buying a refurbished mobile

Buying a refurbished mobile

Cheap handsets, incl iPhone and Samsung deals

There's no getting around it, smartphones are expensive. Yet unless you're looking for a recently released model, buying a refurbished handset can cut the cost considerably. This guide explains where you can buy one, how much you can save and what to watch out for.

What is a refurbished mobile phone?

What is a refurbished phone

Refurbished phones are those that were sent back by customers because they were faulty or simply sold on by their previous owner – they'll have been checked and if necessary restored to full working order. They won't generally come with the original packaging and may not include all the accessories, but will have been tested, and will usually come with a warranty.

Manufacturer refurbs are generally preferable since they guarantee a higher standard, although they're harder to come by. 

Refurbished phones are typically given a 'grade' by retailers. Trading Standards has told us these grades aren't set independently, so quality can and will vary, but typically they are defined as follows:

  • Grade A – appears new or has only very minor signs of handling or wear.

  • Grade B – may have scratches, chips or other forms of light cosmetic damage.

  • Grade C – will show signs of wear; expect the product to look used.

Prices vary depending on which grade you opt for and right now, for an unlocked iPhone XR (released 2018), you could expect to pay £400 for a Grade A model (vs £499 new). For a Grade C model, it's around £350.

The warranty is key

One of the most important considerations when buying a refurb is the warranty it comes with, as this provides your protection if it develops a fault. Almost all refurbs come with one, though the length and who provides it varies.

Whoever did the refurbishment will usually provide it – if that's the manufacturer, you can go to it directly if there's a problem, though you'll have rights with the retailer too. These warranties typically last a year. If the warranty is provided by a retailer, then that's who you'll be dealing with. Retailer warranties vary in length and may also depend on the grade of the refurbishment.

Quick question

  • It often is... but you won't be getting the same thing. Used phones which haven't been refurbished won't have gone through the same checks so there's less of a guarantee of quality. Plus, they're mainly sold by private sellers, which means they're unlikely to come with a warranty.

    When buying from a private seller, rather than a trader, it's a case of caveat emptor, or 'let the buyer beware'. This means the only rights under law for buyers are that the phone is fairly described and that the owner has the right to sell it, so there's little legal comeback if it's faulty or you change your mind.

    Used phones typically don't come with warranties, although some handsets, such as iPhones, are sold with transferable warranties and so may still be covered if within the original warranty period.

Best sites to buy a refurbished phone

Always make sure you're buying from a trader to ensure you're getting maximum protection (a trader's defined as someone who makes or sells goods bought with the intention of resale – look for 'registered as a business seller' on profiles).

As stock is largely reliant on returns, you may sometimes struggle to get the model you're after – availability is often limited and can change quickly. Here are some of the best places to try:

Major refurbished phone retailers

eBay (traders)* Typically one year, depends on the seller
eBay Money Back Guarantee Often free, varies by seller
Amazon (traders)* Typically one year, depends on the seller
A-to-Z Guarantee Varies by seller
O2 Like New* One-year retailer warranty No, only statutory Free, next-day courier service
Music Magpie* One-year retailer warranty
No, only statutory
Free, two to three days tracked
Argos (via eBay)* One-year manufacturer warranty (typically) 30-day returns  Free, 48-hour courier* (1)

One-year retailer warranty (2)

No, only statutory Free, next-day courier service
Fonehouse* (1)
6 months for iPhones, one-year retailer warranty on all other phones
No, only statutory Free, next-day courier service
CeX (* 24-month warranty No, only statutory £1.50 for items under £50, one-day delivery for single item orders
GiffGaff* One-year retailer warranty 21-day return Free, within 30 days
The Big Phone Store* One-year retailer warranty  14-day returns £4.99 for items under £30, Free Royal Mail 48hr delivery over £30
(1) Mostly sells refurbs on contract rather than handsets – always compare with buying just the handset elsewhere and pairing it with a cheap Sim only deal. (2). Warranty is with Carphone Warehouse, which owns 

The key is always to look for positive reviews. eBay and Amazon are great for this as both have strong integrated feedback systems. There will always be more of a risk with other retailers, but the MSE Forum, review sites such as Trustpilot, Google reviews, and social media combined can help give you an idea of reliability.

