Scouting for Symbian-powered bargains: 2010 edition

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In these times of recession, it's more vital than ever to watch your pounds (or Euros) - if you need (or lust after) a new(ish) Symbian-powered smartphone then why not think of getting something second-hand, on eBay, at a fraction of the new price? Or if you're trying to raise cash by reducing your smartphone stash that's been gathering dust under the desk, then read on for some comments and example selling prices as at the end of June 2010.

eBay is the usual forum for buying and selling smartphones, despite the exorbitant fees and Paypal cut - you'll find more buyers and ultimately achieve a better transaction through eBay than you will through other online forums. Do see the box below for tips on avoiding a disaster though!

In the table below, you'll be aware of a few necessary omissions:

Smartphones that are too new 

  • For example, the E72, E55 or N97 mini - these tend to go close enough to new prices that, to be honest, it's often better to buy 'new' and get a proper warranty for the sake of a few quid.

Smartphones that are too old

  • E.g. the Nokia N90 or Sony Ericsson P910 or Nokia 9300. Anything this old will be going for a 'song' almost by definition, so snap up a real bargain if you can, provided the kit has been looked after, but I can't give a price guide as such - expect to pay anything from £5 to £50!

Smartphones that are too rare

  • A number of Symbian-powered models are just too rare in general use to be available regularly on eBay and so I wasn't able to get an idea of price. For example, the touch-screened Nokia 7710.

Smartphones that are simply rubbish

  • From the great Symbian pantheon, I'd typically identify (in my humble opinion) a number of real lemons. The Nokia N93i and N76 spring to mind. I haven't listed these below because they have few redeeming features(!)

To get the prices below, I took the average 'completed' selling price from the UK eBay site for a smartphone in good condition with most of its 'bits'. The resulting price thus will have a fairly large margin of error, but hey, it's a guide - or a starting point for your own expectations. If you're elsewhere in the world, see your own eBay local site or apply an appropriate conversion factor?

So let's get started. In decreasing order of eBay value:

