Refurbished Phones: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide (2022)



If you want to save some money and do the planet a solid by cutting down on ewaste, buying refurbished phones is a great option. Here’s everything you need to know about doing it…


Most people never think about buying refurbished tech, and this is crazy for a couple of very good reasons.

First, buying refurbished is great for the environment because you’re buying an existent device, one that has already been manufactured and shipped from China to the US.

This saves plenty on carbon emissions. And ewaste which is a HUGE problem right now, accounting for billions of tons of toxic waste all around the globe.

And second, you will save a BUNCH of cash buying your next phone refurbished. How much? We’ll get to that in a bit – but it is a substantial amount compared to buying a new phone.

And if you choose the right refurbished phone, it will last you for years at a time and, because it is so much cheaper than a new phone, you can usually buy it outright and shop around for a killer unlimited data plan.

Basically, you save money across the board – and reduce your carbon footprint too. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s loads of additional benefits to buying refurbished. And we’ll cover literally everything you need to know about doing it right now…

What Is A Refurbished Phone?

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Refurbished phones are NOT the same as used phones. Anyone can sell a used phone, either on Facebook or Craig’s List.

With refurbished phones, you have to get them via a specialist retailers like Amazon, Gazelle, or Reboxed. And this is very important.

Here’s why…

A refurbished phone, in most cases, will look and function just like a new phone but because it has been sold, either to a user or into a supply chain, it cannot be sold as a new phone – even if it looks and functions brand new.

This is a trade law. But it works in your favor. Big time.

How a phone becomes a refurbished phone isn’t always the same. It could start life in a shop that goes bust. If this happens, all of the shop’s stock, including its phones, will be sold onto third-party buyers at discount rates who, in turn, sell them onto refurbished phone retailers like Gazelle, Reboxed, and Amazon.

Another way a phone becomes refurbished is if a person takes out a contract on a phone but cannot keep up with the payments. If this happens, the phone will be recalled and then sold onto, you guessed it, a refurbished phone retailer.

Another route to becoming a refurbished phone is if the phone is faulty. If this is the case, it will be sent back to the manufacturer, Apple, for instance, to be repaired.

It can no longer be sold as new, though, as it has been unboxed by someone and used, so it enters the refurbished market once it is completely fixed and working again.

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Refurbished vs Used – Which Is Better?

But the main difference between a refurbished phone and a used phone is that a refurbished phone goes through an entire battery of tests and checks before it is resold to a consumer.

Used phones are just usually wiped by their owner and then sold – there are no checks and fixes done on them.

Every phone we sell undergoes a 30-point inspection before we list it on our site. We check the WiFi connection, camera quality, screen appearance, buttons, ports and other key features. We also include honest descriptions to let you know the phone’s condition before you buy it. After the inspection, we update the phone’s software, remove any data left by the previous owner and perform a factory reset before listing it for sale.

Gazelle

You also do not get warranties on used phones bought via private sellers in places like Facebook Marketplace. With a refurb phone, all the best retailers offer robust returns policies and warranties.

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What Do I Do With My Old Phone?

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If you have an old phone you want to get rid of you can recycle it and put the money towards your refurbished phone – or stick it in a savings account. Just don’t go leaving in a drawer, collecting dust. Even old phones have value.

There are plenty of phone recycling options on the web too, and some of the best refurbished phone retailers will actually buy your old phone from you. Gazelle does this. And you have SellCell, a phone recycling company, too – and both are based in the USA.

Or, if you want to get a new phone, or money off a new phone, you could use Verizon’s trade-in program and potentially save anywhere from $300 to $1000 on your next phone. T-Mobile has one of these programs as well.

Of course, trade in schemes pay more for certain phones, usually newer phones in good condition. If you have six year old phone that is falling apart and seldom works, you probably won’t be getting the big bucks for it when the time comes to recycle it.

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What Should I Keep In Mind When Buying Refurbished Phones?

The main thing you need to keep in mind when buying a refurbished phone is as follows: the age of the phone, the brand of phone, and the condition of the phone — all three will have a huge impact on your overall experience.

If you go with a refurbished iPhone that isn’t too old, say the iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, you’re going to get far better support than you would with a similarly aged Android phone.

The reason for this is that Apple’s iPhone is much better supported, with respect to timely updates, than an Android phone. Most Android phones get 2-3 major Android updates, whereas an iPhone can get 7-8 iOS updates, meaning you can run the iPhone for up to eight years without issue.

