Ask LH: Should I Buy An iPhone 4S In 2015?

Ask LH: Should I Buy An iPhone 4S In 2015?
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Hi Lifehacker, I am trying to find a good cheap smartphone for around $200. Right now the iPhone 4S seems like a good option, though I realise there’s a risk it will not be able to run iOS 9 when that appears at the end of this year. Is it a good idea to get a refurbished iPhone? Thanks, iHope

Picture by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Dear iHope,

A new iPhone can be a decent buy because there’s a tendency for them to hold value for a lot longer than a comparable Android or Windows handset. Staring down the reverse side of that equation, however, you’re stuck in the somewhat painful situation of paying that slightly higher amount in order to acquire an older iPhone handset. If you’re not already heavily in the iOS space, there’s any number of lower-cost Android or Windows handsets that might be a better buy.

Unfortunately, the iPhone 4S is almost certainly the next on the chopping block when the next major iOS revision rolls around. It’s a little surprising that Apple kept it around this long, and reports about how well it runs iOS 8 already don’t paint an encouraging picture. As a handset in 2015 it has aged a little, although because Apple has upgraded it to this point, it’s ahead of comparable phones of the same era as long as you’re a fan of smaller handsets.

Apple sells all sorts of refurbished gear on its web site with the notable exception of iPhones, which means any second-hand iPhone you get will have to come from a third party. In the case of a 4S, that’s going to be a phone with more than a few miles on the clock, and a few cycles on the sealed battery.

I’d certainly want to inspect such a device in person, or if that’s not feasible, make sure the returns policy is quite solid and reliable before laying down my cash.

Without it becoming the rather tired Android versus iOS war, what do readers think? Any precautions you’d take before buying one? Any tips or stories to share?


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  • Actually it may be worth asking in an actual Apple Store itself. I recently damaged the screen on my iPhone 4 (original, not 4S) and I was told that while they can’t repair the screen they could replace it with a refurbished 4 for $179. I ended up upgrading to a 6+ but the option was certainly there for me to get a refurbished 4.

  • If you aren’t invested in Apple, you can buy an original Moto G for $200 (mobicity has some:

    I remember when a friend bought one of these, I was surprised by what you get for so little money. And, it’s made by a brand you’ll recognise, rather than one of the newer Chinese brands (who make some decent phones).

    The new versions only about another $50, if you can spare it. It’s meant to be even better.

    • If you aren’t invested in Apple, you can buy an original Moto G for $200
      Wait for a DickSmith or The Good Guys sale and you can get the new 2014 version for about $220.

  • The best point made in the article is that the glued in battery in a secondhand or “refurbished” iPhone is going to be shortlived both in terms of day to day use and in terms of utility after another 12 months use.
    Personally I’d be buying a brand new “Chinese brand” Android for $100-150 which will have as good or more likely better specced hardware and a fresh battery all with money in the pocket to buy some extra data or a memory card (perhaps both), or just to save up for a replacement model when/if you smash the screen on this one.

    • Replacing the battery on the 4S isn’t too tricky. 2 screws, one plug, and then the struggle of prying the battery loose. Not as easy as most phones, but you should be able to do it in a couple of minutes.

      The trouble is finding a genuine replacement in good condition. The $10 ebay specials are unlikely to give great performance, and buying second-hand parts might get you a battery as worn as your current one.

      • iFixit are pretty reliable in terms of spare parts for Apple devices, they even have official Apple parts I think, how they managed that is beyond me.

      • Amazon has everything u need to rto replace whatever on the 4s. I’m esencially rebuilding mine for like $70 all new parts. New screen replacement back glass and brand new battery with over charge protection. The battery itself is only $8 including shipping. U dont even need to skimp brand new real iphone screen and tool kit with instructions for $52 . U have every tool u need to mess with anything. Then the back brand name glass is $5. Since my privider along with others now unlock phones after 90 days of contract i aint buying new phone or jumping on another 3 year sentence. I’m building a brand new 4s for nothing.the ouside glass is cheap to replace and the battery should never cost u more than $8-15 . I dont care about the latest iphone i’m not a woman its just a phone . Plus its still a good phone in 2015 compared to trash chinese androids i’m stuck with one till i fix 4s trust me this android is terrible. If ur not machanically incline enough to do stuff urself u may as well waste ur money on new phone. Or get someone else to do it for u. Moneys money guys car insurance is more important.

  • Heaps of people upgrading from i5 to i6 at the moment – i could probably find a few for sale from friends at about $150.

  • I got a hold of a 2nd hand iPhone 4s about 12 months ago, the guy bought it, then a couple of months later the 5 dropped, so he abandoned the 4s, I changed the battery in the phone and it’s running very well (He put it in a drawer and forgot about it for 12 months, so the battery was shot) I have not let it update to the ios 8 Software, I keep it on the last version of the 7 ios. I get 2 days out of a battery, it is the best $50 I have spent on a phone.

  • I think the answer is “it depends”. It’s fine if you just want to make/receive calls and sync your contacts to the cloud. It struggles with several modern apps, and I found the browser to crash occasionally with new websites.

    I would have kept my 4S if I hadn’t upgraded it from iOS 6 – the CPU doesn’t seem to have the grunt for 7 and above.

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