We know how satisfying it can be to own a brand-spanking-new handset, but there are two very good reasons to consider one of the best used smartphones instead: dollars and cents.
If you're willing to stay a step or two behind the cutting edge of mobile tech, you can find some big discounts on the best phones on the market. And with some owners upgrading on a yearly cycle, your chances of finding a gently-used flagship with standout features are greater than you'd think.
We've rounded up prices for the most popular secondhand phones from top retailers and resellers as of July 2020. Whether you're eyeing last year's big iPhone or Galaxy, or are looking to maximize your discount by snapping up something a little older, you're assured to find something here to put an end to your smartphone search.
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What are the best used smartphones
Generally speaking, it's great to look for a used smartphone model right after its successor launches. This both ensures that the value of the phone you're looking to buy is dropping, and that some who already own it are probably ready to sell.
Keeping that in mind, now that the Samsung Galaxy S20 is out, it's a great time to entertain older Galaxy handsets, like 2018's Galaxy S9. The S9 still benefits from a sleek design and dazzling AMOLED display, and the performance and photography sacrifices you'll make by going for an older model aren't as drastic as you might think.
The same can be said for other high-end handsets, like the iPhone X. The iPhone X may have been introduced at the tail end of 2017, but its A11 Bionic processor is still strong enough to ensure a fluid experience, especially compared to most new phones in the $300-$400 price range at which the device is hovering around now. And no smartphone that cheap can pull off anything like the iPhone X's Face ID recognition.
If you're picturing something larger — perhaps a phablet — the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Note 8 can be had for under $400 from some resellers, and deliver many of the same S Pen productivity-minded features offered by the Note 10 and upcoming Galaxy Note 20, which will set you back two or three times more. The iPhone 8 Plus also remains a good choice for users who like the classic design of the new second-generation iPhone SE, but need a larger display and longer battery life than Apple's latest cheap phone offers. Finally, the Pixel 3 XL is a solid choice who want Google's latest and greatest camera and software features at a sizable discount.
With new phones releasing all the time, older devices are being phased out — making this list of the best used smartphones one to watch going forward. Let's take a closer look.
It's hard to believe, but the iPhone X is getting up on three years old now. These devices start at $599 if you go with an Apple refurbished unit, though you could do a lot better than that if you decide to go with a third-party vendor, like Swappa or Decluttr. Those resellers are offering unlocked versions of the handset starting at $360 and $389, respectively.
Of course, a unit from a reseller isn't guaranteed to be in perfect working order like Apple's certified refurbished devices are, but secondhand stores still ensure protections for buyers, like refunds if the item received is not as described. And that peace of mind is worth every penny, because the iPhone X — with its powerful A11 Bionic processor, Face ID technology and full-screen design — holds its value better than any other smartphone out there. Just be wary that these prices are falling even lower since the iPhone 11 series emerged last autumn.
What you'll pay for a used iPhone X
The Samsung Galaxy S9 was something of a modest evolution of the Galaxy S8, with a more powerful processor and new dual-lens cameras with adjustable aperture. Although it may lack the futuristic Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED panel of the newer S10 and S20 series, as well as ultrasonic in-display fingerprint sensing and reverse wireless charging, the S9 is still a power-packed handset that will undoubtedly last you a long time if you choose to buy one now — making it one of our top best used smartphones.
And "now" just so happens to be the right time, because it's cheaper than ever to score a used unit, and Samsung's 2018 flagship has since been updated to run the firm's latest One UI Android software. In fact, thanks to a promotion at Best Buy, you can snag a brand new S9 for the same price you might spend on an underwhelming midrange handset.
What you'll pay for a Samsung Galaxy S9
The Galaxy Note 9 may not have the quad-lens camera and impeccable design of the newer Galaxy Note 10 Plus, but it's still a fully-capable phablet, thanks to its handy S Pen (which can be used as a remote shutter), bright and bold display, and all the power afforded by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 chipset.
This phone cost $1,000 when it was new, but today, you can nab a Note 9 for less than half that. That's a good price for a workhorse like this; while some handsets can certainly claim better cameras or slightly longer battery life, the Note 9 is still a more complete package than even most newer flagships, because it does it all. Better yet, the Note 9's price is due to fall even further soon, when the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 launches before summer's end. The only problem is that it appears unlocked models are becoming harder and harder to come by, so you have to pick up a phone customized to work with your particular carrier.
