The market for your old cellphone has never been hotter.
Apple (AAPL) is going to let customers to walk into retail locations with their old iPhones and hand them over for new ones, as long as the things work and don’t have water damage. And Apple stores are only the the latest potential suitor for your embarrassingly antiquated gadgets. Apple already accepts used phones through its website. Such sites as BuyMyTronics, Gazelle, and Glyde offer cash for used electronics. This summer, T-Mobile (TMUS) has been braying about its newly generous trade-in programs as a way to differentiate itself from AT&T (T)—which countered with an announcement that it would be more flexible about its own upgrade policies.
Still, you’re probably going to be using your phone long after it loses that new-store smell—and possibly long after you’ve dropped it in a puddle or the headphones get gnarly. The Internet is rife with folk remedies for wet, cracked, or generally old phones. Some of them even work—kind of. They probably won’t help you get top-dollar for a run-down gadget, but they may help you deal with some of the damage you’re bound to inflict on your phone over the course of your two-year contract.
Here are a few of the most common problems.
Your phone gets wet. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who swear that a bag of rice can save their soggy phones, and those rolling their eyes right now. The basic idea is that rice, because it absorbs liquid, can suck the dampness right out of your phone. If the phone isn’t too wet, and you start the rice treatment quickly, it can work—with a few caveats. First: If you get your phone wet, don’t turn it on to see whether it still works. It’s best to run as little electricity through the thing as possible. Put the phone into a sealed plastic bag full of rice and let it sit for two days. This may get it working, but then, there will probably be permanent damage, because the water will have begun a corroding process. Also, the rice can potentially fill up the phone with rice dust, which can cause its own problems. Those little bags of silica gel will also work to absorb moisture and are less dusty. But you probably don’t have many of them handy.
Other people suggest hair dryers. Blowing really hot air at electronics can cause problems, obviously—and, seriously, don’t put a phone in the microwave. But using a hair dryer at the lowest heat, and for short periods of time, can help with some minor water damage. In any case, if you’ve immersed your phone in water, you’re probably not fooling your potential buyer. Apple has put “liquid contact indicators” on its mobile devices, so even if you can get your phone working again, the company is going to know where its been and won’t be too interested in it.
Your battery is going to run out. For football players, the first things to go are often the knees. For phones, it’s the batteries. A device that once powered straight through a day starts struggling to get to the evening, and eventually you’re carrying a charger everywhere, trying to power up at the ATM or the hair salon. Batteries work better if kept cooler, so keeping the phone further from your body can help. Instead of putting a phone in your pocket, put it in a bag or, if you must, clip it to your belt. Moving to Minnesota is also reasonable.
Your phone is also probably doing a lot more than you realize. Turn off such things as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS when you’re not using them—you can also just put your phone on airplane mode when you aren’t feeling communicative. Turning off push e-mail will conserve battery life. To turn off apps you’re not using, doubleclick the home button, swipe the row of apps at the bottom of your screen to find some you’re not using, and hold your finger down on the icons. That will give you the option to quit them. If you can’t imagine not running 18 apps simultaneously, just buy a case that has an extra battery built into it.
Your headphones and home button aren’t working. Phones live in lint-ridden pockets and at the bottom of bags. Stuff can get into them and make them stop working so well. A small amount of alcohol can often unstick a reluctant home button. If your headphone jack doesn’t seem to be working, cut a Q-Tip down, dip it in a tiny amount of alcohol, and clear out any dust that’s ended up in there. For the record, Apple doesn’t recommend putting alcohol on its devices, and it should definitely be kept away from the screens.
If you’ve damaged buttons beyond all hope, you can turn on the iPhone’s “assistive touch” feature (available under settings/general/accessibility) and use the touchscreen to do things that would normally require the home or volume buttons. It’s clunky, but it will work.
Your screen is cracked, your battery dead, and you fancy yourself handy. If you crack your screen, you have a few options. You can buy a screen protector, or just use clear tape, and use the phone. This will make the screen less responsive, and other people will judge you. You could pay someone to fix it for you. Apple will charge $150; unauthorized repair places will do it for a bit less.
Or you could fix it yourself, gaining glory while saving a bit of cash. Companies such as iFixIt.com sell kits that come with suction cups, tiny screwdrivers, and other tools to help you pry open the phone. Then you can spend a few hours following along with online videos showing you how to remove a broken screen. There are similar guides for batteries if yours is beyond help.
Of course, at some point it’s probably worth considering just buying a new phone.