In preparation for the stateside Galaxy S III release, we decided to find out how much our Galaxy S IIs are worth and why. Caution: wall of text and charts!
Differences between the 4 Galaxy S IIs
One Name, Many Phones
The Galaxy S II, like its predecessor the Galaxy S, launched in the U.S. with carrier specific models that, to varying degrees, reconfigured the internal and external specifications of the phone. The tricky thing about producing a phone for the world market is that telecommunication infrastructure is not uniform across the globe. In Europe, almost all carriers operate on GSM networks (read: SIM cards), whereas in America, two of our biggest carriers Verizon and Sprint, run on CDMA networks, which are not interchangeable with GSM networks. Even among GSM providers, T-Mobile’s operating frequencies required their Galaxy S II to utilize a totally different system on a chip (SoC).
These network and carrier limitations created the necessity to fragment the device into multiple versions, which gave carriers the opportunity to further tweak the Galaxy S II. T-Mobile and Sprint actually went as far as bumping the screen size up to 4.5 inches from 4.26 while also rounding off the boxy corners of the unlocked version. AT&T was the only carrier that stuck with the stock look, but even then there was an ever so slight increase in thickness that was never quite accounted for.
The most notable difference appears in the T-Mobile Galaxy S II and its use of the 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S3 SoC with Adreno 220 GPU instead of the 1.2GHz dual-core Exynos 4210 SoC with Mali-400 GPU. While the change is mostly of concern to the enthusiast crowd, the difference is not insignificant considering the Exynos 4210 SoC was the best Android chipset of 2011.
Here’s a quick run down of all the main differences:
- The AT&T and international versions both use a 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus display, whereas the T-Mobile and Sprint versions use a 4.5 inch display–all have a resolution of 480×800
- The international version uses a 3 key layout: 2 capacitive (menu and back), 1 physical (home), whereas the U.S. variants all use 4 capacitive touch buttons
- All but the T-Mobile Galaxy S II use Samsung’s 1.2 GHz dual-core Exynos 4210 chipset
- The T-Mobile Galaxy S II uses a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset due to different 4G network requirements
- The AT&T and international versions have more pointed corners, whereas the Epic 4G Touch and T-Mobile have more rounded/tapered corners
- The AT&T and international versions have a horizontal camera/flash arrangements whereas the Sprint and T-Mobile versions have a vertical layout
- The Sprint Epic 4G touch is the only one of the bunch to have a LED notification light
- The back plates of each differ from T-Mobile’s soft-touch, to varying degrees of texture on the other three
- The larger 4.52-inch displays of the T-Mobile and Sprint variants also get an increase in battery seize; 1850mAh and 1800 mAh respectively, versus the standard 1650mAh
4 Phones, 4 Prices
To calculate the actual market value of each of our used Galaxy S II’s, we turned to 6 different appraisers:
- BestBuy’s mobile trade-in program
- Radioshack’s Trade & Save program
- SellCell, a phone recycling comparison sight–think along the lines of Expedia and the like
- Movaluate*, a phone appraisal service that uses actual market data and expert analysis
- WorthMonkey, aggregates asking and selling price data from Google, Ebay and Amazon
- Priceonomics, the price guide for everything, based on Craigslist listing prices
And now the same data projected into a bar graph:
Do you see the same trend that I am seeing? If you look at each graph, you can see that the international and T-Mobile versions of the Galaxy S II command a consistently higher resale value than the AT&T and Sprint varieties. Could it simply be the aforementioned hardware differences? Probably not. The AT&T and international Galaxy S II’s are nearly identical clones save for the AT&T branding and the locked/unlocked status, and if bigger screens are better, then why is the Sprint Galaxy S II the cheapest, and the diminutive international Galaxy S II the most expensive? What about the processor and GPU? Surely having the powerful Exynos chip would dictate a higher resale value would it not? But then why is the Qualcomm powered T-Mobile Galaxy S II the highest valued of all the American variants? Let’s take a closer look at what factors affect phone value.
Factors Affecting Galaxy S II Resale Value
Carrier & Network/Competing Hardware
There are two types of GSM phones: locked and unlocked. A locked phone is “locked” to a specific carrier, and cannot be used on any other network. An unlocked phone can be used on any network. Having the option to switch between numerous carriers as a user, or the ability to sell the phone to customers from multiple carriers obviously necessitates a higher value for an unlocked phone. Unlocked phones in general are rare, as they are usually used for international travelers, or customers who wish to use a phone that is typically exclusive to one network, on a competing network (ahem, iPhone on T-Mobile). The international version of the Galaxy S II is unlocked, meaning it can be used on any GSM network simply by popping in an active SIM card. This makes the phone very versatile and attractive to users who travel, or are likely to hop from one carrier to another.
