back to article Greener, cheaper, what's not to love about a secondhand smartphone?

Half of consumers polled in a Vodafone-backed survey are considering buying a refurbished smartphone instead of a brand-new handset, with the lower purchase price and environmental concerns cited as the main reasons. The Kantar survey of 7,750 people in 12 countries shows that more than a third of respondents intend to replace …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mmmmmm

    What's not to like? A screen where the oleophobic coating is worn out, the organic layers are close to burn in, the battery is OK but getting tired, and any charging socket is getting comfortably worn, the maker's software support is on a short fuse, and there's two years of unknowable levels of care.

    To be honest, I'm currently selling a couple of phones like that (and being honest about any known defects) but in response to the article there's LOTS not to love about a secondhand smartphone. If Gen Z want to buy them to save the planet then fair dos, personally I suspect the main driver is some people would rather chance second hand than be on the hook for the sometimes userous costs that the mobile networks offer for a device and call plan.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Mmmmmm

      I think this is where the distinction between "used" and "refurbished" might come in handy. If you buy someone's used phone on eBay, then you're depending on the seller knowing and disclosing the true state of the device. Conversely, I just bought a refurbished iPhone XR from a large purveyor of home electronics for about $300, and it seems pretty pristine (and a huge step up from the battered iPhone 7 it replaced). If the vendor truly is refurbishing the phone by replacing the battery and verifying that it works generally, then a refurbished phone seems like a great investment if you don't need the latest and greatest features.

      1. Lurko

        Re: Mmmmmm

        "I think this is where the distinction between "used" and "refurbished" might come in handy. "

        That depends on the definition of "refurbished", and I think you sir are an optimist, and I am a scepticist. As far as I can see, "refurbished" these days universally means "wiped with a greasy rag and put in a new box without any testing". Realistically, given the modest spread between trade in allowance and refurbished sale, how much time and effort do you think they can afford? Zip is my guess, because the spread needs to cover basic handling and disputes (say 30%), gross margin (50%), and warranty (20%) of which 90% is fobbing off warranty claims, 10% replacing the phones that die completely in the three month warranty period. I don't believe the economics allow that anyone will do proper inspection and testing of batteries and sockets, or any inspection more than a cursory "yep, it turns on".

        1. chasil

          "unsupported" battery

          My mother needed a new device, so I got her a used iPhone XS off eBay for $180 or so for Christmas.

          It was in reasonable shape, but one of the "Finish setting up your iPhone" items was "unsupported(/non-Apple) battery."

          For some reason, Apple thinks I should care.

          I really don't care, since I don't buy Apple products. I don't know if she cares either.

          1. Not Yb Bronze badge

            Re: "unsupported" battery

            "unsupported battery"?

            That's an impressive amount of monopolist power they have, to make even the batteries a "only use our consumables or have a worse experience". Even HP printers haven't gone so far as to deem extension cords "third party", which would sort of be equivalent.

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Mmmmmm

      I doubt if many people are interested in your 5 (or whatever) year old knackered phones.

      Most of the second hand market are from early adopters (aka idiots) who replace their phones as soon as a new shiny hits the market, expired contract jobs, over-purchases and end of line inventory clearance.

      I've got a recon Sammy S10+ which looks new and has (so far) exhibited no issues.

      1. cyberdemon Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Mmmmmm

        > Most of the second hand market are from early adopters (aka idiots)

        So a lot like the second-hand EV market then..

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Mmmmmm

      That's true. My Pixel 3XL cost $60 but it's web browsing is limited by the speed I can read el'reg, the podcasts are limited to only stereo and a pitiful range of human frequencies and the phone connection is terrible - it's audio only and limited to about 8Khz, no smell-o-vision

    4. Philo T Farnsworth

      Re: Mmmmmm

      One other thing to consider is security updates.

      I have a Google Pixel 4A which I bought about four years ago that is working just fine, the battery still robustly holds a charge, and meets my rather modest needs (phone calls, messaging, and reading news on a couple of wire service apps) but has been "end of lifed" with respect to security updates as of November 2023.

      I resent having to add to the e-waste stream but, like any unsupported device, the older it gets, the more vulnerable to attack it becomes.

