Whether you're trying to save the earth or save some cash, there are plenty of great reasons to buy a refurbished phone instead of a new one. Depending on the retailer, many of these devices have been renewed to look and run just like brand-new phones, and they might even be covered by the same warranty as your favorite brand's newest products.
Of course, not all refurbished phones are made equal, and buying a refurbished phone isn't as simple as walking into a store and asking for one. Like most big purchases, it takes a bit more research and understanding. However, we have all of the information to help you navigate the refurbished market so you can make the best choice when buying a new-to-you phone. We'll start with a list of retailers so you can go straight to the fun part — shopping — and then we'll answer all of your questions and provide some key info so you can feel confident about your purchase.
- Shop refurbished phones at Best Buy, in-store or online
- Visit the Amazon Renewed Store
- Samsung Certified Re-Newed program
- Refurbished devices from Back Market US
- Gazelle Used Phone Marketplace
- Get free pre-owned phones with new line at Verizon
Best places to buy
Best Buy sells refurbished, pre-owned, and open-box phones from various companies (though it's heavily weighted toward Apple) at discounts ranging from 10-30% off. Open-box deals, in particular, are great because they're typically devices that were just purchased, opened, and returned, not even used. Because of this, you can often find the latest models of phones for sale, rather than just old models.
Best Buy's refurbished phones are typically certified to be in reliable working condition by Geek Squad.
Amazon has a wide variety of "renewed" phones, plus their warehouse is full of open-box and gently used devices ranging from old flagships to recently-released foldables. All renewed phones from Amazon undergo a myriad of diagnostic tests and inspections to ensure everything is in working order, then they're returned to default factory settings and sent your way.
Over the past few years, Samsung has really ramped up their Certified Re-Newed program, adding refurbished versions of all of their flagship phones about a year after the initial release. Boasting discounts as high as 30% off, these smartphones are given a 100-point inspection, a new battery, and a one-year warranty.
Back Market (Refurbished phones)
Back Market works with phone refurbishers to form a marketplace where you can find refurbished devices of all types. Information on the refurbishing process is provided, and the listings are transparent about what damage is present, if any. Also, there's free shipping and a warranty.
Verizon has certified pre-owned devices, but the selection is small and isn't always the best deal. For the most part, it only sells pre-owned Samsung phones and iPhones. Buying certified from the carrier gives you a bit of security, though, as Verizon will guarantee you're getting a working device and offers a 90-day warranty.
In many cases, you can also get the pre-owned phone for 100% free if you add a line to your wireless service.
How to choose
The issue with refurbished phones is that you don't necessarily know which of the possible pathways it took to become refurbished in the first place. The truth is you may never know, even after you have the phone in your hands. But there are some excellent tips to follow when shopping for a refurbished phone.
- Buy from the original company or reputable store whenever possible. They will have a quality control process and inspection as well as the ability to replace the device if you discover something isn't right. Many carriers, for example, have a 90-day warranty.
- See what warranty, if any, is offered for the refurbished phones. Some manufacturers will offer a full warranty for refurbished phones, while third parties typically won't.
- Read the fine print on the sale — even though it may be hard to find. Most refurbished or open-box phones are sold "as is" with little or no option for returns or refunds.
- Keep in mind the age of the device you're looking to buy. Sometimes companies won't be selling refurbished versions of the latest phones but instead a model or two older. It may be nicely discounted, but much of that discount is likely due to it just being old.
- If the price is too good to be true, then it probably is! If you see a retailer selling a late-model "refurbished" phone for something like half the retail price or less, there's likely some catch you've yet to find. Refurbished phones will be cheap, but they won't be a steal.
What are refurbished phones?
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Even though we see the word "refurbished" get thrown around a lot, that doesn't mean it's necessarily a standardized term. You may often see it used interchangeably with "recertified," "reconditioned," or just "open box," or "pre-owned." No matter the exact wording, it generally refers to a product that was manufactured to sell as new but for whatever reason was returned to the manufacturer — either by a store, reseller, or customer — and is now ready to be sold again. They're sold at a discount, and that's why people are interested in them.
Sometimes, refurbished devices were simply opened and returned to a store or shipped back to the manufacturer for a malfunction to be fixed before selling again. Most of the time, depending on the country where you're shopping, a purchased and opened product — and possibly not even removed from the packaging or powered on — can no longer be sold as "new" and must be sold as refurbished instead. Stores, resellers, and companies then have to discount the device because it technically isn't new-in-box and therefore can't list at the same price as a new phone.
When shopping for a refurbished phone, in most cases, it's hard to know what exactly led that phone to refurbished status or how it certifies as refurbished.
Are refurbished phones risky?
Just like all online shopping, there's a level of risk involved in buying a refurbished phone. Before making your purchase, take the time to thoroughly research the seller. Even if the retailer itself is reputable (such as the companies listed above), a third-party seller could always slip through the cracks with shady business practices.
See if the person selling the refurbished phone has any customer reviews (the more, the merrier) and read through them to get a good idea of common customer experiences. If the seller doesn't have any reviews, skip them and keep looking. After all, a smartphone is a serious investment, and it's okay to have high standards.
I bought a refurbished phone. Now what?
When you get the phone in, take a few minutes to check things over. While phones sold as refurbished should have passed through quality control, it's always possible that a defect can slip through the cracks. Even if you buy one of the best Android phones brand new, it's still worth it to check it over.
Make sure your new device doesn't have any cracks, bends, or bulges on any section. If the back of the phone isn't perfectly flat as it would be new, there may be a battery issue. There also shouldn't be any adhesive visible from the outside of the phone. This could suggest an issue with the phone's water tightness.
It's also worth checking the LCI, the liquid contact indicator, to make sure the device has never been wet inside. This is usually a small sticker inside the SIM card opening that turns red with liquid contact. Uneven light spots on the screen may also indicate trouble inside.
After you've checked all the physical aspects, your next order of business should be to verify the device's IMEI number. This is important for many reasons, such as making sure the phone isn't blacklisted somewhere or in the worst-case scenario, not stolen from someone. There are countless companies that provide this service, but we recommend looking into Phonecheck.
For a one-time fee, Phonecheck does a thorough background check on your device and passes you that data in the form of a device history report. Big brands like Amazon, eBay, Back Market, and Swappa have all partnered up with Phonecheck to vet refurbished devices, so you know you can rely on the service. If you don't know your phone's IMEI number, use the designated Android code to find it.
What is the lifespan of a refurbished phone?
While it depends on the device, if everything passes the inspection described above, a pre-owned phone can still have a lot of life left in it. If your current phone is already a few years old, buying a newer refurbished phone can still offer a massive upgrade.
Do your research, pick the right store, and compare prices before buying, and you're likely to come away with a good phone that'll serve you well for years to come.
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After almost a decade of working in the e-commerce space, Patrick Farmer (he/him) began his career at Android Central as a Deals and Commerce Writer before moving into a new role as AC's eCommerce Editor in 2023. When he's not hunting down the best deals and offering shopping advice for our readers, you'll often find him listening to music, camping out at a brewery, or treating his cat like a human child.