The shiny new mobiles you see on TV look amazing.
Until you check the price.
£800 for the latest mobile? Not happening this month.
But what if you could get a powerful mobile without spending all your grocery money?
The good news is… you can.
And it doesn’t mean doing anything illegal.
What’s the secret?
In this guide, we’ll show you both where to find great refurbished deals and what to watch out for.
What is a Refurbished Mobile Anyway?
Refurbished mobiles are used mobiles that someone has inspected and repaired to meet certain requirements.
If you’ve ever made an insurance claim on your mobile, there’s a good chance you received a refurbished replacement. After all, if networks handed out new ones after every accident, they wouldn’t make much money.
In most cases, they are refurbished to “like new” condition. However, this will vary based on who is refurbishing or selling it.
So Refurbished Mobiles are as Good as New Phones?
...It depends on who refurbishes the mobile.
If you’re working with the local pawn shop or some shady corner store... probably not.
With manufacturer refurbs, however, you can usually count on them to understand the common issues with their models and to perform a thorough check of the mobile’s functions before repackaging it.
A good refurb is as dependable as a new mobile.
In fact, many reputable companies that sell refurbished mobiles offer warranties to add peace of mind and ensure you’re getting a good deal.
In most cases, if a refurbished mobile lasts a month or two after you use it, you need not worry about surprises down the road.
Where Do Refurbished Mobiles Come From?
Typically refurbished mobiles are mobiles that people have traded back to the network or to a company offering cash for mobiles.
Sometimes, there was nothing wrong with them. The person simply wanted a new model.
The refurbisher cleans it up, buffs out any scuffs and clears the memory and it’s ready to go.
Other times, the mobile was smashed, splashed or otherwise broken so the owner recycled the phone, thinking a little money was better than nothing.
The recycler then sells them in bulk to places who can fix them and resell them as refurbished.
Repair performed on these refurbished mobiles cover many things--from replacing the internal components or installing new screens to smaller fixes, like broken headphone jacks or USB ports.
Why Not Just Buy a Used Mobile?
Compared to a used version of the same model on a site like eBay or Craigslist, refurbished mobiles are more expensive.
However, when you buy a used, it’s up to you to be sure everything is working right before the sale.
This is tricky to do online when the mobile is halfway across the country.
Unless the site you’re using offers protection, you could find yourself out of money and without a working mobile if things go wrong.
Buying refurbished helps with this problem.
As long as you choose a reputable source, you’ll enjoy peace of mind that the mobile works, a warranty against future issues and increased buyer protections.
Most refurbished mobile sellers also ensure that the device isn’t lost or stolen before selling it. So you don’t need to worry as much about buying a mobile that locks in a month or two leaving you with an expensive paperweight.
Sounds Great! How Do I Find a Good Refurbished Mobile Deal?
Before we break down the options, there’s one important question to answer:
“Do you want an unlocked mobile?”
If you’re not sure, be sure to check out our guide on the benefits of unlocked mobiles.
While unlocked mobiles offer added flexibility in how and where you can use your refurbished mobile, it will also add to the price and reduce your options on where to buy.
Not to mention, if you buy a locked refurbished mobile on contract from a network, they’ll unlock it once you meet the terms of your contract anyhow.
This means you can save a bit more money upfront if you don't mind having to wait before you can unlock it.
Unless you need the benefits of an unlocked mobile right away, the savings are probably worth the wait.
All Right, So What Are My Options? Where Should I Buy One?
You can buy refurbished mobiles from several places.
Ranking one option versus another is tricky.
They all offer different levels of savings.
More savings often means more risk. But that isn’t always the case.
Here are the main sources for finding mobiles, along with the pros and cons of each so you can decide the best fit for you.
Refurbished Mobile Retailers
With the strong demand for refurbished mobiles, several retailers have popped up to take the hassle out of finding a good deal.
While you won’t get prices as low as an online classified or the subsidies on offer from many networks, you also won’t need to worry so much about getting scammed.
Some of these sites don’t actually stock the phones themselves. They find reputable sellers and work with them to bring you good deals.
You’ll typically enjoy improved protections over online classifieds or auction sites, but check the description of the phones to see what you should expect.
Certified refurbished mobiles sold through the Amazon Renewed program include a 90-day warranty in addition to any warranties offered by the seller.
Terms vary for mobiles sold by third-party sellers without Amazon Renewed certification. Check individual mobile listings for warranty information.
All mobiles sold on RefurbMe are subject to the return policies and warranties of the individual seller. Check individual mobile listings for additional information.
Most networks offer a selection of refurbished devices. However, be sure to check their return and exchange policies. In most cases, they’ll only offer a warranty of 90 days or so.
