The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Refurbished Phone

Been thinking about buying a refurbished phone? 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 phone, we’ll cover what a refurbished mobile is and why you should choose one next time you want to change 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. 

Join the revolution – hand holding iPhone punching through cardboard

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 pristine condition. 

i-Phone in pieces

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 either returns or just had a new battery or new screen fitted. 

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 with another environmental issue. Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the world's fastest growing waste stream but each refurbished phone purchased means one less item going to landfill.

Image of Eiffel Tower with the caption e-waste is on course to double by 2050 to 120 million tonnes a year or 11,500 Eiffel Towers

Choosing a refurbished phone means you’re not adding to this e-waste problem. What’s not to love about that?

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 11 from Apple and it’ll set you back at least £599; buy a refurbished one from reboxed for just £519. 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 unscrupulous 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 15 month guarantee with all our sales. Any reputable seller should do the same.

    Image of a reboxed box with TechCheck label, a black iPhone and a sticker saying TechCheck certified and 15 month warranty

    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. 

    Apple iPhone X £319.95 Condition Good

    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?

    Device condition explained

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

    Summary of a 5 start rated phone

    Summary of a 4 star rated phone

    Summary of a 4 star rated phone

    Summary of a 3.5 star rated phone

    Summary of a 3 star rated phone

    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 4.0 offers great value for money. 

    Looking for the perfect gift, for yourself or someone else? Then stick to 5.0.

    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 TechScore. 

    These TechScores translate into the star ratings that we give each device so you know exactly what condition a 4.0 is in compared to a 4.5 phone, or a 4.5 mobile to a 5.0 mobile. Thanks to TechCheck and TechScores, the whole process of buying refurbished phones becomes 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.

    TechCheck being completed

    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. 

    Us v Them Reboxed packaging v other reseller's packaging

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

    Woman's hands removing a reboxed box from it's outer casing

    New versus standard refurbished versus reboxed: a comparison 

    iPhone XR 128GB White

    Seller

    Price

    Pros

    Cons

    Apple

    £549.00

    Brand new 

    Trusted seller

    Price

    Depreciation

    eBay*

    £409.99

    Price 

    12 month warranty

    Vague rating guide (B = very minor cosmetic wear) 

    Uncertain packaging

    reboxed

    £429.00

    Price, 15 month warranty TechCheck guaranteed Branded packaging

    Not the cheapest option

     

    iPhone 8 64GB

    Seller

    Price

    Pros

    Cons

    Apple** 

    £339.00

    Trusted seller

    Price

     

    eBay

    £239.99

    Price

    12 month warranty

    Vague rating guide

    Uncertain packaging

    reboxed

    £247.00

    Price 

    15 month warranty TechCheck guaranteed Branded packaging

     

     

    * First unsponsored listing appearing for a refurbished version of that make and model

    ** Also refurbished

    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? 

    Reboxed box plus phone case

     

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