Many people still buy phones on contract because it saves them from shelling out a huge lump sum on a new phone. But that doesn’t usually represent good value: add up the total you’ll spend over 24 months and it’s usually 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 is no option to get an iPad, laptop or other tech device on a contract.
The obvious thing to do is buy used equipment on eBay, Gumtree and elsewhere. Find a highly rated seller that offers the product you want in good condition and you can save more than buying the same thing new.
However, there is another option: refurbished appliances.
Both retailers and manufacturers are beginning to understand that many buyers want not only lower prices but also their purchases to be more eco-friendly.
That’s why you’ll see refurbished models sold by Amazon, Apple, phone retailers and general tech retailers.
But what exactly is renewal?
Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know so you can make an informed decision when looking for your next upgrade.
What is the difference between refurbished and used appliances?
Renovating something in the traditional sense means that you improve it to improve how it looks and, perhaps, works.
Unfortunately, when it comes to tech, refurbished can mean different things depending on where you’re buying it from.
This means it is a pre-owned, used device that has been checked and cleaned, any data from the previous owner erased, graded for its condition, boxed up with charger and USB cable and then offered for sale. is
There is no real renovation other than physical cleaning.
However, there are some retailers (and manufacturers) that offer refurbishment on phones and other devices. They’ll replace batteries, faulty components and – sometimes – even the screen and case so you can’t tell it’s anything but new. Apple and Samsung offer refurbished phones like these, but they can be more expensive than ‘graded’ devices. There are also independent companies like Aznu that will refurbish phones (currently only Samsung and iPhones).
Speaking of the grading part, you’ll see this when you buy a refurbished phone from a retailer like SmartFoneStore, Music Magpie, Back Market or 4Gadgets.
Unfortunately, not all of them use a standard, comparable system. One retailer’s ‘very good’ may differ from another’s, or they may use A, B, C to represent “pristine”, “excellent” and “good”.
This means you need to read the description carefully to see what each one means, so you can be sure of the condition you’re getting.
Most will tell you the battery health (as a percentage) if the battery hasn’t been replaced, but it’s worth checking if it’s not specified: you don’t want to end up with a phone that’s gone half a day. Recharge required. Many retailers do not give an exact figure but guarantee a minimum of 80%.
The main difference between buying refurbished and used is that you get a warranty with a refurbished device. The retailers mentioned above offer a 12-month warranty so you’re covered if the item you buy is faulty.
You’ll pay more than an equivalent device from a private seller on eBay or Craigslist, but buying privately this way means you’re on your own if the phone shows up with problems after a few weeks. There is some protection offered if you buy an item from eBay using PayPal, but none if you buy through Gumtree or similar sites.
Refurbished appliances are slightly more expensive than second-hand appliances, but this is due to the cost of warranty supplies, and any cleaning and repairs. Obviously, the price will also be reflected in the grade you choose: old-condition devices will cost more than those with cosmetic defects.
Refurbished Apple devices
If you buy a refurbished iPhone, iPad, MacBook, or anything else from an Apple Refurbished Store, it looks like brand new.
As a manufacturer, Apple can more easily replace parts and provide a ‘like new’ device that is fitted with genuine components and new batteries. They’re almost impossible to tell apart from a brand new device and 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 usually only 15% off the retail price, which isn’t as much of a savings as buying a graded used device.
Amazon also sells refurbished products in its Refurbished Store, including smartphones, laptops, tablets, consoles and desktop PCs.
It’s not like Apple: Amazon itself isn’t usually involved. Instead “products on Amazon Renewed are inspected and tested by qualified suppliers to work and look like new, and are backed by the Amazon Renewed Guarantee for 1 year.”
Refurbished devices are indistinguishable from new, but the listing should provide details of what to expect, such as ‘this product is in “excellent condition”. It shows no signs of cosmetic damage visible from 30cm away.” And “This product will have a battery that will be more than 80% capacity compared to new.” “Items may not be original, but will be suitable and fully functional. The product may come in a generic box.”
So you need to read the details to check the condition and battery health. You can read more about Amazon Renew.
The savings on offer can also be substantial.
It’s also worth keeping an eye out for Amazon Warehouse deals. These are mostly unused customer returns that may have damaged packaging but are otherwise new. Items are categorized so you can choose whether you’re willing to accept an item that may be scratched or damaged, or whether you’re willing to buy something with damaged or plain packaging only.
To search for warehouse deals, use the drop-down menu to the left of the search bar on Amazon’s website and select Amazon Warehouse, then type what you’re looking for and hit enter.
Samsung certified pre-owned
Other manufacturers offer refurbished versions of their products, albeit in sporadic fashion. Samsung has a refurbished store in the US but not in the UK. It’s called Samsung Certified Pre-Owned and reaffirms that devices have been restored to original condition by its engineers and comes 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 being the newest, and out of stock, indicating that the service is no longer a running concern.
Microsoft Certified Refurbished Surface Store
Microsoft also has a US-only certified refurbished Surface Store where you can find the Surface Laptop, Surface Go and other Surface products.
Should I buy refurbished or secondhand?
There are pros and cons to both. In Apple’s case, a refurbished store is a great option if you absolutely want a new device at a lower price. The discounts aren’t huge, but if you were already looking to buy an iPhone, iPad or Mac it could save you a bit. Just note that the devices are usually the previous generation – not models from the current ranges.
Amazon’s Refurbishment Plan can offer huge savings on a wide range of products, but devices aren’t restored to ‘new’ condition like Apple’s. They still come with a warranty, though, and have been tested to make sure they’re working perfectly.
The biggest savings will always be found by buying from private sellers on eBay, Craigslist and similar, but it also carries 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 check out our roundup of the best tech deals to see what’s on offer right now.