Machines buying machines. It sounds like a far-fetched scene from Star Wars, but it’s happening every day at a Walmart or shopping mall near you. These reverse vending machines are giving us a glimpse into what the future (or perhaps a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) might look like. While there are a variety of companies offering a similar service, the most well-known is ecoATM

Every year, Americans feed hungry ecoATM kiosks with millions of cell phones, tablets, and semi-obsolete MP3 players. However, is ecoATM really the best option to sell your unwanted gadgets? Generally speaking, that answer is a resounding “no.” 

As we’ll discuss, the payouts aren’t great—or even good, for that matter—and they’ve experienced no small amount of controversy. But, there are a couple of scenarios where selling to ecoATM might make sense. So, hold onto your butts (yes, we are mixing movie references—bonus points if you can name the film) as we dig deeper into how ecoATM works, how much they pay, and how to use ecoATM, along with some pros and cons.


Gif of BB-8 giving thumbs up
Stay tuned for our ecoATM review



What Is ecoATM?
How Does ecoATM Work?
      ecoATM Locations
      What Devices Does ecoATM Accept?
      How Do You Prepare Your Device for ecoATM?
      What Does ecoATM Do With the Devices?
The Trouble With ecoATM
How Much Does ecoATM Pay?
ecoATM Pros & Cons

What is ecoATM?


What Is ecoATM?

Founded in 2008, what originally began as a single prototype in Omaha, NE has since exploded into a sprawling network of stands nationwide. Today, ecoATM kiosks can be found at Walmarts, grocery stores, and shopping malls across the country. These ubiquitous, vending machine-sized booths are an in-person alternative (albeit with fewer gifs, memes, and snappy pop culture references; oh, and significantly less money) to consumer electronics buyback websites like GadgetGone

With ecoATMs, cash-in-hand and convenience are the major draws, as is their aura of environmental responsibility. Simply pop in your old phone, wait for ecoATM’s program to assess your device, pocket your cash payout, and walk away feeling like you did something good for Mother Nature. 

Sounds pretty great, right? In reality, of course, the process is more complicated than that. 


Get cash for your old phone with ecoATM


How Does ecoATM Work?

While ecoATM’s website touts the transaction as a simple, three-step process, the entire affair is actually quite a bit more involved. 

1. Once you get to a kiosk, you’ll be prompted to answer several questions about both you and your device including its model and condition.

2. The ecoATM will then spit out a QR code sticker. Once you’ve affixed the code to your item, you can connect it to a power jack and insert it into the kiosk for processing. 

3. During that time, your device will be assessed both visually and electronically. Those results, along with your item’s expected value in secondary markets, will affect the cash offer you receive. 

4. You will then be asked to scan your driver’s license and fingerprints for ecoATM’s database and to validate authenticity. 

5. Smile for the camera! A webcam will stream video of you in realtime to a remote attendant at ecoATM’s headquarters in San Diego, CA where they will compare your face to the one on the given ID. 

6. Once your identity has been confirmed, you will receive your quote. At that time, you can choose to either accept the cash offer or refuse it. If you decline the ecoATM estimate, your phone will be returned to you. 

This might seem like a lot, but the entire process is expected to take between 3-5 minutes when everything is said and done. Not too shabby!


ecoATM locations in North Carolina
ecoATM locations in North Carolina


ecoATM Locations

Ready to google “ecoATM near me?” Luckily, you shouldn’t need to go too far to find your closest ecoATM since there are over 3,000 kiosks available nationwide. In fact, there’s probably one just around the corner at your local big-box store. After all, people don’t call them the Walmart phone machine for nothing. 

If you live in Baltimore, MD or Riverside, CA, however, we are sorry to report that your trip to the nearest ecoATM is going to take a little longer than you might have planned as both cities have banned these phone recycling kiosks. More on that later.  


What devices does ecoATM accept?
Does ecoATM accept broken phones?


What Devices Does ecoATM Accept?

Unlike some other buyback companies, ecoATM only takes cell phones, MP3 players, and tablets. So, if you were hoping to sell your old laptops or Apple Watches to ecoATM, you’re out of luck. 

And what about: 

Broken phones? – Yes! ecoATM will buy your device whether it’s cracked, water damaged, or just plain broken. 

Locked phones? – That depends on what you mean by “locked.” If your device is locked to a specific carrier, then yes, ecoATM will happily take it. Just be sure to say that your phone isn’t in working condition when you take it to the kiosk. However, if you are referring to an iCloud or activation-locked device, that is a big no go as it can indicate that the device has been stolen. Find My must be turned off as well in order to sell your phone. 

