With Apple Inc. preparing to unveil at least one and maybe two new iPhones next week, it is time to start shopping for the best way to sell your old phone.
These days there are lots of trade-in options for iPhones and Android phones, tablet computers, laptops, and other gadgets. You could do it online, at brick-and-mortar retailers, or even at a clever little kiosk at the mall that gobbles up gadgets and spits out cash.
Apple is going after a slice of the trade-in market, but on its own terms. The company will buy your old iPhone, iPad, or Mac computer, but you would have to give the money right back.
Enter the model number and description of your device at the website, and Apple would make you an offer. If you agree to it, the company would send you an empty box and a label to cover the cost of shipping. An Apple contractor called PowerON receives the device and confirms whether it is in good condition.
In exchange, Apple would mail you a gift card that can only be used to buy stuff from Apple. You could also trade in an iPhone at a real-world Apple Store, but if you do, the value of your trade-in could only be applied to another iPhone, and you must sign up for a two-year contract. Either way, Apple gives with one hand and takes with the other.
Still, Apple made a reasonable bid for my old iPhone 4S, offering $206. That was about the same that I was offered by a couple of Boston-based companies. One is a newcomer called Sold, which uses an app that runs only on Apple devices. I installed the app on a borrowed iPhone, shot some images of my own phone, and asked for an estimate. In seconds, Sold offered me $208. Gazelle.com, one of the oldest trade-in services, was not far behind, with its offer of $206.
Both companies provide free packaging and shipping, just like Apple. But unlike Apple, Sold and Gazelle pay with real money. If you have an account with the PayPal online payment site, Gazelle would send the money there directly; otherwise you could get paid by check or through a gift card good for purchases at Amazon.com. Sold asks you to punch in the number of your bank account. Once the phone passes inspection, the money would be transferred to you in a few days.
But for a quick payoff, you cannot top EcoATM, which instantly counts out the cash. EcoATM runs a network about 600 kiosks in 40 states, with 17 in Massachusetts. Each lets you trade in a smartphone, MP3 player, or tablet computer.
To use one of them, you would press your driver’s license against an image scanner. Meanwhile, a high-definition video camera beams your picture to an operations center, where human beings compare it to the ID photo. It is one way for EcoATM to guard against phone thieves trying to palm off stolen merchandise.
Next, you would use a touchscreen to answer a few questions about your device. Out pops a barcode sticker to glue on the back of the phone. A door opens and you would put the phone inside; you can get it back at any time if you change your mind about selling. The EcoATM inspects the phone, figures out its make and model, checks for signs of damage, and makes an offer. If you accept the deal, the machine would spit out the cash immediately.
I tested an EcoATM at the CambridgeSide Galleria. At first, it misidentified my iPhone 4S as the less-valuable iPhone 4, and offered $97. On a second try, it made the correct identification, but offered just $110, almost $100 less than bids from other companies. I also tried EcoATM on a nearly-new HTC One Android phone that sells for $600 without a contract. EcoATM offered $131 for it, compared with Gazelle’s bid of $218 and Sold’s lavish offer of $316. On a second try, it mis-identified the phone as an older HTC model and offered just $27.
Gazelle and Sold come out on top in my survey, but there are many more places to check out, including retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, and Radio Shack. Once Apple starts selling the new iPhones, the old ones will be worth considerably less.Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.