart displayed the message:
has experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power. Performance management has been applied to help prevent this from happening again."
Do I trust it? Not really. The warning message is a sign of an aged battery, and the result is that performance will be throttled on the phone to stop further crashes. Or, in the settings, I could opt to put up with more crashes, without the performance being throttled. Neither is an ideal option.
The "battery health" section in the phone's settings says the batter has a maximum capacity of 91% compared to when it was new, which doesn't seem too bad. However, the "unexpected shutdown" message is repeated in the same settings menu.
My options would be to just put up with the issue and continue with a throttled phone, or try and have the battery replaced by
or a third-party company. Apple quotes a price of £49 ($49, AU$79) for battery replacement which is a lot to spend, given that the phone was only £75 to begin with.
Advertised condition: "Good -- This product has signs of wear and tear but has been fully tested and is in great working order."
Actual condition: Very minor scratches to the display and a couple of small chips to the corners of the metal edging. Display itself is in full working order, as is the camera, the USB-C charging port and the headphone jack.
Do I trust it? In my first few hours with the phone I've found zero issues with the handset. I'd be perfectly comfortable using this as my main handset.
What have I learned?
As with anything, you get what you pay for. The Galaxy S8 works extremely well and comes with the peace of mind of a 12-month warranty from MusicMagpie. But at £215 ($270), it was the most expensive of the bunch by far.
The Moto X was a big disappointment, despite its low £50 price. It's not in working order and I would not be able to use this phone as my main device. The iPhone's battery issue is in line with what's expected of an older battery and the phone will at least be perfectly usable, albeit with throttled performance, for some time. Not too bad for £75.
Both the HTC One M8 and Galaxy S6 have so far shown zero issues and I'm looking forward to putting them through further tests to see just what you can get out of used phones at these prices.
If you're buying used phones yourself, it's worth remembering that there are pros and cons however much you spend. An older phone will cost you less, but aged batteries and other potential hardware faults may mean you're not really getting the bargain you hoped for.
It's also important to remember that those older phones won't have recent versions of Android on board. That not only means that some new apps won't be compatible with your phone, but the phones may not have important security updates that could leave you vulnerable.