Blacklisted phones? – Nope, as most blacklisted devices have been reported as lost or stolen! Well, hypothetically theoretically anyway. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Again, more on that later. 

Phones that haven’t been paid off yet? – No again, at least as far as we could tell from our research. 


Factory reset your iPhone before selling it to ecoATM
Factory reset your iPhone before selling it to ecoATM


How Do You Prepare Your Device for ecoATM?

ecoATM outlines just three simple steps to prep your device for selling (we’re sensing a pattern here). 

1. Back up any content you would like to access later to the cloud or another device.
2. Ensure that you are free of any contractual obligations with your carrier.
3. Factory reset your device. 

While this is a great start, we would also recommend that you do the following things before resetting your device to help keep your information secure, maximize your cash offer, and ensure a smooth assessment:

Keep any accessories you would like – While you can certainly keep your screen protector and case on your device and include the charger that came with it, you don’t have to. Not only do these not add to your cash offer in any way, but they could also end up hindering the appraisal. Plus, if you put the items in the Accessory Bin and then end up changing your mind, you won’t be able to get them back. 

Take out the SIM and microSD cards – These items can contain sensitive information that could be used against you. Although ecoATM has security measures in place to help prevent this from happening, it is best to take extra precautions. 
Clean and fully charge your device – Manually cleaning your phone not only improves its appearance, but it can also help to increase your ecoATM estimate as dust, fingerprints, and other easily fixable issues could end up looking like cosmetic flaws. And while ecoATM does take devices that aren’t fully charged, charging your item before it is assessed will both quicken the process and ensure you get the most money possible. 
If you have an Apple device, don’t forget to sign out of your iCloud account – As we previously mentioned, ecoATM doesn’t accept iCloud or activation-locked devices. This is because these devices are often lost or stolen. Furthermore, an iCloud-locked phone won’t be able to be used normally by a new owner. Signing out of iCloud will also turn off Find My. 

  To do this on a device running iOS 10.2 or earlier, go to:  
    Settings > iCloud > Sign Out > Sign Out again > Delete from My iPhone > enter in your Apple ID password when prompted > Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings

  To do this on a device running iOS 10.3 or later, go to:  
    Settings > Your Name > enter in your Apple ID password when prompted > Turn Off > Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings  


What Does ecoATM Do With the Devices?

With a name like ecoATM and words like “recycle”, “greener planet”, and “rewriting the rules of modern conservation” getting tossed around, you’d be forgiven for thinking that ecoATM is only in it for planet-friendly benefits. However, as with most (if not all) consumer electronics buyback companies, the vast majority of the devices sold to ecoATM are resold as-is on the secondary market. 

If a device is unable to be resold as a whole, its components can be reused for repairs. Some pieces that were constructed of precious, rare earth metals like gold, silver, and copper are also melted down and used again. Everything else is recycled responsibly. 

Is ecoATM safe?
Is ecoATM safe?


The Trouble With ecoATM

Like we’ve already mentioned, ecoATM is no stranger to controversy, namely being seen as a way for criminals to make easy cash. With just a little bit of research, we uncovered the latest news stories about thieves selling stolen phones at their local kiosk as well as stomach-churning search suggestions like how to trick or hack ecoATM. Law enforcement officials and local politicians have even referred to these kiosks as magnets for thieves. Not quite a ringing endorsement. 

As you’ll notice on their website, ecoATM goes to great lengths to keep their kiosks as secure and crime-free as possible. Unfortunately, even steps like biometric scans, facial recognition using realtime video, state-of-the-art ID verification, and device security checks aren’t always enough to keep the criminals at bay. 

Is this reason enough to not use ecoATM? Not necessarily, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. 


How Much Does ecoATM Pay?

As we’ve hinted at, ecoATM prices leave a lot to be desired. While their website would have you believe that their prices are competitive with other buyback companies, this is just simply not usually the case. Let’s compare a few different devices in a couple of conditions to what GadgetGone has to offer: 

How much does ecoATM pay for a Galaxy S10 Plus?

How much does ecoATM pay for a Galaxy S10 Plus?

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, 128GB  
Up to $105 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, no cracks 
Up to $70 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, cracked
Up to $70 – Powers on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
Up to $13 – Doesn’t power on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
$345 – Good condition
$285 – Fair condition
$150 – Cracked condition
$110 – Damaged condition
$35 – No power condition
How much does GadgetGone pay for a iPhone X?