Samsung phones are a good option, though, but you’ll need to buy its newer, flagship models: the Galaxy S20 or Galaxy S21. Anything older and you’ll be buying a phone that no longer gets Android updates, or will soon cease to be supported.

Google’s Pixel phones are much the same deal; all of Google’s modern Pixel phones get three years’ worth of Android updates. For this reason, if you bought its 2021 model, you’ll get support with Android updates until 2024.

This is a very important point to keep in mind when buying refurbished Android phones. It is also the main reason why we tend to recommend that our readers go with refurbished iPhones – the support is just so much better, and it allows you to run the phone for much longer.

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How Good Are Refurbished Phones?

Refurbished phones can be amazing; they can look and function as good as new, providing you go with a highly graded model. These cost more. If you want to get the cheapest possible phone, you can go down a grade or two and save some money but there will be cosmetic issues – scratches and bumps.

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Internally, the phone – regardless of its quality grade – will function perfectly. A refurbished phone cannot be sold unless it has passed a bunch of checks and tests.

It has to be optimally functional before it can be sold to consumers.

The only area where you’ll notice issues is with physical issues, things like dinks to the bodywork or scratches on the display.

But phones with these issues are graded accordingly, so if you don’t want these issues just go with a higher-graded refurbished phone and it’ll look more or less as good as new.

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How Much Cheaper Are Refurbished Phones?

The main benefit of buying a refurbished phone over a new one is, of course, the cost. On average, refurbished phones tend to be around 40% cheaper than buying new – that’s close to half the price.

The other benefit, specifically with iPhones, is that you can pick up discontinued iPhones – like the iPhone 11 Pro Max or the iPhone 12 Pro Max – for considerably less than they were when they first came out.

For instance, a refurbished iPhone 12 Pro Max retails for $694 via Gazelle. Drop down a generation to the iPhone 11 Pro Max and you’ll pay $434 but you’ll have to live with 5G. Similarly, a 64GB iPhone 11 can be had for just $224, a mere snip compared to what it cost when it first came out.

You can buy locked refurbished phones and unlocked refurbished phones. Generally speaking, carrier-locked refurbished phones tend to be cheaper than unlocked ones, so if you’re happy with your current carrier this can help save some additional cash.

For instance, a refurbished iPhone 12 Pro Max liked to AT&T costs $529.99 whereas an unlocked model retails for $694 – that’s quite a difference in price, right?

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Are Refurbished Phones Sustainable?

Around 9000 phones are thrown away every second. Let that fact sink in. It’s an awful bit of data to be sure, and it isn’t helping our planet – that much waste has to go somewhere. Usually, it ends up in landfills.

This is a big problem too.

Phones and their components are made from all kinds of exotic materials, some of them – like lead, mercury and cadmium – are extremely toxic. Not the kind of stuff we want to be burying for future generations to deal with.

A lot of phone users treat phones as essentially disposable objects; you use a phone for 12 or 24 months and then, in some cases, throw it away or, preferably, recycle it.

But this still doesn’t get around the fact that tens of millions of “new” phones are sold every quarter.

Opting to go with a refurbished phone over a new phone doesn’t just save you money, it also helps the environment too.

How so? Here’s a quick explanation on the positive environment effects of buying used and refurbished phones (and tech in general):

If all the smartphones produced in the last decade were still functional, there would be roughly enough for every person on the planet. Consumers are pushed to upgrade their models so frequently that the average device is used for just over 2 years. The impacts on the planet are devastating.

When you consider all of the materials and energy required to make these devices, their short lifespans, and the low rate of recycling, it’s clear we can’t continue this way. We need devices that last longer and ultimately, we need companies to embrace a new, circular production model.

Elizabeth Jardim, Senior Corporate Campaigner at Greenpeace USA

Where To Buy Refurbished Phones?

There are plenty of respectable refurbished phone retailers in the USA, England and Europe. Some of the most popular refurbished phone and technology specialists are Gazelle (USA), Amazon (Global), Apple (Global), and REBOXED (UK).

All of these specialised retailers offer huge ranges of phones, as well as other tech like laptops, tablets, headphones and computers, from a range of popular brands like Apple, Google, and Samsung.

