Cheaper and more sustainable: the advantages of buying a refurbished or second-hand cell phone

typical case. Classic situation. It has probably happened to more than one person reading this: when getting up from the toilet after a review of social networks, or in some risky maneuver —such as urinating while standing up while answering a WhatsApp—, the indispensable cell phone ends up submerged like an Olympic diver in the WC. And as youth says: it was.

It could be said that when this happens, the inanimate but intelligent device returns to its original state, to its element.

In that way? According to figures from the United Nations, an impressive 13,000 liters of water are used to create just one measly smartphone.

These are difficult numbers to imagine, but in short, it is a lot of water, and let’s not say that it is an element that is left over on the planet today. The reality is that while the cell phone is an interface to interact with the digital world, it has quite a big impact on the real world.

That is why Apple, for example, in its annual environmental report, constantly emphasizes its efforts to use recycled materials, renewable energy, less plastic and more durable products.

If you are one of the people who unfortunately lost, submerged or suffered the theft of your cell phone, perhaps after knowing this data it seems to you a conscious idea (in addition to being quite convenient in economic terms) the alternative of acquiring a refurbished smartphone or a used one from second hand.

Although they seem synonymous, they are not the same. A refurbished cell phone, or refurbished if you want it to sound more elegant, it is a device that for some reason was returned by a customer within a few days (less than 30); or a computer that arrived at the store with a factory defect; or that it was used in a showcase or displayed to the public; or whose box was damaged in a transfer. Any damage or failure is corrected and the cell phone is “like new”, although technically it is not and therefore cannot be sold as such.

Used or second-hand equipment, on the other hand, is equipment that was actually used for some time and was sold by its former owner. They may be in very good condition—some even have flaws fixed—but they carry with them the wear and tear of the first user.

“The main difference —wrote our specialized columnist Alejandro Alaluf a few months ago— is that the first ones have been tested, proven and certified that they are like new after being returned. In other words, without original faults. While used product may indeed be in good condition, its chances of failure may be a lottery.”

Photo: Arnel Hasanović.

Ayleen Calles, CMO of the CompraTuCelu startup, where they sell used technological products, says that it is “important to see second-use products as a more accessible and ecological possibility.” It is also a way of combating the black market, since if used products are bought from authorized sites, “second hand is no longer synonymous with low quality and the latest generation technology reaches more people”.

In his store, for example, you can find an iPhone 12 pro Max – which exceeds a million pesos new – for “only” $750 thousand. Although it is still a high value, it is about a third cheaper than the “package”.

With all these advantages —cheaper and more ecological—, it is still not easy to incorporate this habit in the public. “The main damages have to do with the social aspect,” acknowledges Javiera Pérez, also from CompraTuCelu, where she is COO. “A lot of people who buy used items, especially tech, don’t comment that these aren’t new, mainly because they’re afraid of being judged,” she says.

But he says there is also another factor: mistrust. “People who have never purchased a used technological product may doubt whether it will function optimally or whether it will have faults, which is understandable in a certain way,” he assumes.

Ayleen Calles assures that in her business they developed “a software that determines failures, blocks due to fraud or theft, so that the process is efficient and reliable.” If they have a problem, they have a transparent guarantee policy.

The important thing is to understand that buying a second-hand cell phone in an established store is not the same as buying it in the Facebook Marketplace or from an acquaintance of an acquaintance who is selling it. There, the person is exposed to a roulette of problems, ranging from not having all its original parts, coming with a hidden fault or its components being very worn, to suffering fraud or being blocked due to a theft report. .

“These are the main drawbacks that arise when buying informally, where it can be stolen phones or purchased with plans from companies, and when they sell them they stop paying the fees,” he adds.

In the first place, she advises that whenever a second-hand device is purchased, the IMEI, which is the unique code of each device, is consulted on the website of the Undersecretary of Telecommunications, to ensure that there is no risk of blocking.

“At the same time, you have to be aware of the conditions in which the screens, batteries and charging inputs are. We recommend using some software to test the product: this way board failures that are not visible to the naked eye are ruled out”, he recommends.

