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How to recycle that old Apple iPhone or Android smartphone for cash

Resale market grows for outmoded iPhone and Android models, giving new life to old phones.

By Andrew Heining/ Staff writer / July 21, 2010

Employee Eric DeVaux examines an early iPhone. Resellers are expecting a surge of old iPhones as consumers upgrade.

Taylor Weidman/The Christian Science Monitor

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In an industrial-looking brick building on the outskirts of Boston, old cellphones are getting a second shot at life. Anywhere else, outmoded by ever more impressive devices such as the Apple iPhone 4, released in June, aging phones might have been cast away like so many Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Kids, and Tickle-Me-Whatevers. But not here.

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Why the reprieve? Simple: Why throw out something that ain't broke?

While refurbishers have spiffed up PCs for years, a new cottage industry revolves around cellphones, which, because of advances in technology, maintain their value much longer than the popular two-year-contract cycle would imply.

Smart phones are, after all, nothing short of miniature computers. The old phones are "old" only because there's something newer and shinier in their owners' hands. They still pack potent processors and sophisticated features such as Wi-Fi and GPS capability – not to mention ever increasing storage for photos, music, and videos.

"Late adopters are perfectly happy to get phones a year after they come out – and pay less money for them," says Kristina Kennedy, senior manager at the Boston-based electronics reseller Gazelle.

Ms. Kennedy pitches the business model as a win-win-win situation. The previous owners get some cash – phones in good condition can bring in close to the original sticker value. The adopters get a marquee model without the usual contract, allowing them to shop around for the best plan available. Finally, Mother Nature comes out on top. Instead of cellphones and their heavy metal batteries winding up in a landfill, they find new families that will love them.

Websites such as Gazelle, YouRenew, and NextWorth first ask sellers a few questions about their devices: Is it in good condition? Do all the functions (such as Wi-Fi) work? Are the accessories included?

In most cases, the sites issue an immediate quote of what they're willing to pay for the phone. If sellers agree to the price, they can print out a prepaid shipping label, pack up the items, and send them off to the company.

When Gazelle receives a device, the phone is examined to ensure that it's in the condition the seller described. If everything checks out, the company sends out a check – or, this being 2010 and all, credits the seller's online PayPal account.

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