Should You Buy a Refurbished Cell Phone?

There are many good reasons to, and a few reasons not to

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KnowYourMobile.com

The idea of buying used cell phones or refurbished cell phones can either excite you with the possibilities of value or turn you off with visions of old or outdated equipment on its last legs. But the latter in many cases is a misconception because refurbished phones can be the latest models that may have been barely opened, much less used extensively. Consider these reasons to buy a refurbished phone as your next device without sacrificing quality.

Refurbished versus used

It's important to differentiate the terms "refurbished" and "used." The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

Refurbished generally refers to a cell phone that has gone through a professional reconditioning process, usually by the manufacturer or a qualified retailer. These phones are checked for defects and cosmetic damage and are reset to a factory default status. Refurbished phones may even come with an offer of a limited warranty against defects to encourage confidence in buyers who might be hesitant about buying a refurbished product.

A used phone usually refers to a phone that is being resold as-is, perhaps by the previous owner. Buying used phones, while potentially great opportunities to get amazing deals to carry a few more risks than buying refurbished phones. These don't come with new warranties that refurbished phones can come with. There's also a certain amount of trust you place in the seller that they have told you everything you should know about the phone, such as any past damage that was repaired, changes that void manufacturer warranties (such as jailbreaking), as well as any scratches or other cosmetic damage that may not be visible in pictures when you're buying online from sources such as eBay.

Used phones are worth looking into, but you should plan to be more diligent and thorough when shopping.

Cost savings with refurbished and used phones

The primary benefit of considering refurbished or used cell phones is cost savings. It’s standard practice today for cell phone carriers to guarantee their products with 30-day return policies with no questions asked, and by law, it can’t be classified as a new phone when it’s returned for any reason within that time window. Returns of this type are often the result of buyer's remorse and represent an excellent opportunity for the savvy value shopper to save a lot of money while still getting an excellent device.

Environmental benefits of refurbished and used phones

It's become a common practice these days to get a new cell phone every couple of years—and in some cases every year—but what happens to all of those abandoned cell phones? Invariably, they or their parts make their ways to landfills, and when the turn over in cell phones is as often as yearly, this journey to the landfill is accelerated and the quantity headed there increases. Though companies these days are more sensitive to the planet-damaging nature of millions of their products ending up in landfills and often offer cell phone recycling options, this alone can't solve the problem.

Buying a refurbished phone, however, can have an enormously beneficial effect on the environment. A refurbished cell phone may be right for you is if you believe in the power of small decisions having an impact on the planet at large because buying a refurbished cell phone keeps it out of landfills longer. This eco-friendly decision, combined with the significant savings makes the choice to go with a refurbished phone even more compelling.

When the newest isn't always the best

New phone models are being regularly released by manufacturers, and generally, we expect these new models to be improvements on past models. That's not always the case, however, and sometimes the new models come with flaws or changes that you simply may not like at all.

But if your favorite phone dies and you have to get a new one, it doesn't have to be the latest model if such an "upgrade" is not one you want to make just yet. Look for your favorite model among refurbished or used phones for sale. You'll likely save a lot of money and you'll have back the comfortably familiar model you have grown to love for a while longer.

Refurbished phones are great options for those for whom adapting to new technology is often more of a headache than benefit. You get a "new" phone that's the same as the one you know well while putting off that process of learning new features and functionality for the latest cell phones.

When you shouldn’t buy a used phone

If you like to replace your cell phone every year or two because you want the new features and technology coming out on the latest phones, then buying refurbished is likely not for you. There's also something intangibly satisfying about having a sparkling new device with the latest tech that you get to be the first to unbox, use, and show off.

Another reason buying refurbished might not be a good choice for you is if you want the full manufacturer's warranty behind your new device and that is worth the price to you. A refurbished cell phone is typically returned to a manufacturer within 30 days of use because of someone who changed their mind, changed their situation or an all-out device malfunction. As mentioned, though refurbished cell phones may come with limited guarantees that the phone has been restored to the new condition, the quality of the restoration can depend on who is refurbishing it and why the phone was returned in the first place.

If this uncertainty is just not something you want to worry about, or you absolutely need your phone to function without any potential quality variables a used or refurbished phone might introduce, the risk may not be worth the benefit for you.

Red flags to look for when shopping refurbished cell phones

Start by looking at who the phone has been refurbished by. Is it a reputable company? Do they have a sound track record? Have other customers been pleased or displeased with their refurbished products? Just like buying a used car, don’t be afraid to do a bit of homework here.

The vendor you’re buying from should be able to convince you why the price cut you’re receiving from a used cell phone still comes with solid quality that’ll last you into the future. If they won’t disclose their process for professionally restoring the phone, you should look elsewhere.

You should also look for warranties offered by the refurbishing vendor. New phones always come with warranties and so should professionally refurbished phones. While you’ll likely find the warranties on a refurbished cell phone to be more limited and shorter in duration, make sure you are covered for a reasonable period of time. For example, new phones may come with a one-year warranty whereas a refurbished phone may only have 90 days on its warranty. If there is no warranty offered, this is a signal that the vendor doing the refurbishing has no confidence in their reconditioning work—and so you should likewise have no confidence in that phone or vendor. Ask the warranty question and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Where to buy refurbished cell phones

Many wireless carriers offer refurbished phones directly as a way to offload older inventory and recoup some costs for returned devices. For example, AT&T offers "refurb discounts" on a variety of phones, sometimes from $40 to $150 off the new-phone prices. Look for refurbished offerings at other carriers as well.

In addition to buying refurbished phones at wireless carriers, some retailers such as Amazon.com and Best Buy offers refurbished products that buyers can feel confident purchasing.

Independent vendors are also good places to do some shopping. PhoneDog.com has a quality cell phone marketplace for buying and selling used phones. CellularCountry.com also offers quality pre-owned phones for various cell phone networks, but be aware that you’re only getting a 30-day warranty there.