Comparing the iPhone trade-in services: Apple, Gazelle, uSell, Amazon and eBay

With Apple jumping into the gadget trade-in business I decided to compare its prices to the competition to see who offered the best buyback prices on the iPhone 4 and 4S. Read this before you sell your old iPhone.

Comparing the iPhone trade-in services - Jason O'Grady

On August 21 I wrote about Gazelle  locking in iPhone buyback prices through August 31. Before you rush to beat tomorrow's deadline, there's a new player in the iPhone buyback business. Apple's now buying back used iPhones, iPads (heck, even desktops and notebook) and giving customers gift cards redeemable, (where else?) -- at the Apple Store. Apple even offers a handy calculator to see what your old gear is worth.

I compared Apple's new buyback service to its major competitors (Gazelle, uSellAmazon Trade-In and eBay Instant Sale) to see who's offering the best price on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S ahead of the anticipated iPhone 5 announcement on September 12.

Each service works a little differently. uSell, eBay and Gazelle offer cash. Apple and Amazon offer gift cards for their respective stores. uSell shops your device to several buyers and lets you pick the best cash offer. Each uses a third-party service to refurbish and resell the devices. Apple uses PowerON, Gazelle sells through retail channels (like eBay and Amazon), uSell uses "network of trusted, professional buyers," Amazon uses "a third-party merchant," and eBay uses AllTechWholesale.

For my comparison I got quotes for all three iPhone 4 and 4S memory configurations (but not carriers and colors) and assumed that the device was fully functional, moderately used to like new and had no major damage. The problem is that condition is subjective and each vendor uses a different scale to rate the condition of your schwag. 

The prices below assume that the device works, has no cracks, water damage, broken parts or bad ESN, that the battery will charge and that you return it with the power cord (but not the original box). 

For each vendor I chose moderate to perfect conditions, so if your device has major scratches, dents or cracks, expect a lower number. Much lower. Here are the conditions that I chose on the various services:

  • Apple: I answered YES to the "light to moderate scratches or scuffs" question, then NO
  • Gazelle: I picked Good ("normal signs of wear") and Flawless ("looks like it's never been used")
  • uSell: I picked  Light Wear ("signs of minimal use, but no scratches") and Like New ("no sign of use")
  • Amazon: Good ("flawless display, light scratches") and Like New ("no visible wear of personalization")
  • eBay: Working ("no physical damage")

Here are the prices being paid for a black iPhone 4 on AT&T:

iPhone 4, 8GB:

  • Apple: $105 - $155
  • Gazelle: $134 - $149
  • uSell: $128 - $142
  • Amazon: $195 - $230
  • eBay: $170

iPhone 4, 16GB:

  • Apple: $120 - $170
  • Gazelle: $146 - $160
  • uSell: $152 - $165
  • Amazon: $229 - $270
  • eBay: $180

iPhone 4, 32GB:

  • Apple: $135 - $185
  • Gazelle: $159 - $173
  • uSell: $157 - $157
  • Amazon: $255 - $300
  • eBay: $235

Here are the prices being paid for a black iPhone 4S on AT&T:

iPhone 4S, 16GB:

  • Apple: $235 - $285
  • Gazelle: $277 - $290
  • uSell: $225 - $260
  • Amazon: $348 - $410
  • eBay: $300

iPhone 4S, 32GB:

  • Apple: $280 - $330
  • Gazelle: $280 - $295
  • uSell: $240 - $283
  • Amazon: $386 - $455
  • eBay: $315

iPhone 4S, 64GB:

  • Apple: $295 - $345
  • Gazelle: $294 - $314
  • uSell: $275 - $321
  • Amazon: $425 - $500
  • eBay: $400

Keep in mind is that the buyer reserves the right to change their price estimate after the device is inspected, so don't expect to exaggerate about your iPhone's condition and expect to get top dollar. Honesty is the best policy and you should disclose all cracks, scratches, dents and water damage or risk sending back some of the money from your advance (usually a princely sum).

That being said, Amazon consistently offered the best prices for used iPhones. eBay was a close second, Gazelle and Apple usually battled for third with uSell bringing up the rear. Also, with 12 days to go before the big reveal, used iPhone prices are moving fast, expect the prices above to drop daily. Then precipitously after September 12.

What are you going to do with your current iPhone?