They have three categories to determine the state in which it is: Grade A (or “impeke”, as they nickname it) is for equipment that works 100%, with an original screen and some minimal and cosmetic details on its chassis. Grade B (or “cool”) is given to phones that are in perfect condition but whose screens may have certain defects, such as spots or light spots, but which do not affect their performance. And Grade C (or the “funeke”), which is delivered to more damaged cell phones, although they are not sold in the store.

There are some makes and models that are better able to stand the test of time, and therefore may be more reliable to buy second hand. “Considering that second-hand phones are prone to natural wear and tear, the ideal is to choose devices that have a correct balance between quality and durability, both for the battery and for the equipment in general,” says Pérez. “In that sense, and from our experience, we believe that the iPhone XR and 11 fully comply with the latter.”

iPhone XR – Red – 64 GB – Grado A


Felipe Bahamonde, Fixed Asset Specialist of the technological solutions company Zenta Group, contributes with other suggestions. “When checking the equipment in person, I recommend testing the company’s SIM card to check if it works correctly and make a test call right there, to also check the cell phone’s headset and microphone. In addition, it is convenient to check the battery percentage in the cell phone settings, and in the particular case of Apple iPhone model equipment, make sure that the equipment is free of iCloud accounts.

Bahamonde believes that if these precautions are taken—and everything is in good condition—buying a second-hand cell phone is a great idea. “In the first place because of the savings that it means, between 30% and 50% of the normal value of the equipment, and second because it contributes to generating less electronic waste and in a certain way to recycling technology”. Along these lines, he recommends “opting for cell phone brands and models that age well and have many years of useful life, such as the iPhone.”

The other option, less cheap but more reliable, is that of refurbished phones. Bahamonde passes on the data: “companies have outlet category or reconditioned equipment, where the risk of problems is minimal. On some occasions they can come with aesthetic but not technical details, and as a rule they must work 100% ”, he assures. “It is a highly recommended option.”

And the data supports it. According to the IDC consultancy, refurbished phones have a market projection of more than 65 billion dollars globally by 2024, with an annual growth of 11.2%. In other words, they grow faster than inflation.

Our journalist specializing in technology, Alejandro Alaluf, explained some time ago that a refurbished cell phone differs from a “used” or “second-hand” cell phone in that the refurbished one is one that was returned after a few days of use, simply because the customer he didn’t like it or he caught some blunder, but they returned to give him the same conditions —hence his name— that he had when he was new. Some are also sold as refurbished with the box simply shriveled up. I mean, minor details. Such a cell phone is “restored, improved and repackaged to be sold again, this time at a much lower price than the original.”

A good place to find models with these characteristics is Reuse, a store specializing in reconditioned equipment. Also today the retail is selling models of these characteristics, and the price differences can reach up to 450 thousand pesos.

Among the things to look for before purchasing a refurbished cell phone, Alaluf warned that “a cable, headphones or any other factory part may be missing from the box. You have to be careful with that and be clear and direct in asking the seller what exactly he is offering”.

Another place where you can find refurbished phones is Rephone, a company that defines its narrative as follows: “We were motivated by the thought that tomorrow we could look back and say that we helped the planet in some way. That our children were participants in a better world and that we started with telephony”.

If you think about it, it’s not bad at all to be helping the planet and in passing doing your personal finances a favor —or vice versa— after an action as unhappy as throwing your cell phone in the toilet or losing it while taxiing.

Alaluf recognizes that when buying a refurbished cell phone chance, impulsiveness, budget or diligence when looking closely at the condition of the product have a lot to do with the result. However, he suggests staying within the margins of the more established brands, such as Samsung or Apple, since “Xiaomi, for example, although they have very interesting high-end models, tend to be less durable and therefore not so recommended in the market.” reconditioned category.

And our columnist is not mistaken: a report by the Counterpoint agency concluded that the best-selling brands globally in refurbished models are Apple and Samsung and that almost a third of buyers are from Latin America.

*The prices of the products in this article are updated as of June 3, 2022. Values ​​and their availability may change.

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