Home » How to buy a refurbished phone: the promises and pitfalls of the opportunity

How to buy a refurbished phone: the promises and pitfalls of the opportunity

Phone time is coming for all of us. Whether due to age, damage, market competition or whatever, our mobile devices inevitably lose their luster, and so comes the time when they need to be removed to make room for new blood.

Finding a new phone is a difficult proposition, there have never been so many new options to choose from, and finding the right one can become an overwhelming obsession. But what if the right phone isn’t actually new?

Flagship devices from last year will often perform better in almost every category (camera, power, display, battery, etc.) than the mid-range rivals launched the following year, and at a very similar price tag. . So why isn’t everyone buying old?

Whether it’s pre-loved or pre-injured, finding not only the right device, but also one that is in good repair can be a significant challenge in and of itself. While there are a multitude of players offering refurbished devices for sale, each has its own repair standards and not all are created equal.

Read on for our guide to buying refurbished devices, what to look for and what to avoid.

A matter of trust

When buying a new phone, the transaction is simple – you are the first owner and the device will be spotless. With a repackaged purchase, things get a bit complicated. If “New” is the perfect state a device can be in, then everything that follows is in degrees of degradation from that point on.

There are a multitude of players selling refurbished phones nationally and internationally. These can vary widely in terms of quality and service, although some may offer attractive prices, they may come with important caveats.

A good example of this can be found in Gumtree / Craigslist or equivalent. Many devices in different repair states can be found, but care should be taken to ensure that you have a positive transaction.

If this is your preferred route, make sure the device you’ve chosen is listed with photos of it in hand and turned on. Placeholder lists with stock images should be avoided like the plague.

The seller should list the general condition of repair, list any cosmetic or additional damage to the device, and he should be responsive to any questions you may have. If they want to make a trade in person, never go alone, and if they want the cash, run for the hills as the device in question can be a bit ‘too hot to handle’.

Far from the Wild West that is the Gumtree / Craiglist land, things are improving dramatically.

best android phone

A selection of the best Android phones (Image credit: Avenir)

Most professional reconditioners will list devices with a condition rating, which will range from the equivalent of A + (Very Good / Excellent) to C (Average). They will post pictures of the device being used and turned on, answer questions asked, and often offer a limited warranty on devices purchased, typically for six months.

While it may seem like all condition grading systems are the same, it’s always worth looking at the grading offered by the seller you want, different options have different standards.

As you might expect given the smartphone boom, there are a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to professional refurbishers. Many smartphone manufacturers, from Apple to Samsung and others, offer official refurbishers. Subsequently, many carriers will offer refurbished devices for sale, as will retailers such as department stores and electronics chains.

With so much to choose from, it can be a bit easy to get lost though. Fortunately, there are more generalist options that ensure a similar level of quality while providing more powerful search options.

Choose an online marketplace

The first of these options is the venerable eBay, although its reputation has diminished from years past, it still offers a plethora of exciting opportunities. Here you can search by device for options that might interest you. Many retailers have online outlets which are managed through eBay, we recommend that you prioritize them over others due to the increased ease of return if required.

With eBay, the usual conditions apply. If you use the approved display from a well-known retailer, you can relax a little. If you choose to take an alternate route, make sure the device you hope to purchase is shown with it in the “on” state in use at least once.

Other options than eBay of course exist, an interesting alternative in Europe and the USA is Back Market. Acting as a market exclusively for refurbished phones, it has grown in popularity in Europe since its inception and is now expanding into the UK as well as the US.

User reviews come first, status reports are clearly detailed, and with every sale comes a relatively strong returns policy. If you’re looking to replace your handset and want a minimum of hassle, Back Door may be worth shouting about. It should be mentioned that the service is positioned like Amazon, ie as a “service” rather than as a supplier.

If the seller becomes difficult for some reason, it is not explicitly stated where the “service” will come in to mediate the exchange. This shouldn’t be expected to happen, but it’s worth keeping in mind anyway.

This also applies to Swappa, which has significant reach in the United States. While the service provides an easy way to find a refurbished device, some warranties aren’t as clear as they should be.

None of this is to say that buying a refurbished phone is difficult, because it is far from the truth. There have never been so many used units that need a good home, one that will provide excellent value for their owners, but also for the environment.

When buying a refurbished handset, doing your homework will always pay off.


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