Mar 24th, 2012

As an Android nerd and 2-year Sprint customer, one of the biggest cons I’ve found from being with a CDMA carrier is the sometimes painful process of swapping or purchasing used devices. Aside from the initial device I receive when signing up for a 2-year agreement, my devices are almost always obtained through face-to-face meetings with sellers on Craigslist. A few quick protips I’ve learned through the years are:

  1. Always bring a friend
  2. Have them video record the transaction from the car
  3. Call minutes before meeting up to make sure the buyer has the full amount agreed to (to avoid getting short changed at the time of transaction)
  4. And most importantly… always check ESN’s.

“ESN” is short for a phone’s Electronic Serial Number. CDMA carriers use this to track devices on their network. Unlike GSM carriers that use SIM cards like T-Mobile and AT&T, a phone on carriers like Sprint or Verizon can easily be blacklisted if they’ve been reported lost, stolen or damaged. You can see why checking a device’s ESN is a crucial step in the buying process to avoid getting burned.

But checking an ESN isn’t always easy. A cautious seller may not want to provide you with the info over the phone as to avoid the device being activated without payment. The smartest way to go about it is in a face-to-face meeting with the seller. This way you can see firsthand, the device’s ESN (typically found underneath the battery). Even then, a shyster could replace the ESN sticker with one from a different device. The most full-proof method of checking a device is jumping into the phone’s Settings > About Phone > Status. No way to fake that (unless it’s rooted).

Okay, so now you have the ESN, we can start the process of making sure it’s clean. You can do this by either calling the carrier (a tedious process that can take a lot of time), jumping online to a free ESN checking sites (in which case you’ll have to read and type out that long ESN number accurately (I always mess up). Or as Nicole Cozma on Cnet pointed out — there’s a free app that will do everything for you.

PocketESN, is a free app in the Google Play store that will check the ESN of any device it’s installed on. It’s pretty straight forward. Install. Check. Get on with your life. PocketESN comes in both a free version that will only check the phone once, or a slightly more pricey paid version for $6 that will check any device, as many times as you’d like (even comes with a handy barcode scanner for quick ESN entry).

The only problem I’ve found with the free version of the app is, in a real world situation, it would require either the buyer or seller to sign into their Google account before at the time of the transaction in order to download from the Play store. Or, you could always back up the app using your preferred cloud service and then sideload. Either way, an active internet connection would be required and not exactly ideal for every situation.

You guys do any used phone shopping on Craigslist? Got any helpful tips? Could you see this app being useful, or would jumping onto in the browser be all around easier?

[Play Store Link]

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