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Best used smartphones 2021

best used smartphones 2021
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It pays not to forget about the best used smartphone - literally. While opening a shiny new flagship is immensely satisfying, buying used can save you a hefty amount of cash. You just need to make sure you're happy not being at the forefront of mobile technology.

The best phones also get some hefty price cuts whenever a successor launches. Considering some people also religiously upgrade their handset every year, and you've got a good chance of picking up a slightly-used handset for a very reasonable price. Whether you want an iPhone XS, a shiny Samsung Galaxy, or something else entirely, these are all the very best used smartphone you can buy right now. 

Generally speaking it's a good idea to go looking for a used smartphone right as its successor launches. Not only does this mean the value of your would-be phone is dropping, it means there are going to be people that are willing to sell to pay for their own upgrades.

So with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 now here, now is a great time to pick up an older Galaxy handset. The Galaxy S20 in particular has seen some hefty price cuts over the past year and a half, while still maintaining the solid hardware and performance that made it so desirable when it was new. 

The same can be true of the iPhone 11. The iPhone 12 has been around for almost a year, and with the iPhone 13 on the way, prices have already tanked. Relatively speaking, of course, considering how well iPhones tend to hold their value. The iPhone SE 2020 may have things like the A13 Bionic processor, but the iPhone 11 still has all the makings of a flagship phone, including a full screen display and a battery life that still beats the iPhone 12.

If you're needing something bigger than a phablet like the Galaxy Note 20 might be the way to go. It's not as old as some of the other devices on this list, but with the Note range on its way out, you may want to try Samsung's productivity-based handset while you can. Especially with the fancy S Pen gestures and all the other useful features that are still only available on the note.

The Google Pixel 5 also remains a solid choice, even as we start heading into Pixel 6 (and Pixel 6 Pro) territory. Google's last flagship may not be a powerhouse like some of the others, but it still looks great, offers a solid battery life, and enjoys all the software benefits of being a Pixel device.

If that's not your jam, there's always the OnePlus 8. Already outshadowed by the OnePlus 8T and OnePlus 9 range, but with plenty more to give. Certainly if you value battery life and performance, and can't live without the silky smooth displays you just can't get on cheaper devices.

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.

iPhone 11

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. iPhone 11

Fast performance and battery life for an affordable price

Display: 6.1-inch OLED (1,792 x 828)
CPU: A13 Bionic
Storage / Expandable: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.84 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:16
Reasons to buy
+Compelling ultra-wide camera+Superfast A13 Bionic processor+Long battery life+New Night mode is excellent
Reasons to avoid
-More storage should come standard-Fast charger not included

The iPhone 11 may be fast-approaching its second birthday, but there's no reason why you should dismiss it for that reason alone. The iPhone 11 still has plenty to offer, including a long battery life, a large OLED display, and the power of the A13 Bionic that's second only to the iPhone 12's A14 Bionic.

Apple doesn't sell any refurbished iPhone 11 models, though it will sell the more-expensive iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max if you have the cash to spare. While buying from Apple guarantees you will get a device in perfect working order, you won't be saving that much money in the process.

Third party vendors like Swappa and Amazon have the phone for as little as $390. While those devices aren't guaranteed to be in perfect working order, these second-hand stores do still have standard protections for buyers — including refunds if you get something that wasn't as described.

And even if you're not ready to buy the iPhone 11 right now, you can only expect these prices to keep dropping as we head towards the fall, and the rumored iPhone 13 launch window.

What you'll pay for a used iPhone 11

From $390 on Swappa
From $485 on Amazon (Refurbished)
From $409 on Gazelle
From $429 on Decluttr

Read our full iPhone 11 review review here

samsung galaxy s20

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Samsung Galaxy S20

A powerful phone in a compact design

Display: 5.8-inch AMOLED (1400 x 3200)
CPU: Snapdragon 865
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear camera: 12MP (ƒ/1.8), 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/1.7)
Weight: 5.75 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:31
Reasons to buy
+Improved camera with 3x lossless zoom+120Hz refresh rate+Compact design
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life is relatively short

Samsung is not one for making huge changes from one flagship to another, so you're not going to miss out a lot by opting for the Galaxy S20 instead of the newer, shinier Galaxy S21. You might miss out on the continuous 3x and 10x optical zoom, but you still get a 120Hz refresh rate, and all the other classic Samsung features.

