Pre-owned smartphones, laptops, and tablets can be a great deal—if you know what to look for
If you’re looking to save money, buying refurbished electronics can be very tempting.
After all, you can get a 256GB iPhone 7 Plus—rated Very Good or better across the board by our testers—for $779. That's roughly $90 off the price of a new iPhone 7 Plus.
The trick is making sure the product is genuinely refurbished, not simply cleaned up, repackaged, and repriced. And that requires asking some questions before you settle on a deal.
Not everyone defines refurbished the same way.
If you buy a phone directly from Samsung, for example, where they prefer to use the term "certified pre-owned," the company promises restoration to its original condition. That includes “a detailed, top-down inspection of every feature and function,” according to Samsung’s website.
At Apple, refurbished products are also restored with the same replacement parts used in the company’s new models.
So before going with another vendor, especially a noncertified one, you may want to inquire about its policy on that. Otherwise, it's easy to get stuck with a refurbished iPhone that has a cheap third-party battery or charger.
“Seller-refurbished is similar to the Wild West,” says Carlo Salgado, e-commerce manager at Sims Recycling Solutions. “You have thousands of online sellers offering products they refurbish themselves. Consumers have no way to determine the quality of replaced parts.”
Make Sure You're Protected
You may also want to look into the seller’s warranty plan. Samsung and Apple guarantee their refurbished phones for a full year. At Best Buy and Amazon, the warranty is good for only 90 days.
Many credit card companies will extend coverage on refurbished goods, too, as long as they come with a pre-existing warranty.
And last, ask about the return policy. It might take you a little while to notice poor performance and defects in a refurbished product, so it helps to have at least one month to decide whether you want to keep it.
Amazon meets that standard. But Apple confines you to just 14 days. Here again, a credit card company may be able to bail you out if a vendor refuses to accept a return.