What to look out for when purchasing a smartphone via eBay?
April 12, 2011 8:46 AM   Subscribe

What should I look out for if I want to purchase a smartphone from eBay for activation on Sprint's network?

I've found reasonably-priced smartphones on eBay that beat out the cost of the same smartphone directly from Sprint, given the state of our current contract.

What should I ask sellers, or look out for, when making this kind of purchase? I'd be purchasing the same device that Sprint currently sells.
posted by odinsdream to Shopping (5 answers total)
Make sure the phone has a clean ESN (Electronic Serial Number.) If a phone has been reported stolen or the previous owner has an outstanding bill something else unsavory, that history will be linked to the phone's ESN and you will probably not be able to activate it.

I bought a used phone from a large reseller with a good rating and their page promised that the ESN was clean. I believe you can also ask for the ESN before you buy and call Sprint to ask them to do a check on that ESN.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:06 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

As long as the phone has a Sprint logo on it and you make sure the ESN is clean, you shouldn't have any problems. I've done this a lot (though I buy from local Craigslist so I can see the phone in person and call Sprint customer service to verify the ESN before I buy it) and it's not a problem.

It does not reset your contract date, so if you have (for example) 6 months left before you are eligible for a new phone with discount, then after you activate your ebay phone you will still have the same 6 months left on your contract.

If the phone is used, it would be a good idea to figure out that real status of that phone before you buy it. When my kids (both!) lost their phones, I bought a couple phones on Craigslist for $25 each and they were in really bad shape - the battery ran down very quickly, the buttons were ragged and some didn't work - they were crappy phones. If you buy in person, you can at least see if they power up and traverse the menus.
posted by CathyG at 11:56 AM on April 12, 2011

I just purchased an eBay phone for Sprint recently. My experience was great, but I was very thorough about making sure the phone would be right for me. In my experience, you can get a better deal on Craigslist, but I opted for eBay because I didn't want to deal with driving out to some random person's house with a bunch of cash in order to verify that it isn't a stolen/broken phone. The eBay/credit card buyer protections were worth the extra cost, in my personal opinion. As others have said, the clean ESN is essential--they will not activate a phone that was reported stolen. I think I heard that if the ESN is tied to a contract that was not paid, you can pay the outstanding balance to clean up the ESN yourself, but I can't imagine that you would want to do that. Basically, the auction should either say that the ESN is guaranteed to be clean, or you should ask the seller for such a guarantee (or the exact ESN so you can verify it yourself). In the case of smartphones, make sure the touchscreen works and that if the phone has scratches, they are not deep or on the screen (this will probably annoy you after a few weeks). Buttons can go out on phones too with wear. If you are looking at used phones, the older the phone is, the more likely this is to be a problem. If you are looking at new phones, this is less of a risk.

Cosmetic scratches on the body (not the screen) can be covered with a case, and batteries can be replaced with knockoff eBay batteries for pretty cheap, so don't stress over these things, but do be aware if they are present on the auctions you are looking at.

One last thing...I presume that your contract with Sprint allows you to purchase and activate smartphones? Most modern contracts are fine, but some legacy contracts will not allow activation of smartphones running anything newer than WM6. If you are on SERO, you will have to upgrade to SERO-P. But, if you are on these kind of contracts, you probably already know this.
posted by wondercow at 7:24 PM on April 12, 2011

This is how I've bought pretty much all my phones, also on Sprint. My experiences have been nothing but positive--Sprint doesn't give you any crap about activating or anything like that.

I'd suggest automatically buying yourself a new battery when you buy the new phones--as CathyG mentioned, batteries on used phones are often shit, and new batteries can be had for under $10 including shipping.

Don't purchase from someone who generically says that the phone is in "good shape"--a lot of sellers, especially ones who post a lot of phones, have a four or five-point rating system--parts only, very poor cosmetic condition, average condition, good condition, and like new condition, for example. Depending on the seller, "good" can mean "almost brand new, except there's this little ding on the battery cover" or "you can read the screen and the phone works". Look for someone who actually gives a listing of the phone's issues--scratch on the back, chip on the corner, whatever. If it's not listed, it's worth asking--I've had about 50/50 success getting someone to list off the specific damage a phone has.

Also, this might be a duh thing, but go into a Sprint store and look at the phone you're considering before you buy it. After holding what I thought was my first-choice phone in my hand for five minutes, I realized that it wasn't my first choice after all.
posted by MeghanC at 7:32 PM on April 12, 2011

Well, this went mostly-okay. I used the eBay mobile app (this is relevant later) to purchase an HTC EVO Shift. After winning the auction and logging on to a desktop computer, I noticed that the additional pictures were of an HTC EVO (not a shift). They're pretty easy to mistake visually, and the text description in the listing was very clear that it was an HTC EVO Shift.

After trying to contact the seller to clarify whether the pictures or the text were correct, not hearing back for several days, leaving voicemails and multiple e-mails, I contacted eBay. They initiated some process that resulted in the auction being canceled.

I found and won another listing where the experience was completely normal, saving me at least $100 over purchasing directly from Sprint.
posted by odinsdream at 12:34 PM on May 12, 2011

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