Everyone wants a high-end phone, but the problem is bringing yourself to actually pay the high prices required for one. Some people are happy to pay retail, but others are looking for a deal — and one of the ways to find discounts is to look for refurbished phones. As you'd expect, buying a refurbished phone isn't as simple as walking into a store and asking for one — it takes a bit more research and understanding. To help you navigate it, we have all of the information you need right here to make a good choice in buying a refurbished phone.
What does 'refurbished' mean?
Even though we see "refurbished" 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 word, 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.
The terminology changes, but the idea is the same.
Refurbished devices could have simply been opened and returned to a store, but could have also been returned to the manufacturer for a malfunction that was then fixed before selling again. Most of the time, depending on the country where you're shopping, a product that was purchased and opened — 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, or companies themselves then have to discount the device because it technically isn't new-in-box and therefore can't command the same price as a new phone.
Unfortunately, it's hard to know when shopping for a refurbished phone why exactly the phone has made its way to refurbished status or what was done to the phone to certify then that it was refurbished.
What to look for when shopping refurbished
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 good tips to follow when shopping for a refurbished phone.
- Buy from the original company or reputable store whenever possible. They do the best refurbishing process and can offer some sort of guarantee that the phone is in good working condition.
- 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 sort of catch you've yet to find. Refurbished phones will be cheap, but they won't be a steal.
The best place to buy refurbished
The best for less
Amazon's refurbished smartphone section is full of amazing deals. If you don't need the latest and greatest — or you do, and you don't mind it in refreshed condition — Amazon has a fantastic list of refurbished devices.
Where to buy refurbished
If you're doing your research and are ready to buy refurbished, here are some great places to look that often have refurbished, recertified, pre-owned, or open-box phones.
- Gazelle refurbishes and sells phones it buys from consumers, and offers the last few years of popular devices from Samsung and Google (plus all of the latest iPhone models). This means there's a small diversity of brands, but a great selection within the most popular ones.
- Amazon has a "renewed" refurbished electronics section where you can find many last-generation devices at solid discounts. There's more variety of conditions, though, and it isn't always clear exactly what you're going to get when buying because the products come from a variety of companies that don't follow the same refurbishing process.
- Amazon Warehouse is often a better choice for discounted phones. Warehouse doesn't technically have "refurbished" phones, but instead sells opened-and-returned brand new (or gently used) products, which can be found at similar discounts to refurbs — but Warehouse has more latest-generation devices to choose from.
- Best Buy sells refurbished, pre-owned, and open-box phones from a variety of 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 have just been 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.
- 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. 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.
- T-Mobile sometimes sells certified pre-owned devices at deep discounts, but stock fluctuates regularly (sometimes to the point where there are no phones listed online) and is generally limited to Samsung and/or LG phones when available. The carrier will also offer similar support to that of a brand new device, so you do have a safety net there.
- AT&T technically has certified pre-owned phones, but they're only available online, and at any given time you may find just one or two low-end models. You're likely better off buying an unlocked refurbished phone elsewhere.
Do your research, pick the right store, and compare prices before buying, and you're likely to come away with a good phone at a better price than you would ever find on a new-in-box phone.
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