      Perhaps since I don't keep banking or health related information on the phone, I'm less vulnerable to a loss but, still, I suppose there are other ways I haven't considered where I can find myself with a mess on my hands.

      If wiser heads can tell me how to maintain security on the thing, I'd be delighted to hear their counsel.

      1. Brynstero0

        Re: Mmmmmm

        Have a look at an AOSP replacement such as Graphene

        1. blackcat Silver badge

          Re: Mmmmmm

          I thought Graphene support on the 4a was coming to an end too as it relies on the google source?

          Yup https://grapheneos.org/faq#supported-devices

          I also have a 4a but the battery is cooked. Trying to decide if I should re-battery it or replace it with something newer.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Mmmmmm

            GrapheneOS won't support older devices - it relies on the core firmware blobs being updated. This is perhaps a case of over-caution but that's the point of GrapheneOS

            LineageOS tries to support just about every old devices, although some might not get the latest Android\

            1. wjl

              Re: Mmmmmm

              Try https://divestos.org/ which is a hardened fork of LineageOS. I run that on a Pixel 3a and love it as much as GrapheneOS on the Pixel 6a. I also have DivestOS on an old Nexus 10 tablet, not really secure anymore with Android 7.1, but it still gets monthly updates, unlike Google would do...

      2. Dave Pickles

        Re: Mmmmmm

        The Pixel4A is still supported by LineageOS with Android 14.

      3. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Mmmmmm

        I think that security updates are the least of your concerns. (That's assuming you don't keep sensitive information on your phone).

        This article is worth a read (or ElReg's attention):-

        https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2024/02/how-your-sensitive-data-can-be-sold-after-a-data-broker-goes-bankrupt/

        The broker has what it claims to be "the world's largest dataset of of real people's behavior" -- location information and so on, its their company's product and its primary asset. The company appears to be bankrupt not because of a faulty business model so much as from financial fun 'n games. Naturally people ("legislators") are pounding the table demanding that "laws should be passed" and so on but this is the reality of our lives. We're bought and sold as raw material....and we think that somehow 'the latest' will protect us. It never has.

      4. chasil

        my *really* old phone

        I have a Oneplus 5, and only T-Mobile will allow it on their network (AT&T needs the final Oneplus 6 model, even though this supports VoLTE).

        I was already running Lineage on it, but I wiped back to stock because I needed a phone for Cisco Duo (remote access . So I ran on Android 10 for 3 years or so until Duo ended support for this OS release. I mailed the corporate security people about putting Lineage back on with MindTheGapps Google support, and they said that they did not explicitly forbid it, so I brought it back to Lineage's release, currently on Android 14 after the upgrade this month.

        Suprisingly, even Wells Fargo's app runs.

        Many Android people say an unlocked bootloader is an insecure phone because it is vulnerable to the "evil maid" attack. However, an OEM-abandoned phone running the latest LineageOS release will have updated network security patches that might be more valuable in trade. Note that any firmware vulnerabilities with your WiFi, Bluetooth, LTE/5g modem might present an attack surface that cannot be patched, but a 3rd-party ROM allows you to keep at least *some* of the device up to date.

        The Pixel is an even better device, so by all means try a custom ROM.

      5. thondwe

        Re: Mmmmmm

        It's where Apple seem to have the edge. My family is on it's second round of refurbished iPhones (8s and now 13s) - no issues - and all on £9 EE deals which seem to accumulate more data than we use - and that includes two teens! Overall cost if the phones last a few years (8's only swapped to get onto current IOS) way lower than buying new contract....

      6. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Mmmmmm

        Yeah... since it's happened before, there is the possibility of an evil text message or phone network connection hitting you. But that could happen due Tom's hardware or firmware vulnerability that no software update will save you from. How far could you or a related child get by using the phone just on wi fi... extremely tightly secured wi fi...

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Mmmmmm

          "due to hardware or firmware vulnerability"

    5. chasil

      Unlocked bootloader

      On the other hand, if you have purchased an older Android phone with an unlocked bootloader and a large enthusiast community, you can choose from a number of updated 3rd-party ROMS that offer many features that you simply cannot obtain on any stock rom.

