What to do with my (US) off-contract iPhone 3GS?
February 27, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

I switched/upgraded to a Verizon iPhone 4 and now enjoy reception even in obscure places, like my apartment. What should I do with the (slightly cracked screen but still completely usable) iPhone 3gs? Fix/don't fix the screen? Sell it? Unlock it and sell it? Unlock it and keep it for traveling/guests? (I'm in the States).

I'm not sure what to do and I figure nothing is pretty much the worse option so I'm hoping for some wisdom/ideas/help/guidance.

If I want to sell it, is it worth it to pay to fix the screen first or will I come out even anyway? (It's definitely not mint condition even outside of the screen - I never kept it in a case). Should I sell it as is or get it unlocked?

What about unlocking it? Is there a good *easy* way to unlock it? I saw a site that offers to completely unlock it for $30 - I'm open to paying for it if it's easy and works.

Or should I keep it? Since it's an AT&T phone I could use it for traveling in Europe with prepaid SIM cards, and that seems like a good idea. On the other hand, I daydream about traveling in Europe much much more than I actually travel there, so I'm not sure whether it's worth forgoing whatever I'd make from selling it.

I could definitely use the money, but I'm not hurting without it. If I did sell it, what's the best (combination of ease/value) way to do it?

What about unlocking it and keeping it around as an extra internet device, or for guests? Is there a sensible prepaid option that would make it usable for a couple of days or a week at a time, on a sporadic basis, if I have guests from abroad (I used to hang on to a really crappy Virgin mobile phone for this, but it's completely expired).

If I did jailbreak/unlock it (I understand the first is necessary to accomplish the second), is it pretty easy to maintain/upgrade in its jailbroken state?

Any other ideas? Find a friend who needs a phone and give it away for karma?

Thank you!
posted by Salamandrous to Technology (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How cracked is the screen? I'll give you $100 for it, my iPhone 3g is falling apart and I'm not eligible for upgrade pricing until June.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2011

There's gazelle, but they might not like the crackedness... tyler's seems like a good deal.
posted by stratastar at 11:14 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keeping it as a spare is a good idea -- you can unlock it and have it for guests or if, gods forbid, something happens to your current IPhone. If you, like me, use your device as a calendar and contact book as well, having a compatible device syncable to the same information ensures that you're not suddenly bereft.
posted by jb at 11:34 AM on February 27, 2011

It's value will only drop from here and you cannot use it as a backup with your Verizon number/account. If you just want a "backup" iPod Touch, I'd sell it to someone and you should be able to get enough dough to pick up a new iPod Touch. Fixing the screen won't be worth the investment though I don't think.
posted by pwb503 at 12:23 PM on February 27, 2011

Unlocking is good for travel EVERYWHERE, not just Europe. And your Verizon phone is good for travelling almost nowhere. The whole world is GSM and the 3GS has the 2100 band on 3G which makes it travel-friendly (for data) everywhere in the world. Verizon phones, as I hope you and everybody who made the leap to Verizon recently, operates on CDMA bands for 2G and on EV-DO for 3G, which makes your lovely new iPhone for a useless brick outside of the US and some (some) parts of the Caribbean and Latin America. Soon, your Verizon and Sprint phones won't even work in Canada.

So get the 3GS unlocked-- it's a horrific, complicated process compared to unlocking any other phone make on the planet but that's the price you pay for dealing with Apple-- and use it as a travel phone, because, to restate what I wish every American understood, your Verizon iPhone is worse than shit for international travel.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:28 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Another vote for unlocking it (I unlocked my own - it's not terribly complicated) and using it for travel/guests. Get some sort of pay as you go type plan -- I've used T-Mobile's pay as you go plans on a different, non-iPhone before when I was in and out of the U.S. and it was great. The minutes last for a year (I think, depending on usage) and I never had any probs.

In fact, upon unlocking my iPhone several months ago I switched to a T-Mobile plan that gives me 500 anytime minutes (which is fine since I don't really like talking on the phone), unlimited nights and weekends, unlimited text and unlimited data -- all for $70/month. Only drawback is that data is via the Edge network, but it's honestly not that much slower than 3G (at least for me). YMMV.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:44 PM on February 27, 2011

Oh, and I forgot to say that the plan I'm on now is a prepaid plan which means I didn't have to sign a contract - yay.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:46 PM on February 27, 2011

Sell it on ebay. There are plenty of people on ebay buying phones with cracked screens, either because they know how to fix them, or because don't care and like the bargain. Either way, would will get more value out of your phone by selling it like this than getting it fixed professionally then selling it.

