Many people still buy phones on contract as it avoids forking out a huge lump sum on a new phone. But it doesn’t usually represent good value: add up the total amount you’ll spend over 24 months and it’s typically more than if you’d bought the phone outright and got a great SIM-only deal.
However, not everyone can afford to buy a brand new phone, and there isn’t the option to get an iPad, laptop or other tech device on contract.
The obvious thing to do is buy used tech on ebay, Gumtree and other places. Find a highly-rated seller offering the product you want in great condition and you might save a lot compared to buying the same thing new.
However, there’s another option: refurbished devices.
Both retailers and manufacturers are beginning to understand that many buyers want not only lower prices but also for their purchases to be more eco-friendly.
That’s why you’ll increasingly see refurbished models sold by Amazon, Apple, phone retailers, and general tech retailers.
But what does refurbished actually mean?
Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know so you can make an informed decision when looking for your next upgrade.
Introducing Refurbished on eBay
Refurbished on eBay items have been professionally restored by qualified sellers, with rigorous screening to ensure quality and true value.
You could get up to 30% off vs buying brand new with hundreds of products to choose from, each with a one-year seller guarantee.
What’s the difference between refurbished and used devices?
To refurbish something, in the traditional sense, means that you’d spruce it up to improve how it looks and, maybe, works.
Unfortunately, when it comes to tech, refurbished can mean different things depending upon where you’re buying it from.
It could mean it’s a pre-owned, used device that has been checked over and cleaned, had any data from the previous owner wiped, graded according to its condition, boxed up with a charger and USB cable and then offered for sale.
No actual refurbishment beyond physical cleaning takes place.
However, there are some retailers (and manufacturers) which carry out refurbishment on phones and other devices. They will replace batteries, defective components and – sometimes – even the screen and case so you can’t tell it apart from new. Apple and Samsung offer refurbished phones like these, but they can seem quite expensive compared to ‘graded’ devices. There are also independent companies such as Aznu which will refurbish phones (currently just Samsung and iPhones).
Talking of grading part, you will see this when you buy a refurbished phone from a retailer such as SmartFoneStore, Music Magpie, Back Market or 4Gadgets.
Unfortunately, they don’t all use a standard, comparable system. One retailer’s ‘very good’ might be different from another’s, or they might use A, B, C to represent “Pristine”, “Excellent” and “Good”.
This means you need to read the description carefully to see what each means, so you can be certain of the condition you will receive.
Most will tell you the battery health (as a percentage) if the battery hasn’t been replaced, but it is worth checking if this isn’t specified: you don’t want to end up with a phone that lasts half a day before needing a recharge. Many retailers don’t give an exact figure but guarantee a minimum of 80%.
The main difference between buying refurbished and used is that you should get a warranty with a refurbished device. The retailers mentioned above all offer a 12-month warranty so you’re covered if the item you buy becomes faulty.
You’ll pay more than the equivalent device from a private seller on ebay or Craigslist, but buying privately like this means you’re on your own if the phone develops problems after a few weeks. There is some protection offered if you bought the item from the ebay using PayPal, but none if you buy via Gumtree or similar sites.
Refurbished devices tend to be a little more expensive than second-hand ones, but this is due to the cost of supplying a warranty, and any cleaning and repairs carried out. Obviously, the price will also be reflected in the grade you choose: pristine-condition devices will cost more than those with cosmetic defects.
Refurbished Apple devices
If you buy a refurbished iPhone, iPad, MacBook or something else from the Apple Refurbished Store it will appear to be brand new.
Being a manufacturer, Apple can more easily replace parts and provide a ‘like new’ device that’s been fitted with genuine components and new batteries. They are impossible to tell apart from brand new device and also receive the same warranty as a new Apple device, making them the safest way to get an iPhone, iPad, Mac or other device at a discount.
The bad news is that the discount is typically just 15% off the retail price, which isn’t as much of a saving as buying a graded used device.
Amazon also sells refurbished products in its Renewed store, including smartphones, laptops, tablets, consoles and desktop PCs.
This isn’t the same as Apple: Amazon itself doesn’t usually get involved. Instead “Products on Amazon Renewed are inspected and tested by qualified suppliers to work and look like new, and are backed for 1 year by the Amazon Renewed Guarantee.”
Renewed devices won’t be indistinguishable from new, but the listing should provide details on what to expect such as ‘This product is in “Excellent condition”. It shows no signs of cosmetic damage visible from a distance of 30 centimeters.” and “This product will have a battery that exceeds 80% capacity relative to new.” “Accessories may not be original, but will be compatible and fully functional. Product may come in generic box.”
You therefore need to read the details to check the condition and battery health. You can read more about Amazon renewed.
The savings on offer can be quite substantial, too.
It is also worth keeping an eye out for Amazon Warehouse deals. These are often unused customer returns which may have damaged packaging but are otherwise new. The items are graded so you can pick whether you’re willing to accept an item that might have scratches or damage, or if you’re only willing to buy something with damaged or plain packaging.
To search for Warehouse deals, use the drop-down menu to the left of the search bar on Amazon’s website and choose Amazon Warehouse, then type in whatever you’re searching for and press Enter.
Samsung Certified Pre-Owned
Other manufacturers offer refurbished versions of their products, albeit in a sporadic fashion. Samsung has a refurbished store in the US but not the UK. It’s called Samsung Certified Pre-Owned and again confirms that the devices are restored to original condition by its engineers and come with a 1-year warranty. The main problem is that the products on offer at the time of writing were a few years old, the Galaxy S8 was the newest, and out of stock, signalling that maybe this service is no longer an ongoing concern.
Microsoft Certified Refurbished Surface store
Microsoft also has a US-only Certified Refurbished Surface store where you can find Surface Laptop, Surface Go and other Surface products.
Should I buy refurbished or secondhand?
There are pros and cons for both. In the case of Apple, the refurbished store is an excellent option if you want essentially a new device at a lower price. The discounts aren’t massive, but it can save you a bit if you were already intending to buy an iPhone, iPad or Mac. Just note that the devices are usually the previous generation – not models from the current ranges.
Amazon’s Renewed scheme can offer much larger savings on a wider range of products, but devices aren’t restored to ‘as new’ condition as with Apple’s. They still come with a warranty, though, and have been tested to ensure they’re fully working.
The biggest savings will always be found by buying from private sellers on eBay, Craigslist and similar, but these also carry the most risk, so it’s caveat emptor: buyer beware.
Of course, there are also sales and discounts to be found on new devices. And you should take a look at our roundup of the best tech deals to see what’s on offer right now.