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Should You Buy a Refurbished Phone?

Fiona Leake
Fiona Leake
  | Edited by Tom Church
Updated 4th February 2021

The latest smartphones aren’t cheap and if you don’t want to be tied into a lengthy contract, you’ll have to spend a lot of money upfront. Buying a refurbished phone is the perfect solution for many. You can enjoy the latest handsets at a fraction of the price. So, what are the best refurbished phones and is buying refurbished the right decision? Find out everything you need to know about refurbished mobile phones in our guide!

What is a refurbished mobile phone?

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Refurbished phones are handsets that have been sent back due to a fault or have been sold by the customer back to the retailer or phone company. 

Refurbished phones are used, tested, cleaned and repaired (if needed) before reselling.

This is why, in some cases, refurbished phones are almost brand-new. Sometimes, a phone will be returned by a customer in the 30-day cooling-off period at the start of their contract. This phone will then be tested and sold as refurbished, practically new!

Before being sold, refurbished phones are inspected and returned to full working order. The only thing that might be missing is the original packaging and any accessories that came with the phone.

A common misconception is that refurbished phones have all been faulty before. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes they were returned because a customer changed their mind. 

Refurbished phones are a great way to get popular smartphones at a lower price.

Where do refurbished phones come from?

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Usually, refurbished handsets are returned or traded-in:

Returns

Many refurbished phones are returns. Many of these returns happen within 14 to 30 days after the purchase (during the cooling-off period). The retailer can’t sell returns as new and so they test them and resell as refurbished. 

With these returns, you can get an almost brand-new phone for less!

Faulty 

Refurbs can also be previously broken or faulty phones that have been repaired and restored to full working condition. These repairs are often screen, battery or sensor replacements.

These faulty phones often appear to be brand-new once restored.

Trade-ins

Sometimes refurbished can be trade-ins. This is when a customer traded in their old phone and upgraded to a new one. The phone is then fully tested, repaired and comes with a warranty.

Refurbished phones that are trade-ins tend to be older which means the quality can be poorer.

How much cheaper are refurbished phones?

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In general, refurbished phones are far cheaper than brand new handsets. Usually, you can save a few hundred pounds by buying refurbished. However, the newer the model, the more expensive it’ll be. 

That being said, if you’re looking to get the newest iPhone, buying refurbished is a great way to make it more affordable.

Do refurbished phones come with a warranty?

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If you buy a refurbished phone from any major network or retailer, it’ll likely come with a 12-month warranty. 

You should buy a refurbished phone that comes with a warranty as you have a level of protection if it were to develop a fault. If the seller doesn’t offer a warranty, it’s likely because the refurbished phone isn’t reliable. 

When buying refurbished, having a warranty is essential.

Should I buy a refurbished phone?

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You might be wondering whether buying a refurbished phone is right for you. It can be a great way to buy a modern smartphone for less and won’t tie you down to a lengthy contract. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of refurbished phones to help you decide:

Pros

  • Save money - you can save hundreds of pounds by purchasing a refurbished phone rather than brand-new. This means that you could buy a flagship handset and save hundreds on the upfront cost or the lengthy contract.
  • Refurbished - unlike used phones, refurbished phones are professionally cleaned, checked and repaired. This means that you can expect higher quality, sometimes refurbished is as good as brand-new!
  • Warranty - most refurbished phones come with a warranty. This offers a level of protection.
  • Environmentally friendly - mobile phones are filled with toxic components such as lead, mercury and bromine. This all ends up in a landfill when you throw away your device. Buying a refurbished phone helps to lessen this problem as phones stay in circulation longer if people aren’t upgrading to brand-new devices each year.

Cons

  • No accessories - you aren’t guaranteed the accessories that originally came with the phone such as headphones and chargers. 
  • No original packaging - when you buy a refurbished phone, it’ll likely come in a plain box. This means that you do miss out on the experience of unboxing a new phone. 
  • Used - some refurbished phones could come with signs of use such as scratches. This all depends on the grade you buy, we’ll cover this in more detail later.
  • Wait for the latest model - if you want the latest iPhone, for example, you’ll have to wait a few months or more after launch for a refurbished one to be available. 