Device Average completed selling price Notes
Sony Ericsson Satio £180 A comparatively new smartphone, this sells fairly cheaply because of its poor reputation - but look past the clunky homescreen and there's a decent camera and powerful innards.
Nokia N97 £165 As with the Satio, the N97's reputation precedes it, but this is good for second hand prices. Get a 'nearly new' N97 for £165 and I'd rate that as a good deal, provided you're tech savvy enough to set it up optimally - but hey, you read AAS, so.... Try to get one with warranty remaining, for camera glass and GPS replacement, if needed.
Samsung i8910 HD £145 This one's the biggest bargain, though Orange's exclusive on it may mean jumping through a few hoops to get it unlocked to another network. The i8910 HD has a bootloader that's very easily directed to a number of alternative firmwares, bringing this device well into 2010 - its hardware still stands up.
Nokia E71 £140 Keeps its price very well - one of Nokia's 'hero' devices of the last few years. Well built though and almost indestructible, so get one for much less than this and you'll do well.
Nokia N86 8MP £130 One of the biggest bargains on this table, the N86 is seemingly overlooked because it's not a touchscreen phone - but there's a great camera/video camera, a metal sub-frame and scratch-proof glass screen. Get an N86 for £130 and you've made a great purchase.
Nokia E75 £125 Another robust device that comes in on eBay at bargain prices - the AAS team loved this as an all-rounder and it's a plucky back up phone that has a go at everything. Watch for an over-loose slide (hard to tell remotely, but...)
Nokia E90 £110 Another 'hero' device, the clamshell Communicator remains somewhat unique. It struggles with multimedia and gaming but the huge screen and good keyboard make it a good bargain if you're heavily into email and messaging.
Nokia N96 £105 Another entry in the table, another real bargain - the N96 had a terrible reputation due to its early firmware, but the problems were largely sorted out. If you don't mind a little plastic in your life, there's a great screen and interesting multimedia-focussed smartphone here.
Nokia N95 8GB £105  Fascinating to see this go for as much as the newer N96, but the N95 8GB was again a bit of a 'hero' device, with a great reputation still. Big screen, good battery life, great speakers etc. Watch out for a scratched rear camera lens.
Nokia N82  £100  The classic Xenon-flash-equipped, indestructible camera-centric Nseries. Spoilt by poorish battery life and dim, small screen though. Plenty of fans - but then they probably already own one (like me). Hence the average price. 
Nokia 5800  £95  Nokia's first touchscreen S60 phone, currently running about half the 'new' price. With v50 firmware, it can do a lot of what the N97 can do, in terms of modules, kinetic interface etc.
Nokia E63  £85  An good intro to the E71/E72 form factor without the high startup price. There's a cut down camera and no GPS, but otherwise this is a great device - and robust.
Nokia N95  £65  Ah, how the legendary has fallen. The 2007 flagship now down at almost pocket money prices. True, the RAM is limited, but if you find one that looks like it's in good condition then this could still be a bargain. 
Sony Ericsson W960i £65 Unique in the Symbian UIQ world for having top specs and a sensible standard numeric keypad, this is still a great music phone - and at a bargain price. As with the other UIQ phones here though, support has rather dried up.
Nokia 9500  £60  The Communicator of the previous generation. A superb keyboard and Psion-like 'Series 80' interface make this still an enticing buy. Even if you're more into modern devices, if you fancy a tinker with something really nice from yesteryear then grab this one. 
Nokia 6220 classic  £55 Released around the time of the N82, this can be thought of as a budget alternative that retains the Xenon flash. Even today, it's a great camera phone - you just have to get past all that plastic!
Nokia N93  £55  The first Symbian device to have hardware graphics acceleration, the first to have stereo microphones, the first to have a camera with optical zoom, the first to have TV out, the N93 is something of a legend. Somewhat fragile, to get a bargain you've got to really trust the seller and the condition. 
Sony Ericsson P1i  £50  A fairly robust UIQ touchscreen smartphone with swivel-key QWERTY, decent camera and good software bundle. At this price it's a lot of phone for a small outlay. Just be aware that UIQ has er.... died. 
Nokia 7710  £50  The first Nokia touchscreen phone, back well before the iPhone existed. It was a stunning device in many ways, and well ahead of its time. If capacitive screen tech had been invented then, this might just have really taken off? A great toy at this price. 
Nokia E70  £45  One of Nokia's highest resolution screens, contained in a transformer form factor with really decent QWERTY keyboard. Amazing at this price but watch for condition - that big hinge tended to wear out and keys malfunction.
Nokia E61i £45  Still rated by me and many others, this is almost the perfect messaging phone - with perfect form factor. But the processor and RAM and very limited by 2010 standards and it's a little like wading through treacle at times! 

Having had a few relatives and friends 'burned' by buying from eBay, here are some tips for getting a good Symbian-powered smartphone from a reliable seller:

  1. Make sure the seller has been on eBay for a number of months at minimum and is in your country.
  2. Make sure the seller has positive feedback of more than 10 and that the ratings are not all from the the same group of 'friends'.
  3. Look for items with original photos, preferably laid out with box and accessories. Look for the device to be powered up and shown working. Extra photos showing close-up detail give an extra ring of confidence. Stay away from sellers who just put up a stock 'press' photo unless they're an established company and have a reason for such lack of individual attention.
  4. Pay attention to the SIM lock status. If you're intending to put your SIM card in then go for an unlocked phone or one locked to your network. Don't rely on unlocking it later at your end unless you're very confident that this isn't too expensive.

One huge encouragement I'd make in terms of buying and selling on eBay is that the smartphones above are just old enough that (in addition to their prices being relatively low) their depreciation rate is very slow. In other words, you might fancy a play with a Nokia E61i - grab it for £45 and use it for a month then sell it and the chances are (if you present it well) you'll make all your money back (minus incidental costs like eBay seller fees and PayPal's cut). So there's actually very little risk involved.

Of the range of second hand Symbian-powered smartphones above, could I pick out any startling bargains? The i8910 HD is the obvious one because of the ease of applying your own firmware and breathing new life into this device that sold for over £500 only a year ago. And the Nokia N86 at £130 is astonishing, considering how up to date (for a non-touchscreen phone) it is and for its amazing camera and camcorder.

Happy buying and selling! Do you have any second hand Symbian bargain stories you'd care to share in the comments?

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 30 June 2010