There is a lot of confusion surrounding the exact definition of a refurbished phone. And quite rightly. The Internet is full of various different descriptions and classifications of what exactly makes a phone ‘refurbished’. Hopefully, we can clear it up for you.
What makes a phone refurbished?
A refurbished phone has been through a refurbishment process. It may have been through this process for various reasons.
Firstly, it may have been used as a display model in a store, such as an iPhone in an Apple Store. When it is no longer needed in the store, it will go to a factory to be refurbished and then sold as refurbished to a customer.
Also, sometimes customers buy a product but decide that they don’t want it. In this case, they may return it to the place of purchase within the free returns window (often 30 days). The returned phone cannot be re-sold as a new device, since it has technically been used. So it will go through the refurbishment process, and will then be sold as a refurbished device.
Another reason for a customer returning their phone is if it has a defect. Maybe the battery was faulty, or there could have been a problem with the antenna. Whatever the issue, a customer may choose to return it to the place they bought it, in expectation of getting it fixed. However, in many cases, it is easier for companies to give the customer a replacement phone, and take in their broken phone to be fixed at a later date. When this phone is ‘fixed at a later date’, it will actually be sent to be refurbished, and then sold as a refurbished phone.
The final main reason for a phone entering the refurbishment process is simply when a phone user doesn’t want their phone anymore. Rather than sell it to a friend, or via a platform like eBay, they can trade it in for a new one, or simply sell it to a company that buys used phones. Either way, the phone will be refurbished, and later sold as a refurbished phone.
But let’s go into more detail about how a phone is refurbished.
How are phones refurbished?
The phone refurbishment process is made up of various different parts.
Firstly, the phone goes through an examination, to determine the condition of each component. For example, the condition of the screen is checked, and a test is run on the quality of the battery. Essentially, the whole phone is tested to see if anything is underperforming.
If there are any parts that aren’t up to standard, they are either fixed or replaced with new parts. The device is then re-tested to ensure it can match the high standard of a new phone.
During the process, the device is continuously cleaned.
Once the hardware of the phone is all up to standard, the software on the phone is completely wiped of any previous data, and the stock version of the operating system is re-installed.
So you are left with a phone that is the same standard of a new phone, with the original software settings of a new phone too.
Are refurbished phones good?
Good question. Is a refurbished phone actually any good?
Well yes, it is. A refurbished phone, as explained above, will be of the same standard of a new phone, because any unsatisfactory components will have been fixed or replaced.
Also, a refurbished phone has a slightly lower chance of breaking than a brand new phone. This may sound weird, but it’s quite simple. A brand new phone will have gone through all the normal quality checks. However, a refurbished phone will have gone through these checks twice, once when it was new, and once again when it was being refurbished. Therefore, if there were any issues, it is very unlikely that a phone would have been able to pass through two sets of quality checks without the issues being found.
But if that’s the case, isn’t it a little weird that refurbished phones are much cheaper than new phones? If this question is on the tip of your tongue, read on…
Why are refurbished phones so cheap?
Refurbished phones are rather cheap. You often see discounts of 20-50% and sometimes even more. A discount of 40% on an iPhone is a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.
There are two reasons why refurbished phones are sold for such great prices.
Firstly, as we have discussed already, the phones have had various different lives before their refurbishment. What they all have in common is that they have all been used in some way. Despite the components being restored to tip top condition, and the full cleansing of the phone, you cannot escape the fact most of the components have been used. People are unlikely to want to pay the same full price of a brand new phone, and so the refurbished phones have to be priced lower.
Secondly, the best deals you will find on refurbished phones are from those models that were launched 2-5 years ago. Since then, the market value of a brand new phone will have dropped, due to the out-dated technology in the phone, and the newer models available on the market. Therefore, the refurbished phones are quite a good discount. It is also worth noting, that the most recent model of a phone (such as the iPhone 7 at the time of writing this article), doesn’t usually pack a good discount in it’s refurbished state – usually you can only hope for around a 5% discount from a new phone.
So if you’re in the market for the latest phone, there is a very small price advantage from buying a refurbished version. And if you are happy with a slightly older model, you can end up with a recently refurbished and tested phone, with a huge price discount.
Will a refurbished phone break?
Maybe. Maybe not. It’s the same as a new phone. Anything can happen to a phone, and many of us know how easy it is to break the screen of an iPhone…
However, in terms of the hardware failures / manufacturing errors, you are less likely to get them with a refurbished phone as they have gone through two sets of intensive testing.
But of course, testing isn’t error-proof…
What if a refurbished phone breaks?
God forbid your refurbished phone breaks… What can you do?
