So you’re considering upgrading your smartphone, but the latest and greatest come connected with some pretty hefty price tags. A quick search on the internet reveals another less expensive option: refurbished smartphones. How reliable are refurbished smartphones like this Samsung Galaxy S20 (on Amazon), and do they still offer the reliability and features of their fresher counterparts?
Refurbished smartphones are a great way to get a good deal on a phone, to recycle electronics in a more sustainable way, and they even come with limited warranties depending on the merchant.
Buying a refurbished smartphone like this iPhone (on Amazon) is like buying anything secondhand: the more you know about your intended purchase at the outset, the more likely you are to be satisfied with the outcome. Read reviews about the seller and the smartphone in question. Make sure that, if the smartphone is deficient after you’ve purchased it, there’s a clear way to return the phone.
Where do Refurbished Phones Come From?
Refurbished smartphones are simply phones or devices that have been repaired or renewed by a re-seller, whether it’s the original manufacturer or a third-party. It’s up to you if you want to take the risk when buying the phone because not all renewed items are created equal. Some re-sellers are more reputable than others.
Put simply, refurbished phones were once fully functional, operational, phones that have been upgraded or renewed. However, not all phones were, at one point, broken. Many refurbished phones were never broken or in need of repair in any way; they’ve just been worked on, renewed, or restored to factory settings. They’ve probably been cleaned as well. Some are simply phones that have been returned that the seller doesn’t want to reshelve as new–these are a real bargain!
There’s a common misconception that all refurbished smartphones have been broken since the beginning and that the great risk with going refurbished is that you’re buying something that has been repaired. While this is sometimes the case, frequently, the refurbished smartphone received only minor cosmetic damage, or no damage at all. Fortunately, there’s often a way to tell.
Nearly all reliable refurbished smartphone sellers have a clearly visible rating system. Often they are simply ranked as “fair,” “good,” or “like new.” Invariably these rankings indicate the cosmetic condition of the phone, and maybe a clue as to the phone’s history of use. Depending on the quality of the seller, even most “fair” refurbished smartphones work just fine.
Benefits of Buying Refurbished
The first benefit most of us are attracted to when considering buying a refurbished smartphone is the break on the price. The actual amount of the discount can vary considerably, but for most of us looking to save some cash on what has become an indispensable or indispensable-feeling device, the refurbished option bears scrutinizing.
Smartphones are made of rare and potentially hazardous-to-dispose-of-materials. As such, buying a refurbished smartphone is reuse and recycling. For example, lithium is the primary ingredient to rechargeable batteries, to name but one component of a smartphone. It’s rare and invasive to mine for it, and also toxic if disposed of improperly.
Because there are so many smartphones in use today, there’s a large quantity of material available for the refurbished smartphone market. There are many brands and models of refurbished phones to choose from, and often with options like color and memory size. Many older phones are available unlocked or with multiple carrier choices as well.
For older smartphones, there’s nearly always a refurbished option; newer, refurbished phones can be hard or impossible to find. Supporting the refurb market, most smartphone operating system developers have designed their OS’s to work with most older phones, which can make the choice to buy a less-than-current device easier.
Fortunately, most refurbished smartphone dealers make it easy. The best places to buy refurbished smartphones always have a cosmetic rating, and the very best offer a warranty for an additional cost, or that comes with the refurbished phone automatically. Also, many refurbishers offer a certification as to their repair quality, although some certifications are better than others.
Potential Drawbacks of Refurbished Phones
For all the benefits of buying a refurbished smartphone, there’s still some nagging doubt if this is the right direction to go. Not all smartphones are created equally, and by extension, all refurbished models are certainly not always equal. It’s very important, as with any purchase but particularly when buying any used, to be as informed as you can before spending your money.
The main drawback for a refurbished smartphone is the very reason it is cheap: its history is unclear. Many refurbished devices have not been used extensively beforehand, but you cannot know. It may have been used lightly or very little. It may have been damaged, or defective from the outset. Or, it may work just fine, but the previous owner liked to carry the phone in the same pocket as their car keys.
Ultimately the quality of the refurbished smartphone depends on the quality of repairs, if any were needed, performed by the refurbisher. Any problems with your phone might be apparent as soon as you begin to use the device, while others may take months or even years to surface. It may take less time, with a used phone, for it to need a replacement.
Warranties for most refurbished smartphones are not as good as ones for new phones. Many refurbished warranties hover around the 90-day mark, as opposed to warrantees for new smartphones lasting a year or more. The terms of the warranties available for refurbished vary considerably as well, and require educating yourself about the details of the agreement.
If your refurbished smartphone is deficient, navigating a return from the refurbished dealer could be challenging. Most suppliers are reliable, but there are heaps of testimonials declaring how returning a used smartphone became a nightmare. Contrast this experience with returns for new phones, and the potential headache factor becomes clear.
Tips for Buying a Refurbished Phone
Like much of life, the choice of whether or not to buy a refurbished smartphone boils down to a matter of eliminating ambiguity. According to multiple sources, most people who bought a refurbished smartphone felt satisfied with their purchase. A key to this experience is informing yourself to the best of your ability as to what you’re buying, and how to fix a bad situation if it happens.
Consider the Seller
In general, buying refurbished smartphones from the manufacturer is the better option. No one knows their smartphone like the ones who made it, and there’s little question about the quality of the diagnostics nor the parts used for a potential repair. Many manufacturers offer good warranty coverage for the refurbished phones as well.
Carriers, by a similar extension, are also decent sources for reliable refurbs. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile all have refurbished smartphones available. There’s no question when buying the phone from the carrier, who’s network it will work with. Be aware that the refurbs available from carriers, while dependable, are often limited in quality and quantity.
Gazelle, Amazon Warehouse, and Best Buy are also all good options for finding refurbished smartphones. Here the selection is generally larger, but also is the presence of lower quality refurbs. As always, do your research. Back Market is a good, unique source for refurbs, as it acts as an online marketplace for smartphone refurbishers from multiple locations.
For the ultimate in selection and cost savings, but also the least reliability in terms of refurb quality or warranty coverage, are sites like Craigslist. The mystery presence may offer that iPhone 10 for a song, but what happens when you receive the iPhone-like paperweight in the mail? Be ultra-cautious when buying refurbs here, as research will be difficult.
Confirm you Have an Exit Strategy
If you use a site such as Ebay, take the time to ensure that the seller accepts returns, and in what time-frame. Ebay generally does a good job at enforcing its return rules, but when buying a refurbished smartphone via auction, you are still leaning strongly toward the money-saving but information unavailable side of the spectrum.
For any refurbished smartphone purchase, a key step is knowing what the terms and procedure are for returns. It’s wise, particularly if the seller is not a well-financed corporation, to find reviews about the site or source you are purchasing from to see what experiences others have had. It could make or break your decision.
Out with the Old
In spite of the potential negatives, the resounding opinion of refurbished smartphones is positive. If you do decide to go new, remember to take advantage of the numerous trade-in opportunities available for your old smartphone. If your smartphone is too old to roll with these plans, consider erasing the data from the phone and donating it. You’ll keep that good, clean feeling that comes with deciding not to throw it in the trash.