A friend asks “Where is the best place to buy an iPhone now, inexpensively?” The answer depends on how old a phone you’ll be happy with, and which carrier’s cell phone service best meets your needs.
The lowest cost places to buy a used or refurbished iPhone include Amazon.com and Ebay.com; there is some risk from buying from either of these outlets and Amazon.com is probably less risky than Ebay. The best places to buy are the same stores that sell new iPhones, where you can still get a warranty on a device that’s a couple of years old.
There are a few questions to ask yourself before buying an older phone, over and above the obvious question of how much do you want to spend. Right now, you can get an iPhone 4, first introduced in 2010, for under $50 on Ebay or Amazon.com. An iPhone 5 or 5c, with 2012 technology, costs $130 to $250 and an iPhone 5s, circa 2014, about $400.
First, how new does your iPhone need to be? The newer the phone, the more it will cost, and the faster its microprocessor, or internal computer, will be. More importantly, the newer the phone, the longer you will probably be satisfied to continue using it. Buying a model that is one or two years old is fine if you are currently using something that is four or five years old. Rule of thumb: buy one at least two model years better than you have, and no older than 3 model years old. Current models are iPhone 6s and 6s Plus; 2014 models were iPhone 6 and 6 Plus; 2013: iPhone 5s. The iPhone 4, introduced in 2010, would be too old to buy now.
Second, how much data are you likely to use: Be wary of deals that offer more gigabytes of data than you use now, because you probably will overpay if you commit to buy more than you ever used before. Check your bill: if you used less than two gigabytes each month in the recent past, then you don’t need to sign up for more than three per month going forward. That is, unless you are planning to change something you’re doing; for example, dropping cable TV and watching all shows and movies on your phone in the future.
Third, do you need to pay for coverage from a premium provider such as Verizon or AT&T, or do the second-tier carriers Sprint and T-Mobile have enough bandwidth in the places you go? Sprint and T-Mobile almost always have lower prices than AT&T and Verizon. If a carrier has reasonably strong coverage where you are most of the time and you’re not concerned about coverage when traveling to smaller towns and remote areas, you can save by using T-Mobile or Sprint. The best way to find out whether lower-cost coverage is sufficient in your location is to ask a lot of questions of your friends and acquaintances who use other carriers: where have they been when their phones dropped calls, or when they couldn’t get email?
So where do you buy? Top choice is the Apple Retail Store. The base cost of the newest iPhone, the iPhone 6s, is $649. It’s $549 for 2014’s iPhone 6 or $450 for 2013’s iPhone 5s. If anything goes wrong you can take it back and the fact you bought it there won’t hurt. They will sell you a phone plan and they are fairly carrier-agnostic, though you never really know all the deals going on behind the scenes. After you’ve had the phone awhile, the Apple Store folks can replace your battery for free if you convince them it wore down too quickly. They have been known to replace whole phones for customers; no one else really has the inventory to do this. Go during the day on a weekday if possible. They will be busy most evenings and weekends leading up to Christmas.
Best Buy and Target are also good places to buy a phone and to compare deals from different carriers, but be careful if buying an older phone: for example, right now, BestBuy.com’s online “deal” for an iPhone 5s is as expensive as an iPhone 6 at the Apple Store. Best Buy stores often have people on staff with cell phone expertise. Target stores sometimes have better-than-average trade-in deals for your old phone.
Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobil stores will be staffed with people who know the phones and also know the ins and outs of their service costs and the discounts available. If you want Verizon coverage, for example, you can’t lose by asking the people at the store to find the best possible deal on Verizon service. Again, make sure you’re not paying more for the phone than you’d pay at the Apple Store especially if you are buying an older model.
Walmart has low cost iPhones for sale and a low cost phone service plan, too. Walmart may not have as many knowledgable people available to help as their competitors have on staff; you may have to wait in any store during busy periods, of course.