The first thing you need to know about refurbished phones is they are not like normal second-hand phones. They are professionally tested, inspected, and repaired (if necessary) before they are sold with a warranty.
The second thing you need to know about refurbished phones is they are not necessarily heavily used at all. Many are customer returns, some are ex demo devices, and others are trade-ins that were babied in a case since new.
The reality of refurbished phones is this – by choosing a phone that has been used before, you could easily save up to 20% on the newest smartphone model, and in many cases, you won’t be able to tell the phone has been used at all.
If we’ve piqued your interest, you’ll find a lot more helpful information about refurbished phones below.
We’ve covered what they are, where they come from, how they are graded and much more to help you decide whether a refurbished phone is right for you.
What are refurbished phones?
Refurbished phones are used or nearly new phones that have been professionally checked and repaired (if necessary) so they can be resold.
Refurbished phones come with a warranty from the refurbishment company to guarantee their refurbishment process. In our case, the warranty lasts 12-months, which is the same as you get with nearly every brand-new phone.
Refurbished phones are NOT the same as the ‘second-hand’ or ‘used’ phones you can buy on auction sites from the owner. The key difference is refurbished phones are professionally tested, repaired, and guaranteed to work.
A refurbished phone might have had repairs, it might not have. Either way, the term ‘refurbished’ should only be used by retailers to sell devices that have been professionally tested. This applies to all types of device, not just phones.
Should I Buy a Refurbished Phone?
Getting a refurbished phone will save you money versus buying new and help the environment. It is estimated that making one new smartphone consumes as much energy as recharging and operating that same smartphone for a decade!
Refurbished phones aren’t just older devices either – if you want the newest iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or Google Pixel, you can have it. There is no shortage of models to choose from. You just have to look in the right place.
Savings of up to 20% are possible on phones released in the last 12-months and many refurbished phones look like new, with the only difference from new being that they may not come in the original packaging.
Further reading: Should you buy a refurbished phone?
Where do refurbished phones come from?
The procurement of refurbished phones happens in a number of ways:
Cooling off period returns
When someone buys a smartphone from either a retailer or a network on contract, they have a cooling off period. Phones returned during this period after the box has been opened cannot be sold as new, so they are sold as ‘refurbished’.
Plenty of retailers and networks have a trade in policy that lets people get money off a brand new phone by trading in their old one. The old phones tend to make their way back on sale as refurbished phones.
When people trade in their old phone for cash with a mobile recycling company, their device may be refurbished by that company, or picked up, refurbished, and resold by another company. For example, iPhones and newer Samsung Galaxy phones are nearly always worth refurbishing because they hold their value very well.
Auction sites with valuable phones sold as ‘not working’ or ‘spares and repairs’ are often monitored by refurbishment companies, who will pick up these broken devices so they can repair and resell them on for a profit.
A lot of the time, refurbished phone vendors will make a bulk purchase of devices from mobile phone recycling companies. This is common practice. Devices are often sold in bulk per condition, such as ‘100 grade B iPhones’.
Are refurbished phones good quality?
Refurbished phones are most often sold in three grades:
- Grade A
- Grade B
- Grade C
These grades give you an indication of the device’s condition.
Devices are graded after they have been refurbished and the extent of any refurbishment work depends on the original condition of the device.
For example, a phone might receive a new screen, front glass, charging port, headphone jack or battery. All repairs need to be economical. If it were economical to do so, all smartphones would be repaired to Grade A condition. The reality is that most can only be repaired where necessary. Hence the different grades.
Here’s what Grade A, Grade B and Grade C means:
Grade A refurbished phones are usually customer returns that have been returned within their cooling off period, or, they are phones that have been babied by the owner, living in a case with a screen protector on throughout their life.
Grade B phones are lightly used devices that have been looked after very well. Most will have lived in a case with a screen protector. There may be a few cosmetic scratches, but the screen will be clean, and the phone will be otherwise perfect.
Grade C refurbished phones can have scratches on the glass and case, but most companies (including us) do not allow dents. These phones are fully working but they may have obvious signs of use. They still come with our full 12-month warranty.
Which grade offers the most value for money?
Grade A devices look like new and are the closest thing you will get to a new phone, but the best compromise comes from Grade B devices, which will only have a few cosmetic flaws which you may not even see with a case on your phone. Grade B devices tend to be 10% to 15% cheaper than Grade A devices and still look great.
What is the Refurbishment Process?
