Guide: How to choose

How to buy a second-hand or refurbished phone – and avoid the minefield

Second-hand or refurbished phone

The second-hand or refurbished phone market is very buoyant, and that means prices rise with demand. But you need to know how to navigate a minefield or that bargain becomes a nightmare.

When you ask GadgetGuy should you buy a second-hand phone, the answer is a definite NO. Not because they are bad but because there is so much quality, value, and warranty with new 4G phones from $159 (like the Motorola e7 Power), OPPO A53/53s (229/279) and a 5G Samsung A22 at a crazy $299.

These are new, have full warranty, are certified for all Australian Telco networks, have a battery that will last three or more years and get Android security patches and updates as well – all things that second-hand phones do not.

If you are determined to buy a second-hand or refurbished phone, here are a few things to look out for.

Apple

Operating System: The operating system support is for four years. With the iPhone 13 now here, iPhones before the X series (10) may not get future iOS updates and security patches.

Battery life: You can check battery health in the Battery Menu. We recommend coconutBattery 3  for iOS to give you an honest report. If it is below 80%, you will probably need to replace it within a year or so. That can cost about $100.

Watch out for Apple devices as they need to be unlocked for sale to another user. In brief, sign out of iCloud, iTunes, Apple ID, Watch and deregister etc.

Android

Operating system: It is doubtful that a second-hand Android will get any operating system or security patch upgrades. Check the settings and About Phone for the Android version and security patch update. The current version is 11, and that will be 12 by the end of 2021. If it is out of date, it is likely there will be no upgrades. In our opinion, anything before Android 9 is not worth buying.

Battery life: Download AccuBattery from Google Play, and it can give you Battery Health and Wear, although it may take some time to gather those stats. Battery replacements are best done by the manufacturer to retain any water resistance rating.

Make sure that you can access Factory Reset to prepare it for sale. It may require a pin or password – or you can’t reset it to sell.

3G is on its way out

3G is progressively changing to 5G Low-Band. Vodafone has shut it 2100Mhz (B1) down. Optus is shutting down its B1 network by April 2022, Telstra has turned off its B1 band and the remainder by mid-2024. There is minimal 3G coverage left.

4G will be around for a few more years

Australia has a certification process for smartphones to connect to the three Telco networks. You need 4G bands 1 (Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – TOV), 3 (TOV), 5 (V), 7 (TOV), 8 (T,V), 28 (T), 40 (O) and 42 (specific areas).

Smartphones don’t easily tell you this. You may find it on a box label. LTE Discovery from Google Play may help – look under signals. Apple tends to enable all world bands.

5G – now sub-6Ghz n78 and Low-Band 5G

Only late 2021 5G phones will support Low-Band 5G and need bands n5 (Telstra), n40 (Optus) and n28 (Vodafone). They will all support sub-6Ghz n78. They will not support mmWave 5G. So any older 5G phone will not benefit from low-band coverage.

There is an issue with 5G. All Australian certified phones (see next segment on grey market) have their IMEI numbers registered with the three Telcos. If you buy a grey market phone, it may not work on 5G here as it must first activate in the country it was certified for.

Grey market or certified?

second-hand or refurbished phone

You will probably find that grey market devices won’t make a 000 emergency call without a sim as it is hardcoded for the original country. You will not get any over the air updates either.

In Android, look for the C-tick symbol (not CE symbol) under System, About Phone, Regulatory information.

With Apple iPhone, you can check online if you have the serial number.

The simplest way is to ask for a sales receipt from a reputable dealer.

Take care with Telco carrier-locked devices

Most single sim devices are sold by Telco’s and may be locked to their LTE bands. You may have to pay a fee to get it unlocked and move to another carrier.

Most dual-sim devices are unlocked and can use any Telco.

Appearance/physical condition

A second-hand or refurbished phone will inevitably have some wear and scratches. The more pristine, the more you pay.

Of most concern is deeply scratched front glass, which costs from $350-550 on an Apple iPhone (depends on the size and usually needs Apple Authorised replacement or it may not work) and a similar amount on Samsung Galaxy. OPPO has taken a different tact and makes all its significant parts from the A, R, F, Find and Reno series online.

Look for corner scratches and dents – a sure sign the phone has been dropped. Look for any sign of battery bulge – a sure sign it needs replacing.

Always use a case and screen protector with a new phone, so you can sell it for more $$$ when you’re ready to upgrade

Watch out for scams and your personal safety

There is a Gumtree/eBay scam alert where a potential buyer emails that he cannot get over to see it but is happy to buy sight unseen and pay the freight. Using a payment loophole, the seller believes the phone has been paid for and then ships it to a bogus address, never to see the phone or the money again.

Then there is the face-to-face inspection. The buyer comes to your home and simply takes the phone or gives you a dud cheque. Cash is the only way to buy a second-hand phone. Also, watch out for your safety and always meet in public places – not your home.

Refurbished

There is no such thing as a bargain in refurbished phones – at least from legitimate refurbishers. Why? Well, they usually do a comprehensive inspection, battery test, replace accessories and offer a warranty. But they are safer than the second-hand market.

What is a second-hand phone worth?

Apple and Samsung hold their value best due to a trade-in program that artificially inflates the price. OPPO has recently introduced a similar program, so these are the best three brands to buy and sell second-hand.

Phones depreciate at about 3-5% per month. After 20-30 months, they are worthless – only what people will pay. Always treat the prices on Gumtree as maximum.

Tips to get the most from the sale

Read this guide! Make sure that you

  • Provide a receipt – better if it is from an authorised retailer
  • Keep the box, charger, buds even if used
  • Use a phone case (or buy a new one) and screen protector
  • Don’t have an unreal price expectation, especially as new phones start from $159

a second-hand or refurbished phone, a second-hand or refurbished phone, a second-hand or refurbished phone