SSpring buds are always blooming based on new releases of Apple gadgets. For years, the tech giant has usually announced new iPhone models and other product upgrades in September, with the next launch scheduled for September 7.
But rather than tune in to the live stream, savvy consumers should wait for soon-to-be-replaced devices to become more readily available in the refurbished phone market.
The savings can be significant. Companies such as Mazuma Mobile, Green Gadgets, and Reebelo place different grades on pre-loved phones reflecting their condition and set them accordingly. Some refurbished phones are effectively like new, often coming from backlogs from distributors, while others will bear minor scuffs and marks from previous owners.
A quick search at the time of writing revealed an iPhone 13 Pro with 128GB of storage in “like new” condition for $1,509 at Mazuma Mobile and $1,499 at Green Gadgets, which is a savings of $200 per compared to the current Apple Store price. Higher used inventory has a higher markdown.
Damaged phones go through a rigorous testing and repair process. Aid Rawlins, managing director of Mazuma Mobile Australia, explains that the faulty devices they buy can go down one of two paths: refurbished or refurbished.
The first involves the Mazuma team evaluating and repairing the phone with parts authorized for resale. If the device is beyond backup, it is refurbished.
“We completely disassemble this handset into its component parts down to the main board, and then every part is tested. Any parts that fail are recycled into raw materials, and those that pass can be used to repair other handsets,” he says.
Kyle Wiens is Managing Director of iFixit, an online source of free user-generated phone repair kits, parts and repair guides. He says a consistent and transparent commercial repair process, which includes a warranty, is a great addition to the used phone market.
“You can really see the value of buying from a reputable supplier with a guarantee versus a random consumer on eBay.”
“You can sell an old or broken phone”
The growing number of buy-back programs also means there is greater competition for obsolete or broken merchandise. So it’s worth looking for the most lucrative option that matches the specs of your current phone if you decide to upgrade.
Manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung have their own trade-in processes, but these are often limited to phones of a certain age, brand, or condition, and usually require you to engage all profits on your next purchase.
Retailers such as JB Hi-Fi trade for store credit, and telecom companies like Telstra and Vodafone offer credit on your phone bill (just be mindful of lock-in contract requirements). But if it’s money you’re looking for, it’s best to opt for a redemption service.
Let’s continue our iPhone 13 Pro search. Assuming your current device is undamaged, you’ll find a $1,170 offer on the Mobile Monster buy-back site, up to $800 store credit at JB Hi-Fi, or a $645 quote through Samsung . Apple isn’t currently accepting this model for trade-in, but for context, a 12 Pro Max in good condition could fetch up to $830.
Even if you keep a much older or more damaged device, you can still gain value. Faulty but working 128GB iPhone 8 with broken screen can fetch Mazuma $40; while Mobile Monster will pay $30 for a dead version of the same device, provided it hasn’t been bent or tampered with.
“You can sell an old phone or a broken phone that’s been sitting in your kitchen drawer for two years,” says Rawlins.
The government-accredited phone recycling service, MobileMuster, estimates that there are around 23.5 million unused phones stored in homes across Australia. Realistically, many of these devices are likely to be dead, but even assuming a $5 trade-in price, that’s $117.5 million sitting idle in junk drawers. Meanwhile, if these devices were in relative working condition and we took the average Mazuma Mobile buyout price of $125 (varies by condition and model), the figure would jump to over 2.9 billions of dollars.
“Much easier than fixing a car”
If your current device is faulty, but within its warranty period, it’s best to return to the manufacturer for repairs, or risk voiding your consumer protections.
But if that ship has sailed, Wiens says fixing a phone is “much easier than fixing a car”. Remember that you will need to invest in repair parts and tools, so be sure to do the sums and see if a third-party repairer may be cheaper than doing it yourself.
Whichever path of repair you take, you will be headed in a more sustainable direction.
But there’s still a long way to go when it comes to the right to repair, Weins says. “None of us would accept a car with welded tires. But that’s the situation we have with smartphones.
Mobile phones today are often limited by their battery life, but we need to move to a world where phones “get two, three, five battery replacements in their lifetime”.
John Gertsakis, co-founder of the eWaste Watch Institute, says recommendations on device labeling in the Productivity Commission’s Right to Repair investigation could help us get there.
He advocates a star tagging system to show how durable and repairable new phones are. This would motivate manufacturers to do better. “Up to 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage,” he says. “Improving the product development process is a key tool to avoid, reuse, repair and recycle waste.”
Finally, if you’re looking into all the possibilities of reusing or selling your phone and you still end up empty-handed, you can post it on MobileMuster for free, so its parts can still be used elsewhere.