Best Refurbished iPhone Retailer In USA
Gazelle: The US' #1 Refurb iPhone Specialist

Gazelle is the USA’s biggest and most trusted refurbished tech retailer. It sells everything from iPhones to MacBooks and Samsung phones. All Gazelle phones are extensively tested before they’re sold, meaning they look and function as good as new. If you’re in the US, Gazelle is the one to go for. 

Pros:
  • 30-Point Test on ALL Products
  • 40% Cheaper Than Buying New
  • Sells Phones, Tablets, MacBooks & More
  • Excellent Warranty, Prices & Delivery Times
VIEW ALL MODELS
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
Best Refurbished Phone Retailer In UK
REBOXED: The Best For UK & EU

REBOXED has a massive selection of refurbished iPhones, Samsung phones, Apple Watch devices, AirPods, and more. If you’re after quality, reliability, and the best prices on the market, REBOXED is where it is at for users in the UK and Europe. 

Pros:
  • 70-Point Test on ALL Products
  • 40% Cheaper Than Buying New
  • Sells Phones, Tablets, Headphones & More
  • Excellent Delivery Times & Packaging
VIEW ALL MODELS
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

And remember this: phones are now so powerful that they can be used way longer than their manufacturers would have you believe.

Apple’s iPhone is testament to this fact; if a phone gets regular software updates, it can and will work for close to a decade. Android phone makers are the worse offenders at NOT supporting their phones.

Samsung is attempting to remedy this by adding more support for its phones, matching what Google does with its Pixel phones, but there still needs to be a lot more work done by Android brands to match Apple.

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What Do You Get With A Refurbished Phone?

When you buy a refurbished phone, you don’t get an official box or any of the usual materials you get when buying a new phone – things like a user manual, official packaging, etc.

Usually, a refurbished phone comes in a fairly innocuous box, free of branding, and the phone will be wrapped in some kind of protective covering – usually bubble wrap.

The only exception that I am aware of is REBOXED in the UK; it ships all of its refurbished products in heavily branded, high-quality boxes, as you can see below in the image

Refurbished Phones: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide (2022)
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With Gazelle or Amazon, you get the usual packaging: a plain box with a phone inside it and a charging cable. You will also get all your invoice and warranty details inside the box as well as contact information in case anything goes wrong with your order.

Refurbished Phones Grading

Once the phone’s hardware, software, battery, and overall condition has been assessed, the phone will then be graded by the refurbished phone retailer.

Different companies use different grading systems. But you will always pay more for a refurbished phone that is in mint condition for obvious reasons.

Here’s how REBOXED’s grading system for refurbished phones works:

Every device sold on reboxed has been TechChecked and scored to our ‘strictest in the industry’ standards, so you can be sure of its quality. And we also give each model a TechScore, which tells you what condition the outside of your phone is in (the inside is always guaranteed to be in top shape).

REBOXED

And here’s how the grading system translates onto the front-end of the site when you’re browsing REBOXED’s refurbished phones:

  • 3.0★ – Worn
  • 3.5★ – Ok
  • 4.0★ – Some wear and tear
  • 4.5★ – Almost new
  • 5.0★ – Premium (reboxed as good as new – our reboxed fully certified 15 month guarantee quality.)

Of course, the higher the rating the higher the cost. But if you want to get the most bang for your buck from your refurbished phone, you’ll want to stick to phones graded at 4 and higher.

Do Refurbished Phones Come With Warranty?

If you’re worried about the reliability of refurbished phones, you really shouldn’t be – all the top refurbished tech sellers offer extensive warranties on all of their products.

Reboxed offers a 12 month warranty of all of its phones, with a 3 month warranty on the battery (if you have an issue with the battery, the company will replace it); Gazelle offers a 30-day returns period and the option to add a life-time warranty for $55 – this covers literally everything, so is well worth getting.

Similarly, Amazon offers a 12 month warranty on all products bought via its Renewed program. Apple also offers a 12 month warranty on all of its refurbished tech sold thorough its official store.

If a retailer you’re looking at doesn’t offer a 12 month warranty, you’ll want to avoid them like the plague – they’re most likely scammers.

Is It Safe To Buy Refurbished Phones?

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There’s this odd perception of refurbished tech: people think it is dodgy or you get a faulty product. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Gazelle does a full 30-point check on all of its products before they’re edible to be sold on its site. And REBOXED’s in the UK is even more extensive – it does a 70-point check of ALL of the phones and products sold via its site.