Just like new mobiles, you’ll probably see two prices. One is for upfront purchase. The other is the contract or subsidy price.
Be sure you understand the terms before pushing the buy button to ensure you’re not locked into a contract you don’t want.
Major networks offering refurbished phones in UK include:
- Virgin Mobile UK
Don’t see your favorite network listed? Check our network summaries for site information and explore their options.
You can also check your local network store location. Some offer deals on refurbs you won't find on the main network site.
Local Mobile Shops
So you’d rather get a refurbished mobile you can touch and test first before you lay down your hard-earned money?
Just keep in mind, while you can test out a device when you buy local, you probably won’t find the guarantees you get online unless you’re buying from a big chain store.
Once you’ve found a mobile you like, be sure to ask about what they have done to recondition it, return policies and warranties.
If they offer a return policy or warranty, get something in writing.
You can never be too safe. If anything seems suspicious, DON’T BUY! You’ll probably end up regretting it.
Online Classifieds and Auction Sites
The last set of options are where you’ll often find the best deals.
Private sellers and merchants often post phones they’ve refurbished on online classified sites.
Popular sites include:
But these sites come with increased risk.
Let’s face it—anyone can say anything on the Internet. You don’t always have a way to disprove it.
Here's What You Should Know Before Buying a Used Mobile
While they might claim an awesome warranty and decades of experience refurbishing phones, you might find they did nothing and vanish when you have a problem.
As with the local option, do your research!
Look at seller profiles, check descriptions and don’t hesitate to ask the seller questions.
Even if you have the cash to pay for a refurbished mobile upfront, it might be best to put it on a credit card instead. Why? Because most major credit card providers offer extended protections against bad purchases.
Even with research, things go wrong sometimes. If so, your credit card will back you up and help to get your money back.
Just be sure to pay off the purchase soon or you’ll rack up interest. Depending on your card, this might steal any savings you realised from going refurbished.
Great! Anything Else to Consider?
Like we said above, refurbished doesn’t always mean the same thing from one seller to the next.
For a quality seller, refurbished should always mean the mobile functions “like new.”
Looks are a different matter and will depend on the seller...
You’ll find phones ranging from “like new” to “has scratches and dents, but it still works.”
For sellers that break down condition into multiple tiers, you’ll usually get a better discount on phones that run great but look used.
Be sure to check all of their criteria so you know exactly what you’re buying.
Taking a look through their return policy will also let you know how to proceed if you don’t feel like the mobile you received is in acceptable condition.
Finally, see how they handle shipping.
It doesn’t matter how well they inspected or repaired the mobile if you never receive it or it’s damaged during shipping.
What Are Some Common Red Flags to Watch For?
No Warranty: It’s standard to offer a warranty, even if it’s only a month. If not, take your money elsewhere.
No boxes or accessories: While it’s not a deal breaker if the boxes or accessories are missing, this might be a clue to double-check the seller’s reputation. Sometimes, these are missing because the mobile is stolen.
No sales history: When you’re spending a few hundred dollars, you want to know you can trust the seller. If the price looks too good and there’s no seller history, it’s probably a scam.
Poor communication: Don’t be afraid to ask the seller or site questions. If they don’t get back to you with a simple answer or treat your questions rudely, imagine the treatment you’ll receive if you have an issue with your mobile.
Data left on device: If you receive your mobile and find it still has pictures, apps, contacts or other information from the previous owner, return it immediately. If they couldn’t bother to wipe the memory, who knows what else they forgot. Even worse, who knows what they might have installed!
What Time of Year is Best for Buying Refurbished Mobiles?
In most cases, the best time of year to hunt for refurbished deals is before the release of a new model
This is particularly true for flagship mobiles.
When new models are released, people scramble to get the latest and greatest. To help pay the expense, they’ll often trade-in their existing mobile. These then go back to the manufacturer or out to a reputable refurbisher and pop back up on the market.
There’s a good chance there wasn’t anything wrong with the mobile. It just wasn’t new anymore.
For example, if you’re looking to snag a refurbished iPhone, find out when the next model going to be released. Then, start checking for deals a week or two in advance.
Other times of year to look for the best refurbished mobile prices are the holiday shopping and back-to-school seasons.
What about Laptops, Tablets or Handheld Games? Can I Find Those Refurbished Too?
Yes! In fact, many of the sites listed above in the Refurbished Mobile Retailers section also sell other electronics such as tablets.
The rules are the same.
You can even use release cycles to find the best prices!
Refurbished mobiles can work and look as good as a new one.
They save you money compared to a new mobile.
If you don’t mind a few dings or scratches, you can save even more money.
Always note the return terms and warranty before buying.
P.S. Not sure what refurbished mobile model to choose? Check out our phone reviews.