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1 September 2021

How to buy second-hand or refurbished mobile phone

Buying a second-hand iPhone or Android phone can be a bit of a minefield. Find out how to get a good deal on a secure handset, and make sure your data stays safe
Tom Morgan

Brand new, top-of-the-line smartphones aren't always an option for buyers on a budget. Hefty price tags and underwhelming advancements between models have seen many consumers turn their back on the conventional smartphone upgrade cycle.

Take the prices of modern phones into account, and it's not difficult to see why. Some of the latest models cost upwards of £1,000, but why pay out for a new device that won't offer a lot of advantages over your current handset?

Buying a used mobile phone could make perfect sense, but it's important to understand exactly what you're getting into first – and to consider important issues like security. Our expert guide explains how to find the perfect second-hand phone for you.

To find out which smartphones have scored top marks in our rigorous lab tests, consult our guide to the best mobile phones.

Are second-hand phones safe?

One of the most important things to consider when buying a second-hand or refurbished phone is security. Apple's iPhone models tend to receive security updates from the manufacturer for 5-6 years from launch. For Android phones, this is usually between 2-4 years, though there are exceptions.

Once a phone stops receiving crucial security updates, it'll be more vulnerable to attacks from data-grabbing hackers. We clearly flag in our expert mobile phone reviews if a phone is no longer supported, as shown in the example below:

If you're buying a phone second -hand, you'll want to make sure it will be updated for a good amount of time. Since smartphone update periods begin at launch, it can be a bit of a minefield. 

Fortunately, we can help. Use our mobile phone security support tool to find out if a model you own, or are thinking of buying, is still getting updates. We'll also give you an estimated remaining support period, after which the clock is ticking as to when updates will stop.

Used or refurbished phones: what's the difference?

It can be easy to confuse the two, but there are key distinctions to be made, with each one having its own set of pros and cons.

Refurbished phones

These are sold directly from a manufacturer, retailer or reseller. Refurbished phones will either look 'as-new' or be graded by quality (details on that below), so you know what condition the phone will be in before you buy.

Prices will often be higher than on the second-hand market, as the phones have been checked over by professionals to ensure they're in working order and good physical condition. You're guaranteed a warranty of some sort, as refurbished phones are sold to you by a professional retailer.

Used phones

These are often purchased directly from the previous owner, meaning that transactions can be riskier. Remember that the warranty is likely to have expired, as there's no renewal when a phone changes hands between owners directly.

You can get a great price on a used phone, as sellers may not know how much a used handset is truly worth. Online auctions often result in low final prices too.

But be warned – the handset may well look visibly worn, and it may not come in its original box or even with the correct accessories such as a charger or headphones.

Find out more about your rights when buying second-hand goods.

Used mobile phone grades explained

Some sellers of used smartphones have a grading system to help potential buyers know what level of quality to expect from the phone. While they vary between merchants, here's a general overview of what you can expect:

Even with these grades in mind, it's important to understand exactly what you're buying with a second-hand or refurbished phone. Look for additional details on a product listing so you understand the specifics about any potential issues a phone might have.

How much will I get for my second-hand phone?

The amount of money you'll receive for your smartphone is based on several factors. The condition of the device has an impact, as does the amount of internal storage. For example, a working 128GB iPhone XR is more desirable than a working 64GB iPhone XR.

Unlocked phones (phones that aren't tied to a specific carrier) are generally worth more money than mobiles tied to a network.

Below, we've picked out four popular smartphones released over the last four years. Take a look at our table to see how much you can expect to receive for each of these used mobiles in 2021.

Launch price
musicMagpie value
CeX value
WeBuyAnyPhone value
Envirofone value
Fonebank value
(January 2021)
(October 2020)
(June 2019)
(October 2018)
Prices above relate to unlocked mobiles in working condition (or Grade B at CeX). Highest valuation from second-hand phone websites highlighted in green. Correct as of 24 August 2021.

