Are refurbished devices safe?

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With the price of flagship phones soaring higher every year, it’s no wonder so many Australians are turning to refurbished phones (as well as tablets and laptops) to upgrade their device for less. Each month in Australia, there are an average of 17,000 searches for “refurbished iPhone”—and that’s not even taking into account the number of searches for refurbished Samsung and other Android phones.

However, while buying a refurbished device is better for both your bank account and the environment, you may be wondering—are pre-owned phones safe? Though the answer is generally “yes”, it does come with a few caveats, and the answer can differ depending on the device and the place of purchase.

Are refurbished iPhones and iPads safe?

Refurbished iPhones and iPads tend to be one of the safer bets in the pre-owned market for a few reasons.

Firstly, Apple guarantees at least five years (often even six or seven years) of software and security updates for its devices, starting from its release date. That means that as long as the device you purchase is no more than a couple of years old, you’ll still have access to the new features and essential security patches that come with each software update. Furthermore, your refurbished phone will still be able to run the latest apps.

Secondly, iOS devices are notoriously difficult to install spyware on. In fact, the seller would need to jailbreak the device (a process that removes software restrictions and allows for greater user control) in order to do so. Most pre-owned iPhone and iPad sellers will factory reset the device before handing it over to you, but we still recommend doing another just to be sure. Though it’s unlikely that a reseller would install spyware on a refurbished device, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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What are security updates and why are they important?
While software updates or upgrades generally refer to new features or changes to existing features on devices, security updates are essential for keeping your phone, tablet or laptop protected from cyber threats. Manufacturers are constantly looking for vulnerabilities that have the potential to be exploited, and when these are found, they respond by releasing a security update to patch that vulnerability. If you have an older device that no longer receives security updates, you may be more at risk of cyber attacks.

Are refurbished Android phones and tablets safe?

Android phones and tablets are a slightly different story. Because there are so many manufacturers of Android devices, each brand (and sometimes even each model within that brand) has a different software update schedule.

Here’s a breakdown of how many updates each of the most popular Android brands in Australia offers.

  • Samsung: Cheaper devices usually receive up to three years of updates, while flagships (and many mid-range models) will receive four years of updates and five years of security patches.
  • Google: From the Pixel 6 series onwards, Google phones receive three upgrades and five years of security updates. However, devices prior to the Pixel 6 only receive three years of security updates.
  • OPPO: From 2023 onwards, OPPO flagships will receive four upgrades and five years of security updates, while pre-2023 flagships get three upgrades and four years of security updates. Mid-range OPPO phones get two upgrades and four years of security updates, while budget devices get one upgrade and three years of security patches. Select ultra-cheap OPPO models may receive no updates at all.
  • Nokia: Most Nokia smartphones get two upgrades and two or three years of security updates.

With all the above in mind, we’d advise against purchasing a refurbished Android phone that is no more than one year old.

It’s also worth noting that Android isn’t as highly restricted as iOS when it comes to installing software, so it’s a little easier for people to install spyware. Therefore we still recommend that anyone purchasing a pre-owned Android device does their own factory reset.

Are refurbished laptops safe?

The lifespan of laptops tends to be quite a bit longer than phones as they typically receive more years of software and security updates. MacBooks are typically given software and security updates for between 7 and 10 years after the model’s release date. Windows laptops vary significantly due to the vast number of manufacturers, but they’re generally expected to last between three and five years, as this is around the time they stop receiving operating system updates.

If you do opt for a refurbished laptop, stick with a model that’s no more than a couple of years old if it’s a MacBook or one year old if it’s a Windows laptop. The older you go, the fewer software updates you’ll receive and the closer your laptop moves towards obsolescence, meaning repairing it can become very difficult.

Your refurbished laptop will most likely have been wiped before purchase, but it’s worth doing another factory reset. We also recommend installing antivirus software from the get-go to ensure your laptop stays free from malware.

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Software vs hardware degradation

In our article, we’ve focused mainly on the availability of software and security updates, as they’re what ensure your device is protected from security vulnerabilities. However, hardware degradation is another important factor to consider.

Depending on the refurbishment process, your pre-loved device may have been used and abused for a couple of years beforehand. While some refurbishers replace old hardware components with new ones, in most cases, the devices simply go through a series of checks to ensure they’re working to a certain standard. Batteries, for example, are often considered to be in working order as long as they’re at 80% battery health or higher. 20% may not sound like a huge decrease, but it is noticeable. The same can be said for processors, which slowly degrade over time, resulting in worse performance.

Consider where you purchase refurbished devices

Where possible, try to buy refurbished devices directly from the manufacturer (often called “certified refurbished” or “manufacturer refurbished”), as they tend to restore their devices to a higher standard than third-party retailers. Apple, for example, has a rigorous refurbishment process which almost guarantees the device you’re getting is as good as new. Dell is another in a small number of brands offering in-house refurbished devices.

However, if your desired device is only available via third-party sellers, keep in mind that not all stores are created equal. Here are some factors to consider when determining the legitimacy of a refurbished device retailer.

  • Quality grade: Each seller will have their own quality scale, with the devices in the best condition being listed as “Excellent”, “Pristine” or “As new” and those with more imperfections referred to as “Good”. The price tends to reflect the device’s condition.
  • Refurbishment process: A good seller will provide a checklist of the refurbishment process, detailing every component that has been checked for quality, e.g. battery health, screen, Wi-Fi.
  • Warranty: A good refurbished device store will back the quality of their products with a decent warranty period (ideally, at least one year).
  • Returns policy: Look for a store that offers a return policy so you can test the device for a few weeks and return or replace it if it doesn’t meet your standards.
  • Store reviews: There are quite a number of sites selling refurbished devices, so be sure to do your research and check out the site’s reviews on Google, Product Review and Trustpilot.

We strongly advise against purchasing pre-owned electronics from places like Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Gumtree, as they likely have undergone no refurbishment checks or processes and there are far fewer consumer protections available if your device doesn’t live up to expectations.

Final word

So, should you buy a refurbished device? As long as you choose the device wisely and purchase through a reputable retailer, you should be fine. However, we always recommend factory resetting any second-hand device before use, just to be absolutely sure.

Georgia Dixon
Written by
Georgia Dixon
Georgia Dixon has 10 years of experience writing about all things tech, entertainment and lifestyle. She has bylines on Reviews.org, 7NEWS, Stuff.co.nz, in TechLife magazine and more. In 2023 she won Best News Writer at the Consensus IT Awards, and in 2024 she was a finalist for Best News Journalist at the Samsung IT Journalism Awards (The Lizzies). In her spare time, you'll find her playing games and daydreaming about good food, wine, and dogs.

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