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Pros and cons of buying a refurbished mobile phone

Photo by Kilian Seiler on Unsplash

If you’re in the market for a new phone but aren’t looking to splash over $1,000 for the latest iPhone 14 or Google Pixel 7, then a refurbished phone might be the right choice for you. 

There’s a whole host of benefits that come from buying refurbished technology, like smartphones, computers and smart watches. But there may be parts about buying refurbs which aren't as alluring for you. So, it’s worth weighing these up when you’re making your final decision. 

What is a refurbished phone?

A refurbished phone is a mobile that has been repaired for resale. Often the phone will have been returned to the manufacturer due to a manufacturing defect or hardware fault. Otherwise it’s a pre-owned phone that has been repaired in one way or another (like fixing a broken screen, for example). 

All refurbished phones should have been thoroughly tested and inspected before being put back on the shelf. So, as long as you're buying one through a trustworthy retailer, you're likely to get a product which still functions well. 

Of course, there's plenty to consider when shopping around for refurbished phones. 

What should I look out for when buying a refurbished phone?

Make sure the seller is trustworthy 

When you’re comparing refurbished mobile phones, make sure that the seller is trustworthy. If you’re buying a refurbished phone from the manufacturer who originally makes them, then you can assume that the quality of the repairs is up to scratch. 

However, with third-party resellers, it’s a safe bet to make sure they are trustworthy by checking their reviews, or even contacting them with any questions you might have.

Look for quality ratings 

Most refurbished products will be advertised with a quality rating. This differs between retailers. For example, some refurbished phone sellers will rate their products out of ten, while others will use a sort of academic-grading system with letters (‘A-grade’ being excellent condition, ‘C-grade’ being noticeable signs of wear and tear). 

Often these rating systems are explained somewhere on the seller’s website. So, make sure to check that out so you understand a retailer’s quality grading system. 

Read the product description

Make sure you read a refurbished phone’s description. Not only will you get an understanding of the condition and quality of the product, you can also usually understand what the product comes with ie. a charging cable and power-adaptor, as well as what warranty is included with the phone. 

Check the terms of the warranty 

More often than not, refurbished mobile phones come with a warranty. But the duration of the warranty and what it covers will usually depend on the reseller or refurbisher. 

For example, you’ll usually find refurbished phones with a warranty that lasts between 90-days to twelve months. 

Most warranties will cover faults and malfunctions of the refurbished device but exclude liquid damage, deliberate damage, and third-party repairs if they were done incorrectly. 

Most sellers will outline the terms and conditions of their warranties on their website.

Overview: Pros and cons of getting a refurbished phone

Here’s a brief overview of the pros and cons of getting a refurbished phone. Read on for details.

✓ Often cheaper than brand-new phonesX Warranties are usually much shorter than brand new phones
✓ Eco-friendlyX Not always the latest tech
✓ Come with a warrantyX May have defects (scratches, dents)
✓ Repaired by experts

Pros of getting a refurbished phone

Refurbished phones are often cheaper than brand-new phones

As refurbished phones can’t be sold as ‘new’, the price is usually lower than ones still sealed in a box. This makes refurbished phones a great option if you don’t have the money to buy a brand new one up front.

Refurbished mobile phones are eco-friendly

As broken phones might otherwise end up in landfill, or be recycled incorrectly, buying a refurbished phone helps reduce electronic waste. Refurbished mobile phones are recycled products which don’t contribute to environmental damage as much as brand new phones.

Refurbished phones come with a warranty

Most established retailers will offer a warranty on their refurbished mobile phones. The warranty is usually for a maximum of 90-days, but occasionally you can find ones as long as 12 months.

So you have some time in case there are any major faults or malfunctions with your phone.

Refurbished phones are repaired by experts

Refurbished phones generally undergo a stringent diagnostic checkup and repair process, performed by people that know what they’re doing. The personal data from the mobile phone’s previous owner is also wiped from the phone, so you know you’re not going to run into any problems with leftover passwords or storage issues.

Cons of getting a refurbished phone

Refurbished mobile phone warranties are usually much shorter than brand-new phones

While you will likely still get a warranty with your refurbished mobile phone, it probably won’t cover the same period of time as a new-in-box phone. Expect most retailers to offer 90-days.

Refurbished mobile phones aren't always the latest in tech

If you’re looking at refurbished phones because of the price savings, then you likely won’t be looking to purchase the latest and greatest edition to hit the shelves. Even a refurbished version of the newest iPhone, for example, might be close to the brand-new phone’s retail price.

Refurbished mobile phones may have defects

If a refurbished phone has any defects, visible or internal, it will likely be listed in the product description.

As refurbished mobile phones are sometimes second-hand devices which have been repaired, you may see clear signs of wear and tear. These can be anything from a scratch on a screen, to minor dents in the casing.

If the refurbished mobile phone does have a defect, expect it to be reflected in both the quality grading and the price.

What mobile phone plan can I get for a refurbished phone?

Generally, refurbished mobile phones will come unlocked from any one telco provider. This means that you can theoretically go with any mobile phone plan that your heart desires. But before you go whipping out your card to pay for any old phone plan, make sure you take the time to compare mobile phone plans, and consider whether you need a prepaid or postpaid phone plan, or a data-only plan. 

Get started by comparing mobile phone plans now!

Jack Dona
Jack Dona
Money writer

Jack is RG146 Generic Knowledge certified, with a Bachelor of Communications in Creative Writing from UTS, and uses his creative flair to cut through the financial jargon and make home loans, insurance and banking interesting. His reader-first approach to creating content and his passion for financial literacy means he always looks for innovative ways to explain personal finance. Jack's research and explanations have been featured in government publications, and his work is regularly featured alongside major publications in Google's Top Stories for Insurance.