So reverse wireless charging, 25W fast charging, 5G a 64MP telephoto lens, and the same OneUI you'll find on Samsung's other devices. it doesn't have a headphone jack, but you can't have everything.

The best part is that the phone is powerful enough that you'll be able to keep hold of it for a long time. And new enough that you don't have to worry about losing access to crucial Android updates right away.

What you'll pay for a Samsung Galaxy S20
From $448 on Amazon (Refurbished)
From $329 on Swappa
From $409 on Decluttr
From $429 on Gazelle

Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 review here

Samsung Galaxy Note 20

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Samsung Galaxy Note 20

The complete package, but without the wow factor

Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0); 12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2)
Weight: 6.77 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:38
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic camera+Excellent performance+Useful note-taking features
Reasons to avoid
-Only 60Hz screen

The Galaxy Note range may be on its final legs, but that doesn't mean the Note 20 isn't a very capable phablet. The S Pen is bundled into the box, and the device jam-packed with productivity features and software - from the brand new notes app to wireless DeX projection.

The Note 20 may have cost close to $1,000 when it launched, but competition from the flashier $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra means it has had some significant price cuts over the past year. In fact some used models are available for half the original cost. Other phones may have better cameras and more long-lasting batteries, but the Note 20 can't be beat when it comes to pure productivity, which arguably makes it more useful than some other flagships.

What you'll pay for a used Galaxy Note 20

From $677 on Amazon (Refurbished)
From $490 on Swappa

Read our full Galaxy Note 20 review here

Google Pixel 5 review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Google Pixel 5

A charming and reasonably-priced premium phone

Display: 6-inch OLED (2340 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / No
Rear camera: 12MP wide (ƒ/1.7); 16MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)
Front camera: 8MP (ƒ/2.0)
Weight: 5.3ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 9:29
Reasons to buy
+Solid battery life+Useful Pixel software features+Excellent camera
Reasons to avoid
-No higher storage option

The Google Pixel 5 has a lot going for it, but it always felt overpriced for what it was. Thankfully the run up to the Pixel 6 means the price has started dropping, and will likely continue as people start to offload their older devices. 

While the Snapdragon 765G may seem underwhelming, the Pixel 5 sill packs in a lot of great features. There's the 90Hz display, a solid nine and a half hour battery life, and an incredible camera with a new ultrawide lens. Plus there's all the usual software and camera features that makes the Pixel range so popular, which includes first access to the latest Android software updates.

What you'll pay for a used Google Pixel 8

From $692 on Amazon (Refurbished)
From $589 on Swappa

Read our full Pixel 5 review here

OnePlus 8

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. OnePlus 8

Solid performance with one notable compromise

Display: 6.3-inch OLED (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8GB ; 12GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB; 256GB
Rear camera: 48MP main (f/1.7), 16MP ultrawide (f/2.2), 2MP macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.0)
Weight: 6.3 ounces
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:4
Reasons to buy
+Excellent display+Good low light photos+Very good battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Disappointing camera-Curved display prone to accidental touches

OnePlus produces some fantastic phones, though they certainly release a lot of them. Which is why picking up last year's OnePlus 8 is always worth thinking about. With the OnePlus 8T and OnePlus 9 series on sale, you can expect to find a device for a lot less than it would have cost you this time last year.

Not only does OnePlus throw in an incredible display, fast charging, 5G and a powerful Snapdragon 865 processor, you also have one of the best batteries lives we had seen at the time of testing. On top of that Oxygen OS has proven itself to be one of the cleanest versions of Android you can buy. 

The camera isn't the best, but you can still produce some quality snaps. Especially if you're in low-light conditions, which can put the pressure on any phone's camera sensor. While the cheaper OnePlus Nord series might be more appealing to some, they do still make plenty of compromises. The OnePlus 8 might be over a year old, but it's still flagship through and through.

What you'll pay for a used OnePlus 8
From $324 on Amazon (Renewed)
From $219 on Swappa

Read our full OnePlus 8 review here

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.