How much does GadgetGone pay for a iPhone X?

iPhone X, 256GB  
Up to $170 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, no cracks 
Up to $125 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, cracked
Up to $125 – Powers on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
Up to $40 – Doesn’t power on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks
$350 – Good
$298 – Fair 
$190 – Cracked 
$150 – Damaged 
$45 – No power 
How much does ecoATM pay for a iPad Air 3?
How much does ecoATM pay for an iPad Air 3?


iPad Air 3, 256GB, Wi-Fi  
Up to $130 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, no cracks 
Up to $65 – Powers on, screen fully lights up, cracked 
Up to $65 – Powers on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks 
Up to $25 – Doesn’t power on, screen doesn’t fully light up, no cracks 
$285 – Good  
$240 – Fair  
$170 – Cracked  
$125 – Damaged  
$45 – No power  

As you can see, ecoATM prices are nowhere near competitive, at least when it comes to GadgetGone. For anyone keeping track (and trust us, we are), you could be looking at a price increase of 12-225% or more by selling your old device to GadgetGone instead of ecoATM, depending on your device and its condition. 

Furthermore, while ecoATM only bases its online price estimates on three questions, GadgetGone has up to eight different condition categories. This results in more flexibility, and more money, when it comes to payouts. 

ecoATM will also have you believe that their lower prices are worth it because you won’t have to wait up to 45 days to be paid. Although that may be true with some buyback companies, it isn’t with GadgetGone. With us, once we receive your device, you’ll get your cash in as little as two business days. 

ecoATM also asserts that you will never get an offer that is “substantially less than was originally quoted and expected.” Entering in your device’s details into their online price estimator shows that this, again, simply isn’t true, as each online quote is accompanied by a disclaimer noting that prices are “subject to condition review at kiosk.” The only difference is that the evaluation is done in-person at an ecoATM kiosk instead of mailing in your old phone to the good folks at GadgetGone for assessment. 

Unlike GadgetGone, ecoATM does have one good thing going for it when it comes to prices: occasional promotions. At the time of writing, ecoATM users could get 10% more cash just by using the current promo code. Of course, 10% might not add up to much, but with their low payouts, we’d gladly take all the help we could get. 


Is ecoATM worth it?
Is ecoATM worth it?


ecoATM Pros & Cons 

We’ve dug into the details, so let’s take a peek at how all the pros and cons stack up. 

Tons of locations that are likely only a short drive away
The whole transaction only takes 3-5 minutes, leave with cash in hand
Know what your device might be worth by using their online price estimator
Can get your device back if you don’t like the offer you’re given
Feel good about keeping your device out of a landfill
Partner with law enforcement to ensure security
Very low cash offers as compared to some online buyback companies
The actual offer could be less than what you anticipated if you get an online quote beforehand
Only accepts cell phones, tablets, and MP3 players
Kiosks can be a magnet for thieves
Need to be at least 18 years old to sell 
Can’t get any accessories back if you accidentally include them with your device or if you change your mind

ecoATM admittedly has some positives, namely its convenience. But, while the list of upsides may be long, they aren’t enough for us to negate those very glaring negatives. 


What About GadgetGone?

Now, let’s contrast that with GadgetGone. Just go to our website, answer a few questions about your device and its condition (5-8 condition categories depending on your item), and get your free, no-hassle quote. 

If you like what you see, swap your trip to the ecoATM in for a quick run to the post office to mail your device. And don’t worry—shipping is free. Receive a higher offer from one of our competitors? Just let us know and we’ll match it (and add on an extra $5 for your troubles) with our PriceMatch+ guarantee. Have any questions along the way? A Customer Relationship Specialist is only a quick text away. 

Once we receive your device, one of our Processing Technicians will inspect it within two business days for any functionality and cosmetic issues. If necessary, we’ll adjust your offer accordingly. Get an updated quote that you’re not happy with? No worries. We’ll ship your item back to you free of charge. If you’re happy with the offer, you’ll get paid that same day. 

We might be biased, but there seems to be a whole lot more to like when in comes to GadgetGone. Sure, the process is a bit longer, but good things come to those who wait. And in this case, we’re talking substantially more money. 

If you absolutely need cash that exact same day or would rather sell in person, ecoATM is an option. However, if you’d rather get the most money possible out of your device and are ok with waiting a few days, GadgetGone is the way to go. 


For our money (and yours), go with GadgetGone.

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