Let's focus on the most recently released phone of the four above, the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G. We can see that, although the mobile retailed at £769 earlier this year, it's not worth nearly that much if you sell it as a used handset.

The best valuation for a used Galaxy S21 5G was around £395, which is £374 down from retail. Still, on the plus side, that's money you can put towards your next mobile phone.

Our experts can help you find top bargains on the latest smartphones. For the details, see our guide on the best mobile phone deals.

Trade in your second-hand phone

In some cases, handing your used phone back to the manufacturer means you'll get credit that can be put towards a future purchase from the same brand. Both Apple and Samsung have schemes in place just like this.

Apple Trade In explained

If you think it's time to retire your iPhone, Apple can take your device and swap it for credit towards your next purchase, or offer an Apple Store Gift Card for use at any time. If your device isn't eligible (perhaps it's damaged beyond repair), Apple will recycle it for you.

You'll be provided with a quote for your old device. The Apple Trade In website has a list of price estimates for iPhone models from the iPhone SE (1st generation) to the iPhone 11 Pro Max. You can expect to receive anywhere between £30 and £455 for your gadget. Apple says you'll receive 'up to £210' for the iPhone XR.

You can return your old device using a pre-paid trade-in kit that Apple sends, or you can take the product in-store. Apple says the online trade in process generally takes 2-3 weeks.

Samsung Trade In explained

If you're getting rid of a Samsung mobile (or a non-Samsung phone that you're replacing with a Samsung device), head to the brand's website and find out the current value of your handset. If you're willing to accept the quote, you'll get an instant discount on your shopping basket when you select your trade-in device. The final step involves shipping off your phone in the packaging provided by Samsung.

So how much can you expect to receive for your used phone? The Samsung Trade In website has all the details on phones that qualify for the scheme, which includes the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G. Trade in the Note 10 Plus 5G and you can purchase the Galaxy Z Fold3 5G or Galaxy Z Flip3 5G for £400.

What you need to know before you sell a second-hand phone

Assuming you've decided to list your old mobile, there are a couple of steps to run through before you box it up.

Back up your data

If you've owned your soon-to-be-retired phone for a number of years, there's a good chance you'll have pictures, videos and other files on there that you'd like to have a copy of. Backing up your data is fairly straightforward, but the steps vary slightly depending on your phone model.

  • Back up data on Android You can back up photos and videos to your Google Photos library from your phone. Files and folders can be stored (temporarily or permanently) on Google Drive. To manually back up data and settings, open your Settings app, then tap System > Backup.
  • Back up data on iPhone On an iPhone, you can back up your data using iCloud, a Mac or a PC. To use iCloud, go to Settings > [Your name] > iCloud > iCloud Backup. On a computer, simply plug your iPhone in, navigate to iTunes and click Summary, then Back Up Now.

Note that both Google and Apple will automatically back up lots of your information on a regular basis if you have this feature enabled – it could offer peace of mind if you're worried about losing your phone.

Buy your new phone before you sell your old one

The majority of phones now have a pre-installed switching app, which lets you move across your old files to your replacement handset. If you decide to use this method, we suggest holding on to your old phone for a week or so just so you have time to ensure everything is moved across.

  • Move from iPhone to Android Turn on your new Android phone, tap Start and, when asked, choose to copy apps and data from your old phone. See Google's advice page on switching to a new Android phone.
  • Move from Android to iPhone Make sure the internet on your Android is turned on. On your iPhone, look for the Apps & Data screen, then tap Move Data from Android. On your Android, open the Move to iOS app and tap Continue. Follow the on-screen instructions. See Apple's advice page on moving from Android to iPhone.

Erase your phone data

Once you're certain all of the important files have been removed from your phone and backed up elsewhere, you're ready to tap the 'factory reset' option.

Running a factory reset will revert your phone back to the way it was when you first unboxed it. That means the only files kept on the mobile will be vital OS files and pre-installed apps and images. Running through this process will give you peace of mind when it comes to selling – you'll be handing over a phone that has none of your personal information on it.

Second-hand phone warranty

One of the big perks of buying a brand new handset, either outright or on contract, is that you receive both a retailer and manufacturer warranty as standard. When you buy second-hand or refurbished, things can work a little differently.

Refurbished or second-hand phones from a retailer

If you buy a handset either second-hand or refurbished from a retailer (such as Apple or CeX), your consumer rights are very similar to if the handset was brand new.

You receive whatever sort of warranty the retailer offers as standard, plus basic protection from the Consumer Rights Act 2015. You still have a 30-day right to reject if the phone isn't as described, fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality. If you discover a fault within the first six months, it is up to the retailer to prove it wasn't there at the point of sale.

You also may be covered by the manufacturer warranty, even if you are not the original owner. Manufacturer warranties do not renew when the item changes hands.

Second-hand phones from private sellers

Buying from a private seller (as you would do on eBay, for example) leaves you less protected. The manufacturer warranty still applies, as above, but your consumer rights are slightly different.

The item you receive must still be as described to you by the seller – so a handset listed as 'new', for example, must be genuinely unused. The seller doesn't have to disclose faults, but they aren't allowed to misrepresent it, either. This creates a fine line: a handset that doesn't turn on cannot be listed as 'working', but it doesn't have to be listed as 'not working', either. Always be sure to ask the seller questions if you have any doubts.

You will not receive protection from the Consumer Rights Act 2015, so the six-month return window does not apply.

Where to buy a used phone

There are plenty of ways to get a bargain price on your next handset without having to take risks or compromise on quality.

When you're shopping online for a replacement phone, make sure you’re handing over your money to a reputable seller. If possible, check the retailer's returns policy and also have a look at some customer reviews.

Popular retailers that stock second-hand phones include:

  • Amazon stocks thousands of mobile phones from brands including Apple, Huawei and Google. Once you select a phone, look to the right of the screen for the New & Used button.
  • Carphone Warehouse lists a small selection of refurbished, unlocked phones. 
  • CeX stocks various Android phones and iPhone models. Each phone is assigned a grade so you know the condition of the device you're purchasing.
  • eBay is home to plenty of used mobiles. Depending on the seller, you can submit an offer or buy the phone right away. Bear in mind there's a higher risk buying from an individual, though you may get a better price.
  • Envirofone stocks used phones from brands including Apple, Samsung and Nokia.
  • Game has a small selection of used devices, primarily from Apple and Samsung.
  • Samsung Outlet gives you the chance to buy a pre-owned, Samsung-certified handset.

In addition to these, most major UK networks will also have deals on refurbished handsets – but note that you'll be tied into a contract with that network.

Find out the retailers that are rated highly by Which? members with our expert guide on the best and worst shops.

What problems should I look out for when buying a used mobile phone?

You're likely to have fewer issues if you stick to reputable phone resellers rather than buying from an individual, but it's still important to do your research carefully.

As well as the security issues mentioned above, here are some other problems to look out for:

  • Poor battery life Smartphone batteries are notoriously short-lived. Unless the second-hand unit you're buying has been refurbished with a new battery, it's unlikely you'll be getting peak lifespan, even if it's in otherwise perfect working order.
  • Faulty charging port There aren't many points of wear on a smartphone, but the charging port is often the first to go. Don't be surprised if the connection can be iffy, and be sure to give it a good clean to remove any lint or dirt that may have built up.
  • Faulty buttons The only physical moving parts on a smartphone – elements such as the volume rocker on a Galaxy S device or the home button on older iPhones – naturally lose that crisp, clicky feeling after a while. While that's a shame, it can become a real problem if those buttons then completely cease to work.
  • Missing accessories Make sure you check with the seller or retailer that the handset you're eyeing up comes with a charging cable, power adaptor and any other accessory that it normally comes boxed with, such as headphones. If you've managed to accumulate cables over the years, this may not be quite as important. Plus, the idea of using someone else's in-ear headphones isn't the most appealing.