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Buying a used smartphone: what you need to pay attention to

Smartphones are getting on in years. Instead of groundbreaking innovations, there are often only cosmetic improvements from generation to generation. Most buyers should therefore be satisfied with a device from the last or even the penultimate generation.

The consulting firm Deloitte estimates that the trade in used smartphones will grow up to five times faster than the smartphone market as a whole. From 2015 to 2016 alone, sales of used devices are said to have increased by 50 percent. Deloitte estimates the sales achieved with this at around 17 billion dollars. Market researchers from IDC predict that this number will almost double again by 2020.

Aurelio Parodi confirms to SRF Digital that Swiss retailers are also feeling this. Parodi is a co-founder of the Revendo company, which specializes in selling used Apple products. In 2014 she sold 2,000 used iPhones in her Basel store and on the Internet. In 2016 - with additional sales outlets - there were already 8,000 units.

Private ones offer less security

If you want to buy a used smartphone, you can do so in different places. Apple itself offers refurbished devices in its Swiss online shop (the competition from Samsung only seems to be doing this overseas). Refurbished smartphones can also be found in shops such as the above-mentioned Revendo, at or M-Budget from Migros. And finally there are auction platforms or classifieds where private individuals look for buyers.

Buying a used device directly from the manufacturer or a specialized shop has the advantage that it has been tested before sale and is usually provided with a guarantee. At Revendo and, for example, that's six months, at Migros it's a year. Private providers, on the other hand, usually sell without a guarantee. They have to be responsible for defects that existed before the sale. But that is often difficult to prove.

Beware of the activation lock

Regardless of whether it is bought in the shop or from a private person: Anyone looking to buy a used device must be aware that it will no longer be supplied with the latest operating system in the foreseeable future. An Apple iPhone can use the latest iOS version for about five years before it gets too old to update. Android devices have to do without the latest Android version faster, sometimes after two years. At least there is the option of using an alternative operating system such as Cyanogen and thus staying up-to-date for longer.

Anyone who buys from a private seller should also check whether the use of the smartphone is not restricted to the network of a certain mobile phone provider with a so-called SIM lock. Such a block can usually be lifted, but in many cases it costs money.

Additional caution is required with iPhones: Here an activation lock can completely lock the device. Such a block can only be lifted by the previous owner. Apple describes how to do this on this page. If the previous owner can no longer be found, the device is unusable. For privacy reasons, Apple refuses to lift the activation lock for third parties.

Test the device with apps

To make sure that a device bought second-hand really works, you should try it out for as long as possible before buying it. This is especially important for private sellers who do not give any guarantees. It is important to test the most important functions: starting apps, making calls, listening to music, taking and looking at photos or surfing the Internet.

In addition, you should ask the seller to install certain free apps that show you hidden weaknesses of the device. Sensor Kinetics (iOS) or Elixir 2 (Android), for example, provide information about the status of important sensors. The Antutu Benchmark app (iOS, Android) provides information on the performance of the processor, graphics processor or RAM. And apps like Battery Magic (iOS) and Akku (Android) show how well the smartphone's battery is still working.

Is the price right?

It is not so easy to estimate whether the price for a used device is really reasonable. Shops like Revendo, or M-Budget that recondition their devices require a little more than a private seller. In addition, the price reduction for a used smartphone is usually greater for iPhones than for Android models. Overall, however, the price depends heavily on the condition of the device in question.

If you need orientation: Ebay regularly publishes so-called "shaky lists" with average prices for used electronics. There you can find out the average price at which smartphones were sold on the online marketplace.