Refurbished phones undergo a series of tests to determine if any repairs are needed to make them work. We run a 70-point diagnostic on all smartphones, and this is similar across other reputable refurbishment companies.
This 70-point check covers the:
- Charging port
- Connection ports
It also covers the cosmetic condition of the device.
We also check for:
- Signs of water damage
- Signs of drops and falls
- Signs of tampering or modification
The first stage to determining whether repairs are necessary is visually inspecting the devices and sorting them into categories by external condition.
We then perform a software test to see if the phone powers up. If it does, then we perform a test to ensure all data on the phone has been erased. If it hasn’t, we erase the data – and it’s important to note we do this without accessing the phone.
We then perform our 70-point check. If we find any failures in the hardware or software, then we make necessary repairs if it is economical to do so. For example, we might replace the battery on an iPhone 8 or the display on a Galaxy S10.
We always use genuine parts in our repairs.
Testing and verification
Testing and verification of a refurbished smartphone involves making sure that the device is fully working so we can give it a 12-month warranty.
This process is done by human hand and a final grade is applied to the product, based on the condition of the device post-repair (if applicable).
The phone is then cleaned and sterilised ready for sale.
Packaging and shipment
Refurbished phones tend to be wrapped and sealed for shipment following final testing to ensure they remain in the final condition we tested them in. They are then shipped in a generic box unless we purchased the phone in its original packaging. The reason for this is manufacturers do not sell packaging separately.
What are the most common repairs made?
The most common repairs made to refurbished phones are as follows:
- Battery replacement
- Screen replacement
- Front glass replacement
- Fingerprint scanner replacement
- Charging port replacement
- Button replacement (audio buttons being the most common)
It is rarer for cosmetic damage to be repaired, except if there is a ding or dent, in which case it may be economical to replace the outer case.
Newer models that are valuable (such as the newest iPhone) will nearly always be worth repairing. However, this isn’t always true. The cost of genuine parts is expensive, which is why some companies use generic parts (we always use genuine parts).
How much could I save buying a refurbished phone?
How much you will save depends on two factors:
- The age of the handset
- The condition of the handset
The newer a phone is and the better the condition it is in, the higher the price and the smaller the savings over buying new.
You will save anywhere between 10% and 35% on an iPhone that is up to 24-months old, with smaller savings the newer the device is.
For example, it would not be unreasonable to expect a £120 to £160 discount on a new model of iPhone worth over £800. For last year’s iPhone model, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a £200 to £260 discount.
iPhones tend to depreciate less than other handsets because they are a premium brand with no go between. The iPhone X (released in 2017) still costs over £400 in 2020 in Pristine Grade A condition – only a little less than a new mid-range handset.
Higher-end Samsung phones tend to hold their value better than other Android smartphones. You can reasonably expect to save between 25% and 40% on a Samsung that is up to 24-months old, such as the Galaxy S10 Plus.
Google Pixel savings
Google Pixel phones also hold their value well, although not quite as well as the most premium Samsung phones. You can reasonably expect to save between 25% and 50% on a Pixel that is up to 24-months old.
Other refurbished phone savings
The smallest savings are found on Grade A Pristine devices, but these smartphones are literally like new. If you have a smaller budget, a Grade B Excellent refurbished phone is a good compromise. It will only have minor signs of wear.
Either way, buying refurbished will save you money.
What are the pros and cons of buying a refurbished phone?
Now that we’ve covered what refurbished phones are, whether you should buy one, where they come from, and how they are refurbished and graded, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of buying a refurbished phone.
- Buying refurbished is significantly cheaper than buying new – refurbished phones under 12 months old are up to 20% cheaper than a brand-new model, while phones up to 18 months old can be up to 60% cheaper.
- They are professionally inspected and tested – unlike second-hand phones sold by the people who own them, refurbished phones are professionally inspected, tested and verified to work by an independent professional.
- They come with a warranty – refurbished phones are sold with a warranty which covers you for the same stuff as a manufacturer’s warranty. For example, our phones come with a minimum 12-month warranty.
- You won’t be tied to a contract – when you buy a new phone on contract you commit to paying for it monthly. Refurbished phones are SIM-free, which means you can use a rolling SIM-only plan from any network.
- You can get the phone you want in a condition that makes it affordable – refurbished phones come in three condition grades. If you can’t afford a Grade A phone, you’ll probably be able to afford a Grade B one. The key is to ask for photos of the phone, so you can assess the condition yourself.
