I’ve never traded in any of my old smartphones — here’s why

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Generally speaking, smartphones aren’t cheap, but one of the often-touted selling points of regular upgrades is the fact you can trade-in your old device for some kind of discount. I tend to upgrade my phones pretty regularly, every 2-3 years, but that’s a concept I’ve never been fully on board with. 

The closest I ever got was having to hand my iPhone 3GS back to my parents when I was done with it. The argument being that they paid for it, which is fair, and they were going to use it to try and convince my grandfather that cell phones weren’t the devil.

It’s not that I don’t understand the idea. Selling your old phone and getting a discount on a brand new one is a pretty simple concept. There are a lot of factors that affect how much you’ll get, like condition and the model itself, but it is a way to save yourself a few hundred bucks off the cost of a new phone — which is especially important in the current economy. That doesn’t change the fact  I’m still conflicted about actually taking part.

None of my old phones were worth that much

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Up until very recently, I still had all of my phones dating back to 2011 hiding in one box or another. One of the reasons I actually kept them around was that, every time it came to upgrading my phone, it turned out my old one wasn’t worth all that much — if it was even eligible for trade in at all. 

Take my ancient HTC Sensation, which I first got in 2011. I purchased it at a time where I didn’t have much money to spend, so not only was it cheap, but I held onto it for far longer than I would have liked. Needless to say, it was worth a grand total of nothing in the trade-in market.

I later moved onto the Sony Xperia Z3, which remains my favorite smartphone I’ve owned, followed by the Samsung Galaxy S7. While not completely worthless devices, by the time it came to get rid of them and buy something new, they’d been through the ringer. The repairs they had had or needed would have tanked any hope of saving money on an upgrade.

Then after switching to OnePlus, well, it was OnePlus. The phones were great by themselves, but you couldn’t really trade in anything but the most recent device. When you’re upgrading every two years, and at the time when OnePlus was releasing a new phone every 6 months, it’s shouldn't be surprising to find they're not that valuable.

Really it doesn’t take long to get disillusioned with the whole idea of trading in, and it prompted me to try and figure out alternate uses for my old devices.

Old devices can be repurposed long after their expiry date

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If you have an old phone that isn’t worth selling, your first instinct might just be to throw it away. After all, what good is an old phone that you don’t really want anymore? Well I’ve found that, as long as your phone is recent enough and in good enough space, it can still be useful for other things. Smartphones are incredibly versatile after all, and there’s a lot more to them than simply texting and making calls.

Right now I’m rocking a Google Pixel 6 Pro which is a great phone, and I’m still undecided about whether I should upgrade to a Pixel 8 Pro when the time comes. I’m also a big fan of using my phone to remotely play games from my Xbox Series X,  doing so with a Razer Kishi grip. The problem is that the Pixel camera bar is so absurdly big that it doesn’t actually fit in a first gen Razer Kishi. 

Fortunately I kept my previous phone, the OnePlus 7 Pro. It was dusty, suffered some minor OLED burn-in, and has a bunch of chips across the curved edge, but it’s still fully functional and fits inside the controller. More to the point, it was capable of running both the Xbox and Game Pass apps without issue. It also means I can keep it fully charged whenever I’m not using it, rather than having to rely on the rather-sketchy battery life on my Pixel.

In the past I’ve tried to do other, similar things. My OnePlus 6 was a smart home controller for a while, and my Galaxy S7 found new life inside a Galaxy Gear VR headset I had lying around. Needless to say that headset is hilariously out of date and hasn’t been used for several years, but it didn’t change the fact I was able to repurpose the phone after I’d upgraded. 

Heck, I’m pretty sure I even used the decrepit old HTC Sensation as a microSD card adapter for my laptop on more than one occasion. And that phone was basically useless while used it as a phone.

Plus, sometimes it helps to have a spare device handy if something happens to your current model. Especially if you're on vacation in a different country.

Security is always a concern

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Call me paranoid, but I’ve always been wary about handing my technology over to other people — especially my phone. These days people tend to run their whole lives off their phones, with the devices in question holding an incalculable amount of sensitive personal data. Banking details, credit card numbers, passwords, personal photos and who knows what else.

The fact is a simple factory reset isn’t enough to completely erase the data on your phone. Not if it ends up in the hands of someone knowledgeable and skillful enough to find it again. The odds of this actually happening are pretty slim, especially if you’re trading in with a trustworthy company, but it’s not zero.

Data security isn’t the main reason why I haven’t got on board with the trade-in culture that’s grown over the past few years, but it is something I tend to think about now. That’s especially true since my Pixel 6 Pro could be worth something. Almost a third of the cost of a Pixel 8 Pro, if current trade-in prices hold for at least a week. 

But do I want to take that risk? There’s zero chance of a data breach if nobody else gets their hands on my phone, after all. And swapping it for a few hundred bucks means I couldn’t repurpose the device for something else later on.

Bottom line

I totally understand the benefits of trading in old devices when you upgrade. The fact is phones are incredibly expensive products, and the ability to swap an old device in exchange for a discount could be the difference between upgrading and not. Especially now, with the recent rises in the cost of living, it’s much harder to justify spending several hundred dollars just because there’s a new glass rectangle on sale. The fact the global smartphone market is in decline is testament to that.

But I’m also very set in my ways, and I’m not the kind of person who will obsessively upgrade their phone to be at the absolute cutting edge. If the Pixel 8 Pro doesn’t have what it takes to justify an upgrade I will happily keep my 6 Pro for another year. It’s still in good condition, and there’s nothing particularly irritating that I’d want to change right away.

But by this time next year the phone might not be worth enough to bother trading in. Especially since the 6 Pro will be limited to security updates after October 2024. I’ll never say never, but I feel like it’s going to take a lot to try and make me change my mind.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.