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7 Things you must check when you buy a secondhand iPhone

check before buying used iphone

If you want an iPhone but your budget won’t quite stretch to  a new one, then buying a secondhand or refurbished iPhone, may just solve your problem.

However, as with anything secondhand, you need to be sure you’re buying a good product, and not getting ripped-off. This guide will help you make sure that a used or refurbished iPhone is ok, and safe to buy.

One of the advantages of buying from eBay or Amazon (which is where MacBooty’s second hand iPhones come from), is the excellent buyer protection facilities both of these platforms have in place. These will give you redress in the event of a fraudulent seller, or the goods not being as described, but it’s as well to take your own precautions too.

This guide will show you what to look for when buying a used or reconditioned iPhone.

1. Check the serial number and Activation Lock

There is a feature called ‘Activation Lock' which prevents anybody from using an iPhone if it is ever lost or stolen. Activation Lock is enabled automatically when you turn on Find My iPhone on a device using iOS 7 or later.

The seller or previous owner should have turned off the activation lock, otherwise you will not be able to use the phone.

To make sure the phone is not locked or stolen, retrieve the iPhone’s unique IMEI or Serial number. This may be printed on the back of the case, or you can see it by going to Settings > General > About, or by typing *#06# on the phone keypad.

[The safest thing is to retrieve the IMEI number from the phone itself, rather than reading it off the back, just in case the motherboard in the phone has been replaced.]

Once you’ve found the number, go to the Apple Activation Lock Status Tool and enter the IMEI number to verify that the phone is not locked or stolen.

iphone activation lock check

If the phone is locked through a genuine oversight, the seller can unlock the phone remotely by logging into their iCloud account with their AppleID.

More information on Activation Lock here.

Make sure the phone is either unlocked, or works with the network that you want to use.

2. Check for water damage

iPhones have a Liquid Contact Indicator which shows whether the device has been in contact with water.


The indicator's colour is normally white or silver, but when it contacts water it turns red. You may need to use a light and a magnifying glass to see the LCI clearly.

3. Check the overall condition, controls, and the connections

Examine the casing carefully, front, back and around the sides. Does it have any chips or scratches? Apart from the cosmetic appearance, these can indicate that the phone has hard a hard life, and may have sustained internal damage.

Do all the buttons operate smoothly, without any stiffness? Check the dock connector, and the headphone socket for signs of any damage, or undue wear.

Make sure the Touch controls, and fingerprint recognition all work correctly, and on the latest models, ensure the 3D Touch is working correctly. Plug the iPhone into a charger, and make sure it charges straight away. Listen to some music through the headphone jack.

4. Check the display, camera, microphone, and speakers

Take some photos and a short video. Look at the photos, zoom in, and play the video back to check the quality of the image, and also the sound through the internal speakers.

Look at the display and check for dead pixels or colour issues. The easiest way to do this is to use the iPhone Dead Pixel Tester, which lets you set the screen to a solid colour which will show up any stuck pixels.

5. Check the battery

Battery life does degrade as a phone gets older, so you can expect a used iPhone not to hold it’s charge as long as a new one. However, the battery is not user-replaceable, and they are expensive to fit, so you need to make sure that the battery is not worn out or damaged.

The only way to fully test the battery is to charge it to 100%, and then see how long it lasts in normal operation. If you don’t have time to do that, you can go to Settings > Battery and see when the iPhone was last fully charged and what usage it has had since then. Look at the percentage charge now, and see if that seems reasonable for the time since it was last charged.

6. Browse the Internet through Wi-fi and cellular network

Ideally, you should perform this test in an area where you know what sort of coverage you should expect - both from Wi-Fi, and cellular. If you use BlueTooth for any accessories (external speakers, hands-free etc.), it’s a good idea to test this also.

7. Make a voice call

Last but not least, test using it as a phone! Although making phone calls might be the last thing people use their iPhones for, it’s important that your iPhone can make and receive voice calls.

Listen to the sound quality, and check the signal strength. Again, if possible it’s good to do this in an area where you know what signal to expect.