09/21/2012 12:29 pm ET

Sell Your iPhone And Prepare It For Trade-In: A User's Guide

Over the next few weeks, millions of Americans who own the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are likely to abandon their phones for the growth-spurted iPhone 5. And when they get their new iPhone 5, those same millions of Americans will face an eternal dilemma, a puzzle for the ages: What, oh what, are you supposed to do with your old iPhone?

You have, as I see it, a few options. You could let it crust and deteriorate in your discarded electronics drawer, along with your Walkman and Yak Bak and Talkboy. You could hot glue it onto your wall and show it off as modern art, a commentary on the decompositional nature of time. You could attempt to answer the age-old question: Will it blend?

Or you could save your iPhone (and the blades on your blender) by taking care of your old iPhone the smartest way -- a way that, you might be surprised to learn, could earn you enough money to defray much of the cost of the iPhone 5. If I were one of the Hypothetical Millions of Americans making the switch, I know exactly what I would do with my old iPhone, and it doesn't involve the Found Art concepts of Marcel Duchamp, nor my blender.

Here's my guide to getting rid of your current iPhone for the iPhone 5 (or any other phone!): Step-by-step, day-by-day, from the time you decide to sell it, to the moment you kiss the phone goodbye.


There is an entire galaxy of gadget trade-in websites on the Internet; the best of them will fetch you a good chunk of guaranteed money in return for your iPhone. For an iPhone 4S with 16GB of memory -- a device that cost $199 on contract at AT&T, Verizon and Sprint when it came out last year-- will give you $250; will give you $260; and will give you $269 through its Speed Sale section. Even though you only paid $200 for your iPhone, that price was lowered because you also locked yourself into a two-year contract; had you bought the phone without a contract, the phone would have been much more expensive ($649, to be exact).

Thus, Gazelle, NextWorth and Glyde can give you about $250 for your phone, and then find a buyer who will still pay, say, $480 for one. They are more than happy to pay you under $300 for your old iPhone, an amount of cash that still represents to you, as the rapper Pusha T might put it, "heel money" and/or "bill money."

The three services above work the same way: You enter in a little information about your phone -- the carrier, how much memory it holds, the condition of the screen -- and the website spits out an offer. If you accept the offer, you then print out a mailing label (postage paid by the website) and ship your old phone to the service's central address. If your iPhone is determined to be in the condition you've claimed it to be in, you'll receive a check in the mail (or in your PayPal account) in a week or so.

It sounds too good to be true, the Internet version of those "WE BUY YOUR GOLD" commercials. But I've used both Gazelle and NextWorth and found that on both services, the process was painless and the heel/bill money you are promised does, indeed, arrive on time. For those who don't want to spend too much time fishing for buyers on Amazon or eBay, Gazelle, NextWorth and Glyde are well-paying, easy-to-use alternatives.


Step one, then, is to take three minutes and check how much money each website can offer and choose the one with the highest amount. BUT: Once you accept, don't start packing up your old iPhone just yet! All three services offer a "price lock," which means you can lock in your price and wait for a certain amount of time before you actually mail in your gadget. For Glyde, it's seven days; for NextWorth, it's 21 days; for Gazelle, it's a very generous 30 days.

These grace periods are helpful and are another advantage over eBay or Amazon: It means that you don't have to part with your phone until the moment you actually get a new one. You need not go without a cellphone, and you can make sure that your data has successfully transferred from the old phone to the new. Speaking of which...


At a store, online, at a flea market, from Bob Sacamano, wherever.


Once you possess the iPhone 5 (FINALLY!), you'll want to set it up with all of the data from your old phone. MacWorld has an excellent primer, and I definitely recommend backing up to your computer in addition to iCloud.

This is about your old iPhone, however -- the one you were about to blend, remember? -- so let's stay focused on it for now. Once you've got your new iPhone set up (contacts transferred, email set up, Stocks app hidden as far back as it can go) it's time to ready your old iPhone to be traded in.

Presumably, you've taken the SIM card out of the old iPhone and put it in the new one to transfer your phone numbers. If not, you're going to want to take the SIM out before you mail in your old iPhone. (Anthony Scarsella, the chief gadget officer at Gazelle, told me that Gazelle has a machine that mass-destroys old SIM cards, crushing them into nothingness, which we'd love to see, but still: You don't want someone getting their hands on your old SIM). With the SIM gone -- and when you are absolutely certain you've got everything backed up on your computer and/or in iCloud -- you are ready to format your phone, erasing everything in the memory so that it's ready to ship. You can do this either in iTunes, by clicking on the "Restore" button under "Version" on the main screen, or you can do it on your iPhone itself, by going to Settings-->General-->Reset-->Erase All Content and Settings. (Glyde has a helpful visual guide).

This is the equivalent of hitting the big red button: It will return your iPhone to "Factory State," meaning that absolutely none of your data will remain on the device. It will be like new, and ready to ship off.


So: Remove your old iPhone from its case, and take off the screen protector. Carefully swath it in bubble wrap, place it in an envelope, and hot glue the shipping label from Gazelle or NextWorth to the front of your package. Walk up your driveway and place the package in the mailbox. And when the mailman comes in the afternoon, try not to shed a tear: You've got a taller, skinnier, smarter model in its place -- and what's more, you didn't totally destroy your blender.



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