Buying a refurbished mobile

Cheap handsets, incl iPhone and Samsung deals

buying a refurbished mobile

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.

In this guide

What is a refurbished mobile 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 they 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. In the case of iPhones, these are called 'certified pre-owned', having been sent back to Apple by customers under a returns policy or for repair.

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.

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 the warranty – 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, but it can be less. 

If the warranty is provided by a retailer, then that's who you'll be dealing with so be aware of this before buying. 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.

Where to get 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). Here are some of the main options:

Major refurbished phone retailers

TABLE_CELL_STYLE WARRANTY COVER? ADDITIONAL BUYER PROTECTION?
DELIVERY FEE
eBay (traders)* Typically one year, depends on the seller
eBay Money Back Guarantee Often free, varies by seller
More info: The obvious place to start, owing to the sheer range and quantity of phones on offer. Check whether the refurbishment and warranty come from the manufacturer or retailer though, and always make sure you're buying from a trader, not a private seller.
Amazon (traders)* Typically one year, depends on the seller
A-to-Z Guarantee Varies by seller
More info: Amazon Marketplace also has a plethora of third-party sellers offering refurbs. Again, some are refurbished by the manufacturer, others by retailers.
O2 Like New* One-year retailer warranty No, only statutory Free, next-day courier service
More info: O2's Refresh contracts allow you to cancel your airtime plan and just pay off the handset at any point. Doing this can result in getting some handsets, particularly refurbs, at very good prices. Full info on the O2 Refresh trick in 'Any other tips or tricks?'
Music Magpie* One-year retailer warranty
No, only statutory
Free, one to three days tracked
More info: Music Magpie offers an extensive range of refurbished handsets, and runs flash sales from time to time which can be competitive. Mobile condition is rated from 'good' to 'very good'.
Argos* One-year manufacturer warranty (typically) 30-day returns(1) £3.95, same-day or next-day delivery(2)
More info: Only offers refurbished handsets from time to time – they tend to be manufacturer-refurbished. Prices often aren't as competitive as some of the dedicated mobile sites, but it's still worth checking out in case there's a deal on.
Mobiles.co.uk*

One-year retailer warranty(3)

No, only statutory Free, next-day courier service
More info: This reseller 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.
CeX (Webuy.com) 24-month warranty No, only statutory £1.50 for items under £50, one-day delivery for single item orders
More info: Used tech firm CeX sells a huge range of used phones in 'mint', 'good' and 'poor' condition, all of which will have undergone the necessary checks to ensure they function properly. You can also buy from one of its stores.
(1) If you change your mind within 30 days, you can return the item free in store, or arrange free collection for 'home delivery'-only items. (2) Free delivery on select items, or reserve online and collect in store for free. (3) Warranty is with Carphone Warehouse, which owns Mobiles.co.uk.

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 and FreeIndex, and social media combined can help give you an idea of reliability.

Apple has now started to sell 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 doesn't sell refurbished smartphones in the UK. 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 plan

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, make sure you're getting the best deal from your provider.

For the full range of the best deals at the moment, see our best Sim only deals guide.

Top refurbished deals

How much you can save on a refurbished model all depends on the handset you're looking for and the deals you can find. Here are a few of the best bargains out there currently (and how much you'd normally pay brand new).

'Like New' 64GB iPhone 8 – £359

This refurbished O2* deal gets you a 64GB iPhone 8 which "may have some wear and tear and superficial scratches" for £359 when using a neat trick with its 'O2 Refresh' contracts - though this does require a credit check. 

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've received the handset simply pay off the balance of the phone and cancel the airtime contract – see full details for more information.

Refurb price: £359 (£479 new)
Delivery cost: Free, next-day insured courier
Refurb type: Retailer – 'Like New' condition (grade A) 
Warranty: 12-month retailer warranty
Anything else? It won't come with headphones or its original box, though you'll get a USB charging cable

How does O2 Refresh work? O2 Refresh contracts 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 phones, have a very low handset cost once you've cancelled the airtime segment, making it a great way to nab a cheap phone.

How do I cancel the airtime plan? Once you receive the handset, call O2 on 202 to cancel the airtime plan straightaway, then 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.

Anything else? It's also worth considering that, as you're still applying for a traditional contract, you'll be credit-checked and this will leave a mark on your credit file. You may wish to reconsider this option if you're about to apply for important credit, a mortgage for example, as it may affect your chance of getting it.

Excellent' 64GB Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus - £289

This deal from Envirofone gets you a refurbished 64GB Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus with "very minor isolated wear and tear to the front, back or sides and is in excellent working order."  

Refurb price: £289
Delivery cost: Free, next-day delivery
Refurb type: Retailer refurbished – 'pristine' condition (grade A)
Warranty: 12-month retailer warranty
Anything else? It won't come with headphones or its original box, though you'll get a USB charging cable

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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