5 Things to Look for When Buying a Refurbished Phone

There are big advantages that come from buying a refurbished phone. First, flagship or “newly released” smartphones can ship with a number of bugs that need to be worked out via updates and potential repairs/recalls. These bugs are often worked out of a given phone when they again reach the sale’s shelf after being “professionally” refurbed.

Next, there’s the price. By now, all of us have learned the hard way that a smartphone devalues about as fast and predictably as a new car when driven off the lot. A refurbished phone bought in great condition, at a vastly reduced price over new, is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Businesswoman holding smartphone

Let’s slow down a sec though. Without being armed with the right information, that dream purchase of a refurbished phone can turn into a financial, emotional, and potential social nightmare! Here are 5 things to look for before you drop money down on a seemingly awesome refurbished phone.

1. Unlocked or not?

In most cases, you’re looking for phones that aren’t locked into a specific carrier. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, most who seek to buy a used phone likely have a preferred carrier already, and will want to use the phone on that existing network. Next, an unlocked phone ensures there isn’t any money owed on the phone by the previous user. Check the phone’s IMEI online for free to see more on the history of the device, including whether it’s locked to a carrier.

If you intend to use a specific carrier, you can definitely buy a phone locked into that provider. In this case, it’s a good idea to look at refurbished phones being sold by that specific company first. A privately-bought phone isn’t likely to come with a manufacturer’s warranty, while carriers selling refurbished phones will offer at least a 30-day repair/replacement warranty for your purchase.

2. Factory reset?

A phone which still contains leftover data from the previous user, including apps that didn’t ship with that specific phone, hasn’t been refurbished. This is the first thing all carriers and wholesalers do before selling you a phone. In fact, when a user trades in their old phone, sales/service agents will usually do a factory reset right in front of that user (this is for legal purposes in most locales).

Without a factory reset, you can be in for all sorts of nightmares, including data breaches, malware, and potential hardware issues masked by apps and finicky hacks that can make the phone unusable when a proper reset is finally done. A factory reset phone also ensures a jailbroken device doesn’t get bricked after you reset and start to customize the phone to your own preferences.

3. Warranty?

A truly refurbished phone will come with either an original manufacturer’s warranty, or one provided by the refurbisher. Unless you’re buying a ten-year old flip phone, it’s a really bad idea to buy a phone without at least a thirty-day warranty. Also, if an extended warranty is offered for a reasonable price, this is indicative of the refurbisher’s confidence in the device’s condition and reliability (and you should purchase this if the phone is worth a few Benjamins).

Make sure to read the fine print. Smartphones bought from overseas outfits may require you to pay shipping/return shipping, making a warranty claim expensive and potentially time-consuming (Ie., time spent without your phone while it’s being repaired). China or India, for instance, can take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, one-way, for a package to be shipped. Even local sellers can charge exorbitant processing and shipping fees for warranty claims.

Buying refurbished phone

4. Model and known problems

Most of you have likely been duped into what seemed like a great deal on an expensive phone or device, only to find out the model is a factory dud with usability issues that can’t be ignored. The Samsung S7 looks good on paper, and is for the most part. However, it also has notorious ram management issues that make it terrible for multi-tasking with many apps.

A deal on a iPhone 7s in great condition may seem like it will work for your needs. However, with Apple purposely and rather publicly slowing down older devices to line their pockets, it might be a good idea to read up on the current state of affairs for a given phone. Forums like Reddit are a great place to find out information about the problems a given phone might hold in store for end-users.

5. Seller’s reputation

The last thing to look for when buying a refurbished phone is the seller’s reputation. A few hundred dollars for a phone that costs $800 retail is only a good deal so long as that phone is working. If it dies unexpectedly after a month, and the seller is nowhere to be found or operates under a “buyer beware” mantra, that phone could cost just as much as a new one when you have to take it to a specialist for repair.

A good seller will clearly and honestly state the condition of the phones using a rating out of ten (Ie., “7/10”), or using language such as “for parts only,” “needs screen replacement, “good,” or “excellent.” It should go without saying that the refurbisher or reseller needs to have a great rating. Ebay and Amazon make it easy to see how their sellers operate. For all other sources, rely on review threads on Reddit and other tech-related forums to get a feel for the service you can expect from a given retailer.

Follow the simple advice listed above and you’re far less likely to regret your next refurbished smartphone purchase.