      You will have the ability to remove Google almost entirely from your device. An enthusiast ROM will not bring OEM bloatware, which will make your device more responsive. You can add the ability to run apps with the UNIX root user (uid zero). The Magisk rooting tool enables a large library of extensions for customization. One extension will prevent your battery from charging above 80%, which will vastly extend its life. Another extension will enable you to change the custom font.

      OEMs can see all of this activity, and they commonly make decisions that this functionality should not be available to their user community.

      Don't buy phones from those OEMs.

    6. 43300 Silver badge

      Re: Mmmmmm

      "I suspect the main driver is some people would rather chance second hand than be on the hook for the sometimes userous costs that the mobile networks offer for a device and call plan."

      Maybe, but getting phones on contract is always a waste of money anyway. Just buy them up-front from the manufacturer or a reseller such as Ebuyer, then get a SIM-only contract. If you can't afford the up-front cost, it's clearly too expensive for your budget so get a cheaper one.

      It's really not difficult to work out the cost of a phone on a contract (monthly cost times by the number of months in the contract, minus the cost of an equivalent SIM-only contract for the same period), but many people seem completely unable to do these simple sums!

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mmmmmm

      When I buy secondhand, I tend to go for New Old Stock. I got my wife a Samsung a10s and picked up a Blackberry Motion both as 2nd phones. I bumped the former up to Android 12 using Lineage, the latter is stuck on Android 8.1 but all apps I need now still run on that.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Foldable AI

    IDC believes that on-device AI, and to a lesser extent, foldable models, could entice more consumers to purchase new phones.

    Not this one, for either. But then, I'm not in the market for top end phones. I'd settle for one that could just make network phone calls...

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Foldable AI

      There was a TV ad in the US some years back where a guy had a phone with a built-in cheese grater. I'd take that over either of these "features".

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "more than a third of respondents intend to replace their current handset within the next year"

    Ok, but how many respondents did not intend to replace their phone at all ?

    Because I don't intend to replace my current phone until I retire.

    In 8 years.

  4. Blackjack Silver badge

    My first and second Smartphones were second hand and I still have them and they still work. First was a Nokia N8, second was a Galaxy S5, the biggest problem they have nowadays besides being extremely outdated, is battery life.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      So if some evil mob of faceless unellected bureaucrats in Brussels were to force the makers to allow you to replace the battery yourself ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There's a difference between "allow" and "enable".

      2. blackcat Silver badge

        You can on an awful lot of phones. You just need suction cups, little prying tools, tiny screwdrivers, new adhesive and a level of skill above most of the population to not break something expensive like the screen.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          I don't know how to change the clutch on my old car, but I do know that VW didn't fit a chip to stop me

          I don't know how to change the battery on my new EV but I know that the maker does block replacements

          1. TheBruce

            They are starting to do that...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              John Deere's been doing it for years on tractors. BMW attempted heated seat subscriptions.

        2. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Or you can buy a fairphone!

  5. DS999 Silver badge

    I recently saw an article

    Claiming that the longer replacement cycles for smartphones were started to impact the secondhand market, with fewer recent model phones available causing their prices to rise. So if you're looking for say a two year old used phone instead of four years old, you might have to pay more than you did last time.

  6. Boo Radley

    My First (and Likely Last) New Phone

    When the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came out, AT&T and Samsung promised 5 years of Android and security updates, I took the plunge. It's the first new phone I've ever owned, every other one was used. They gave me $800 off the purchase price when I traded in my Note 10, which was an insurance replacement for my Note 4, which was itself an insurance replacement for my Note 3, which I purchased many years ago, used, for $50. So my total investment in the S22 is the $6 monthly insurance payments over the years, plus the original $50, plus the $13 per month that I've been paying on the new S22. I really enjoy this phone, I typically use it nearly 12 hours every day of the week, both for work and on my free time. I doubt that I'll buy another new phone unless something truly spectacular comes along with must have features, which I seriously doubt.

  7. Zebo-the-Fat

    Never!

