What to Consider Before Buying a Second-Hand Smartphone

New isn’t always better, but there are some key issues to consider before you take the plunge. Naturally, the smartphone manufacturers would have you believe that a new phone is the best choice; that you’ll be missing out if you don’t have the latest camera/processor/emoji/virtual assistant button, all packaged in expensive Gorilla glass.

Nonetheless, there are many good, slightly older, used smartphones out there, and the used phone market has grown right alongside the total smartphone market. As well, there are now legitimate ways to buy used or refurbished handsets. Until recently, your best option was taking a chance on an unknown seller and finding the ’refurbished’ device you bought turned out to be an old phone with a dodgy battery.

Of course, these things can still happen, but nowadays e-commerce and trade-in sites are offering more assurance to buyers, whether it means being more open about the condition of a second-hand device or offering longer warranties. And since more and more entrants from new start-ups to the giant players are scrambling to climb on the bandwagon, you can choose to shop on sites that will give you the reassurance you desire.

Where to buy?

You can choose from a peer-to-peer online marketplace such as eBay, a nationwide retailer such as Amazon, an original manufacturer such as Apple or Samsung, or an independent specialist retailer such as I Need A Mobile – www.ineedamobile.com

When you use a facility such as eBay, you have to buy with a certain amount of trust because you won’t get the guarantee you’d be given by a certified seller. Although there appear to be fewer scams perpetrated now, they do crop up from time to time. The company says that it spends millions every year on ensuring a ‘trustworthy experience’ but its forums still show the odd complaint about phone scams. And watch out for fake reviews, a real concern on e-commerce sites.

If that seems too risky for your liking, Apple and Samsung both sell refurbished phones. They won’t be the latest models and the choice can be limited, but they do come with year-long warranties. The telecoms operators also sell ‘certified’ pre-owned phones, though again, the selection can be meagre. It’s always worth comparing prices too, as the same phone can be offered at different prices on various websites due to the vagaries of supply and demand.

For an ideal combination of cost saving and security, check out the specialist retailers such as ineedamobile.com. These are marketplaces where you can buy and sell a wide variety of used electronics, though their business models differ. Some have both a physical and an online presence, others only a website. Some are similar to eBay in that they provide a platform between buyer and seller; others buy stocks of used phones from the public or wholesalers, refurbish and then sell them. There’s a very small chance that you’ll end up with a bad phone, but these retailers generally offer up to a 30-day returns policy.

There is a trust-to-discount that exists on these sites. Given that on eBay  you can find products discounted by anything from 20-90%, you are having to trust an unknown seller. Whereas a refurbished device on Apple or Samsung’s sites can cost from $350 to $750, and a 256GB iPhone X from $989 to $1,150. To most people the latter would look new, although technicians may be able to see slight scratches on the back.

What to look for

Minor scuffs or scratches are to be expected with second-hand handsets, but structural damage and reduced functionality should be avoided. The phone screen is the part most often in need of repair or replacement before it can be resold, followed by the battery. After that, there’s a large gap down to issues such as home buttons or WiFi connectivity.

So how can you know if the phone you’ve chosen is in a really poor state? The short answer is you can’t, and the problem is compounded by the fact that different sites describe their used products in different ways. Broadly speaking, ‘used’ or ‘pre-owned’ devices are a risky business, ‘verified’ or ‘certified’ handsets have been checked for functionality, and ‘refurbished’ items have undergone some type of repair.

Some sites, e.g. Apple, state outright that the phone has been fitted with a new casing and battery, while Samsung refers to its phones having been ‘remanufactured’ to original condition and tested by Samsung engineers. Some specialist retailers operate according to a 30-point certification process but not all products are refurbished. Peer-to-peer marketplaces are the most vague in terms of what ‘refurbished’ means and are not bound by any form of grading or standards.

All this is highly confusing and means you can’t compare like with like or know who will guarantee a new battery. Some retailers will replace the screen or back panel in the case of a single scratch while others won’t. The second-hand phone industry could do consumers a big favour by drawing up nationally or even globally agreed standards for repair and grading, so that consumers can make an informed choice when buying a pre-owned device.

One point to consider if you’re buying a second-hand phone for environmental reasons is that opting for a completely refurbished handset means you’re reusing some of the phone’s parts, but not all of them.