Top tips for buying a refurbished phone

Knowing what to look for is key when buying a second-hand smartphone.

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Buying used is one of the easiest ways to save money on a smartphone. Depending on the model, you may find a pre-owned handset selling for hundreds of dollars less than its factory-sealed counterpart.

As attractive as that may sound, buying a used phone means accepting a number of trade-offs. There's the expected wear and tear, of course, but you also need to consider factors like warranty coverage, consumer guarantees and included accessories. Many of these considerations are similar to those involved when purchasing a phone from overseas, which we cover in our guide to importing a phone.

If you're thinking of purchasing a used phone, check out our top tips below to ensure you know what you're getting before you lay down your hard-earned cash.

Tip #1: Check the grade

Used and refurbished phones (the two terms are often applied interchangeably) should be advertised with a letter grade or descriptive label indicating their current condition. These grades are critical when judging the value of a particular used phone. You'll want to be careful when considering a phone that either doesn't include this information or uses the phrase "as-is", since you could end up with an inoperable handset useful only for its parts.

Unfortunately, there's no fixed grading system for used phones. Some, but not all retailers will provide a guide explaining what their various grading tiers mean, but these won't necessarily line up with another retailer's tiers. We advise you to check a retailer's specific grading system before making a purchase. In general, though, most grading systems align with the definitions below:

iPhone in box with accessories Image: Pixabay

Open box

This is the closest to new a "used" phone gets. The phone itself is completely unused and has only been taken out of its original packaging to inspect the contents and/or take product photos. You may not receive all the phone's original accessories, but you'll at least get a charger and charging cable. These should be official accessories, but some retailers may swap them out for generic equivalents.

Like new/as new

The next grade down from open box applies to a phone with minimal to no previous use that hasn't required any form of refurbishing. Any existing data will have been wiped and the handset itself should have been thoroughly cleaned. You're more likely to receive generic packaging than the manufacturer's original box and the included charger and charging cable may also be generic alternatives.

A-grade

An A-grade used phone is the most common you'll find. These are handsets that have seen light use but only have minor wear and tear to show for it. The seller should have refurbished the phone with a fresh battery and tested it to ensure it is fully functional. You'll receive at least a charging cable and charger, though they'll likely be generic equivalents rather than the originals. Packaging will also be of the generic variety.

B-grade

Phones that have seen heavier use and carry a few cosmetic scars will typically receive a B-grade rating. They undergo the same refurbishment process as A-grade phones, but may have shallow scratches and scuffs on their back and sides. These shouldn't affect the operation of the phone in any way. Packaging and charging accessories will most likely be generic.

C-grade/scratch and dent

This is the lowest grade of refurbished phones intended for regular consumers. Expect heavy signs of use in the form of scratches, dings, chips and other damage on the back and sides of the phone. There should be no damage to the screen, though and the phone should be fully refurbished and tested to ensure it works without issue. All packaging and accessories will be generically branded.

Iphone 6 with cracked screen Image: Pexels
This iPhone wouldn't even qualify as scratch and dent

Tip #2: Check the warranty

Battle scars aren't all you need to watch out for when buying a used phone. Whereas most brand-new phones come with manufacturer warranties of 12 months or more, the warranty you get with a used phone will be honoured by the seller itself.

The length and coverage of this warranty can vary dramatically from seller to seller. Many sellers on online marketplaces like Kogan and Catch, for instance, include a 12-month warranty with their A-grade refurbished phones. Phonebot, meanwhile, includes a six-month warranty with its A-grade used phones.

B-grade phones tend to come with warranties of between 3 and 12 months.

It's also worth investigating how a particular seller handles warranty claims. Some may send the phone to a repair service based in Australia, similar to how most smartphone manufacturers operate. In some cases they may send your phone overseas for repairs and that could mean going a long time with no phone at all.

In addition to retailer warranties, Australian consumer law provides protection against hardware issues with used phone purchases. This protection mirrors that applied to new product purchases which guarantees that a good must be of acceptable quality, where acceptable quality is defined as:

  • Safe, durable and free from defects
  • Acceptable in appearance and finish
  • Does everything the product is commonly used for

The difference with used or second-hand goods is that age, price and condition affect the scope of the consumer guarantee. For example, it's not reasonable to expect a three-year-old used phone to have the same lifespan as a brand-new handset. Similarly, a refurbished phone advertised as "heavily used" and sold at a steep discount comes with the expectation that issues may arise sooner than they would with an unused handset.

Tip #3: Check the included accessories

Most new phones come with an assortment of accessories including headphones, chargers and sometimes even protective cases. Used phones are a different story. While you should always receive a charger and charging cable, that's generally all you'll get. Odds are the charger will be a generic brand, too, rather than the official manufacturer's charger included with new phones. If that's a deal-breaker for you, be sure to check with the seller before laying down your cash.

Generic Phone Charger Image: Pixabay
Generic chargers may also require adaptors to work with Australian power outlets

Does a generic accessory really matter that much? It depends on what it is. A generic set of in-ear headphones, for instance, may sound worse and degrade faster than the original pair. That might not be a big problem for you, but there is one generic accessory you must carefully check before you ever use it, even once. That's the supplied charger, which should meet the standards laid out in Australian consumer safety laws. It's simply not worth taking the risk to your property or life with an unsafe charger.


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