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Complete Guide to Buying Refurbished Phones

Refurbished phones are devices that have been previously owned but find their way back to the retailer or carrier due to a trade-in or warranty exchange. The carrier then resells the device — following restoration to perfect functionality. The technical team will totally refurbish the device, ensuring all faulty parts are replaced, and any traces of the previous owners are wiped clean.

Brand new, high-end phones these days cost more than an average individual can typically afford. The price can quickly add up for a business that needs dozens of devices for employees to function in day-to-day operations. Refurbished phones offer a much cheaper alternative. 

This article will help you learn how to identify a refurbished phone, what goes into the refurbishing process, and what the different grades of refurbished phones are. We will also give you insights into choosing the best quality refurbished phones and where to buy them.

What is a refurbished phone?

Refurbished cell phones go by many names. Some popular terms are pre-owned, reconditioned, open-box, refreshed, and recertified. The abundance of synonyms for these phones may be partly due to the effort to distinguish them from "used" phones without calling them new. 

If they are neither new nor used, what are refurbished phones? Merriam Webster Dictionary states that to refurbish is "to brighten or freshen up; to renovate" This definition certainly hits close to the mark.

Imagine you order a new phone, a space gray Apple iPhone XS for example, through your carrier. However, you find a broken seal on the box. The damage to the seal could have happened during transportation, or someone might have tampered with it. You make your complaint and send it back to the carrier to avoid any chances. The carrier honors the warranty and sends you a new and different phone in a box. This time, the seal is intact, and everything else is to your satisfaction.

Now the carrier has to do something with the phone you returned. To start, they’ll have an expert do an inspection. If there is any slight tampering or damage, the expert repairs it. Even if the phone is in perfectly mint condition, it can technically no longer be considered new. It will then be packaged as a refurbished phone and sold for a lesser price.

In some cases, newly purchased cell phones are returned after a few weeks of use because of manufacturing defects or because the buyer had a change of mind. Other times, these phones have been used for longer and are used to trade-in for newer models. Whatever the case is, the damages are repaired. The phone is reconditioned to as prime a condition as possible and sold as refurbished.

How does a refurbished phone work? 

Refurbished phones get restored to a state as close to new as possible. However, the quality of the repair depends on which agent the responsibility falls on. 

Let’s review a few refurbished phone quality options:

Nonetheless, refurbished phones are wiped clean of any leftover information (data) from previous owners and restored to factory settings. Any physical augmentation or personalization made to the phone (e.g., screen protectors) is removed. Damaged parts such as broken screens or water-resistant seals are fixed or replaced. Restoration includes the battery too. It is outrightly substituted for a new one at any sign of decline.

Are refurbished phones good to buy?

You can always count on the performance and functionality of refurbished phones. They can carry the same working quality as when they were brand new.

They are usually tested and inspected to guarantee their functionality before being sold. Most vendors would not accept or resell a returned device that fails to meet certain repairable conditions due to careless use.

However, the physical quality and appearance might not be entirely flawless. A refurbished phone's neatness and general physical condition depend on its grade.

What do the grades mean for refurbished phones? 

Refurbished phones come out in different conditions, with some having more wear on them than others. The variation in appearance and decline necessitates the need to grade them into different orders.

Gradings are assigned to refurbished phones to set fitting prices and inform you of what to expect from your purchase. Will the phone be indistinguishable from brand new? Will it have just a few scratches? Can you expect a dent? The different grades give you an idea of what you are paying for.

Below are the grading standards for refurbished phones:

Not all vendors use the standard Grade "A," "B," and "C." You can see Grade A devices labeled as "Excellent" or "Pristine," depending on the vendor. But Grade B and C are alternatively labeled "Good" and "Fair" or "Slightly Imperfect," respectively.

Furthermore, some sellers include the fourth standard, the Grade D. This kind of device would have suffered severe damage before being repaired and refurbished. Grade D refurbished phones will appear a bit worn and shabby.

Why should you consider getting a refurbished phone?

Why bother with refurbished mobile phones at all? There are actually a number of good reasons why getting a refurbished phone is worth your consideration.

You save money 

The most apparent benefit of purchasing a refurbished phone is the money you can save.

Refurbished phones put high-performance, top-tier phones in your hands at a fraction of what you would have paid for them if they came in their original box. So, for instance, a refurbished iPhone Xs Max, a flagship phone, is sold at the same price as a new iPhone XR, its mid-range counterpart.

Businesses that buy phones in bulk can significantly take advantage of refurbished phones. They can equip their staff with high-performance, flagship devices at a low cost.

You get a quality device for a low price 

Refurbished phones differ from used phones because of the quality guarantee. A refurbished phone assures the functionality of a like-new device. The vendors wipe the memory and remove all traces of previous ownership. Depending on the grade, the vendors may also give it new certifications.

Refurbished phones are also checked for defects. All internal damages are repaired to standard conditions before listing. As opposed to used phones, in which case you take whatever the previous owners leave you. So, although refurbished phones are pre-owned, you buy them intact after the vendors have reconditioned them.