Just make sure you throughly describe the condition of the phone, and post good picture of it phone turn on, showing that it works well.

You'll get a better price this way than at gazelle.com.
posted by gmarceau at 6:08 PM on February 27, 2011

Replacement screen kits, including all instructions and tools, are pretty cheap on eBay. Whatever you decide to do with it, there's no need to live with a cracked screen.
posted by dg at 7:28 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to unlock it, there's no need to pay anyone to do so. The software that $30 guy is going to use can be downloaded for free.

You can replace the cracked screen for $25 + an hour of your time or $8 and a bit more of your time
posted by chazlarson at 7:34 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's also good to fix and keep the 3GS in case you break or lose the iPhone 4.

Ask me how I know this;)
posted by jbenben at 8:10 PM on February 27, 2011

So, if I have an iPhone 3 (in the US) and unlock it and stick in a T-mobile sim it will just work? Or just work for phone calls and not data?
posted by mikepop at 6:04 AM on February 28, 2011

ethnomethodologist: Yes, I do know about the limitations on the Verizon phone for travelling (though I didn't realize about the changes to Canada! For now, it's actually much cheaper for me to roam on data and voice in Canada on Verizon than it was on AT&T, when are the changes coming?)

ethnomethodologist and chazlarson: I'm pretty intimidated by the idea of unlocking it on my own. Too many of the terms on that website are unfamiliar. Is that the resource you would recommend if I were going to give it a shot though?

Thanks all!
posted by Salamandrous at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2011

FWIW I tried repairing cracked glass (not the LCD, just the glass) on my 3G, and failed. The LCD is glued to the glass, and (following the repair instructions that came with my kit) I heated the adhesive with a hair dryer to help it separate. In trying to separate the glass I cracked the actual LCD. I gave up and bought a new one for $99. Just a data point.
posted by kenbennedy at 11:12 AM on February 28, 2011

I have a 3G, and unlocking it is quite easy. It does require some careful reading and never click through something without making sure you understand it.

Here are a couple pretty straightforward how-to articles on jailbreaking from a Mac and unlocking an iPhone.

Hopefully you have access to a Mac; doing this using PwnageTool from a Mac is pretty easy. Doing it from Windows is a bit more difficult.

What you'll want to have written down for reference when you read about how to do this are:

Your baseband version [this is available in Settings -> General -> About -> Modem Firmware]. and your bootrom version.

All the howtos will contain remarks like "If you've got an old bootrom..." or if "Ultrasnow won't unlock baseband X.YY.ZZ and above...", and having those numbers close to hand will make reading through the stuff less mysterious.

Basically, you'll run software [like PwnageTool] that updates your phone to a patched iOS, one that allows you to run software not from the App Store. That's jailbreaking.

Once jailbroken, you'll install an alternate App Store [Cydia], then using Cydia you'll install an "app" that will turn off the carrier lock on your phone.

I just replaced the broken glass on my son's ipod touch in about a half hour using a similar all-in-one kit to the one linked above. Maybe the 3GS is different or more difficult. I'll defer to anyone who's done it on that point.
posted by chazlarson at 9:56 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks, chazlarson for your links which I used to get an old 3G onto T-Mobile. Now I just have to figure out if I can get data services working.
posted by mikepop at 10:30 AM on March 4, 2011

tmobile support will tell you how to do it. However, you will now have to buy their $30 smartphone data plan. I have the old old "T-zones" $5.99 internet plan, which works fine and which I am loathe to give up. My wife's iPhone worked fine for a year on the $10 Web-2-Go data service, until T-Mobile just decided one day that wasn't supported anymore.

I was going to tell you what to put into the APN field in Cellular Data settings, but it seems that my APN is now blank, yet data services work on my phone. When I first set it up, I believe the APN was epc.tmobile.com. Apparently something's changed there. In any case, if you have a data plan with tmobile just call support and they'll get it working. You may need to ask for the "unsupported handsets" division.
posted by chazlarson at 10:18 PM on March 4, 2011

Thanks everybody.

I'm not going to be signing up with T-Mobile (at least not on a plan), but that's useful information to have.

Unfortunately, the Mac I have access to is my iBook G4 from 2004, so if anyone has a suggestion for working with Windows, that would be great. Either way, this is a very helpful start.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:33 PM on March 7, 2011

If you don't care about unlocking, [which would allow use on T-Mobile, which you say you aren't doing], this tutorial walks you through jailbreaking the phone under Windows.
posted by chazlarson at 10:42 AM on March 8, 2011

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