How to Buy a Cheap iPhone

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Apple's iPhone is the most successful smartphone in the world of electronics today and since its launch in 2007 has been the world's most sought after mobile phone. That fact alone means the company can charge a premium for each new handset and even second-hand phones command high prices. Apple has a growing range of models, most recently being the iPhone 6s which is compatible with the Apple Watch.
 
But you can get your hands on a cheap iPhone and there are bargains out there for the crafty shopper. It may mean buying an earlier model or a less powerful phone specification, but armed with the knowledge from our cheap iPhone guide anyone can get a great deal. 
The original iPhone
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The original iPhone

iPhone Evolution

Look back to the first iPhone and it is fair to say that the design has changed through evolution rather than revolution. Attractive, slim and minimal looks are Apple's preferred design brief, following in the footsteps of the mega-successful iPod. Getting an earlier model does not mean having to lose out on style points.
 
In June 2007 the first 2G enabled iPhone was launched with a high price tag and the core elements incorporated into every iPhone since – high quality screen, integrated camera and sleek performance. It heralded an era of touchscreen smartphones and a switch away from keyboard and number-pad phones.
 
More models followed in swift succession: the 3G in June 2008 (twice as fast at half the price), the 3GS one year later. Apple has followed the trend with each new iPhone of reducing the price of its earlier handsets following a launch, so shop around for the best deals. eBay sellers do offer the 3GS in good condition for less than a tenner and often for less than £50. 
The iPhone 4s introduced HD video
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The iPhone 4s introduced HD video

Running the OS

Each new iPhone improves on its successor in terms of its camera, display, processing power and operating system.

Apple updates its operating system (iOS) regularly. The iPhone 4S was the first to feature full HD video recording capability and came loaded with iOS 5.0, but with upgrades it is capable of running iOS 8, the same as the iPhone 6, so anyone looking to purchase a cheap iPhone could pick up a 4S without missing out on more advanced software.
Many consumers have stuck with their unlocked iPhone 5
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Many consumers have stuck with their unlocked iPhone 5

Unlocking the iphone

Mobile network operators offer discounts for iPhones bought on contract but it does mean locking in to a single network for a set period. Often the best deals are only available for 18 or 24 months.
 
Second-hand handsets come either with a locked in network (usually cheaper) or unlocked, meaning the previous owner bought it unlocked from a network provider or Apple, or has unlocked it legally using a code or an unlocking service.
 
If a locked-in iPhone fits with the network provider you already use then it can be easy to switch over, but check contract terms to make sure this is possible. Factory unlocked phones, iPhones bought from Apple without a network provider contract, are usually the most expensive.
 
Unlocked phones offer more flexibility and retain their value for resale. Cheap SIM-only deals from network providers, pay-as-you-go SIMs and foreign SIM cards, for  people travelling abroad, are the most obvious perks of buying an unlocked iPhone. Unlocking will, in most cases, invalidate any warranty left, but if the iPhone is a couple of years old then this will probably not be a consideration. 
The iPhone 6 features up to 128GB of memory
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The iPhone 6 features up to 128GB of memory

Size Matters

Do not overestimate how much storage space you will need on an iPhone. Memory capacity starts at 8Gb for most models and extends up to 64Gb, and 128Gb for the iPhone 6.

Expect to pay more for increased storage, roughly £80 for each step up, so lower capacity phones cost less.
 
It is estimated that 16Gb of memory allows storage of 3,500 songs or 20 hours of video, more than enough for most people. There are no memory card expansion slots on iPhones so if more storage space is needed then Apple's iCloud offers the first 5Gb free of charge.
 
Start using Gmail and Google Drive offers 15Gb free, as does Microsoft's OneDrive and cloud storage provider Copy. Amazon offers users another 5Gb free, so use what is freely available and cut down on unnecessary iPhone storage. Apps like Dropbox allow users to automatically upload photos and videos to their online account, cutting out the need to store them on the phone.
 
Streaming music and video rather than downloading it to the phone can also free up space. Make sure to connect to WiFi to do so or risk hitting data plan limits on 3G/4G.

The 3g-only iPhone 4 can be a cheaper option
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The 3g-only iPhone 4 can be a cheaper option

Network Speed

Faster network speeds are available for browsing, downloading and streaming through 4G (also called LTE), but the service may be patchy in certain areas so check with network providers.

It may not be needed at all if there is no intention to use the phone for things like video streaming and this means spending less by buying a 3G-only handset – basically any iPhone from the 3 to the 4S.
A lower grade iPhone 5s might still be in good condition
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A lower grade iPhone 5s might still be in good condition

Graded Phones

Save money on an iPhone by accepting a lower grade used phone. Grade A means the phone is either brand new or has been taken out of the box and used a few times without being scratched.

Go with a grade B or even C and pay less money. Many sellers provide a returns policy, say 10 or 14 days, if the customer is not happy with the phone's condition.
Checks should include the condition of the SIM card
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Checks should include the condition of the SIM card

iPhone Check-up

Buying an iPhone online means shopping smart. People may attempt to sell stolen units but a little checking can helps for peace of mind.

Ask the seller for the phone's serial number or IMEI number and this can be used with Apple's activation lock checker to see if the previous owner has locked the phone (introduced in iOS 7). An unlocked phone is a positive sign that the phone's seller is on the level.
 
Getting the serial number will also let the buyer check if the phone is still covered by Apple's warranty. Other checks include careful visual checks for scratches or damage – ask if there are any doubts.

Once the phone is in-hand then do routine checks like testing the headphone jack, making a call, testing the buttons (home, power, volume, etc), SIM and network connection, WiFi and GPS, camera and loudspeaker. If there is any damage not listed in the product description, arrange for its return and a refund.
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