Basically, you have the same options as you would with a brand new phone.
If it is a hardware problem, simply an error with the manufacturing of the device, then you should be covered by warranty. Most reputable refurbishers offer a warranty, which we’ll go over in the next section.
If it is an accidental problem, such as you dropped the phone and the screen broke, or you dropped it down the toilet, then, just like a new phone, the standard warranty wouldn’t cover it, and you would need to have purchased extra insurance to cover accidental damages or theft of the phone.
Do refurbished phones come with a warranty?
They definitely should. If you are buying a refurbished phone, and the refurbisher doesn’t offer a warranty, then they probably aren’t a quality refurbisher at all. Thankfully, it is rare to find a poor quality refurbisher. Most refurbishers do include a warranty with their phones.
The warranties offered by refurbishers varies. For example, Apple offer a full warranty with refurbished iPhone, just the same as they do with their brand new devices. This is common with a lot of original device manufacturers. A lot of third party refurbishers offer 30-90 day warranties, and offer the ability to pay a little extra to extend that cover up to 6 months, 1 year and sometimes 2 years. It is really up to you if you decide to pay extra for a longer warranty. We think that although it is quite cheap to extend your warranty, it would also be uncommon for a refurbished phone to firstly, be faulty, and secondly, not show signs of the fault within 90 days.
Warranties-wise, just make sure you know how well you are covered when you buy your refurbished phone!
Should I buy a refurbished phone?
The big question! And we think it is an easy one to answer.
If you are in the market for a new phone, and aren’t particularly on a budget, just buy a new one.
If you are in the market for a new phone, and are on a budget, buy a refurbished phone.
What to look for when buying a refurbished phone
So there are a few things to look out for when buying a refurbished phone.
- An obvious but important one, check the price compared to the new model. A refurbished phone should always be cheaper than a new model. And it is also worthwhile comparing the price with various different refurbishers, as prices often vary a lot.
- Check what is included in the box when purchasing a refurbished phone. Usually, you can expect to receive everything that a new phone would come with, but just check before purchasing, as you wouldn’t want any surprises when you open the box.
- Check it is compatible with the cellular network you want to use it on. How do you do that? Keep reading as we explain it in the next section.
- Re-iterating this point, check the warranty! Make sure you know exactly what you are and aren’t covered for, just as you would with any technology purchase.
- Check the returns period. Warranties cover any hardware failures, but if you simply change your mind on your purchase, it can be useful to know how long you have before you can no longer return the phone for a refund.
- If the phone hasn’t been restored to factory settings when you receive it, you are fully within your right to return it, as this shows the phone hasn’t been fully refurbished.
- If you are suspicious about anything, you can use the electronic serial number (ESN) on the phone to check the phone history with the manufacturer, which will include whether it was ever reported stolen.
Are refurbished phones locked to a cellular network?
Some are, some aren’t.
Unlocked refurbished phones are often the most expensive, as they can be used with any network. If a phone is locked to a specific cellular network, then it can only be used with that one network.
That is why we recommend you always try to buy an unlocked refurbished phone, to give you the flexibility if you decide to change cellular networks. But if you are sure you will stay with with same network, then you can save some money by purchasing a locked model.
So, if you are with AT&T, you can buy an unlocked refurbished phone, or one locked to AT&T.
And if you are with Verizon, you can buy an unlocked refurbished phone, or one locked to Verizon.
You get the idea…
Why you shouldn’t buy a refurbished phone
Like everything, there are reasons not to buy a refurbished phone.
Firstly, if you are looking to buy a long term contract with a cellular network, and you want a subsidized phone that you will pay off monthly, then you’re unlikely to find such a deal with a refurbished phone.
Secondly, if you aren’t budgeting hard for your new mobile purchase, then you may as well just buy a new phone… The reason people buy refurbished phones is to save money.
Best places to buy a refurbished phone
So, where can you buy refurbished phones?
Firstly, you have the manufacturers themselves, such as Apple, who sell refurbished phones directly on their website. Manufacturers often don’t offer the largest discounts on refurbishes products.
Secondly, you have third party refurbishers, like Gazelle and Jem Jem, who sell on their websites. These guys usually offer the lowest prices, but the shortest included warranty periods. You can also find vendors on eBay, however, pay extra attention to the seller’s reputation when buying on eBay.
You then have larger stores that sell technology, like Best Buy and Target. These guys use reputable refurbishers, but since there is a middle man, their prices are often not the lowest either.
Our website tracks all of the deals for refurbished iPhone on the internet, and displays them for comparison, so you can choose the best deal for you.
You can view the best deals on iPhone here, or sign up below to receive these deals in your inbox.