    I have never bought a phone new, I have an old Samsung S9.. checks emails and web browsing works fine... it can even make phone calls! battery is a bit past it's best, but an overnight charge lets it last a full day. What more do I need?

  8. cornetman Silver badge

    Have been using a Nexus 5 for a few years now but the writing was on the wall when I started to get notifications from app vendors (like Viki) that they are shortly going to be dropping support for the latest version of LineageOS that I can get for it. So an upgrade was definitely on the cards.

    So in the end, I got a Pixel 6a. So far very happy with it. It is a nice compromise between support life and newness. I paid $220 Canadian for it which seems like a lot of moolah but compared to new and other second hard prices is a pretty sweet deal. Should be holding onto this for a fair few years as well since Google promise to support it for upgrades until 2027. Likely LineageOS or some other platform will keep it pumping along for even longer.

    Compared to the old Nexus 5, the battery life is phenomenal and the camera is a massive step up from the frankly appalling one on the Nexus: it was the only thing that I really disliked on the Nexus 5.

  9. PRR Silver badge
    Trollface

    "Refurb" can mean everything. I've bought refurbs which appeared to be un-booted customer returns (wrong color?). Even some I doubted had met a customer, just over-stock without full warranty. OTOH Amazon sold me a "refurb Fire" with a smeared screen, crack in the jack, stuck in a boot-loop---- abused (by who?) and just re-sold un-touched.

    When I find a sales channel that I think does actual testing, I *prefer* a refurb because I know the freshly-made units don't get minimally exhaustive testing, but an honest refurber will test a lot of details. My latest laptop has a lot of miles on it, some rubbed keytops, and a declared broken camera, but is otherwise sweet and fresh. At 20% what it cost new.

  10. Splod

    Doing it for years

    I've been using secondhand phones for years. Only problem is tired batteries on some. Most work fine.

  11. Pantagoon

    Thanks Bex.

    I'd like to thank my niece for giving me her ex-contract phones. There's another one coming at the end of the month.

  12. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    The biggest problem here is...

    The sods keep turning off network generations. First 2G - had nice small, light, long battery life phone for years until they pulled the plug on 2G. In a few weeks the 3G network will be gone and my Asha 300 is then ewaste.

    I think the EU retained 2G and retired 3G when adopting 4G/LTE?

    I guess used/refurbished phones in AU aren't going to be too old because of this.

    My main gripe is that recent smart phones are mostly large >6 inches (>150mm) and heavy.

    The samsung galaxy core prime at 4.5" (115mm) was about the right size for the shirt pocket - not that shirts seem to come with pockets these days (I suppose I should be grateful they still button up on the same side. :)

    In these parts once you omit the flagships products and anything apple and most samsung the remaining brands have a much smaller market share and are priced very competitively - especially the older models.

    Prepaid offerings from the major providers (telstra, optus, voda) are/were often at fair discount but are/were locked to the provider's network but if you were already using that provider anyway the phone would work with your existing sim.

    I found the cheaper nokias are not too shabby at all, and a cheap 3G huawei was as good as a more expensive samsung. For lightness I use a smaller opel very very cheap, nasty perhaps not too nasty but can't keep the time(?) and loses the plot if VoLTE isn't enabled. Not the middle kingdom's proudest export I suspect.

    Anyway not many people would want to call me. ;)

  13. ICL1900-G3

    Used

    I haven't bought a new phone for more than a decade. Absolutely no regrets. I marvel at what people tell me they paid for their new toy, and delight at the money I've saved.

  14. Wu Ming

    With iPhone 7 here

    Received it second hand from my wife four years ago in pristine conditions. Many early adopters are simply corporate employees who will never see a phone bill.

    Replaced the battery twice at Apple. Replaced the display at Apple. It works very well so, even if I was tempted to buy a newer model, gave it few more years of useful life.

  15. Not Yb Bronze badge

    Budget phones, every time...

    I don't ever have the latest (or even recent) common phone, but so far budget phones from lesser-known brands have been 100% fine for every use I've made of them. There is, as far as I can tell, no reason to insist on Apple/Google/Samsung/Motorola any more, and there might never have been a reason other than "Motorola's the only one available in the US supported by our network" in the very early days.

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