What do Latest Deals members think about refurbished phones?

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We asked Latest Deals members about their experience with refurbished phones - what device they bought, how much it cost and whether it was any good. 

The opinions were mixed and some great lessons can be learnt from other people’s experiences! 

Positive experiences buying refurbished: 

Ann shared a great experience buying refurbished phones with both O2 and on eBay:

All my phones have been refurbished. O2 do great like new contracts and also on refresh.

I have bought them on eBay. My last one was iPhone X for £289 and a 12-month warranty.

Johnny has chosen Music Magpie as his favourite place to buy refurbished:

I have bought 3 refurbished iPhones from Music Magpie for myself and my wife. All looked liked new and have worked perfectly.

More members shared great experiences with both Amazon and Apple:

My current phone came from Amazon warehouse. Oneplus 8 pro. Had it a few months and it's great. To me, it looked like it was just opened and unused.

No, but someone I used to work for used to buy refurbished iPhones directly from Apple. They would be hundreds cheaper and if there are issues, Apple will sort it - not the cheapest for refurbs, but it’s money for peace of mind

Some great advice from RegularComper:

A few years ago I had a refurbished iPhone 4s off eBay. It was in pristine condition as if it was new and never used. If you aren't bothered about having the latest gadgets or the apps as well as wanting to save the pennies, then I do highly recommend considering refurbished products. But at the same time, do keep an open mind; as I have in the past asked myself "why are they wanting to get rid of it?".

Blacklabrador recommends only Grade A refurbs to guarantee quality: 

I popped online and picked up a refurbished iPhone 5c for £55, and I am very happy with the quality. It has no marks or blemishes, and so far the battery is performing well. I would recommend it as long as you pick a Grade A refurb, as opposed to a cheaper one

Negative experiences buying refurbished: 

Leeann, unfortunately, didn’t have a great experience with a refurbished Samsung:

I have it was a Samsung for my husband paid £150 and after 6 months it broke screen went funny

Lambeth also had issues with glitches: 

Had a Samsung on contract refurbished via Carphone Warehouse. It did stall quite often which was annoying and I probably wouldn't have a refurb again, mainly due to 2-year contracts so you're stuck for a while.

Overall, the majority of Latest Deals members had a positive experience when buying a refurbished phone. The key is picking a reputable retailer and going for the highest quality grade you can. This way, you have buyer protection and peace of mind that your phone will be in great condition.

What's the difference between a used smartphone and a refurbished smartphone?

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A refurbished phone may have been previously used by another owner. However, refurbished phones are professionally inspected and repaired to make sure that they are in full working order before being sold. 

Used phones are just sold as they are, without any tests or repairs. This means that you won’t get a warranty with a used device and it could be in worse condition than a refurbished phone.

What's better: A refurbished phone or secondhand?

If you can afford to spend a bit more, refurbished phones are the better option. This is because you know more about its history, it’s been professionally tested and often comes with a warranty. 

Used phones are the cheaper option though and if you buy a used handset that’s been looked after by the previous owner then it can almost be like-new. 

If you buy a used phone from eBay and it’s faulty, you can return it within 30 days for a refund. This can offer some level of protection when buying used. 

Refurbished phones tend to have more protection and are in full working order when purchased. However, neither refurbished nor used phones are completely free of problems. 

Where can I buy a refurbished mobile phone?

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You can buy a refurbished phone from many places both online and instore. Make sure you check customer reviews to ensure that you’re buying from a reputable brand. Try the following places:

  • High street - many high-street stores sell refurbished mobile phones such as mobile phone repair shops and CeX. These places can be great to speak face to face with someone, test out the phone and ask any questions.
  • Networks - many network providers such as O2, EE and Vodafone all sell refurbished devices. Buying from networks means your phone will come with a warranty and all proper tests have been carried out. 
  • Manufacturers - buying from the manufacturers themselves such as Apple and Samsung will ensure certified refurbs. However, do expect to pay more. 
  • Online marketplaces - you can buy refurbished phones online from websites such as eBay and Amazon. Make sure that the seller is reputable by reading reviews. You should also ensure that the refurb comes with a warranty. 

