Everyone wants to own one of the best Android phones, but not everyone can or should pay full price 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. 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.
What does "refurbished" mean?
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.
The terminology changes, but the idea is the same.
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 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, 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.
Unfortunately, when shopping for a refurbished phone, it's hard to know what exactly led that phone to refurbished status or how it certifies as 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 excellent 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 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 catch you've yet to find. Refurbished phones will be cheap, but they won't be a steal.
Where to buy refurbished
If you're doing your research and are ready to buy refurbished, here are some great places that often have refurbished, recertified, pre-owned, or open-box phones.
You've probably heard of Gazelle if you've ever looked into reselling your phone. The site gives instant offers on phones (along with other devices like laptops and tablets), pays out via Amazon gift cards, PayPal, or paper checks, and refurbishes the devices you send to sell to someone else. This isn't just a great way to make a quick buck on your old tech; it's an environmentally friendly system that reduces e-waste by keeping gadgets in circulation for longer.
Of course, as a buyer, you can approach Gazelle with confidence, as well. Every device goes through a lengthy certification process to ensure nobody ends up with a lemon, and there's a 30-day return policy in case you change your mind — that's better than most carriers offer on brand new phones! Best of all, Gazelle frequently runs seasonal deals to bring your refurbished tech down to an even better price.
Amazon's Warehouse section doesn't offer much in the way of refurbished phones. However, it does have quite a selection of open-box — which is to say, devices that someone else bought, then returned shortly after in fully functioning condition. We've all been there; you buy a product hoping for the best, then realize soon after taking it out of the box that it just isn't for you. Maybe you don't like the software, or you bought an unlocked phone that turns out to be incompatible with your carrier.
Whatever the case, you're well within your rights to return the device within the allotted period, and someone else on Amazon Warehouse will be happy to order it in your place. It's important to note that these devices aren't damaged or malfunctioning. This is more or less like buying a brand new device at a slight discount.
Just about everyone has a Best Buy near their home, and while the company has a reasonably wide selection of brand new phones in its mobile section, it also has quite a few less-than-new devices. Like Amazon Warehouse, Best Buy sells quite a few open-box and pre-owned devices, as well as fully certified refurbished models. Naturally, you're most likely to find the best deals on refurbished and pre-owned devices, while open-box phones will generally be closer to full retail price — they're more or less new, after all.
One of Best Buy's key advantages is its proximity; there's a good chance you can pick up an open-box phone directly from your local store's stock. For any online-only deals, they can ship the phone directly to you or hold it at your nearest location if you'd rather not worry about potential porch pirates.
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.
One of the most appealing parts of Back Market is just how transparent it is with its customers. The company works with phone repair technicians and refurbishers to sell phones of various conditions and price points, with ratings listed for everything from the phone's physical condition to the amount of e-waste you're saving by buying a pre-owned device.
All Back Market's devices come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a minimum 12-month warranty. The company runs regular flash sales to offer eye-watering savings on phones to laptops, tablets, headphones, and even computer peripherals.
When it comes to buying a phone, new or old, your first thought might be to check with your carrier — and who could blame you? Verizon has a small selection of certified pre-owned devices on its site, though we do mean small, and you're unlikely to find any pre-owned devices in brick and mortar Verizon stores. Should you happen to find a deal, though, Verizon's certified pre-owned phones come with a 90-day warranty to instill some confidence in your purchase.
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.
Never one to be outdone by Verizon, T-Mobile offers its selection of pre-owned phones. However, like Verizon, the number of worthwhile devices it keeps in stock is minimal at best. Still, when the company does have devices on hand, it backs them with the same 90-day warranty. It even requires every device to go through an 80-point inspection before it's listed to ensure consistently reliable quality.
The Magenta carrier sometimes sells certified pre-owned devices at deep discounts, but stock fluctuates regularly (sometimes to the point where no phones are listed online). It is generally limited to Samsung and/or LG phones when available. Like Verizon, it offers a 90-day limited warranty for its certified pre-owned devices, which must first pass an 80-point inspection.
Lastly, there's AT&T, though even if you're an AT&T customer, the company's refurbished selection may not be worth holding your breath over. Like T-Mobile, AT&T has a pretty desolate selection most days, and you won't find any pre-owned devices in stores. In all honesty, you have a better shot at finding a great deal on a compatible unlocked phone from one of the other sites listed.
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.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.