As upgrade season arrives, phone users have more options than ever for improving their handsets in environmental, cost-effective ways
Spring buds always bloom in line with new Apple gadget releases. For years the tech giant has habitually announced fresh iPhone models and other product upgrades in September, with the next launch slated for 7 September.
But rather than tuning into the live stream, savvy consumers should lie in wait as soon-to-be superseded devices become more readily available on the refurbished phone market.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 price them accordingly. Some refurbished phones are effectively as new, often coming from distributor backlogs, while others will bear the minor scuffs and marks of former owners.
A quick search at the time of writing uncovered an iPhone 13 Pro with 128GB storage in “as new” condition for $1,509 at Mazuma Mobile and $1,499 at Green Gadgets, which is a $200 saving compared to the current Apple store price. More heavily used stock comes with a larger markdown.
Damaged phones go through a rigorous testing and repair process. Aid Rawlins, managing director at Mazuma Mobile Australia, says the faulty devices they procure can follow one of two paths: refurbishment or remanufacturing.
The former involves the Mazuma team assessing and repairing the phone with authorised parts for resale. If the device is beyond saving, it’s remanufactured.
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“We fully dismantle that handset into its components down to the main board, and then every individual part is tested. Any parts that fail are recycled for raw materials, and any that pass can be put into repairing other handsets,” he says.
Kyle Wiens is chief executive of iFixit, an online source for phone repair kits, parts and free user-generated repair guides. He says a consistent and transparent commercial repairs process, that includes warranty, is a great addition to the secondhand phone market.
“You can really see value in buying from a reputable vendor offering warranty over a random consumer on eBay.”
The growing number of buy-back schemes also means there is greater competition vying for outdated or busted wares. So, it is worth scouting out the most lucrative option befitting your current phone’s specs if you do 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 commit any profits to your next purchase.
Retailers such as JB Hi-Fi do trade-ins for in-store credit, and telco companies like Telstra and Vodafone offer credit towards your phone bill (just watch out for lock-in contract requirements). But if it is cash you’re after, your best bet is to opt for a buy-back service.
Let’s continue with our iPhone 13 Pro search. Assuming your current device is undamaged, you’ll find a $1,170 offer from buy-back site Mobile Monster, up to $800 in-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, an undamaged 12 Pro Max could earn up to $830.
Even if you’re holding on to a much older or more damaged device, you could still eke out some value. A faulty but working 128 GB iPhone 8 with a broken screen can net $40 from Mazuma; while Mobile Monster will pay $30 for a dead version of the same device, provided it has not been bent or tampered with.
“You can sell an old or broken phone that’s been sitting in your kitchen drawer for two years,” Rawlins says.
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Government-accredited phone recycling service MobileMuster estimates there are about 23.5 million unused phones stored in homes around Australia. Realistically, many of these devices are likely to be dead, but even assuming a trade-in price of $5, that’s $117.5m sitting idle in junk drawers. Meanwhile, if those devices were in relative working order, and we took the average Mazuma Mobile buy-back price of $125 (variable based on condition and model), the figure would jump to more than $2.9bn.
If your current device is faulty, but within its warranty period, it is best to head back to the manufacturer for repairs, or risk voiding your consumer protections.
But if that ship has sailed, Wiens says repairing a phone is “vastly easier than fixing a car”. Just remember, you’ll need to invest in parts and repair tools, so be sure to do the sums and see if a third party repairer may work out cheaper than doing it yourself.
Whichever repair route you take, you’ll be headed in a more sustainable direction.
But there’s much more work to be done when it comes to the right to repair, Weins says. “None of us would put up with a car that had welded-on tires. But that’s the situation we have with smartphones.”
Right now mobiles are often limited by the life of their batteries, but we need to move to a world where phones “get two, three, five battery replacements over their lifetime”.
John Gertsakis, co-founder of the eWaste Watch Institute, says recommendations about device labelling in the Productivity Commission inquiry into the right to repair could help us get there.
He advocates for a star-labelling system to show how durable and fixable 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. “Elevating the product development process is a key tool in waste avoidance, reuse, repair and recycling.”
Finally, if you investigate every avenue for reusing or selling your phone and still come up empty handed, you can post it to MobileMuster for free, so its parts can still be put to use elsewhere.
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