Apple also sells refurbished iPhones*, as well as refurbished iPads, iPods and Macs*. All refurbished iPhone models come with a new battery, new outer shell, are backed by a one-year warranty, have free delivery and returns, and also include:

  • Full functional testing, genuine Apple part replacements (if necessary) and a thorough cleaning
  • The original operating system or a more recent version
  • All refurbished devices are repackaged in a brand-new box with all accessories and cables

Samsung sells 'Certified Pre-Owned' phones but when checking its site, it only had stock of the Samsung S9 (released 2018), so not a huge selection. You can get refurbished handsets on contract directly from the networks, but they don't tend to be great value.

Pair your refurb with a top Sim only deal

If you're buying a refurbished handset and want to make sure it'll work with your Sim, it's best to buy one that's locked to your network, or – for total flexibility – factory-unlocked. Although you can unlock a phone yourself, some providers charge a fee – see our Mobile Unlocking guide for more.

Once you have your new handset, check out the best Sim only deals to ensure you're getting the best deal from your provider.

Q&A on refurbished mobiles

Here's a list of other things to consider when buying a refurbished phone.

  • When buying from a trader you have the same rights as when buying from a shop – goods must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described (see Buying Rights for more). So if there's an undisclosed fault, you can send it back for a full refund. If a fault has been disclosed though – eg, "showing signs of wear" – then so long as that's a fair description you can't get a refund.

    Having said that, thanks to the Consumer Contracts Regulations, when buying online from a trader you have 14 days to cancel your purchase and a further 14 days to return it, at your own expense, if you change your mind for any reason (though this doesn't apply if you bought on eBay in a bidding-style auction).

    One other source of protection is Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If you pay directly for even part of the phone on a credit card and it cost more than £100, your card provider's equally liable if something goes wrong – useful extra protection especially with smaller firms. PayPal purchases aren't covered though, even if the money comes directly from a credit card linked to your PayPal account. 

  • O2's contracts, dubbed 'O2 Refresh', separate the handset and airtime portions of your bill, allowing you to cancel the airtime plan and pay off the handset at any point. Some tariffs, particularly with refurbished handsets, have a low handset cost once you've cancelled the airtime segment, making it a great way to nab a cheap phone.

    Search for the handset you want on O2's website* and it'll ask you to select a tariff, though look carefully and the device cost is shown under 'the total device cost stays the same'. You'll have to select an airtime plan to continue, so set the data to the lowest possible to find the cheapest plan.

    Once you receive the handset call O2 on 202 to cancel the airtime plan straightaway, and pay off the outstanding handset balance on your contract. You'll owe a pro rata rate for the number of days you wait to do this, and if you wait longer than 14 days you'll have to give 30 days' notice to cancel, so the sooner, the better.

    It doesn't always work out cheaper for the phone you're looking for, but it's worth checking as you can get some corkers. Plus O2 unlocks* handsets free of charge, so you should be able to put your own Sim in no problem.

  • You can generally get refurbished handsets year-round. With used phones though the best time is following the release of a new model, eg, the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR – as the market will be flooded with older generations as people flog their old handsets. January is also a good time to buy as many get a new phone at Christmas and sell off their old one.

  • If you're willing to put in the legwork then eBay will probably get you the most money for your mobile – phones sold there typically fetch 20-30% more than those offloaded via even the best 'phone-buyer' sites. For more help see our eBay selling guide.

    If you prefer convenience, there are websites that will buy your phone off you (though you'll likely get less for it) – see our Mobile Recycling guide for more info.

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