Okay, so the whole unlocked phone pricing makes sense, but why don’t all locked phones cost the same, they’re all locked after all… right? The importance here is which network the phone is associated with. The T-Mobile Galaxy S II is locked to a network where there isn’t too much competing hardware. Aside from the recently released HTC One S, since it’s inception in October of 2011, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II has seen hardly any internal competition. Magenta customer’s have essentially had only one choice when it comes to top-tier phones (and it’s certainly not a difficult one). Thus, if you want the best phone on T-Mobile, you get the Galaxy S II. No ifs, ands, or buts about it–this drives the price up.
On the other hand, take the AT&T Galaxy S II. Not only does it strangely compete with itself (Galaxy S II Skyrocket), it has to deal with a plethora of other top-tier Android, iOS and WP7 devices ranging from the Galaxy Note and iPhone, to the onslaught of premium Windows Phone 7s from HTC, Nokia and Samsung. Sprint is also a victim to competing hardware, namely the iPhone and HTC EVO lineup.
Ease of exchange
Why then should the Sprint Epic 4G Touch command the lowest resale value of the bunch? In addition to having to compete with Sprint’s iPhone, the nature of how CDMA phones are registered factor into this calculation. GSM phones can simply be exchanged—as in transfer phone numbers—by swapping SIM cards, which allows users to easily swap and trade phones as well as check if the phone functions with their network. CDMA phones on the other hand must be directly registered with the carrier via their ESN number. Not only does this mean it is considerably more difficult to change the account linked to the phone, but in some cases it can be impossible—something you don’t want to have happen after you have already purchased the phone. Stolen phones or delinquent accounts can result in a device being blacklisted, which bars the phone from reactivation until the issues at hand have been resolved. These factors make buying a CDMA phone less attractive, and thus seller’s must compromise with a lower asking price.
In addition to appraisal data, we took a look at over 10,300 Galaxy S II listings on eBay. Since the late September/October release of the U.S. Galaxy S II, over 7100 Galaxy S II’s were sold with a total revenue of $2,594,048 dollars. For the U.S. Galaxy S II’s there was an inverse relationship between total number of listings and final sale price:
We can see that among the U.S. variants, T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II consistently represents the smallest market share of the three phones. This is likely due to its higher user retention rates, if not for high user satisfaction, then for lack of a better substitute on T-Mobile. The Sprint Epic 4G Touch not only has the highest number of listings but as we can see below, also has the lowest sell through ratio. This can be attributed to sellers migrating to the iPhone as well as the lack of interest due to the hassle of finding a trustworthy buyer and verifying the phone’s ESN number.
Month-to-month sell-through rate (%)
In addition to a lower availability, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II’s sell through rate is remarkably high clocking in at 71.13%, versus 62.39% and 59.97% for AT&T and Sprint. Combining the relative scarcity, high sell through rate and high resale value of American Galaxy S IIs, all other things held equal, it leads me to believe that the T-Mobile Galaxy S II is valuable due to its weak hardware competition within T-Mobile’s network. It’s likely that if we viewed eBay sales data for T-Mobile’s other phones, they would not be nearly as promising.
If we look at the price and depreciation over time, we can see that the sales data across all 4 phones is consistent. During the initial release and just before the onslaught of summer devices we see the steepest price drops, but during the time between, prices hold steady. Note that the T-Mobile and international Galaxy S IIs are the scarcest and hold the highest resale value as well as sell-through rate. It is now painfully clear that hardware specs mean very little with regard to resale value.
It’s been a close race between the T-Mobile and international versions of the Galaxy S II, but ultimately I believe the T-Mobile Galaxy S II ends up being the better value having depreciated considerably less. Understandably the International version came out far before and thus had an early adopter tax, but for most of us here in the states, the T-Mobile Galaxy S II was more likely to be our first taste of Galaxy S II goodness and is more relevant for our results.
The Galaxy S II for all of its different hardware iterations, is still delivering the same “experience.” Based on our analysis of the data we have collected from the secondary phone market, we can conclude that:
- The Galaxy S II’s different hardware specifications have a marginal affect on its resale value
- Carrier association strongly affects the price
It can be argued that a large screen, a fast processor, or a small form factor are all important features of the Galaxy S II, but we found that these options have no correlation to the sale price of the phone. The bottom line is that they provide near identical experiences to the end user. The most important factor affecting resale value is the number of competing options that the user can choose from. A large stable of strong substitute candidates can drive down the Galaxy S II’s value. The AT&T Galaxy S II faces flagship rivals from numerous OEMs paired with varying operating systems, whereas the T-Mobile Galaxy S II reigned as de facto king of the hill for the better part of a year. In addition to having to deal with competing models, the Sprint Galaxy S II has to cope with the aforementioned transaction cost associated with CDMA phones.
*Movaluate is a smartphone price guide that determines your smartphone’s value by analyzing actual market sales data. Visit Movaluate to see the price distribution graphs of all the Galaxy S II’s covered in this article.