Having recently purchased a used iPhone 5 as a second phone for our family, my main concern was purchasing a bricked or broken phone. Now admittedly, I would say that purchasing a used iPhone from Craigslist or Kijiji is not ideal to begin with as there is very little recourse for the I purchaser if the phone is defective or locked. With that said, I created (and later revised) a list of quick tests and checks that I ran through when I had some hands-on time with some prospective iPhones. If you are also in the market for a used iPhone, here are some things to keep in mind and a checklist of quick tests to do when checking out that used iPhone.

Think ahead and be prepared…

Get the facts first

You may save yourself time and perhaps an ill informed purchase if you are diligent in getting some basic facts about the used iPhone you are eyeing up. Whether by email, text or with a good old phone call, be sure to get answers to the following.

Is the phone locked to a carrier or unlocked? – If you do not know why you should be asking this question, check out this blog post by Anthony Scarsella @ Gazelle (What is a locked phone and why do carriers lock them?)

Does the phone come with a working charger, a charging cable and headphones? – Not sure if a set of used headphones are appealing to anyone but they did originally come with the phone. The charger and charging cable are items that you will definitely want to have included as part of the purchase. If the phone does not come with these items then it may be enough for you move on to another phone or at least give you some grounds to negotiate a lower price.

Does the phone come with original box and packaging? – Not a huge deal here but if you are looking to gift this purchase, there is no better gift box than the original packaging.

Is your existing SIM card compatible? – If you already have a SIM card that you are looking to use with the iPhone be sure that it is compatible first as you may find yourself trying to insert a SIM card that is not the right size. Even if you are moving within the family of iPhones, there has been a gradual move from mini-SIMs to micro-SIMs and now to nano-SIM cards.  If you are an existing iOS user be sure to check out this quick post from Apple Support (Find out which SIM card your iPhone or iPad uses).

Is the phone currently covered by Apple Care? – It never hurts to ask. If by some chance it is, then this is some added insurance for you. Here are some common questions around Apple Care (AppleCare FAQ)

Location, location, location…

If you are going to check out a used iPhone, be sure to view it in a location that has:

  • good lightning – You need to see this thing (warts and all) before you throw down the cash. Be warned! Scratches, dings and dents hide easily in dim lighting.
  • wireless internet – In order to test the wireless antenna on the iPhone you will need a wireless network that you can access. If you are stuck bring along another mobile device that can serve as a wireless hotspot.
  • power outlet – Hopefully the used iPhone is coming with a charger and cable. Consequently, you will also want to check these items out by plugging in the phone and seeing if it does indeed begin to charge.

Tools for Job

A few tools to bring along to help with the iPhone inspection.

  • headphones – Bringing your own allows you to quickly test the iPhone headphone jack.
  • SIM card – A critical step in testing a used iPhone is the ability for you to use and access your SIM card in the prospective phone.
  • SIM card pin – Hopefully the used iPhone comes with the SIM card pin but you never know. Ultimately, if you cannot open the SIM tray then you are simply unable to test your SIM card in the phone. Not a good situation.

The Checklist

OK, so you have asked your questions, prepared your tools, picked your meeting place and the iPhone viewing has been arranged. Here is a quick checklist to keep in mind when you have that iPhone in your hands and you now need to quickly assess whether it is worth purchasing.

Find out more about the phone

Go to SETTINGS –> GENERAL –> ABOUT. Check out the information about the phone.

  • capacity
  • version of iOS
  • cell carrier

Check out the physical buttons on the phone

Buttons can wear out and become finicky or completely unresponsive.

  • Does the power button work?
  • Check out the volume buttons and mute/rotation lock switch
  • Does the home button work? Tap once (takes you out if an app or returns you to the main screen) , tap twice (multitasking screen) and press and hold (calls up Siri, if activated)
Typing up a few lines in an app like Notes can help reveal problems with the touchscreen.
Typing up a few lines in an app like Notes can help reveal problems with the touchscreen.

Check the touch screen

A quick way to check the touch screen is to call up the keyboard in a native iOS app like Notes. Systematically press all the letters on the keyboard and ensure that they are all registering on the note you are creating. Change the orientation of the iPhone so the same is done when the keyboard is in portrait and landscape.

Check the internal speakers and the headphone jack

Lets get some audio going next by heading into SETTINGS and select SOUNDS. Changing the ringtone will result in a preview sound being played and is a perfect way to see if the iPhone’s built in speaker is working properly. Next is the headphone jack test. Plug in those headphones that you brought along with you and make sure you can also hear the various ringtones though the headphones.

Check the gyroscope

Hopefully as you have been testing the iPhone you should have noticed the screen rotating based upon the orientation of the phone. However if the iPhone has rotation lock engaged, be sure to turn it OFF so you can ensure that the … Is working properly. Rotation lock can be turned OFF at either the on-screen control panel or by flipping the switch located near the phone’s volume buttons.

iPhone Camera
Check the camera, mic and even the LED flash during your camera test.

Check the camera and microphone

This is as easy as opening up the native CAMERA app and recording some video and snapping some photos. If all works properly, you should be able to view the photos and videos that you just captured.

Check the Wi-FI Antenna

This is a pretty straightforward test. Go ahead and turn on the wireless (SETTINGS –> Wi-Fi) and see if the phone can connect to Wi-Fi. Open up Safari and navigate to your favourite site.

If you see this screen pop up as you access the Restrictions settings in iOS, the seller will need to disable it first.
If you see this screen pop up as you access the Restrictions settings in iOS, the seller will need to disable it first.

Make sure Restrictions and Find My iPhone is turned OFF

These are critical features to check out in order to avoid purchasing a bricked phone. The reason being is that these features can only be deactivated by the original owner and failure to do so will leave you with a phone that cannot be reset and switched over to your own provider.

  • Check that Restrictions have been turned OFF by going to SETTINGS –> GENERAL. Look for the RESTRICTIONS setting and check that it is not enabled.
  • Check that Find My iPhone is turned OFF by going to SETTINGS –> iCLOUD.

Warranty and Apple Care

Check the current warranty status by entering the phone’s serial number at https://selfsolve.apple.com/agreementWarrantyDynamic.do. You can find the serial number by going to SETTINGS –> GENERAL –> ABOUT.

This is perhaps the easiest and most effective way to determine if the iPhone is ready to be transferred over to a new owner.
This is perhaps the easiest and most effective way to determine if the iPhone is ready to be transferred over to a new owner.

Reset the phone

Even after disabling Find My iPhone and turning OFF Restrictions, another way to ensure that there are no other strings attached to the previous iPhone owner is to reset the phone completely. Going to SETTINGS –> GENERAL –> RESET will reveal the option to ERASE ALL CONTENT AND SETTINGS. Resetting the iPhone will quickly reveal any links to the previous owner (ex. Activation lock) that need to be rectified by the seller.

How to check for activation lock

Insert and tryout your SIM card

Time to open up the SIM tray and pop in your SIM card. At this point go ahead and make a call, send a text and do some more web browsing. Just be sure to remove your SIM card afterwards especially if you decide not to purchase the phone
Swapping SIM cards
A note about swapping SIM cards


There will always be an element of risk when purchasing a used iPhone.  But in my case, we needed to purchase a used iPhone 5 and there were few options available.  The list above is a combination of tests that helped me in purchasing a used iPhone 5 and consequently I have added some additional tests that I should have conducted before purchasing a used phone.  Hopefully this helps anyone looking to purchase a used iOS device.

– K. Takahashi


Any other tips when checking out a used iPhone?

Here are some helpful resources…

Some information about buying used iphones









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