What warranty will I get with a new mobile phone?

What happens if your new shiny phone stops working six months after you buy it? explains your warranty rights in Australia.

It really sucks when your mobile phone stops working, especially if you're not at fault. If it broke down when you were in the store signing contracts, you'd naturally request a replacement, but what happens six months down the track when you've had the phone for a while?

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Most smartphone manufacturers offer a standard warranty document, typically for 12 months. Be aware that this acts as a supplement to your basic consumer rights under Australian law, not a replacement for it. Whether you buy a phone outright or via a 12- or 24-month contract, your purchases is covered by general Australian consumer law, which specifies that any goods sold in Australia are covered under an automatic guarantee.

Specifically, goods must be "fit for purpose" for normal usage and the costs of the goods. There's no absolute hard and fast time period written into Australian consumer law as it relates to warranty.

So to return to our six month scenario, nobody is reasonably going to accept the idea that a smartphone should only last for six months, so presuming no accidental damage, you should be covered for even the cheapest smartphone.

The flip side of that is that if you're still holding onto an old Nokia candybar phone from 2002, nobody is obligated to provide warranty repair for it. You can read more about your consumer rights at the ACCC website.

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If you purchased your phone on a contract, you've got at least the period of the contract for warranty guarantees to apply, presuming normal use of the phone. For most phone contracts that equates to two years of warranty coverage. Again, that doesn't replace general consumer guarantees, but it provides a useful yardstick.

The big caveat to apply to all of this is that general warranties only apply to normal usage of your smartphone. What's not covered is any kind of damage that results from abnormal use or accidental breakage. If your phone suddenly stops working when it was fine the day before, you'd have a warranty case to take to your telco or phone manufacturer, but if you dropped it down a well, you'd be out of luck.

Bear in mind that when you put in a warranty claim for a phone it's going to be opened up to determine if the inbuilt shock and moisture sensors have been triggered, suggesting a less-than-innocent end for your handset. This also means that a phone warranty claim will almost always result in a replacement or refurbished handset, so it's wise to keep a rolling backup of your photos, contacts and other phone content, as you may not end up with the exact same handset you handed in, even if you are covered under warranty.

The only way if you're clumsy or brutal with your smartphone to cover yourself would be to pay for specific smartphone insurance, or in the case of Apple's iPhone, the extended "AppleCare" warranty that Apple sells as an add-on product. These will generally cover you for accidental breakage for a set period of time, although as always it's worth reading the fine print carefully to ascertain what you can and can't claim for.

Manufacturer warranties can also have value is if they're international warranties. If your phone stops working while you're travelling, it can be useful to have an easy method of repair that doesn't involve sending your phone back home to Australia.

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