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iPhone Aftermarket Emerges as Updates Loom

Plenty of gadget buyback options are available to give you cash to pay an early termination fee or snatch up a new iPhone.

Yearning for the next iPhone but unsure what to do with your current, soon-to-be-outdated model? Not to worry -- plenty of gadget buyback options are available to give you enough cash to pay an early termination fee or snatch up that new, shiny iPhone you desire.

How does that work? Because phones are sold for a subsidized price with a contract, users can usually make some money by selling their phone to people who need a replacement device or don't want to sign a new contract. If you sell at the right time, you can maximize your return and, in some cases, make more than enough cash to buy a new iPhone on contract.

PCWorld took a look at six online options to see how much a used iPhone 4 or 3GS might fetch and which service has the best offer for those looking to trade up this fall.

Keep in mind, you can probably get a little more cash by selling your used iPhone on Craigslist or eBay, but these trade-in programs are convenient and in some cases will allow you to get a price quote locked down for a month.

The services are: BuyMyTronics, BuyBackWorld, eBay Instant Sale, Gazelle, NextWorth and YouRenew. All quotes were based on the devices being functional, in good condition (normal wear, light scratches, etc.), free of water damage, and came with an AC adapter and USB cable.

eBay Instant Sale offered the most cash across the board. At the time of testing I got quotes of $308 for a 16GB iPhone 4; $326 for a 32GB iPhone 4; $168 for a 16GB 3GS and $172 for a 32GB 3GS. The downside is that you must ship your device to eBay Instant within ten days of getting the quote and it only pays via PayPal. Other services give quotes that are good for a longer period and offer more payment options, including: checks and store gift cards. (For more information on the different services, check out the chart.)

Gazelle and YouRenew didn't offer as much as some of the other websites, but both give quotes that are good for 30 days. That time can make all the difference.

Anthony Scarsella, chief gadget officer for Gazelle, says his website gets the largest amount of trade-ins of Apple products just after a new model is announced. Because his website's quote is good for 30 days and comes with no obligation to sell a device, he says "99 percent" of his customers lock in the price right after the announcement and trade their devices a few weeks later after the new model is released.

Shorter quote lock-in times may force users to trade in an old phone before getting a new one or risk getting a reevaluated price for holding on to the phone. If you're considering trading in your old iPhone, you should weigh the quote time against the price to figure out which service will work best for your particular needs.

Apple's typical once-a-year release schedule and limited product line makes its products a hot trade-in item compared to other devices such as Android phones or computers, Scarsella says.

"The iPhone is our number one product. Number two is probably the iPad," he says. "We got about 10,000 iPads (traded in) when iPad 2 was announced." He estimates that Gazelle got as many as 3000 iPad trade-ins in the first few days following the iPad 2 announcement.

Scarsella says Gazelle is gearing up for the expected announcement of a new iPhone and iPad in the fall and expects a large amount of older devices to be traded in.

For a more comprehensive look at different buy back services, check out an in-depth comparison by my PCWorld colleague Jared Newman.

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