Q: Should you buy a refurbished or second-hand phone? A: The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe, under some circumstances.

A refurbished or second-hand phone has a large element of risk. Dodgy end-of-life batteries, warranties not worth the paper they are written on, wrong firmware, Telco carrier incompatibility or carrier locked, difficulties getting repairs and much more.

New phones enter Australia in two ways. The correct way is to be fully certified by the three major Telco’s for use on their Australian networks. These are sold either directly from the Telco or via major retailers like JB Hi-Fi, Good Guys, Bing Lee, Harvey Norman, Officeworks, and Retravision.

The chances are that if you buy from a lesser known retailer, it will be a grey market/parallel import, and that opens up a world of pain.

Genuine Australian phones have

  • Australian firmware to enable proper billing and tower to tower hand-off
  • Modems that support at least LTE Bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 40 and 42 to cover all Australian 4G bands. Of these bands 1, 3 and 28 (4GX, in-building coverage and small cell areas) are vital and the others may location-based, e.g. Canberra needs 40 to get Optus. Vodafone uses band 5 in many areas.
  • Can make a 000 call without a SIM (international models can only call 911)

Unfortunately, there is no app to tell you all the bands the phone supports, but if you have the exact model number, you can do a Google Search and usually find the bands it has.

Another way to find if it is supported here is to go to Settings, About Phone and Regulatory.

If you see a C-Tick if it’s certified for use in Australia. No C-tick means it is an international model that may have all required LTE bands but its riskier – avoid it like the plague.

Second-hand is risky to the buyer and the seller

The biggest issue is that you never know the pedigree of the phone unless you can see the original purchase invoice from a reputable brick-and-mortar retailer.

A huge number of second-hand phones started life as parallel or grey imports from dodgy online sellers. These phones were never meant for Australia. Dead giveaways include a not being able to find the C-Tick logo under System, About Phone, Regulatory Labels and international power adaptors.

For sellers, its dangerous to invite someone into your home to see it. Frequent media reports show bashings and robberies as organised gangs see this as easy entry to your home.

There is also 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 loop-hole, the seller is conned into thinking the phone has been paid for and then ships it to a bogus address never to see the phone or the money again.

There is a lot of attention at present on refurbished phones.

There are some schemes offered by Boost (Alegre), Brightstar (major distributor of phones to retailers), Macquarie Group’s Nu Mobile (only sells with a Telstra plan), and Apple Certified refurbished iPhone. Samsung has a similar scheme in the US, but it is not here yet.

GadgetGuy is yet to investigate these schemes, but at least you should get a genuine Australian handset from a company that will honour its warranty. What we want to know is whether these phones have a guarantee on the battery life left (easy to measure – see later) and the Australian pedigree.

These companies control millions of leased smartphones via Telco plans or corporate sales. Nu Mobile alone says it has over 1 million smartphones under lease.

BTW – a lease is different from rental or purchase plans. Businesses with an ABN pay a monthly amount (usually the cost of the phone amortised over 24 or 36 months) and return the phone to the Telco or leasing company. They don’t ever own it.