The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Refurbished Phone [2023]

Been thinking about buying a refurbished iPhone or Samsung, or maybe another make? Not really sure what a refurbished phone is or whether it’s right for you? Don’t know how to judge the quality of refurbished phones on the market?

You’re in the right place.

In this guide to buying a refurbished iPhone, we’ll cover what a refurbished phone is and why you should choose one next time you want to upgrade your phone. 

We’ll also explore the different options when buying a refurbished device and what to look out for so you don’t make an expensive mistake. 

We want you to get the right phone at the right price – and make a positive difference to the planet at the same time.

Welcome to refurbished mobiles 101.

What is a refurbished phone?

Refurbished and second hand do not mean the same thing. This is a common misconception – and constant source of confusion – but the difference is huge.

Second hand means it’s been used (or preloved, as we at reboxed like to call it). 

Refurbished, however, means that either the manufacturer or a specialist third party has worked on the phone to restore it to a better condition. The level of work can vary. It could be anything from a minor change, such a screen replacement, to a complete re-manufacture where every part of the device is replaced. Our main partner is a re-manufacturer who can completely restore an iPhone to premium condition. 

This means that not all refurbished devices are created equal. Some devices get the refurbished tag even if someone has simply opened the box then decided to return the phone. At reboxed, our premium phones, which are rated 5.0★, are often returns or just had a few minor repairs to get it looking and working as good as new. 

There are many reasons why a store, reseller or customer might send a phone back, from scratches to technical defects, but most refurbished mobiles fall into one of three groups:  

  1. Old phones that have been used but then fixed with new parts to make them work like new again
  2. New phones that people have opened then sent back because they didn’t want them
  3. Brand new phones that had technical issues which the manufacturer fixed so they can now be sold 

Why choose a refurbished phone?

There are two main reasons for choosing a refurbished phone over a brand new one: cash and carbon.

Our planet

Let's start with carbon. The average carbon emissions of a smartphone over the course of its lifetime come to around around 80kg, with 80% of that occurring during the manufacturing process. Choosing an existing device rather than a new one means you're saving this huge chunk of carbon.

Choosing a refurbished handset over a new one also helps prevent electronic waste or e-waste. E-waste is the world's fastest growing waste stream. In 2021 alone, Apple sold 58 million smartphones - yikes! And it’s expected that e-waste levels are going to reach 50 million tonnes by 2030… again, buying refurbished can help.

Refurbished smartphones produce 89% less e-waste than a new one. Not only because you’re actively preventing a phone from ending up in a landfill well before its time, but because you’re also saving a bunch of precious raw materials from being mined in the first place.

The average smartphone is made up of at least 15 different types of raw materials, from gold, silver, copper, chrome… the list goes on. By opting for a refurbished smartphone you’re preventing 243.6kg of raw materials from being mined. Nice!

Pretty impressive, right?

What’s even more impressive is there’s more gold in 1 tonne of e-waste than 1 tonne of gold ore. So you’d be doing yourself a massive financial disservice by throwing your old tech in the bin rather than trying to sell it on. Read up on our guide to selling your phone here.

Your pocket

As if helping to save the planet isn’t enough, going for a refurbished mobile also saves you cash. 

Buy a brand new iPhone 13 from Apple and it’ll set you back at least £649; buy a refurbished one from reboxed from just £510. In fact, refurbished phones are often 20-40% cheaper than their new equivalents. Can’t argue with that.   

You won’t just save on the initial cost. We all know that brand new cars depreciate the moment you drive off the forecourt and it turns out that phones aren’t just the same – they’re even worse. 

Whereas cars lose about 20% of their value in the first year, phones lose between 38% and 76%. Buy refurbished and let someone else get stung for that initial fall in value instead.

For a more detailed analysis of cost and other aspects of buying new versus refurbished, see comparison section below.   

Getting the right refurbished phone for you

Raring to get out there and buy a refurbished phone now? 

Here are the top seven questions to ask yourself before handing over payment.

Is it really refurbished?

Remember lesson #1 about refurbished phones? Refurbished and second hand are not the same thing. 

Unfortunately, some dodgy sellers might list a device as refurbished when it hasn't undergone any repairs or improvements. You might get a good price but you won’t be getting the same level of quality and you probably won’t get a warranty either.  

Is there a warranty?

Surprised to hear you can get a warranty with a refurbished phone? Don’t be. Here at reboxed, we offer a free 12-month guarantee with all our sales. Any reputable seller should do the same.

Is it unlocked?

Get a locked refurbished phone and you’re more likely to get stuck with an excruciatingly long contract. Get an unlocked phone and move between networks and SIM-only deals. You’re free to roam the market and choose the cheapest and most flexible options. Winner winner chicken dinner. 

