What’s a refurbished phone?

With a price of around £1,000 the forthcoming iPhone X is the most expensive smartphone Apple has ever produced. And flagship models from other leading brands aren’t much cheaper.

Rob Hilborn, Head of Strategy at BroadGenie.co.uk, commented: “There are lots of great budget phones out there if you’d rather not spend four figures on a handset, but if you want the most powerful hardware and cutting edge design, you’ve got to be prepared to pay for it. Buying on contract can spread the cost, but also end up being more expensive overall (and SIM free phones give you a lot more freedom to switch networks).

“There is another option however - buying a refurbished phone could let you pick the latest smartphones at a discount. But is it safe to buy a pre-loved mobile, and what should you look out for to get a good deal?”


What is a refurbished phone?

A refurbished phone is generally understood to mean a device which has been returned, repaired (if required) and tested to ensure it is suitable for resale.

Some phones will have been sent back due to a fault, others may simply be from customers who have changed their mind and returned it within the 30 day cooling-off period.

Refurb phones should be fully functional but may have cosmetic damage. The original packaging and accessories might be missing, though this is not always the case. The best refurbs will include all packaging and extras and be indistinguishable from a brand new device.

Refurbished gradings

Refurbished smartphones may be given a grading which indicates the condition of the device. There’s no official definition for the grades, but in general they are:

Grade A - as new, may have very minor signs of wear

Grade B - some cosmetic damage such as scratches or chips

Grade C - obvious cosmetic damage, clearly looks used

The grading has a noticeable impact on price. If you’re not fussed about having a phone that looks new then a B or C grade refurb could be much cheaper. A grade is obviously popular, yet the savings may be small compared to buying new.

Warranty is crucial

Any reputable retailer will offer a warranty when purchasing a refurbished smartphone so you’re covered in the event it develops a fault. Large retailers and manufacturers should offer at least 12 months. Smaller companies may offer up to 12 months, but it can be much shorter.

Be wary when purchasing from eBay and Amazon Marketplace sellers. They may advertise a warranty but actually getting support could be a very different story. Read seller reviews and check their terms of sale, and whenever possible use a credit card or payment service such as Paypal to get extra protection.

Refurbished vs. used - what’s the difference?

The term refurbished has a specific meaning which indicates that a device has been brought up to a certain standard that makes it suitable for resale. Used phones do not have the extra work that goes into checking a refurbished device. And whether or not you get any kind of extra cover for problems with a used phone will depend on the retailer, often there will be no warranty.

It’s unusual for manufacturers and large retailers to sell used, but if you purchase from eBay or Amazon Marketplace this is frequently what you’ll be getting. Watch out for phones which are described as refurbished but do not include a warranty, or are being sold “as-is”; these are used phones and you may have little recourse if there’s a fault.

Should I buy a refurb smartphone?

Refurbished smartphones purchased directly from networks or large retailers with the backing of a warranty can be good value. But always compare prices to see if you’re actually getting a good deal as it’s not unusual to find that refurbished phones are not much cheaper than buying new, or can even be more expensive.

As a general rule we would recommend avoiding used phones, unless you simply need a very cheap phone, or want an older device that’s no longer available from retailers.

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