Once a phone has been checked, it will then be assigned a grade – either A-E or 1-5, depending on the retailer. Again, the higher the grade, the better the overall quality of the phone.

The grading system, however, ONLY applies to the external appearance of the phone: all refurbished phones are required to have optimal internals, this is a prerequisite that is required by law before they can be sold as a refurbished phone.

Externally, a phone can have a few cosmetic flaws, and this will affect its grade, but its internal components – the camera, CPU, RAM, battery, and storage – will all be 100% functional. If it isn’t, the phone cannot be sold as a refurbished phone.

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Do Refurbished Phones Have New Batteries?

You phone’s battery health is extremely important. With iPhone, you can check in on your phone’s Battery Health really easily – it is rated out of 100. And when you buy a brand new phone, its battery will be 100% optimal, meaning it is as good as it will ever be.

As soon as you start using a phone, recharging it, and running the battery down, it eats into its lifespan. All phone batteries have a finite lifespan, usually around 500 full cycles. After this, they begin to degrade and that is when you run into performance issues.

Refurbished phones do not come with new batteries, unless there was a fault with the phone’s battery when it was acquired by the refurbished phone company. If there was, the battery will be replaced by them before being sold onto you, the customer.

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If the refurbished phone’s battery is fine, it will not be replaced and when you buy the phone it will use the battery that was installed by the manufacturer. If the phone is older, you might notice that it is slightly lower than 100 in Battery Health.

As long as the battery health rating is in the high-90s, you’re good to go. If you buy a refurbished phone and the battery is approaching 80 in battery health, you need to return it to the company you bought it from and demand a model with a healthier battery.

This is why it is usually best to ONLY buy phones that are 24 months old. This way, even if the phone has been used by another user, its battery health will still be rock solid.

Case in point: my iPhone 13 is nearly 12 months old and the battery health is still 100. After 24 months, it might drop down to 97 but that is still perfectly fine. Pushed to its limit, I’d probably get 6-7 years out of my iPhone 13 before it started to present battery-related issues.

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How Long Do Refurbished Phones Last?

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The million dollar question: how long do refurbished phones last? As always, it depends – it depends on whether you get an iPhone or an Android phone, and it also depends on how old the phone is.

If you get a refurbished iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro Max, it will get iOS updates for years to come – well into the late-2020s. Theoretically, you could use the phone until 2028 without any real issues. This is why so many people use iPhones – they just last longer.

With an Android phone, you’ll get 3-4 major Android updates at best. After that, you’re on your own. Of course, this isn’t the end of its potential lifespan. You can install a custom ROM on the phone, something like LineageOS, and run it for years.

But for simplicities sake, if you want the most bang for your buck with a refurbished phone you are definitely best off going with an iPhone. You’ll get the best support, with respect to software and security updates, and Apple’s hardware is designed to work seamlessly with its software, so you tend to run into fewer problems with iPhones in general.

Apple’s iPhones also hold their value better, so while you will pay slight more for one when you buy it refurbished, you will get more money for it when the time comes to recycle it.

Best Refurbished iPhone Retailer In USA
Gazelle: The US' #1 Refurb iPhone Specialist

Gazelle is the USA’s biggest and most trusted refurbished tech retailer. It sells everything from iPhones to MacBooks and Samsung phones. All Gazelle phones are extensively tested before they’re sold, meaning they look and function as good as new. If you’re in the US, Gazelle is the one to go for. 

Pros:
  • 30-Point Test on ALL Products
  • 40% Cheaper Than Buying New
  • Sells Phones, Tablets, MacBooks & More
  • Excellent Warranty, Prices & Delivery Times
VIEW ALL MODELS
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
Best Refurbished Phone Retailer In UK
REBOXED: The Best For UK & EU

REBOXED has a massive selection of refurbished iPhones, Samsung phones, Apple Watch devices, AirPods, and more. If you’re after quality, reliability, and the best prices on the market, REBOXED is where it is at for users in the UK and Europe. 

Pros:
  • 70-Point Test on ALL Products
  • 40% Cheaper Than Buying New
  • Sells Phones, Tablets, Headphones & More
  • Excellent Delivery Times & Packaging
VIEW ALL MODELS
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
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Richard Goodwin

Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.
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