Have official parts been used?

Look for whether official parts have been used when repairing the phone. If not, you’ll lose out on a fair bit of shelf life and it’ll most likely need repairing again sooner rather than later.  

What condition am I looking for?

Brand new phones are all the same condition: brand new. 

Refurbished phones come in lots of different conditions and the resale market is littered with different ways to rank quality. Often these are pretty basic and vague. 

Does this give you enough information for choosing a device? No, us neither.

Some sites do offer a bit more detail but it’s hardly comprehensive. What does "moderate signs of wear” actually look like?

At reboxed, we use a classic Uber-style rating to tell you what condition the phone is in.

Conditions explained

Premium

  • Rating : 5.0
  • Quality : Premium
  • Description : In perfect or near-mint condition.
  • Casing: May have some very light of use
  • Screen: Like new
  • Hardware: Hardware 100% fully working, tested, checked, and cleaned : All our batteries are at least 80% or more.

 

Great:

  • Rating : 4.0
  • Quality : Great
  • Description : Some light scratches you can only see up close up
  • Screen: Light scratches you can't see when the screen is on
  • Casing: May have some very light of use
  • Hardware: Hardware 100% fully working, tested, checked, and cleaned : All our batteries are at least 80% or more.

Fair:

  • Rating : 3.0
  • Quality : Fair
  • Description : Signs of weaar with moderate scratches and scuffs.
  • Casing: Will show signs of use
  • Screen: Moderate scratches with slight wear
  • Hardware: Hardware 100% fully working, tested, checked, and cleaned : All our batteries are at least 80% or more.

 

Only you know what level of condition represents the best value for you. 

If you’re buying a refurbished phone for yourself and don’t mind the odd scratch, then 'Great' offers great value for money. 

Looking for the perfect gift, for yourself or someone else? Then stick to Premium.

How has the condition of the phone been decided?

As well as the description of refurbished phones often being vague, there are also huge inconsistencies across the market. A phone graded good by one seller isn’t necessarily the same as a good phone from another seller – which makes it even harder to know what you’re getting.

At reboxed, we prefer to base our grades on cold hard data, not broad categories and guesswork, so we built TechCheckⓇ – our all-seeing 70-point diagnostics tool. With TechCheckⓇ, we test everything from the power button to the headphone jack, the National Mobile Property Register to WiFi, the battery health percentage to the screen watermarks.    

TechCheckⓇ brings transparency to the grading system by using clear and specific criteria to assess the quality of a device. Plus its 360° technology pinpoints the exact specification and condition of each and every phone and gives it a score. 

We’ve made the whole process of buying refurbished phones more scientific and therefore smarter and safer for you, the customer. 

We want every customer to feel confident about quality and condition when buying from us.



What packaging does the phone come in?

Second hand doesn’t mean second best so you’re entitled to expect good quality packaging when buying used and refurbished just as you would when buying new. 

Alas, not all resale sites agree. Some are happy to send out their devices in a pretty sorry state. But not us. We believe that the unboxing experience should be as satisfying with refurbished as it is when buying new. 

All our devices come in beautifully branded and sustainable packaging, meaning they’re great for gifting too.

New versus standard refurbished versus reboxed: a comparison 

iPhone 13 128GB White

Seller

Price

Pros

Cons

Apple

£749.00

Brand new 

Trusted seller

Price

Depreciation

eBay*

£589.00

Price 

12 month warranty

Unreliable

Basic packaging

reboxed

£530.00

Price, 12 month warranty TechCheckⓇ guaranteed Branded packaging

Sometimes not the cheapest option

 

iPhone 12 64GB

Seller

Price

Pros

Cons

Apple** 

£649.00

Brand new

Trusted seller

Price

 

eBay

£334.99

Price

12 month warranty

Unreliable

Basic packaging

reboxed

£439.00

Price 

12 month warranty TechCheckⓇ guaranteed Branded packaging

Sometime not the cheapest option

 

*Prices valid as of 30.03.23

 

Your buying refurbished checklist

We’ve made it to the end. 

Hopefully you know everything you need to about buying a refurbished mobile. If you still have a burning question, feel free to ask us by email or on Instagram.

But before you go, here’s a quick checklist for when you come to buy a refurbished phone:  

  1. Is it really refurbished or just second hand?
  2. How long is the warranty for? No warranty? Don’t bother.
  3. Is it unlocked?
  4. Have official parts been used in any repairs?
  5. What condition am I looking for?
  6. How has the condition of the phone been decided?
  7. What packaging does the phone come in? 

 

Apple iphoneIphone 11Iphone 11proIphone 12Iphone 12 proIphone 12 pro maxIphone 6Iphone 7Iphone 8Iphone xIphone xsRefurbished handsetsRefurbished phones

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