- The phone has been used – refurbished phones have either been used briefly (customer returns) or used extensively. You may not like the idea of a second-hand phone; in which case you’ll want to buy new.
- You’ll have to pay upfront – refurbished phones are sold at a discount on the RPP with one caveat: payment needs to be made in full – just like when you buy a new SIM-free phone. If you can’t afford this, then a contract may be better.
- Not all repairs are equal – the repairs we carry out are performed in-house using genuine parts. However, there are some companies who do things on the cheap and these companies give our industry a bad name. To make this a non-issue, check the reviews for the company you are thinking of buying from and also ask them whether or not they use genuine parts in their repairs.
As you can see, the pros outweigh the cons when buying a refurbished phone. However, everyone is different so you should consider your options. A refurbished phone is a good option for those with cash to spend on a new phone – you won’t be tied into a contract and you will have a quality handset with a warranty.
Where can I buy a high quality refurbished phone?
You can buy a high-quality refurbished smartphone from a variety of places. The main ones are I Need A Mobile, eBay and Amazon.
I Need A Mobile
I Need A Mobile was founded in 2010 as a mobile phone recycling company. We began refurbishing smartphones shortly afterwards and procure our devices through our recycling programme and network and retailer returns.
We have the lowest industry prices on average based on our own research and a robust refurbishment process that guarantees the quality of our phones. All our phones come with a 12-month warranty and free sales aftercare.
We are a well-established and widely recommended company with over 1,800 positive reviews on TrustPilot and a 4.5 star rating overall. Our company is ethical, honest and committed to selling the best-quality refurbished phones on the market
You can definitely buy a high-quality refurbished phone on eBay. All you have to do is add “refurbished” when you search for products.
Refurbished phones on eBay are a relatively safe bet because eBay has good buyer protection policies. It’s also really easy to assess the reputation of a seller by looking at their feedback. This will reveal anything negative.
In terms of prices, refurbished phones on eBay tend to be more expensive than those sold direct such as on I Need A Mobile. The reason is eBay charges a transaction fee and PayPal also charges a fee, so the seller has to raise their costs.
Amazon is also a safe bet for high-quality refurbished phones, however, there are less models to choose from than eBay or I Need A Mobile.
Amazon has robust seller and buyer protection policies, and you may be able to get free Prime delivery if you’re signed up to Prime and it’s offered on the phone you’re interested in. This will be useful if you need a new phone fast.
The prices for refurbished phones on Amazon tend to be higher than eBay, with eBay being higher than I Need A Mobile. This isn’t always the case, but it is 9 times out of 10. So overall, Amazon is a safe marketplace but an expensive one.
Other places to buy a refurbished phone
Carphone Warehouse – they have regular deals on refurbished phones. These are customer returns and maintain the manufacturer’s warranty. The downside is they are usually only available with a pay monthly contract (at a discount).
The official manufacturer – Apple has a certified refurbished business as does Samsung. These are perhaps the most trust-worthy sources for a refurbished phone, but they are also the most expensive by far.
Further reading: The top 5 places to buy a refurbished phone.
What to check before buying a refurbished phone
You may want to confirm the condition of the device by emailing the seller – ask them if there are any condition issues like scratches you need to know about before you buy. This will help avoid any nasty surprises.
It’s a good idea to clarify the warranty period before you buy and what the warranty covers. We provide a 12-month warranty, but this is longer than some other sellers. The minimum you want is 6-months to protect yourself.
You may want to return your smartphone after buying it, so it’s worth double checking the returns policy of the seller before you buy. Our returns policy is simple – all products have a 28 day guarantee and 14 day return period.
Before you commit to a purchase always perform some research into the seller or website you are buying the phone from. Use Google to search for “company + reviews” and Google will give you everything they have on the company.
Buying a refurbished smartphone from a reputable company will put your dream smartphone in your pocket for less. There is simply no need to buy new when you can get a high-quality refurbished phone that looks like new.
Buying refurbished means no pay monthly contract and you will be free to trade in or upgrade your phone at any time in the future. You will not be bound by upgrade cycles and your SIM-only plan will probably be a rolling contract.
When a smartphone is professionally refurbished, it means it has been professionally inspected and tested to be fit for sale. Repairs may have been carried out to fix a technical problem using genuine parts. To certify the quality of the phone, it will have a warranty. In our case, all our refurbished phones come with a 12-month warranty.
To sum up, buying a refurbished phone is safe and it will save you a lot of money. Just make sure you compare prices across vendors to get the best deal.