Refurbished smartphones – what should you watch out for?

Refurbished smartphones - what should you watch out for?

With a refurbished smartphone, you have several advantages compared to commonly used goods. But you often take risks with used equipment – and signs of use are just one risk among many.

What does the term “refurbishing” mean?

Refurbishing means the quality-assured overhaul and repair of products for reuse and marketing.

Refurbishing means the quality-assured overhaul and repair of products for reuse and marketing.

Now the question arises: is it a simple secondhand trade? No, there are differences here, both technically and legally. Used devices are partially renewed under qualitative and above all-optical aspects to be sold as overhauled or “refurbished” afterward. The problem is that refurbishing is not a protected term, and every retailer can interpret what defines this device’s status. With every general overhaul, the principle “Looks like new, works like new” is in the foreground – at least in theory.

Apple shows how and why this works

Numerous online shops have focused on buying used equipment, repairing it, and then selling it. Due to the repairs and renewals, these products are usually more expensive than on used goods portals, even if these products can be ancient in some cases. But not only do you benefit from a lower price when you buy a refurbished iPhone – if you want to get rid of your old iPhone, but you can also do so directly from Apple. At Apple, for example, this is very transparent. The homepage of the refurbishing program explains precisely which parts of a device are to be replaced and when. 

When buying a new device, Apple offers the so-called “Trade-In, i.e., the option to trade in the old iPhone. Such devices are then picked up free of charge (usually by UPS) at the front door and packed by the UPS driver at the front door – so you don’t have to worry about anything. These devices then end up in the Apple service workshops, refurbished, and offered in the official Apple Refurbished Shop.

What is exchanged during refurbishing?

Depending on the refurbisher, the standards can differ significantly from one another. In general, it should replace all worn parts of a smartphone. These include:

  • the case, if it shows signs of use
  • the battery
  • the display, if it shows signs of use
  • Accessories included in the scope of delivery such as power supply unit, cables, and headphones

It is crucial as a consumer to read the terms and conditions of the shop. How high the signs of use must ultimately be for the component to be replaced is up to each shop. Some refurbishers only change batteries when their capacity has fallen below 80% of the original value. At the same time, in its official refurbish program, Apple gives every iOS device a new housing and a new battery.

 Smartphones with replaceable batteries are an advantage here. A feature that has now become rare, these devices allow the battery to be exchanged easily – corresponding replacement batteries usually cost no more than 20 euros. However, if the battery is not new, the maximum capacity should not be less than 90% – regardless of whether it is an Android smartphone or an iPhone. However, since most high-priced mobile phones rely on built-in batteries, it is all the more critical that a specialist workshop has replaced this component before it is sold or in an adequate condition if necessary.

How do I check the capacity (and thus the wear and tear) of a battery?

It is entirely normal and is based on the physical properties of modern lithium-ion batteries. Every battery wears out over time and theoretically loses a fraction of its capacity with every discharge and charge. It can measure current maximum capacity, and thus the degree of wear and tear of a used battery can be measured more or less quickly. How you can read out this maximum capacity in your device depends primarily on whether it is an Android or an iOS smartphone.

Android smartphone

If you have bought a refurbished Android phone, you should first look at the Google Play Store. There are various apps to choose from that are ready for installation. Now, for better or worse, you have to discharge and recharge the battery a few times – the app keeps an eye on the battery status and uses the speed of these charging and discharging processes to determine the maximum possible capacity of the built-in battery.

One of the best-known and most widely used battery health apps is AccuBattery from Digibites.

iOS smartphone

Apple has provided a battery check integrated into the operating system. You can easily find it as follows:

Settings → Battery → Battery status

The maximum capacity is specified herein percent. This value should ideally be 100% for a refurbished device.

What happens to the data before a sale?

If you plan to trade in your old device or sell it to a refurbisher, you should make sure that the data has been completely deleted beforehand. This is time-consuming, depending on the system. In addition, a data backup should be brought into existence earlier so that the future device can then easily record this data. Apple provides an information page on how to erase your old device.

To format the Android smartphone, i.e., delete all data, you can use the “Reset to factory settings” function.

In contrast to formatting a computer, all personal data, files, and settings are removed from the mobile phone. Still, the mobile operating system is retained so that the mobile phone can be reaccessed immediately after the reset without any primary setup. 

In the settings, you should find the option “Reset” or “Save and reset.” Depending on the phone model, the function can also be hidden under the “Accounts,” “Security,” or “Storage” sections. 

And what about the guarantee?

It is a big difference from regular secondhand goods, especially from private customers. 

Because the legal warranty of 12 months applies to completely overhauled devices and a 14-day right of return applies to online purchases. 

And the latter in particular should be used to check the battery. Visible damage such as scratches in the display or worn buttons can be identified quickly, and a worn battery is difficult to locate without the appropriate specialist knowledge.

Is it all worth it in the end?

It depends a bit on where you buy something and what you buy. Sometimes very old smartphones are offered in a refurbished condition, which appears comparatively expensive. There is also a central problem: old devices are logically out of date in terms of software. The problem with Android, in particular, is because the manufacturers are the ones who decide how long a device is provided with updates – and this update duration is usually short compared to Apple smartphones. In practice, this can mean: You see a cheap smartphone that is 2 to 3 years old and even has new parts installed. But in the end, the software is the same as in 2018 because there have been no updates for the model since then.

So if you want to save a little and don't want to take the risk of getting a scratched or not wholly functional device, a refurbished smartphone or notebook is a possible, good choice even if the savings are not that high in the end.

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