What you'll pay for a used Galaxy Note 9
Right up until the new iPhone SE released, the iPhone 8 was truly the last to offer the original iconic iPhone design, with its Touch ID-equipped home button and 16:9 LCD display.
It's a design many people loved — as evidenced by Apple's new budget model — though the company has neglected to build a larger iPhone SE Plus to satisfy those users who'd prefer a bigger screen. Thankfully, you can still find the 5.5-inch iPhone 8 Plus if you know where to look. While the savings might not be as remarkable as with other devices on this list, this is still an excellent handset that will certainly last you a couple of years, especially given the Plus model's perks, like its extra RAM and dual-lens cameras. You'll also get other luxuries, such as wireless charging and IP67 water resistance.
What you'll pay for a used iPhone 8 Plus
The beautiful thing about Google's flagship phones is that they tend to use similar camera components year in and year out, but continuously upgrade the post-processing algorithms to churn out better and better results. That's why you can still pick up a device like the Pixel 3 XL, which released in the fall of 2018, and capture absolutely jaw-dropping shots that rival those from the newer Pixel 4 or iPhone 11 Pro.
The Pixel 3 XL isn't perfect, of course: It doesn't last the longest on a charge, it has a questionable notch, the lack of a secondary camera for ultrawide shots is a bit inconvenient and the measly 4GB of RAM onboard means that this Google flagship isn't ideal for multitasking compared to, say, the Galaxy S20 or OnePlus 8. That said, if you want the best of Android and Google's clever software perks — like its innovative Recorder and Call Screen features — as well as that aforementioned marvel of a camera, the Pixel 3 XL stands a compelling value. Alternatively, you could entertain the soon-to-be released Pixel 4a, which should also be quite cheap, at or below the $400 mark based on rumors.
What you'll pay for a used Pixel 3 XL
Samsung's S Pen-equipped, 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 8 is a fine choice for those who want something a bit more versatile than an ordinary smartphone, but much more portable than a full-on tablet. However, it's always been a bit too expensive.
Thankfully, ever since the Galaxy Note 10 hit the market, Note 8 prices have dropped to the point where you can snag a used example of one of Samsung's do-everything phablets for a low price of well under $300, depending on where you look. And that's a great deal for a dual lens-equipped, Snapdragon 835 handset with 6GB of RAM and a microSD slot for expandable memory up to 512GB.
What you'll pay for a used Galaxy Note 8
How to pick the best used smartphone for you
Deciding which used smartphone to buy is a bit harder than choosing a new phone, for obvious reasons. Aside from the fact you want to ensure the particular device you're looking at is in acceptable condition, you also have to consider whether or not the model you're interested in will be up to the task to handle what you expect to throw at it.
Flagship smartphones are more powerful than many of us realize, and so even if you buy a device that's two years old, you're still likely to get a phone that's more than powerful enough to handle everyday tasks, from browsing social media apps and the websites to GPS navigation, video and music streaming and snapping photos.
Where you might begin to see an older phone sweat pertains to those really taxing use cases, like playing the most strenuous, graphically rich mobile games and 4K video recording. Additionally, if the battery in an old phone has never been replaced with a fresh unit, it's likely deteriorated to the point where it won't last very long on a charge — another factor to consider.
You also have to be mindful of the status of software and security updates on the device. This is a particular area in which it pays to buy an older iPhone, because Apple supports its handsets for far longer than the standard 2-year policy most Android phone makers commit to. In fact, the iPhone 6S — a device that released in 2015 — can still get iOS 14, the newest version of Apple's mobile operating system. The best case scenario on Android is the three years of updates Google reserves for its own Pixel devices.
How we test smartphones
Every smartphone Tom’s Guide evaluates is tested for several days in real-world use cases and benchmarked with a gamut of performance-measuring apps. In terms of performance, we used Geekbench 5 to measure overall speed and GFXBench to measure graphics performance.
We also use our own video editing test in the Adobe Premiere Rush app to see how long it takes to transcode a clip, which we run on both Android phones and iPhone to compare performance.
We use a light meter to ascertain display quality data, like brightness and color accuracy, and our proprietary battery test determines longevity on a charge by continuously loading live webpages over a 4G or 5G network. We set each phone to 150 nits of screen brightness and try to use T-Mobile's network each time in order to achieve comparable results across phones.
Lastly, we explore the software, test gaming performance and conduct live camera comparisons with rival handsets — and each of these factors play a part in our comprehensive verdict.