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With more than 43.5% of people accessing the internet via a mobile phone the pressure to have a new smartphone can be overwhelming. But at the same time there are still folks who want to own any old smartphone, whether it be something cheap or secondhand. This demographic makes for a lucrative arena in which selling off an older or obsolete smartphone can net a decent price.
When consumers pay $199 for a brand new smartphone with a 2-year contract, they're actually forking over much less than the MSRP; without a contract, most unsubsidized smartphones cost $600 or more. But rather than charge its customers full price, wireless carriers supplement the cost of the newest smartphones in exchange for locking customers into contracts. The facts and figures behind the contract-subsidy model came to light recently when T-Mobile seceded from the Big 4 and opted to offer (mostly) untethered, contract-free service for new smartphones, and in some ways, this route can be more cost effective.
Despite the benefits to a contract-free plan, subsidized phones and 2-year contracts remain the norm in the United States. And for this reason the resale value of most 2-year-old smartphones seems quite high compared to what the user initially paid. In many cases, smartphones are valued at about the same price point two years later; these phones do drop in value, like all electronics, but they depreciate from their full retail price, rather than their subsidized cost.
As such, an older smartphone could garner enough money on the resale market to cover the cost of upgrading to a newer smartphone. Of course, earning about $200 on the sale of a 2-year-old phone depends on a variety of factors. We turned to Edgar Navarro, owner of Cell Phone Repair in Chicago's North Center neighborhood, for some advice on how to maximize the trade-in value of an old phone to get a new smartphone for free.
From Navarro's view, there's no point in owning a cheaply made smartphone case. Instead, think quality, as well as "function over fashion." "If you get a fashionable case just because it has a designer marking on it, it's not going to do enough [to protect your device]." At the very least he suggests a 2-piece smartphone case made from TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), which combines the benefits of a soft silicone sleeve and a rigid plastic brace that fits around the back like a cross. "The case stays on and doesn't go flying if you drop the phone," he says. Also, look for cases with buffer zone coverage to protect over and around the edge of the screen. Above all, Navarro suggests avoiding two-piece snap on cases as they're just as likely to snap off (and break) if you fumble your phone.
Perhaps the most expensive smartphone repair, replacing damaged, cracked, or scratched glass touchscreens can cost $85 to $100 — that's almost half the cost of a subsidized smartphone! But an adequate screen cover can prevent everyday wear and tear and save owners quite a bit of money in the event of an accidental drop. Navarro loves the Otterbox Armor Series for iPhone 5 ($59.95 with $2 s&h, a low by $6), which shields against a 10-foot fall on concrete, two tons of force, and the idle fingernails of a preschooler just learning how to play "Scratch Mommy's iPhone."
You wouldn't dream of driving your car two years without changing the oil and checking the tires. But people do roughly the equivalent with their smartphones, and Navarro says they could guard their devices much better with a little bit of maintenance. A top priority should be making sure the contacts for charger and sync cables remain clear of dust, dirt, and moisture. These surfaces can be easily cleaned with the same cleaning solutions used on computers.
Speaking of keeping dust and other particles out, take special care when bringing a smartphone to the beach: a few grains of sand can cause gadget grief of epic proportions. You could always put your iPhone in a Ziplock back or invest in any one of these protective smartphone accessories. Moreover, like many other electronics, smartphones hate heat and humidity. So the next time you leave your phone in a hot, humid car, forget about the thieves who might be tempted by it, and consider the life you're robbing from your device.
Unfortunately, neither Microsoft nor a large consumer base have had a lot of love for Windows phones. As a result, experts like Navarro give Windows smartphones a thumbs-down as far as their resale value is concerned. "Windows phones just don't have a heavy following," he says. As a result, there isn't much demand for the models, which in turn means a seller won't be able to net as much money during a resale.
While Apple and Samsung appear to be bitter enemies in court, they have actually shared a lot of technology over the years, and the two tech giants have followings that approach cult status. Other big-name Android phone manufacturers will retain their value, "but the Samsung Galaxy series is still number one."
But while both Samsung and Apple can fetch relatively high resale price points, iOS is still king for holding its value; a recent study suggests that Samsung phones drop in value at a much faster rate than iPhones. In fact, Navarro says that even a relative dinosaur like the iPhone 3S can fetch about $65 from a refurbisher, as estimated from PaceButler. However, consumers can fetch even greater trade-in value by selling old smartphones to the likes of Gazelle or NextWorth, or to other consumers via eBay.
Some trade-in sites like Gazelle ask that sellers ship smartphones without any accessories. But other resellers and smaller companies love customers who bring in smartphones with cables, plugs, ear buds, and all the original packaging. More often than not gadgets + great condition + private sale = a higher resale value.
Navarro saved his best tip for last, and it's the one that makes the most sense to us: "Plan for the day you're going to sell your phone the day you buy it," he says. "Think of it as an investment you're making. With any phone, you get back what you pay for it. And if it's a free phone, chances are it will be nothing. But if it's a sought-after phone, and you take care of it, it could pay for your next phone."