When you want a smartphone and do not need the absolute latest model, a refurbished phone can be a great, inexpensive solution that meets your needs. Even if you’ve heard the term refurbished before, what does this actually mean?

Is a Refurbished Phone Used?  

A refurbished phone means that the device has been owned before, restored to its original factory settings, repaired as needed, and resold to you, the new owner.

Some refurbished phones had minor faults, which have been repaired by professionals so you won’t notice the difference. Many refurbished phones have no faults at all.

They have simply had one or two prior owners. They have been cleaned so you can customize them as you want, but there is nothing wrong with the hardware or firmware. In fact, many devices are fairly new phones, which the previous owner simply did not want or find satisfying. They may have been returned within the 30-day contract period, turned around, and sold to another customer.

Regardless of why the phone is listed as “refurbished,” if you purchase the device through a reputable company, you can be sure it has been thoroughly checked and is in working order. But how do you know the refurbished phone you want comes from a reputable company? Should you even look at refurbished phones or just wait until a new model phone comes out that you are willing and able to spend hundreds of dollars on?

What Is Refurbishing?

The steps involved in refurbishing a phone typically include:

  • Wiping information off the phone and restoring it to the original factory settings.
  • Removing any customizations added to the phone, either hardware or software.
  • Repairing damaged parts, like cracked screens or dented cases.
  • Repairing the battery or adding a new battery for the best battery life possible.

Manufacturers often refurbish phones to like-new condition so they can be resold for a slightly lower price. They work to meet their own, original standards. In contrast, third parties can restore a phone with new parts, but they may be meeting lower quality standards than Apple or LG, for example. However, if you know where to look, you can still get a great phone for less money.

It is important to note that refurbished phones and used phones are not the same, although a refurbished phone typically has had one previous owner. Used phones may be wiped of information, but they are typically sold as-is, with no repairs and no care involved to make them like-new. They may cost less on the surface, but you may get a slow phone with poor battery life rather than a phone you can use well that meets your needs.

Why Buy Refurbished?

Consumer Reports has noted that, of 3,211 people who bought a refurbished phone since January 1, 2016, 82 percent reported they were satisfied with their purchase. In other surveys, 67 percent of refurbished phone owners reported no complaints, which is similar to the 69 percent of new model phone owners who report no complaints with their new device.

Here are some of the leading reasons to buy a refurbished phone:

  • You save money on a good phone. The upside of buying a refurbished phone is the savings. New Samsung Galaxies cost over $500, while a refurbished model can cost up to $350 but will usually not cost more. Similarly, new iPhones average $600, while a refurbished iPhone can cost less than $500 at their most expensive.

    If the phone has been refurbished by a reputable company that contracts with the phone’s manufacturer — such as Verizon or AT&T’s refurbishing programs, for example — you can get a great phone, with a good phone plan, that is protected by a limited warranty through the manufacturer. You can feel secure that your phone will be protected for a certain window of time.

  • You reduce waste. The latest technology is shiny, new, and exciting, but ultimately, updating your phone every six months to a year creates a lot of trash. Buying a refurbished phone, however, means you have a device that has been cared for by a professional so it is in good, working order, which can be guaranteed for some time. You can save money, and you can get a quality device that will last you for two to five years, which is the standard smartphone lifespan. You’re less likely to throw it away as soon as something fancy is on the market, and that means less junk in the landfill.

  • Some models are better than others. Just because a device is new does not mean it is the best in its line. Some people prefer the iPhone 6 to the newer versions, for example. Others are loyal to a particular type of camera quality or operating system, so they look for specific devices that have these features. Some people simply love their current model phone, even though it is slowly losing battery or may be broken after it is dropped. Purchasing a refurbished device ensures you get a like-new smartphone that has everything you want for a pocket computer.

Refurbished phones are great, but you need to know how to shop for them since not all refurbished retailers are created equal.

Know Where to Look

Be careful about where you buy a refurbished phone. Just because one retail outlet offers them for a lower price than another does not mean that the phones are the same quality.

Buying a refurbished phone through a trusted vendor, like a phone carrier (T-Mobile, for example) or the phone manufacturer itself (Motorola, iPhone, and Samsung have good refurbishing programs.) means you get a quality phone. If parts need to be replaced, they can be replaced with the right parts rather than inexpensive parts.

One major problem with refurbished phones is the battery. If you get a refurbished phone through a third-party retailer, the battery may not be new, so battery life may be low. Only 52 percent of respondents to a Consumer Reports survey said their refurbished phone came with a new battery. About 89 percent had a charging cord, a crucial piece of hardware that is provided with new phones. If you purchase through a third-party retailer, you may need to buy a phone cord separately.

Certified and Protected Phones

Be sure that your refurbished phone is “certified pre-owned.” If you do not have this listed in the product information, ask the vendor about the phone’s history and restoration process.

Specifically, ask about what is included with the refurbished phone. Find out if cords, earbuds, new batteries, or anything else that you may need or want with your smartphone is included.

Look for warranty information, either in the store or on the website. If you do not see information on warranty to protect the refurbished product, ask for details. If the company does not provide warranty protection for your refurbished phone, you should not buy it. While this has not always been a standard for refurbished phones, more companies are offering some level of protection for refurbished phones so you can rest easy. For example, Best Buy offers a 90-day warranty on their refurbished phones.

If you get a good battery, the accessories you want, and warranty protection, but you are still not happy with the phone, you should be able to return the refurbished phone just as you would a new phone. Ask a technician or the third-party retailer about their returns policy. You may only have two weeks to acclimate to the device and decide you like it.

Regulation Is Recent

Until 2017, refurbished, used, and restored were interchangeable terms for many retailers. While there is a standard definition for refurbished phones now and improved standards as a result, sellers with older model phones may have classified these devices before the newer standards. Even if you want an older model phone, it may be better to update to a 2018 model refurbished phone to ensure you benefit from the new, standardized definition for refurbishment.


Should You Buy a Refurbished Phone? A Complete Guide. (November 7, 2018). uSwitch.

Refurbished Phones – What are They, and Where Can You Get Them? (October 2, 2018). Android Authority.

Should You Buy a Refurbished Cell Phone? (November 2, 2018). LifeWire.

Should You Buy a Refurbished Phone? (March 9, 2019). Consumer Reports.

Buying a Used or Refurbished Phone? Here’s Everything You Need to Know. (August 17, 2018). Gadget Hacks: Smartphones.