The best part? You get all of this at just a fraction of the cost of a brand new device.

You protect the environment 

If every minor damage to our gadgets — smartphones and laptops — ended with them being disposed of, it wouldn't be long before we’d see irreversible environmental damage from e-waste. Reconditioning and purchasing phones as refurbished items helps keep the materials useful for an extended period and reduces our carbon footprint.

Used phones get expelled and thrown away when they can't find new owners, invariably ending up as waste. The environmental consequences can be dire if the battery and other components decay and leach into the soil. So yes, buying refurbished phones is another bit you can contribute to making our planet safer and sustainable for the next generation.

Where can you buy refurbished phones?

You can buy quality refurbished phones on the following platforms:

These platforms offer top-quality refurbished Apple devices like iPad, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone SE, etc. In addition, you can find Android phones like Motorola, Google Pixel, and various Samsung phones — Samsung Galaxy Notes, Samsung Galaxy S9, Samsung Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10e, and Galaxy Z, among others.

You might notice that we have not listed open marketplaces like Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. The difficulty in verifying the identity and history of sellers on this platform makes it difficult to recommend these options for sensitive purchases like refurbished phones.

What should you look for when shopping refurbished?

Shopping for refurbished phones doesn’t have to be tricky. We always advise that companies don't buy refurbished without a Phonecheck Certified History Report. Below, we've outlined guidelines to help you get the best out of your purchases.

Try to buy from the original company or a reputable store 

The best versions of refurbished phones are sold by the original manufacturers themselves. Phone manufacturers, like Samsung and Apple, can easily replace damaged parts or find and fix faults to perfection. These companies care the most about the overall quality of their device. As a result, they do their best to restore their refurbished phones to live up to their brand names.

The closest alternative to the original company is to find a reputable store on or offline. Mobile carriers have easy access to certified technicians to execute inspections and fixes. You can also count on them to use original parts for replacement.

See what warranty, if any, is offered 

Since refurbished smartphones are expected to be restored and reconditioned, a vendor that is certain of the phone's condition will not hesitate to offer a warranty. However, factors like the grade of the phone may affect the terms of the warranty.

Warranty keeps the vendor responsible and makes sure that your purchase won't become problematic after a few weeks of use. Reputable vendors will usually offer you a warranty of up to 12 months. But even original manufacturers seldom offer warranties for more extended periods on their refurbished phone sales.

Read the fine print on the sale 

A lot can be hidden in words. The fine print details the responsibilities of the seller to you. In the world of refurbished devices, who's responsible for what can quickly become a gray area. It’s best to protect yourself by reading the terms before making the purchase. 

Check if the device sold to you is "as is" or on a "short warranty" — both are red flags you should avoid. You should also read and understand the return policy. What's the duration of the return? What does the warranty cover? Remember, the fine print is the only way to hold sellers to their promises.

Keep in mind the age of the device 

Older devices would have been used for a more extended period before undergoing the refurbishing process. Hence, older cell phones have more easily noticeable signs of wear. However, aesthetics are not the only thing affected by the age of the device.

Operating system upgrades, security updates, and other software support from manufacturers are set from a fixed time at the point of its first sale. You can expect at least three years of support and OS upgrades for new Android and iOS devices. Phones passed these limited periods are left vulnerable to security breaches, malware, and poor application executions.

You should, therefore, make sure to keep the age of the device in mind during your purchase, and use it to judge its overall value.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is 

Sure, mouthwatering deals make it to the market from time to time. However, most often these devices listed for awesomely low prices have a hidden agenda. 

The seller may be hiding one or two major defects that you won't see before receiving your package. You have to be even more careful if you purchase from an online vendor you’ve never met in person. Go through customer reviews when shopping on reputable sites like Amazon to see the seller's history.

Avoiding vendors with no reviews can help you avoid frustrating purchases. Steer clear of devices with vague descriptions and those listed with stock photos instead of specific pictures of the phone listed. Be careful when filling out your credit card details as well.

Look for certification from the seller 

Certification provides information on the phone's background, hardware functionality, and even its grade. A certification from the seller assures you that you are not buying a stolen phone or one that is questionable regarding quality.

The key is to confirm a reputable source like Phonecheck does the certification. You also need to be proactive when shopping for refurbished smartphones. Upstanding vendors will usually accept a request for certification if they don't offer it upfront when you request one.

Know what you’re buying with Phonecheck

Refurbished phones offer great value at low prices. In addition to saving costs, buying such phones means you’re contributing to a more sustainable planet. However, if you need to verify that you're getting the best grade, devoid of any shady history, how do you go about this? That's where Phonecheck comes in. 

Our industry-leading enterprise diagnostic tools carry out device history reports and ensure your company refurbished phone is certified. Therefore, you can easily avoid costly hidden problems by purchasing a history report on Phonecheck for about the cost of a cup of coffee.

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