Smartphones are exorbitantly priced around the world - and iPhones traditionally top the charts of most expensive devices.
This is even more pronounced in South Africa, where Apple products are up to 50% more expensive than elsewhere in the world.
However in recent years several cellular retailers in South Africa have started selling refurbished iPhones for markedly less than a brand new one - and some will also offer you credit for your old phone in exchange for a brand new one. At the same time, online classifieds are packed to the brim with used phones.
Although privately buying a used iPhone comes at a risk, refurbished iPhones can save you a significant amount of cash, particularly if you’re not concerned about having the very latest release. Either way, it pays to be careful before forking over any money.
There’s a large - and growing - market for used smartphones in South Africa. These are generally sold through two broad channels - private or via retailers.
Online stores like Bid or Buy, OLX and Gumtree have thousands of listings for devices no longer wanted by their owners for various reasons. But a used iPhone bought privately via these channels comes with inherent risks - the potential for scams abounds, but even if it’s a legitimate sale, phones may be stolen, faulty, and are unlikely to come with any kind of warranty should something go wrong.
Refurbished phones sold by mainstream retailers are a far safer bet. Refurbished iPhones (sometimes sneakily labelled only as CPO, meaning certified pre-owned) that come through official channels usually have had their inners checked out by a technician. Any faulty parts are likely repaired or replaced, and they’ll be refurbished to run - if not look - almost like new.
Batteries, one of the biggest concerns with used devices, are often replaced or as good as new during the refurbishment process - and certified pre-owned phones should also come with a store warranty equal to that of a new iPhone.
After a long period of unlocked phones in South Africa, some local networks began locking their phones once again in 2019. This is also true for phones bought abroad, particularly older devices.
Privately bought cellphones that are locked to a single mobile operator, either here or abroad, may not work on your mobile network of choice. Although still relatively uncommon in South Africa, it’s worth making sure that the phone you’re about to buy isn’t restricted to an operator different to the one you’re already using.
Given their high resale value, the market for stolen iPhones in South Africa is significant - and there’s a pretty good chance that phones sold privately on more loosely legislated online channels are not legally acquired.
In some markets like the US, it’s possible to check if a phone has been stolen using an online service like Stolen Phone Checker or the Swappa’s IMEI Check. But with these IMEI lookup features are typically limited to mobile networks, police, and a few less scrupulous private investigators, instinct is your best bet when identifying stolen goods.
If the phone comes without accessories like chargers and headphones, or is priced at a level too good to be true, there’s a good chance you’re buying stolen goods.
Battery life is one of the most critical requirements to check when buying a used or refurbished iPhone. As iPhones get old the battery life depletes - and this often leads to owners looking to sell off their items to replace them for new, longer lasting ones.
Fortunately, Apple allows users to check on their battery health. Provided the phone is running iOS 11.3 or later, open Settings and then select “Battery” and tap “Battery Health”. The device will give a basic reading in percentage how much of the original capacity the used phone’s battery can still hold.
Although newer generation iPhones are water-resistant, older models were often plagued by water damage. This doesn’t mean the phones were totally bricked, either - even minimal water exposure to an iPhone 6 or later can lead to compounding issues that aren’t immediately apparent on a quick glance.
The only way to be sure that an iPhone 6 has had water damage is to check for signs of red inside the phone’s SIM card slot. Although the absence of this doesn’t necessarily mean that the phone is entirely free from water damage, its presence means you should steer well clear of the phone on offer.
Apple recently found itself in hot water after it admitted to slowing down older iPhones. Although the company said this was to prevent old batteries from shutting devices off, many believed it was a cynical move to coerce people into buying newer models. Given the fallout from this issue it's unlikely that Apple would take a similar decision once again on older phones - but that doesn't mean there aren't operating system risks with picking up dated devices.
For example, popular messaging app WhatsApp recently dropped support for old iPhones - and with most developers focused primarily on keeping apps up to date with the latest releases, it's not uncommon for some apps to fade away, or be entirely unusable, on dated devices.
Given the potential hazards of privately buying a used phone - particularly if you’re cautious around scams, poor battery life, water damage, and stolen properties - this approach is probably best avoided. But refurbished phones available from legitimate retailers are often as good as new - and although slightly dated, come at a marked discount from the phones’ original launch prices.
Although prices vary according to condition, colour, and stock, here’s how the cheapest CPO phones stack up at three leading pre-owned retailers in South Africa:Comparison of used iPhones versus launch prices