Buying a refurbished mobile

Cheap handsets, incl £418 64GB iPhone 6s

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 which were either sent back by customers because they were faulty or were simply sold on by their previous owner – they'll have been checked and if necessary repaired 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' iPhones, 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 things to consider 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, then that means you can go to them 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 buyers' only rights under law 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.

    It can also be difficult to get insurance on a used phone – many policies won't cover them. One exception is Endsleigh, which covers some, though it depends on the age of the handset. See more insurance options below.

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, due 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 Refresh* 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 in O2 Refresh trick.
Music Magpie* One-year retailer warranty
No, only statutory
Free, 1-3 days tracked
More info: Music Magpie offers a pretty extensive range of refurbished handsets, and runs flash sales from time to time which can be very competitive. Conditions are rated from "good" to "very good".
Mighty Deals Depends on deal, typically one-year retailer warranty
No, only statutory
Varies, typically £9.99
More info: Deals site Mighty Deals has some of the best prices we've seen on refurbished handsets. It's had some bad feedback in the forum though so beware when buying. If you have any problems, email customerfeedback@mightydeals.co.uk. Remember Mighty Deals and its parent company Money Expert have nothing to do with MSE.
Argos* One-year manufacturer warranty (typically) 30-day returns1 £3.95, same-day or next-day delivery2
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 warranty3 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 giant 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 their proper functioning. You can also buy from one of its stores.
Table last updated December 2017. 1. If you change your mind within 30 days, you can return the item free in stores, or arrange free collection for 'home delivery' only items. 2. Free delivery on select items, or reserve online and collect in stores for free. 3. Warranty is with Carphone Warehouse, which owns Mobiles.co.uk.

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

Although Apple sells refurbished iPads, iPods and Macs*, it doesn't sell refurbished iPhones – you'll only find Apple-refurbished products at other retailers. Samsung doesn't sell refurbished smartphones in the UK either. 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've got your new handset, make sure you're getting the best deal on your service. Consider opting for a cheap Sim-only deal – currently there are some good-value plans for broadband customers of some providers.

For the full range of the best deals at the moment, see our Cheap 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).

You can currently get a refurbished 64GB iPhone 6s for £417.99 (in silver, gold, rose gold or grey) from O2 using a neat trick involving its new-style 'O2 Refresh' contracts. Or, if you're willing to compromise on aesthetics, you can get it for even less.

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.

To get this deal, go to O2's site*, select the colour you want and choose any tariff with the lowest upfront cost (doesn't matter which as you'll be cancelling anyway). At the bottom of the page you'll see the airtime plan separated from the device cost, which is £17/month. Multiply the monthly device cost by 24 months, add on the £9.99 upfront cost and it's £417.99 in total.

  • 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.

    It's also worth checking O2's Sim-free* section, where you'll find different handsets or even the same handsets for a bit less. You won't have the option of paying for the handset monthly but you also won't have an airtime contract you have to cancel. All handsets come locked to O2 but you can request one to be unlocked at any time.

    Accessories-wise, you'll get at least a USB cable, but that's it. Refurbs from O2 come with O2's own 12-month warranty.

    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.

Key info
  • Refurb price: £417.99 (usually £599 new)
  • Delivery cost: Free, next-day insured courier
  • Refurb type: Retailer – excellent condition (grade A)
  • Warranty: 12-month retailer warranty

Samsung S7 Edge - £300*

You can get a refurbished Samsung S7 Edge (32GB)* for £299.99 in black, silver or gold, from eBay shop hitechelectronicsuk. These typically cost £600+ new, so it's a decent deal.

They're in "great" condition, and come with a 12-month warranty provided by the retailer. As it's not a manufacturer's warranty, you'll have to send it back by post if something goes wrong. It comes with a USB cable and some accessories, and eBay seller hitechelectronicsuk has 99.9% positive feedback with over 4,000 reviews.

Stock levels on eBay change frequently especially for the best offers. You may have to find another retailer, though always go for one with a rating over 90%. Another eBay seller, universalgadgets01*, often has higher stock levels, but you may have to pay more.

Key info
  • Refurb price: £299.99 (usually £599 new)
  • Delivery cost: Free, Royal Mail Tracked 48
  • Refurb type: Retailer – "great condition" (grade A)
  • Warranty: 12-month retailer warranty

HTC One M9 - £200*

At the time of writing you could get an unlocked HTC One M9* in grey for £199.99 on eBay. The handsets are listed as in 'excellent condition'. However, no accessories are included.

Seller universalgadgets01 has 97% positive feedback with over two million reviews.

Key info
  • Refurb price: £199.99 (up to £399 new)
  • Delivery cost: Free, Royal Mail first class
  • Refurb type: Retailer – 'excellent condition' (grade A)
  • Warranty: Six-month retailer warranty

Q&As on refurbished mobiles

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

  • It depends. Refurbs are classified as 'new' by some insurers, and 'used' by others (this makes them difficult to insure – see the Second-hand mobile phone insurance MSE News story). Where you buy your phone can also make a difference, as some providers simply won't cover it if it's from an auction-style website, eg, eBay.

    The major networks told us they do insure refurbished phones, but only those bought from them directly – so if you bought one via O2 Refresh then O2 will insure it. Otherwise, here are some of the major insurers we found that cover refurbs (always check yourself before taking out cover though):

    Insurers' policies on refurbished mobile phones

    TABLE_CELL_STYLE REFURBISHED PHONES?
    BOUGHT FROM AN AUCTION WEBSITE?
    Nationwide FlexPlus* (1) Yes Yes, with proof of purchase
    Endsleigh Yes, provided that the phone was bought new no more than three years before the cover begins Yes, with proof of purchase
    Gadget Cover* Yes, provided that the phone was bought new no more than 18 months before the cover begins No, only if purchased directly from manufacturer
    Table correct as of December 2017. 1. This is a top pick packaged bank account, one of the benefits of which is mobile phone insurance.

    If you can get cover, see the Mobile Phone Insurance guide for general tips and a list of best buys. If you can't get dedicated mobile insurance, see if your handset's covered by your home insurance, or consider if you really even need it. Your best option may be to self-insure, putting away a few bob each month to cover you if the worst happens. 

  • 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 the phone, 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 new-style 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 very 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* – or use comparison tool MobilePhoneChecker* for speed and ease – select any tariff (those with the lowest upfront cost work out cheapest) and click through to sign up as normal. Before you check out it'll show you a breakdown of the device and airtime portions of the contract. Multiply the device cost by 24 (months) and add any upfront cost to get the total price.

    Once you receive the handset call up O2 on 202 to cancel the airtime plan straight away, and 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.

    It doesn't always work out cheaper for the phone you're looking for, but it's worth checking as you get some corkers. Plus O2 unlocks* those on contract 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. See the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR launch MSE News story for some stats to get an idea. 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 a little less for it) – see the Mobile Recycling guide for more info.

How to complain about a mobile retailer

If you're not happy about your phone or the service you receive, you should contact the company first. However, if you're still not satisfied, then...

Free tool if you're having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate for free to the relevant ombudsman or trade body.

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