I’ve never bought my smartphone as part of a contract from a mobile network operator. One of the main reasons I like to buy smartphones independently is that it gives me the freedom to buy whatever smartphone I want. The problem with buying smartphones independently is that they can be expensive. Below are several methods that I use to buy smartphones at prices well below the recommended retail price.
Buy Second-hand Smartphones
In the past, I’ve been a bit wary about buying a secondhand smartphone because I felt there were so many potential problems (was it stolen, was it a knockoff, was the battery in good condition etc) that it wasn’t worth my time. However, I now think that buying a secondhand phone from a trusted reseller is probably the best option for getting a decent smartphone at a good price.
- Reputable reseller – There are loads of places online where you can buy a secondhand phone. But, which resellers can you trust? I’ve found that CeX (pronounced ‘sex’) is to be the best place to buy secondhand phones in the UK. A reputable seller like CeX, will provide a warranty, check the phone isn’t stolen, make sure it’s in good working order etc
- Grade A, B or C – Most places that sell secondhand items grade the products based on their condition. As a general rule, I will go for a grade ‘A’ if buying online and a grade ‘B’ or ‘C’ if I can physically see the product before buying it.
- Don’t buy big brand names – The big brand smartphones from Samsung and Apple hold their value much better than less well-known brands. So, to get the best value buy a secondhand smartphone from a lesser-known brand.
The last secondhand phone I bought was from a company called OnePlus. The OnePlus brand is not widely known in the UK, which meant the savings compared to the retail value were considerably more than if I had bought a Samsung.
- Last year’s model – The progress of smartphone technology has slowed considerably. The difference between this year’s model and last year’s model is very much. However, the price difference between the most recent pre-owned phone and last year’s model is significant.
- Network locked – A network-locked phone will only work with the mobile network operator that supplied the phone. The phone will also have the network operator’s branded interface. Check the product description to ensure it’s not locked.
Note: If you do buy a network-locked phone, it can usually be unlocked using an unlock code from the original network operator or 3rd party (check eBay for 3rd party unlocking services)
- Smartphone Models – Most smartphone manufacturers produce variants of the same model phone. Make sure you fully understand the differences between the model variants before making a purchase. Things like hardware specifications and features can vary considerably between different editions of the same phone model.
- Know what you want – It is a good idea to decide which model phone you want before you go shopping.
Buy Refurbished Smartphones
Refurbished smartphones have been previously owned or used but have undergone a thorough inspection, repair, and restoration process before being resold. These phones are not brand new, but they are restored to a condition that closely resembles new.
Refurbished phones are my second choice when seeking cheap smartphones. The primary reason it doesn’t top my list is that the prices of refurbished phones are often high. The savings compared to buying new is minimal and simply not worth it.
Advice When Buying Refurbished Smartphones
When buying refurbished phones my advice is basically the same as when buying a secondhand phone, see earlier section ‘Tips For Buying A Secondhand Smartphone‘
Where To Buy Refurbished Smartphones
Below is a list of places that I have used before to buy refurbished smartphones or other electronic devices.
- Amazon – Search Amazon for renewed smartphone. As when buying anything from Amazon check the customer feedback to make sure the seller is reputable. Amazon has great customer protection, so even if you do feel you’ve been ripped off there is something you can do about it
SaleBestseller No. 1
- Laptopsdirect – Laptopsdirect have a section on their website for refurbished phones. I’ve not bought a refurbished smartphone from Laptopsdirect before, but have purchased a couple of refurbished laptops for my kids. Both the laptops were in very good condition, they looked brand new.
- Back Market – Back Market is a little like Amazon, in that it’s a global marketplace for independent sellers to sell their wares. All products sold on Back Market are refurbished tech, including smartphones. I haven’t purchased a smartphone from Back Market, but have purchased other products and was very pleased with the quality and service.
- musicMagpie – Probably the most well-known company for selling refurbished phones in the UK. I’ve never used musicMagpie, but have listed them as they are very popular and generally seem to get good reviews
Buy Less Well-Known Smartphone Brands
Most people in the UK only know about the mainstream smartphone brands that the mobile network operators supply. However, there are many other manufacturers not so well known in the UK who are producing good quality smartphones. With a bit of research it’s possible to get your hands on a quality smartphone at low price
Mobile phone brands you’ve never heard of
Below is a list of some phone manufacturers that are not well known in the UK and have a reputation for making good-quality phones.
Realme is a Chinese smartphone manufacturer focused on providing affordable yet feature-rich smartphones. Known for delivering devices with impressive specifications at competitive prices. Realme targets the budget and mid-range segments, offering a range of smartphones with appealing designs, advanced camera systems, and robust performance.
Bestseller No. 1
OnePlus is a Chinese smartphone manufacturer founded in 2013, renowned for producing high-quality Android phones with a focus on performance and user experience. The company gained early recognition for its “flagship killer” approach, offering premium features at affordable price.
Xiaomi is a Chinese electronics company founded in 2010, best known for smartphones. Xiaomi also manufactures and sells smart home devices, fitness trackers, laptops, and other gadgets. The company gained popularity for offering feature-rich smartphones at competitive prices, following an online sales model. Xiaomi has become one of the largest smartphone manufacturers globally.
Oppo is a Chinese consumer electronics and mobile communications company, founded in 2001. It is best known for manufacturing smartphones, Blu-ray players, and other electronic devices. Oppo gained prominence in the smartphone market by focusing on camera technology and design innovation. The company is known for producing stylish and feature-rich smartphones. Oppo’s devices often incorporate advanced camera systems, fast charging technology, and sleek designs.
Buy Smartphones from the Grey Market
Buying smartphones from the grey market can mean huge savings. But getting those huge savings requires research and accepting the risks.
What is the ‘Grey Market’
The Grey Market is where products, such as smartphones are sold through unofficial resellers. This is perfectly legal practice, but there are a few things to be aware of.
Potential problems with buying from the grey market
- Warranty – Buying from an unofficial reseller can mean that the manufacturer’s warranty isn’t valid.
- Tax – Watch out for import taxes if buying from a grey market supplier who is based outside the UK.
- Counterfeit – There is a risk of buying counterfeit or substandard products.
- Consumer Protection – Many of the grey market retailers operate outside the UK, so they’re not governed by UK consumer laws
- Non-UK Models – Often the smartphone models on grey markets are not UK models. This may mean that they don’t have UK mains plugs or UK mobile network frequencies aren’t supported etc.
- Slow Delivery – Be prepared to wait if buying a smartphone from outside of the UK. A smartphone I purchased from a Chinese grey market website took 3 months before to delivered!
Benefits Of Buying A Smartphone From The Grey Market
- Low Price – It is possible to bag yourself a real bargain with potential savings of 50% or more on the latest smartphones.
- Hard To Find Smartphones – Buying from the grey market gives access to pretty much every model of smartphone available in the world.
- Unlocked – Grey market devices are (nearly) always sold as unlocked, giving the freedom to use any mobile network without restrictions.
- Counterfeit – Although counterfeit smartphones are usually seen as a negative, some counterfeit smartphones are nearly as good quality as the original, but at a fraction of the price.
Buying a smartphone from a grey market requires a fair bit of research to make sure you don’t get caught out by one of the many pitfalls. But it can be worth it to save some serious amounts of money.
Best Grey Market Websites
UPDATE: Since writing this article many of the grey market websites that I’ve used in the past have disappeared.
The only one that is still up and running which I have used many times is: www.banggood.com