If a new phone is too expensive and you've decided to save money on a refurbished or used one, it can be a daunting task trying to work out which websites to use and how much protection you can expect if something should go wrong. Two places which should immediately spring to mind are musicMagpie and eBay, so we compared them to see which offer the best value, convenience and safety.

Should you be undecided on entering the secondhand market, our guide to Refurbished vs Used tech can help outline the advantages of non-new products.

Should I buy a smartphone from musicMagpie?

  • Most convenient
  • Grading system for cosmetic damage
  • One-year warranty
  • 14-day money-back guarantee

It’s possible that you may have seen adverts for musicMagpie on TV offering to buy your unwanted tech, CDs, DVDs, games, books and even Lego. This can be a great way to declutter your home, but of course it’s also a great place to buy these types of items at discounted rates compared to new ones.

musicMagpie vs eBay: musicMagpie

When purchasing a used phone, there are a few things that you’ll want to know. Is it stolen or damaged? Does the battery hold its charge? Are there any scratches and do all the functions word? musicMagpie addresses all of these with its rigorous refurbishment and quality checking process.

Each smartphone that it receives undergoes what the company calls its ‘PhoneCheck’ which ensures that all of the sensors are functioning, buttons work as they should, the display doesn’t have any dead pixels or scratches, biometric scanners (face and fingerprint) are fully operational, estimates the health of the battery, plus a barrage of other tests to let the buyer know exactly what they can expect when the device arrives at their door.

Phones will then be allocated a grade which represents the condition solely of the cosmetics. These are determined by things such as dents and scuffs on the casing or slight tarnishing of the display. Each is priced accordingly, so if you don’t mind the odd scratch on the chassis then you can save a few quid, which is actually quite sensible if you intend to keep the phone in a case for most of its life.

At the time of writing, we were able to find an unlocked iPhone XR (64GB) in each of the three grades for the following prices;

  • Pristine: £479.99/$617.99
  • Very Good: £439.99/$565.99
  • Good: £399.99/$515

An unlocked Samsung S10 (128GB) could be picked up at these rates;

  • Pristine: £519.99/$669.99
  • Very Good: £439.99/$565.99
  • Good: £409.99/$527.99

All devices are covered by a free one-year warranty that includes technical faults and construction defects (so if anything goes wrong with the components in the phone either due to a dodgy part or incorrect manufacturing).

Obviously, if you drop the device in water or shatter it on the concrete then you’ll have to pay your own repair bills, or claim on your own insurance policy.

musicMagpie offers a 14-day money back guarantee if you change your mind about the phone, so there’s enough time to be sure that this is the device for you, and the company has a Trustpilot rating of 4.7 from over 155,000 reviews which indicates that it’s already had many happy customers.

Should I buy a smartphone from eBay?

  • Best value
  • Biggest choice
  • Some sellers offer warranties on used items
  • Can buy brand new at a discount

For many years now, eBay has been to go-to place for most people when it comes to second-hand tech. The choice is huge, and the customer rating system means that you can buy with a degree of safety that the seller isn’t some fly-by-night merchant who will send you a bricked device and then run off with your money.

That being said, eBay is a different experience to musicMagpie. While the latter is a single vendor with quality controls and guarantees, eBay is still a bit like an online car boot sale. You can pick up some fantastic bargains, to be sure, but the risks are higher if you don’t know what to look for when shopping.

musicMagpie vs eBay: eBay

The first thing to realise about eBay is that the items on sale come from a huge variety of sellers. Some will be individuals like yourself, just wanting to sell off unwanted or older items to make a bit of money. Others will be professional businesses that use the eBay portal to reach a huge number of customers.

Individuals will usually opt for the auction mode, so the item starts at a low price and can end up much higher as people make bids.

Businesses tend to have set prices and offer the ‘Buy it now’ option so you can make the purchase there and then.

There's a big difference buying from an individual though: the normal distance selling regulations (in the UK) don't apply, so you can just change your mind. They don't have to accept returns, either, but buyers are protected as eBay will step in and issue refunds if the product is not as described, damaged or never arrives. That's reassuring, but still a lot less convenient than buying from musicMagpie.

For most people, using the ‘Buy it now’ option is preferable, as you know how much you will have to pay and that the item is yours the moment you click the button. For value, the auction model can be great as you’re never sure how much the final price will be and in some cases this can finish much lower than you’d expect.

It’s worth noting, that many of the products on eBay are brand new. Yes, you can pick up second-hand stuff easily, but many vendors offer unopened, boxed phones. So, if you look hard you may be able to pick up slightly older stock that’s still new, in terms of usage, for a reduced price.  

Tips for buying on eBay

A good rule of thumb for successful shopping on eBay is to follow these simple rules;

First, only buy from sellers with 100% ratings from at least 50 sales. You can click on the seller’s history to see their history, just be sure to check items they sold rather than bought, as this will give you a better indication of how they behave.

Next, when bidding on auctions make sure you set a limit for how much you want to spend. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of chasing an item and beating the competition, but this can lead to you overpaying for a device. Our top tip is not to bid until the last possible minute. Bidding early is likely to drive the price up higher.

Spend a little time watching similar items being sold to get an idea of the average price, then set your budget and stick to it. Smartphones come up all the time, so be patient and you should find the right one at the right price eventually.

If you want the best levels of security, then look for established sellers that offers returns and guarantees. You’ll usually pay more than you would with auctions but knowing you can send an item back if it develops an issue or isn’t quite how it was described is worth the extra cost.

eBay has a Trusted seller system that is awarded to those vendors who are proven to delivery quickly and offer no-hassle returns. Look for this when on a listing, it’s usually on the right-hand side above the Seller information box.

Should you end up in a dispute with a seller, you can request that eBay step in and resolve the problem. This does mean that you have a certain level of protection in all transactions, but you’ll need to ensure that you read the listing carefully before making a purchase, as anything you overlook might mean that you don’t have much of an argument.

Due to the sprawling nature of eBay, we weren’t able to find like-for-like comparisons on price with musicMagpie. But of the vendors we checked that offered refurbished iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices, the costs were quite comparable across the range. Auctions could come in cheaper, but with all the caveats mentioned above.

Which is better, musicMagpie or eBay?

If you want a one-stop shop that offers guarantees, quality checks and carefully graded devices, then musicMagpie is the obvious choice in terms of convenience. Stock availability is generally good, while the PhoneCheck system should mean that any item you buy is clean and in perfect working order.

Those who prefer to shop for the best bargain will probably enjoy the vastness of eBay. If you check seller feedback, or stick to known businesses who sell on eBay which offer easy returns and quality control, then you can be assured that it’s as safe a purchase as on any site. Venture into the auctions and real bargains can be found, but you’ll need to have your wits about you and be willing to take a chance is you really want to save money.

For more ideas on using services like musicMagpie or eBay, read why you should consider buying a used phone. Alternatively, there are some excellent new devices available for tempting prices in our best budget phone chart.