Most people in the United States sell or trade in their older phone when purchasing a new one. And what your old phone is worth alters what you effectively pay for a new one.
The resale math is rough for Android smartphone owners like me.
A used iPhone holds its value so much better than other high-end smartphones that you might want to think twice about buying anything else. I hate saying that, but it’s true.
A smartphone may be the most important and perhaps most expensive technology in your life — especially if you count the cost of mobile service, too. We need to consider all parts of the price calculation, including resale values.
The resilient value of an iPhone
I knew that used iPhones retain their value. I was still surprised at how stark the resale price gap was.
Let’s take the two-year-old Google Pixel 6 phone, which I own. Used Pixel 6 devices with wear and tear are selling for an average of $185 each on B-Stock, which buys and resells used smartphones in bulk.
The average is $410 on B-Stock for used two-year-old iPhone 13 devices in similar condition.
That means a two-year-old used iPhone is still worth about half its original $799 price. A similar age Pixel device is only worth 30 percent of its original $599 price.
It’s not just the Pixel. A used iPhone 12 from 2020 is worth 35 percent of its original price, according to B-Stock, while a high-end Samsung Galaxy S20 released the same year is only selling for 15 percent of its original price.
There’s a large value gap for pretty much any used Android phone versus a comparable iPhone, said Joe Dube, director of mobile accounts at B-Stock.
B-Stock auctions large numbers of phones that people return, broken devices covered by insurance or the phones that we trade in to a company like T-Mobile.
Those auction prices aren’t what you would personally get for your used phone. But they show the trend of what Americans can expect when you sell your old phone or trade it in at the time you buy a new device.
The trend usually favors iPhones.
I found that if I wanted to sell a used phone on a site like Gazelle or Swappa, an iPhone 13 was worth up to $300 more than a similar Pixel. The resale price difference was roughly the same for a comparable used Samsung Galaxy phone.
Mobile phone companies’ trade-in offers for older phones are all over the map. With a used iPhone 13, the trade-in offers were in some cases $100 or several hundred dollars more than a comparable Android device but other times about the same or less.
Generally, experts said that the trade-in values of iPhones are higher than those of similar high-end Android phones, but not always.
Digging into resale values changed how I think about my Pixel phone.
A new Pixel costs less than a new iPhone. (Samsung’s top-tier Galaxy S devices are about the same price as comparable iPhones.)
But the iPhone starts to look like a better deal if I can sell it in a few years for up to hundreds of dollars more than I’d get for a used Galaxy S or Pixel.
Why a used iPhone is worth more than an Android phone
Dube said one reason is that Apple doesn’t tend to discount its new phones and it releases new iPhones on a set schedule each year.
A predictable stream of new devices at predictable prices give bulk phone buyers confidence in what they’re willing to pay for used devices. And what they pay trickles down into the trade in or sale price of your old phone.
Dube also said that compared with phones from Samsung or other Android manufacturers, there is more availability of replacement parts for older iPhones and people who know how to repair them.
That means it costs less for bulk resellers of used phones to replace a battery or swap out a busted screen on an old iPhone. Again, those repair costs are factored into what your old phone is worth.
Consumer demand is part of the equation, too. Most used smartphones are purchased outside the United States, and lots of people are happy to buy a used iPhone.
What you should do with this resale knowledge
There are caveats to this resale price information.
While Apple rarely discounts new iPhones, you can find discounts on high-end new Android phones. That could offset the relatively low value of the Android phone you’re replacing.
If you buy new smartphones from one of America’s three big phone companies, trade-in values are for now divorced from market reality. You could get as generous a trade-in price for your creaky old Samsung Galaxy as your friend gets for her used iPhone.
And resale values are most relevant if you buy a high-end new smartphone every few years or so. If you hold onto a smartphone for many years – or if you buy lower-tier smartphones – the resale math matters less.
Lastly, our purchase decisions aren’t made on price alone. You might prefer a Galaxy, Pixel or a $300 smartphone over an iPhone. Great!
Just know, though, that if you typically buy a fancy device, the sanest dollars-and-cents choice might be that iPhone.