Buying a second-hand or refurbished phone. Bargain or other persons problems? (guide)

There is a perverse interest in buying a second-hand or refurbished phone. In part, because new phones are getting more expensive and often harder to get. In part, because you can now get them at Coles supermarkets.

CyberShack’s professional view on buying a second-hand or refurbished phone is an absolute NO! The fact is that buying a second-hand or refurbished phone has a far higher risk than buying a new one. Those risks come down to end-of-life batteries, no Australian Consumer Law warranties, wrong firmware not certified for Australia, no over-the-air updates, not supporting all Australian Telco bands, carrier locked and more.

It does not matter whether the phone has been ‘refurbished’ by a phone recycler or sold by its original owner. The fact is that phones over about three years old are near end-of-life, and by four years, they are ready for recycling.

Here are a few things to look for when buying a second-hand or refurbished phone.


There are two types of phones sold here – Australian certified and those without. Australian certification means it is legitimate Australian stock supporting all 4G (and lately 5G sub-6Ghz n78 and low-bands n5, n28, n40).

How to spot this?

First, read Don’t buy a grey market phone as it will open your eyes to the issues with non-certified phones.

The only thing worse than buying a non-certified phone is buying it second-hand or refurbished.

In Android, go to Settings and search for Regulatory Information. If there is no C-Tick or RCM C-Tick, it is not for Australia. Run, don’t walk away because these will not get Australia over-the-air security updates.

In iPhone go to Settings>General>About. Look at the Model Number. Two letters before the slash (/) signify what country approval. You can also go to and put in the serial number. It will tell you under Repairs and Service Coverage if it is grey market.

second-hand or refurbished phone

In any case, the owner should be able to produce a receipt from a reputable Australian retailer as proof. Insist on it.

Battery life

Most smartphones have between 200 and 500 full charge cycles (0-100%). The phone is generally charged daily, but it is more a top-up than a full charge. Lower-cost phones have a useful battery life of 2-3 years and premium ones of 4-5 years. As battery replacement can cost from $100 to $200, you need to be sure the battery will last long enough.

If it is below 80%, you will need a new battery sooner rather than later.

In Android, download AccuBattery and under battery health, it will show the difference between design capacity and the current capacity. It also shows battery wear. The only downside is that you need to run this for a few days to get accurate readings.

In iPhone, go to Settings>Battery>Battery Health, and it tells you about the current capacity versus the design capacity. CoconutBattery 3 is a great app and gives you more information.

Operating system and security patch updates

Android is at version 12. We strongly recommend that you don’t buy anything before Android 10. Security patches are issued regularly for premium models but irregularly for lower-cost models. The issue here is that it is easier to plant malware on older Android phones.

iPhone iOS update policy supports the current model and three priors (iPhone X). However, it has been generous, and at present, iPhones from 6S or later still have support, but there is no requirement for it to do so.


The most important is an RCM C-Tick approved Australian Pin charger. If it does not have the tick, your household insurance will not cover fire damage it may cause. Note ‘CE’ is not Australian approved.

second-hand or refurbished phone


Most phones will have cosmetic body scratches easily concealed under a bumper cover. Look for evidence of corner drops.

Screen scratches are more an issue. An iPhone screen replacement can range from $219 to $519. Samsung Galaxy can range from $310 to $440 – more for S22, Fold and Flip. OPPO ranges from $100 to over $500.

Other things to look out for

Is it carrier locked? You generally have to pay a fee for unlocking?

Does the phone have a clear title? Phones still on Telco plans may require the balance and early termination fees paid to transfer the phone to a new owner.

Is it stolen? Insist on proof of ownership from a reputable retailer. Stolen phones can often be IMEI locked when re-activated.

Can you factory reset and do a clean install? Under Android, search Settings for Factor Reset. It may ask you for a PIN or password, so make sure you can reset it. In iOS, make sure they are reset – see the Apple support article.

Don’t buy a 3G phone. It will be old and 3G is being phased out by 2023.

Scams and personal safety

Buying (or selling) from a marketplace like Gumtree, eBay etc., has other risks. The goods may not exist, the pedigree may be suspect, your credit card details could be stolen, or you could face safety issues when you go to inspect it.

How much is a second-hand or refurbished phone worth?

As a guide, a mobile phone loses about 3-5% of its value each month – after three years, it is worthless.

Late-model refurbished phones are far more expensive. As a guide, the iPhone 12 sells for about 15% less than the iPhone 13. To extrapolate take of 15% per year for each prior model. Some refurbishers conduct a series of tests, replace accessories, and offer a warranty. But many just check it turns on, cut and polish, and resell.

Buying a second-hand or refurbished phone
Really – who approved it?

If you are determined then research first – never buy on impulse

Decide on which brand and model/s suit your needs. Go to eBay, Gumtree and second-hand websites look at the general prices. You will find a huge gap between second-hand and refurbished prices. The latter has to a) buy the phone, b) test it, c) package and warrant it, d) sell it to a reseller and d) sells it to you with its profit margin as well.

Don’t be a brand snob

While it may be tempting to get Apple or Samsung there are some excellent phones from OPPO, realme, vivo and Motorola (Moto) that won’t cost as much and may have more functionality with lower-cost risk.

CyberShack’s view – Why buying a second-hand or refurbished phone does not make sense

There are dozens of excellent, new, warranted, Australian certified phones at JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman et al.

At the low 4G end, the excellent Motorola  E7 or realme C11 at $149, vivo Y3S ($159), vivo 711s $179 and OPPO A15 ($199). These are as low-cost as you can go and still get a decent Android experience.

From $200 to $299, (in order of increasing price) realme C12, OPPO A53, Moto G10, vivo Y33s, OPPO A16s, OPPO A53s and A54s, Samsung A12 and the incredible value OPPO A54 5G!

From $300 to $399 (all 5G) OPPO A74, Samsung A22, Moto Edge 20 Fusion, Moto g51 (review).

Why buy other people’s problems when you can get such good value and some with 2-years warranty?