With smartphone sales on the decline in the UK, and the advancements in technology between models getting smaller every year, many consumers are beginning to 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 issues like security.
One of the most important things to consider when buying a second hand or refurbished phone is security. iPhones tend to receive security updates from the manufacturer for 5-6 years from launch, Android phones 2-3 years, though there are some exceptions.
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.
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:
The handset is in visibly flawless condition, with no scuffs, scratches or marks to the outer case. It will come in its original box and (most likely) with all of its original accessories. This is as close as you can get to buying brand new, and will cost the most to reflect that.
The handset is visibly used, but any damage is purely aesthetic (so no cracks to the screen or broken buttons). It will still come in its original box and will probably have the original accessories with it. It could be anywhere between £10 and £30 cheaper than a Grade A handset of the same model.
Its wear will be heavier than a Grade B unit, but it will still be in full working order - again, that still means an intact screen. You might not get it in the original box, and it possibly won't have its accompanying accessories either. It will probably be priced anywhere between £10 and £30 cheaper than a Grade B version of the same device.
You'll see a lot of these on online auction sites such as Ebay - it goes without saying, but they should probably be avoided. Any handset that doesn't work as intended cannot be graded, and most people will simply try to sell them for parts or to someone happy to put the time and money into restoring them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are plenty of ways to get a bargain price on your next handset without having to take risks or compromise on quality. Here's some places to look into before making a purchase:
In addition to these, most major UK networks will also have deals on refurbished handsets - although you will be tied into a contract with that network.
You're likely to have less 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: