Buying a used iPhone - A Checklist

If you're in the market for getting your hands on an iPhone and you don't want to spend copious amounts of money on a brand new one, you may want to consider a used iPhone. As people upgrade their phones regularly, there's no shortage of used iPhones available on the market, so you won't have an issue finding one. However, there are a number of things that are worth looking at beforehand so that you don't get burnt and stuck with an iPhone that has a functionality issue or - even worse - an iPhone that you're unable to activate at all. Check out our tips for buying a used iPhone:

Know which model you're dealing with

Although it may seem simple enough, but sometimes particular iPhone models look very similar and it can get a bit difficult telling the difference between different iPhone models. Here's a quick breakdown:

- iPhone 4: comes in black or white and has glass both on the front and back. There is a silver band wrapping around it. This silver band has one black line on the left side and right side, and the top has one black line. The front camera is to the left of the earpiece.

- iPhone 4s: looks identical to the iPhone 4 EXCEPT that it has two black lines on the left and right side of the phone. No black line on the top.

- iPhone 5: comes in black or white, and the back is mostly aluminum with glass bars at the top (where the main camera is) and the bottom. The front camera is above the earpiece.

- iPhone 5c: comes in multiple different colours. The back and sides are one plastic piece. The front camera is above the earpiece. 

- iPhone 5s: looks identical to the iPhone 5 EXCEPT for the home button, which has Touch ID. This means there is no rounded square on the home button - it's plain. This model also comes in gold.

- iPhone 6: comes in space grey, silver, or gold. The edges are more rounded than previous models. The back and edges are one full aluminum piece. The front camera is to the left of the earpiece. The back camera sticks out a bit.

- iPhone 6s: looks identical to the iPhone 6s EXCEPT there is a small [S] written underneath "iPhone" on the back. This model also comes in rose gold.

Check the storage capacity of the device

The last thing you want is to think that you're getting a 64GB device but you unexpectedly walk away with a 32GB one. To check how much storage the iPhone has, go into Settings > General > About and look for the option that says Capacity.

Note that if a phone is a 64GB one, it won't show 64GB there due to memory formatting and other technical things. For example, it may show something like 55.6GB.

If the phone isn't charged up, or if it's not activated and doesn't allow you to go into the Settings app, you can also run your iPhone into a third-party IMEI checker online to see what the storage capacity is.

Pro tip: for all iPhone models starting from the iPhone 5, the IMEI number is written in very small print on the back of the device. For the iPhone 4 and 4s, you can physically find the IMEI on the SIM card tray.

Check if there is AppleCare

While we're talking about IMEI checkers, you can also use these to see if the phone still has any remaining AppleCare warranty on it. If having a warranty on your phone is important, this is a key step you'll want to take.

You'll probably get the best results using Apple's official coverage checker on their website. All you'll need to do is put in the serial number of your device into the checker and it'll let you know if there is any remaining warranty on the device. If there is remaining AppleCare, that means that if you have some sort of issue with the device before the AppleCare expires, you can take the phone back to Apple and they'll take care of it free of charge. If it doesn't have any AppleCare coverage and you need a repair, you'll either have to take it to a local repair shop or pay Apple their steep repair/replacement costs.

Check if it's been reported lost or stolen

If the phone that you're looking to buy has been reported lost or stolen, that means it's on the national blacklist and won't work if you try putting a SIM card into it. 

To check if it's on this list, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association has a nifty little tool on their website that you can use. All you need to do is put in the IMEI number of the phone into their checker, and it'll tell you the status of the device.

Check if it has Find My iPhone enabled

Find My iPhone is a feature that Apple introduced into newer iOS softwares that, if enabled by the person whose Apple account is on the device, will prevent the phone from being wiped and activated again. Although it's a great feature to have on if your phone is lost or stolen, it's not so useful when you're looking to buy someone's legitimate used phone. This is really important to check! If this is activated, you're pretty much left with a useless phone unless the previous owner has the password associated with the Apple account on the phone.

To check this on an already activated phone, go into Settings > iCloud and go to the bottom. If Find My iPhone is turned on, you'll want to make sure this is deactivated before purchasing the device. If, when you open the iCloud setting, it simply asks you to log in with an Apple email and password, that means the device is not associated with any account. 

Check if it'll work with your SIM card

Most iPhones that you would be buying used are going to be locked to a certain carrier (or unlocked for all carriers if you're lucky). A locked device means you can only use it with one carrier's SIM cards. 

The best way to see if it'll work with your SIM card is simple - put in your SIM card! If it picks up a signal, it means that the phone is either locked to the carrier you use, or the phone is unlocked. To confirm that a phone is unlocked, it's a good idea to try a different carrier's SIM card in the device as well - if it works with at least two different carriers, it's unlocked. 

If, however, you get a message that says "Activation Required" or "Invalid SIM" or "SIM Failure" the phone you're looking at may not be locked to the carrier you think, or the phone may not be unlocked. Exercise caution here!

Test out general hardware functions

After doing your due diligence on everything about the device, it's time to check out the features of the device itself. There are a few quick things that you can do to make sure that all of the features of the device work. Note that most of these require that the phone already be activated, so it's important to keep that in mind:

- LCD screen: this one should be easy to see. Keep an eye out for discolouration or burn-in images on the screen. Touch all parts of the screen - it's possible that some parts of the screen stop detecting touch.

- Earpiece: this can be tested out by making a test call on the device and putting the phone to your face to see if you can hear anything. Keep an eye out (or, I guess, an ear out) for a fuzzy-sounding earpiece.

- Proximity sensor: this is the sensor that turn off the screen when the phone is put to your face during a phone call. Test this out by making a phone call and seeing if the screen turns off.

- Microphone: this one can also be tested out during a test call, or by recording something in the Voice Memos app and seeing if everything sounds clear.

- Front and back camera: open the camera app and flip the camera both ways to see if everything is clear. Some common issues are dust getting in front of the cameras, causing strange spots to show up on the image. 

- Camera flash: either you can try taking a picture with the flash on, or you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to bring up the Control Center, where you can tap on the flashlight to see if the camera flash works.

- Charging port: plug in a charger and see if it detects a charge without a problem. Give it a little wiggle as well to make sure something is not caught in the charging port or there is a loose connection.

- Buttons: click all of the buttons on the phone to see if they function fine. The most common issues show up with the power button and the home button not registering clicks. 

- Vibration: flick the vibration switch that's right above the volume buttons to see if the phone vibrates.

- Headphone jack: try plugging in a set of headphones and playing some audio to see if the jack actually works and sends audio. 

- Wi-Fi: go into the Settings app and see if the phone is able to find Wi-Fi networks that are nearby. This is a somewhat common issue with older iPhones that sometimes stop having functioning Wi-Fi. 

Overall, it's all about being careful about your purchase if you're going to be purchasing from a second-hand site like Craigslist or Kijiji. Or, you can choose to get your next used iPhone from The Mobile Base, where we've already done all of the hard work for you and can guarantee a perfect used device.


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