The best "new" phone today isn't at Verizon

When I say that the best new phone today isn't at Verizon, I could really be saying any other carrier in the USA. The best new phone, you see, isn't a brand new carrier-sold mobile, it's a device you buy secondhand. It's the phone you buy using the knowhow you gain from reading reviews of phones that were, at one time, brand new. But you might be saying, where do I buy a phone like that?

Read a couple phone reviews

There's no perfect special formula for finding the ideal new phone right this minute. The basic functionality of every major-brand smartphone today is the same. They've all got pretty nice cameras, they've got battery life that's around a day long, and they've got displays that are very bright and sharp.

If you drop in on our phone reviews portal you'll probably see first a device like the Samsung Galaxy S10. This phone is relatively expensive, at nearly $1000 – or more than that if you get the "plus" model with more than base features. But the Galaxy S10 is the most extravagant phone made by one of the two heaviest-hitting smartphone brands in the world.

The other is, you guessed it, Apple. If you've come this far, reading this particular article, I'd like to recommend you look at the iPhone XR. Look at the iPhone XR review we've got, but only if you're already a big fan of the iPhone and iPad ecosystem.

To get to the phones I think you need to consider, right now, you'll need to scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the number 3 or 4, back at least a few months in our review timeline.

Where do I look?

Let's consider for a moment that you're not in the market for a brand new phone. Let's think about what it'd be like to spend a fraction of the price on a device that's good-as-new, but has a little bit of dust around the edges.

This is one of those situations where a few minutes of research could mean you're spending literally hundreds of dollars less than you'd spend if you just took the easy route. The easy route is buying a brand new phone, if you were wondering.

Above: The OnePlus 5 and 5T. Below: The Xiaomi Mi A1. Solid choices, the lot of them.

You're a smart consumer, you know what to look for even if you're not aware of it right this minute. You want to find a trustworthy place of business that sells refurbished smartphones. The key word here is trust.

Trust is most important here because you're no longer dealing with a major phone brand when you buy a refurbished phone. Buying a new phone means you have the opportunity to bring the device back to the shop if something is wrong, or buy an insurance plan with which you can replace a device if it's damaged.

Buying a phone refurbished will feel like traveling in a time machine, back to a time when the device you're buying was brand new. Especially if the business you're looking at does their job well, you'll feel like you're getting a genuinely great deal.

Watch out for lemons

Buying a used smartphone is very much like buying a used car. The key difference is that there's not so much of a legal framework keeping you safe from lemons. If you buy a used car, you'll always want to get an "express written warranty" that'll protect you with what's called a "lemon law."

With a smartphone, it's always best to have the same sort of an agreement between the seller and yourself. Laws regarding phone sales aren't as extensive in this arena as they are with used vehicles, but it's still your prerogative to safeguard your purchase as well as possible.

On the other hand, it can be far cheaper to throw the dice and take a risk. You might just find a good-as-new last-season iPhone or Galaxy Note for sale in a local forum or at a garage sale, and bam! Good deal. But that sort of situation is rare.

Beware of plants

If you live in a state or country where it's illegal to root your smartphone, I recommend you avoid buying any used smartphone. The same goes for places where disassembling your phone is illegal.

Lots of malicious elements can be placed in a smartphone, especially if the person doing the placing has the time and the will to be malicious. There are GPS-tracking apps that report your location to a third party. There are apps that can upload photos and videos from your phone automatically. There are apps that record your voice any time you say a key phrase – and can store any given recording to the cloud.

And the three sorts of apps I just listed aren't even malicious, they're just Facebook, Google Photos, and Amazon's Alexa. It's happening all the time, and people are constantly giving permission to big name brands to allow it to happen.

We willingly give up data for use by 3rd-party companies each and every day of our lives. Consider that, then imagine how easy it could be for a malicious party to take advantage of the situation. If this scares you to death, you might just want to avoid owning a smartphone in the first place.

You might also want to make sure you get a phone from a company that's known for sending out software updates more than a year or two past the device's initial release. Some companies are bad at that.

Below you'll see the LG V35. LG is sometimes bad at sending out software updates for old phones. You'll want to research your specific potential device to see if LG's still on-the-ball with updates right before you buy.

In the end, trust a friend

Your best option in attaining a phone might be to seek out a person you trust – someone you know, someone who'd never, ever serve up some malicious phone business. Seek them out and see what they're up to, and maybe bring them a candy bar or a can of soda pop.

Then ask them if they've got a drawer full of old phones they no longer use. And when they say yes, ask to buy or borrow an old phone.

Given the state of the world today, friendliness of actual real-life people, and the fact that you've just given this friend a candy bar, I wouldn't be shocked to find that you're going home with a brand new (old) phone by the end of the day. Depending on the sort of candy bar you've just given them, of course.

Let us know if you've found a place where refurbished phones have been the key to saving your pocketbook in the past. Or speak up if you're about to buy a refurbished phone right now – tell us about your journey!