Since I think buying a second hand smartphone will please the environment more than buying a new one I am planning to buy one. I already considered things like quality, battery etc. But there is still one more thing I am not sure about: Planned obsolescence. How would this affect me? I don't like the thought buying a one year old smartphone and getting in trouble after another year.

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    A similar question about avoiding planned obsolescence products in general can be found here
    – THelper
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 6:28
  • I own a Android smartphone that's now more than 5 years old. It still works great, but one thing I'm starting to have trouble with is the amount of storage capacity. It seems apps are getting bigger all the time and I recently had to remove a few little used apps so I can keep running (and updating) my favorite ones.
    – THelper
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 6:41
  • Worth checking forums like XDA to see if a phone has a lot of developers interested in developing and maintaining custom ROMs. Some phones -not always the high-end ones - do better than others, e.g. if they are particularly easy or fun for hackers to work with. Having people who develop custom ROMs and port new versions of Android can really extend the life of a phone in terms of support for apps.
    – aucuparia
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 11:02
  • I know a number of Apple users that report difficulties with their two generations old iPhones. Updates in operating systems such as iOS often don't work well or at all on older models. You may not be able to replace (or add) accessories such as cases, plugs, etc. Cell phone batteries are often difficult and costly to replace. Remeber to follow the maufacturers recommendations how to delete all personal data from a phone when selling, donating or "trashing."
    – JJLL
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 18:36

3 Answers 3


Every modern manufactured item has a limited life. The trick with buying a second hand phone is to get the most recently produced second hand phone you can get.

Some issues with phones:

  • Depending on which country you live in, the cellular phone system will be running a number of systems from 2G to 4G or 5G. Recently I received notification from my phone company that within a few months their 2G phone system will be shut down. Consequently, it will only be running 3G & 4G, while getting ready for 5G. A phone that is more than 5 or 6 years old could be a 2G device. Ask your service provider if it has a schedule for closing older parts of its system.
  • Check the radio frequencies for any phone you are interested in to ensure it will be compatible with you service provider.
  • Mobile phones are essentially micro computers that have telephony capabilities. Like all computers, they need an operating system and software (apps) to function. Inability to update operating systems and software is one way to ensure designed/planned obsolescence. Some newer apps may not run on older operating systems used by old phones.
  • The one part of design obsolescence for which you will not find a solution is component, materials and manufacturing quality. Things such as: such as corrosion of solder joining electronic components; corrosion of battery contacts; electronic components designed to tolerate a certain amount of electricity passing through they before they fails. Devices only need one weak component to fail.
  • Historically, I understand people have chosen to irreversibly update the OS on some Apple devices and then found performance is very poor. May the updater beware! Not sure if it's still a problem; this was something I read about a year or more ago. Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 22:21

You buy a brand that does not 'do' planned obsolescence.

I have a FairPhone which was built with the intention to have it last ("We’re focusing on longevity and repairability to extend the phone’s usable life and give buyers more control over their products").
This is where they succeeded/failed for the first release (which I have) IMO:

(-) upgrading to the latest Android versions turned out to be impossible (some wrong choices made with the hardware provider)
(+) dual SIM
(+) all phone bands IIRC
(+) good repair manuals, spare part dealers
(+) they don't pack it full with their own software, and have a decent upgrade cycle for e.g. security updates (could be a little faster/better, but I don't know enough about the software intricacies)
(+) using open source software/making the code available

They learned from version 1 and are now manufacturing a second version.

There is a complication of course: if companies like this succeed in making long-lasting phones, you won't find many second hand ones. Luckily, the user community behind these companies are (not surprisingly) aware that second hand trade is important to extend the life cycle. On the Fairphone forum there is a separate thread for buying/selling second handys.

There must be more manufacturers like this, but this is the only one I have experience with. If anyone else knows of any, leave a comment or edit into my answer here:

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    Google/Motorola launched 'Project Ara' in 2013. This project was inspired by the PhoneBloks concept developed by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens. The basic idea is to create a mobile phone that is modular and customizable, with easy to replace/upgrade components thus reducing electronic waste. Originally, the first release was scheduled in January 2015, however this date has been pushed back and AFAIK there has not been a release yet.
    – THelper
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 9:47
  • If the phones were known to be long lasting, I think the second hand market would value them more highly than other phones and make it more worthwhile to sell them instead of letting them gather dust when no longer used. This could mean there are more second hand ones available than other phones. Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 21:37

All information technology has planned (or unplanned) obsolescence. It is unavoidable due to the nature of information technology. The best way to get the most useful lifetime out of your phone is to by the most recent iteration of your preferred choice. I.e. Today that would be iPhone 5 or 6 for Apple.

I used an iPhone 3G right up until you could no longer buy a replacement, that was about 7 months ago. I bought an iPhone 5s with 64gb to replace so that it can keep up with technology advances. The 3gs were getting cheap at less than $100 for a new/used phone from GameStop or similar. Before they finally ran out.

  • I think this is the most accurate answer, but I would add some consideration for both how "green" the manufacturing process is (some brands are much better than others), and whether or not the manufacturer offers a recycling program to address the inevitable obsolescence. For example, the (Apple Recycling Program)[apple.com/recycling/]. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 15:18
  • Maybe, but it wasn't part of the question. :-)
    – Escoce
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 15:21

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