It’s getting more and more expensive to buy high-end smartphones these days. Unless you wait for special sales and promotions, you can end up paying hundreds of dollars. It’s not uncommon to even break the $1,000 threshold. That’s why many consumers are opting for refurbished phones to save some money.

In this article, we will take a look at what the term “refurbished phones” actually means, and what different companies have on offer. As you’ll see, refurbished phones are actually quite common. But you need to do a bit more research than you might be used to. You want to make sure you’re actually buying what’s advertised.

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What is a refurbished phone, anyway?

The term “refurbished phones” comes with some stigma. The lower prices implies, to some, that there’s something wrong with the phone. You may also have seen refurbished phones presented as “pre-owed” or “”reconditioned”. You might even see an “open box” phone. These are all interchangeable terms describing the same thing.

All of these terms mean that someone previously purchased the phone, then returned to the maker, wireless carrier, or retailer. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with the phone at all; the person may have simply decided that they didn’t want it. In other cases, the phone did have some kind of small hardware problem, like a display that popped out or a cracked case. In that case, the manufacturer fixed the phone and sold it again as a “refurbished” item.

A refurbished phone should work just like new. It’s not technically a “new” phone anymore, so the term “refurbished” signals that distinction. The person who bought the phone originally may have never even used it. They may have even left it in its originally packaging. That’s why refurbished phones can be such a great deal — they’re basically new, but you get them at a discount.

Here’s what to keep in mind when shopping for refurbished phones

A photo of several phones' cameras.

If you want to save some money by going the refurbished route, you need to keep some things in mind. In fact, you’ll want to do more research than you might if you were buying a new device.

  • Check for a warranty – If the refurbished phone you want to buy truly has no issues, the smartphone maker or retailers will include some kind of warranty with the purchase. If it doesn’t come with a warranty, there’s a bigger chance something will be wrong with it out of the box.
  • Try to buy one from the company that originally made the phone – Many times, a phone manufacturer will have some handsets that are perfectly fine. The original owner returned them for some unknown reason. They’ll often try to resell them as refurbished phones on their official website. This is probably the easiest way for you to save some money.
  • Always read the fine print – You should do this anyway with any large purchase, but it’s especially important when you’re buying a refurbished phone. A common red flag is a phone marked “as is”. Reading such fine print might reveal that you can’t return the phone or get a refund if anything isn’t working.

Where can I buy refurbished phones?

There are actually plenty of places where you can purchase refurbished phones. They include well-known retailers, wireless carriers, and smartphone makers, along with companies that sell refurbished phones exclusively.

Gazelle – This is perhaps the best-known company for refurbished phones. They also buy old phones from consumers and fix them to sell, naturally, at a discount. The company says it doesn’t sell these phones unless they are “fully functional” and have been through a 30-point quality inspection. You can also return any phone you buy on Gazelle within 30 days of purchase and get your money back. It lacks a formal warranty, but Gazelle has a solid reputation for offering high-quality refurbished phones at great discounts.

Amazon – It’s not a shock to learn that Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, is also a great place to shop for refurbished phones. Like Gazelle, Amazon buys old phones from consumers, offering Amazon gift cards as payment. It then resells the older phones after testing them and making them both work and look like new. They also come with at least a 90-day supplier warranty.

Best Buy

Best Buy – Best Buy joins Gazelle and Amazon by offering a trade-in program for consumers to turn in older phones in exchange for Best Buy gift cards. The retailer also sells refurbished phones on its site, along with what it calls “pre-owned” phones. If a phone on Best Buy has that label, it means it is “fully functional with some cosmetic blemishes” and comes with a non-original package with a charger and a data cable, along with a 90-day warranty. A refurbished phone at Best Buy has been “repaired and restored to a like-new state” and also comes with its accessories, along with a warranty.

Wireless carriers – The four major US wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint) all sell some refurbished phones, although their selection tends to be pretty small compared to Gazelle, Amazon and Best Buy. However, they are all certified to work like new phones, even if some of them might have some cosmetic blemishes. These won’t affect their functions.

Decante

eBay – If you are willing to do a little more research, and also more willing to take a risk on merchants that you may not be familiar with, eBay is a great place to check out a ton of refurbished phones. Again, our rules for buying such a phone really matter when you dive into the murky waters of eBay. Make sure the phone you are buying has some kind of warranty, and be sure to check out any fine print before spending your hard-earned cash.

Samsung – If you are a Samsung phone fan, you might be pleased to know that the company actively sells refurbished Galaxy phones on its website. At a significant discount too. The good news is that Samsung’s technicians have fixed these older phones. And the company offers a one-year warranty, new headphones, and a charger. The bad news is that these refurbished phones are older than the company’s current phones. The latest phone available on their site is a Galaxy S6.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are tons of options out there if you want to save yourself some money. You’ll have to do more research to make sure you get a refurbished phone that’s up to your standards. But that may be a small price to pay for the cash you’ll save in the long run.