Seven ways to trade in an old iPhone, including Microsoft's new offering

With Microsoft joining Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, it's never been easier to trade in an old iPhone.

Microsoft is offering iPhone 4s or 5 users a credit to trade in their phone toward a Microsoft product, which marks the latest step in an increasingly aggressive promotion of stealing away customers: buy their old hardware.

Microsoft's deal is pretty good. If you turn in an iPhone, Microsoft will give you a minimum $200 credit for it, which will almost cover the cost of a Lumia 1020. The company also has an iPad buyout deal, which will net you up to $350 back, enough for a Surface tablet.

The caveat? The gift card can only be used inside a brick-and-mortar Microsoft Store. You can't even use it online, and there are only 42 stores nationwide. The deal runs through Nov. 3.

Up to now, the only thing you could do with your smartphone once it was off contract, or if you switched while in mid-contract and ate the Early Termination Fee, was to either sell it on eBay or Craigslist or sell it to third-party buyers like Glyde or Gazelle.

This, of course, is fraught with all of the risks of selling something yourself. I once traded in an old iPhone 3GS through Glyde and the buyer tried to low-ball me, claiming the phone wasn't in good condition so he could pay less. That phone spent its entire time in a hard case and with a screen protector, and I smartly took pictures before selling it to prove that point.

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In recent months, all four carriers have instituted programs to get you to switch, and they are a lot more versatile than Microsoft's offering, which is limited to just the iPhone 4s and 5. It should also be noted that the credit offered, up to $200, is only Microsoft Store credit, so you are trading in your Apple hardware for the chance to buy Microsoft products.

What the companies and Microsoft will do with the traded in products is unknown. Verizon used to have a program where it would donate old phones to women's shelters and the like, but that was back in the days of flip phones when the only smartphone on the market was BlackBerry.

Here's a quick rundown of what the carriers are offering. All of them require a two-year contract:

  • Verizon Wireless offered me a trade-in right at the point of sale. I now regret it. At the store, I was offered $168 for my iPhone 4s 32GB model. But if you go through Verizon's trade-in site, it's valued at $210. I do plan on having a word with the store about this.
  • AT&T has a program that gives a minimum of $100, depending on the phone being traded in and what you are buying. The iPhone 4s 32GB model will get you $200.
  • T-Mobile was also fairly generous, offering $203 for the iPhone 4S 32GB model.
  • Sprint was the cheapest of the big four, only offering $155 for the iPhone 4S 32GB model.

By contrast, Glyde offered $260 for the same iPhone model, with $232 in your pocket (they take a piece of the action for the sale) and Gazelle offered $205 if the phone is flawless. But there is a wait for several weeks as the phone wings its way through the mail system and a check or Paypal deposit comes to you.

With the carriers offering instant gratification at the point of sale, these third-party services might have to up the ante a bit if they want to stay competitive. The fact is you can turn in your two-year-old iPhone 4s right at the point of sale and cover the cost of most brand new smartphones, which is a very tempting offer.

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