Tips for buying a cheaper iPhone
January 22, 2017 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I lost my iPhone while traveling recently (tragedy!) and will want to replace it when I am back home in a month or so. So, I have some time to look for a deal. Any advice here?

Related questions

- Have you had luck with "certified refurbished" products?
- What has your experience been with iPhone SE? It seems to be roughly the size of the 5s, which is what I lost. I don't like these giant phones ...
- Other thoughts? Where could I look besides Amazon ...?
posted by knownfossils to Technology (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have the SE but it's not cheap. It's really great otherwise, same form factor (so can use the same case) and it has a headphone jack which I appreciate. iPhones hold their value really well, unfortunately. I often see better deals via Craiglist or eBay but these can sometimes have a sketch factor.
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on January 22, 2017

I love my SE, which I bought to replace an aging iPhone 5. But same caveat as jessamyn--since it's a new release, I don't know if you'll be able to find it much cheaper used.
posted by serelliya at 11:02 AM on January 22, 2017

I bought a used mint condition iPhone 5c on Swappa a year and a half ago and have had no problems. It's true that I don't have a warranty or AppleCare, but it cost less than $150; if it develops a problem I can't fix I can just replace it.
Swappa has the benefit of guaranteeing that the phone is as described and particularly that it has a clean ESN--meaning that it is not stolen/the original owner does not owe a balance on it (which would prevent you from being able to activate a phone.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:07 AM on January 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

My last few iPhones (including my current 5s) have been certified refurbished, bought through Amazon. I haven't had any problems with them except those that I've caused myself.
posted by lazuli at 11:22 AM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a refurbished iPhone 6 become useless due to mystery battery drain that was unsolvable. Got a trade-in discount/deal (which I think is over, sorry) on a new 5s and I'm quite happy.
posted by chr1sb0y at 11:55 AM on January 22, 2017

When getting Apple refurbished I always recommend Apple's store first. You get the same 1-year warranty that new Apple products get, and access to extended warranties from them.

That said, the 5s is worth about $100 on eBay now. I was just looking this morning in the idea of selling mine even though the 5s is still highly usable on iOS 10. Looks like I'm keeping mine for a while to come.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:07 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

The SE is an excellent phone. It has the internals of a 6s, which was a significant step up from prior models. You might look at a site like swappa - I've bought multiple SEs (3, I think) on there without issue.
posted by revertTS at 1:02 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Certified refurbished" is only meaningful if it's Apple that is doing the refurbishment / certification, as they have all the specific original parts and all the unique tools to take it apart / put it back together. At the same time the Apple-refurbished items have a pretty low discount, but they're pretty much the same as new, and the warranty is from Apple and not from some random third party. I'm typing this on a seven-year old Apple refurbished Macbook Pro right now, and I've had several Apple certified refurbished iPhones.

If it's a random third party doing the refurbishment/certification, it's rolling the dice - there's no real guarantee or warranty that compares to Apple's.

As far as I know, the SE has the same exact dimensions as the 5 / 5s. There are some cost-cutting steps such as not polishing the chamfer (bevel) and not using a fancy inlaid logo that few people would notice, but 5 / 5s cases and such should fit on the SE.

I didn't notice a $300 difference in speed between my older 5 and the 6s I have now, but the size is definitely noticeable, both good and bad.

If you buy used (and not refurbished), you should take into account the battery replacement cost. A well used two to three year old phone is going to have pretty disappointing battery life.
posted by meowzilla at 3:20 PM on January 22, 2017

I've had good luck buying 2 iPhone 4s models and 3 iPhone 5s models (sorry, that's the least cumbersome apostrophe-free way I can pluralize them) used/refurbed from Amazon & eBay sellers. I chose sellers who had a lot of feedback, good reviews, and who had been at it a while. We haven't had any trouble with any of them, but of course YMMV. I believe SquareTrade offers an add-on warranty for some eBay purchases, although I didn't buy it. My 5s runs iOS 10.2 very nicely, albeit w/o some of the top-end features of the 6 & later, so buying another one used seems like a viable option. I can't recall how the SE's features differ from the top-line models, but I think if you were happy with a 5s, you'd like the SE.
posted by NumberSix at 7:46 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I bought a used unlocked 6s over Swappa a year ago and it's been great. I think I save $100-150 vs getting a refurb from Apple. I paid a little extra ($10-20) to buy from a seller with tons of positive feedback (hundreds of sales), and it was as advertised, no complications.

Everyone I know with an SE loves it, seems like a decent size/performance compromise at the moment.
posted by ghharr at 8:48 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thirding Swappa. I've bought 4 or 5 phones via and all of them have arrived quickly and exactly as described.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:10 AM on January 23, 2017

Swappa has been a reliable resource for me. I have purchased several used but in good condition iPhones from there.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 3:55 PM on January 23, 2017

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