Best sites to buy a refurbished phone

When it comes to the best places to buy a refurbished phone, aim to pick sellers who are traders. Traders sell goods they bought intending to resell. For example, buying a used phone and refurbishing it and quality checking before reselling. 

Always look for 'registered as a business seller' on seller profiles. Remember, refurbished phones rely on returns which means that you might have to be patient to get the exact model you want. 

Here are the best websites to try:

Warranty included?Buyer protectionDelivery chargesNotes
eBayMost sellers offer a one year warranty.eBay Money Back GuaranteeOften free but depends on the seller.Traders on eBay are more reliable. 
AmazonMost sellers offer a one year warranty.A-to-Z GuaranteeVaries depending on the seller.Traders on Amazon are more reliable. 
O2 Like New12-month retailer warranty.None.Free, next-day courier service.Refurbs must pass O2’s five-point check before sold.
EE Good as New12-month manufacturer warranty.EE Lifetime GuaranteeFree, dispatched within 7 days.EE’s good as new devices are only handsets that have been returned within the 14-day cooling-off period. 
Vodafone Refurbished12-month warranty.14 day return period.Free next-day delivery.Packaged in a branded box with USB charging cable.
Music Magpie12-month warranty.None.Free, two to three days tracked.Huge selection of phones.
Mobiles.co.uk12-month warranty.None.Free next-day delivery.Carphone Warehouse-owned company.
Fonehouse6-month warranty on iPhones. 12 months for all other phones.None.Free next-day delivery.Like-for-like handset replacement if not satisfied.
CeX24 month warranty.None.£1.50 delivery fee for items less than £50.Good trade-in prices for old phones.
The Big Phone Store12-month warranty.30-day returns.£4.99 delivery fee for items less than £30. Price match promise.

What do the grades mean for Refurbished phones?

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Refurbished phones are given a grade by retailers. These ‘grades’ aren’t set independently by Trading Standards so the quality you get for each grade from different sellers will vary. Typically, the grades are as follows:

  • Grade A - close to being a brand-new phone. Almost immaculate without any or very minimal signs of wear and tear. Usually, grade A phones have been returned by customers within the cooling-off period at the start of their contract.
  • Grade B - the phone has been visibly used with some minor chips, scuffs or scratches. Any damage is aesthetic and the phone is still in full working order.
  • Grade C - shows more significant signs of use and wear and tear. The phone will still be in full working order but the exterior could have a few scratches, dents and more. 
  • Grade D/ ‘for parts’/ ‘broken’ - most retailers don’t sell grade D phones but you might find them on eBay. The phones are broken in some way and might be sold for parts. Avoid buying these unless you plan on restoring the phone and reselling it. 

Sometimes, different sellers use words to describe the condition of their phones instead of grades. For example, instead of Grade A, B and C, it could be ‘pristine’, ‘very good’ and ‘average’. Each seller will describe the different levels on their website. 

You must check what grade a refurbished phone is before buying. This way, you know what kind of quality and condition to expect from the device. The higher the grade, the more expensive the device. However, the better the quality means that it’ll last longer.

What problems should I look out for when buying a refurbished mobile phone?

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If you buy a refurbished phone from a reputable retailer, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter any problems. It’s still important to do your research before buying anything and look out for the following problems:

  • Declining battery life - smartphone batteries do start to decline the more a phone is used. Unless the battery has been replaced, bear in mind that you won’t enjoy peak battery lifespan with a refurbished phone.
  • Faulty charging port - the charging port can easily be damaged on a smartphone. The retailer should have cleaned this port to make sure that the connection still works.
  • Faulty buttons - the home button, volume button and power button can begin to wear on used smartphones. The satisfying, clicky feeling might no longer be there on a refurbished device unless it's like new. This is only a problem if buttons stop working entirely.
  • Missing accessories - before buying a refurbished phone, check with the seller that it comes with all the accessories such as a charging cable and headphones. If this isn't important to you as you already have the right cables, missing accessories might not be a problem. 

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