There are two good reasons to buy a refurbished phone rather than a brand new one. First, it’s better for the environment. Making new phones means more carbon emissions (among other things) and although many companies are moving towards being carbon neutral, they’re not there yet.
The second, and probably the reason you’re reading this article, is that refurbished phones are considerably cheaper than new ones.
Why buy a refurbished phone?
Apart from costing less than a brand new one, a refurbished phone is less of a risk than buying a used one on ebay, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or even from a friend.
That’s because refurbished phones almost always come with warranties, so you have some recourse if something goes wrong after you’ve bought it.
Second, companies that sell refurbished phones will (usually) thoroughly check that everything works as it should, so you don’t end up with a dud.
One important thing to note is that “refurbished” doesn’t always mean that parts have been replaced or repaired. Instead, most sellers just clean up and sort used phones into different categories such as “Pristine” and “Very Good”. You might also see “Grade A” and “Grade B”, but what’s important is that you read what each means so you know what you’re getting.
There are, however, companies that carry out actual refurbishment. One obvious one is Apple, and you won’t be able to tell an iPhone from Apple’s Refurbished Store apart from a brand new one. But refurbished iPhones aren’t much cheaper than new ones because of this. The other is Samsung. Samsung’s Certified Pre-Owned Store states that its refurbished phones are “completely rebuilt from scratch by the same engineers who build [its] new devices”,
Another company that refurbishes phones – in the UK – is Aznu. Currently it only offers iPhones and Samsung phones, but provides a 12-month warranty and a 12-month subscription to Norton 360 Deluxe. You can buy phones from Aznu’s website, but they’re also sold through Argos.
Where do refurbished phones come from in the first place? They’re usually from owners who are upgrading to a new phone and have traded in or sold their old, perfectly good phone. But they may also be brand new phones that have been returned to the retailer, and there might be nothing wrong with them at all. In some cases, you can even find brand new devices with damaged boxes or missing accessories at knock-down prices.
When buying a refurbished phone, make sure that you check if the phone is locked to a particular network. Most aren’t, but you should pick one that’s unlocked as you’ll be able to pop any SIM in it and use it on any mobile network.
Where to find refurbished phone deals – SIM-free
Here are the best places we’ve found to buy a refurbished phone. Some retailers currently have special promotions available for the Jubilee bank holiday weekend:
Where to buy refurbished phones on contract
You can also pick up refurbished handsets from major network retailers including:
Listed below are some of the top offers and sales we’re seeing at the moment on refurbished phones, on contract and SIM-free.
Top Refurbished Phone Deals
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (128GB, refurbished)
The iPhone 13 Pro Max superseded it last autumn, but this chunky discount on a refurbished 12 Pro Max is pretty appealing. You can also get the 256GB model for £729.
Apple iPhone 12 (64GB) – Refurbished
From: Apple Refurbished Store
Apple’s refurbished iPhone 12 comes in at £190 cheaper compared to when it was new.
Apple iPhone 12 mini (64GB) – Refurbished
This price is for a Good condition model, which means noticeable wear and tear, but for a £210 saving compared to the iPhone 12 mini’s original RRP.
Samsung Galaxy S21 5G (128GB) – Amazon Renewed
The price on last year’s Galaxy S21 has dropped a long way now that the S22 range has arrived – and you can save even more when you buy refurbished from Amazon.
This is for the Phantom Violet colour: others are more expensive.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus 5G (128GB) – Refurbished
From: Amazon Renewed
Pick up 2019’s S20 Plus 5G for almost £730 less than the original launch price.
Apple iPhone 11 (64GB)
From: Back Market
Back Market is one of the newest retailers to offer refurbished phones. The company offers a 30-day refund policy if you change your mind along with a 12-month warranty.
Its price on a refurbished iPhone 11 in a ‘Fair’ condition is a solid deal if you don’t mind signs of wear and tear, though the slightly pricier ‘Excellent’ option offers a great saving too, at around £315.
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max (64GB, unlocked) – Refurbished
From: Back Market
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is no longer available from Apple, but cost £1049 at release, which means this deal saves you over £650 on an unlocked, refurbished phone in ‘Good’ condition.
Back Market also offers free delivery and a 12-month warranty.
Amazon Renewed is Amazon’s marketplace for seller-refurbished handsets. The devices there are extensively “inspected, tested, and cleaned by Amazon-qualified suppliers” and include a one-year warranty.
Benefits of buying from third-party sellers (compared to buying refurbished from the manufacturer) include a greater variety of stock and more competitive prices – but watch out for the grade!
What do refurbished grades mean?
Each retailer seems to have its own grading system, which means a ‘Good’ condition phone from one might be in very different condition to a ‘Good’ phone bought from another.
That’s why it’s crucial to read the description of what each grade means on the retailer’s website.
Some start their grading at ‘Good’ (which means the worst condition they sell) and go up to Excellent or Like New.
Others are more honest, calling phones with obvious signs of wear and tear ‘Fair’ condition. Others still use A1, A2 and A3, or other systems that aren’t so obvious.
Refurbished vs second-hand or used – what’s the difference?
There’s a difference between buying refurbished and simply buying second-hand. While refurbished devices are technically pre-owned, they are repaired and reconditioned to work like new. Buying a second-hand phone, however, means you get the device as is, which means the lifespan may not last as long.
Refurbished phones often come with a one-year warranty no matter where you buy from – in fact, we’d urge you to take a look at the warranty policy before you buy. Ensure there is one!
Read our guide to Refurbished vs Used, where we look at which is better and why.
If you’d still prefer to buy new, but are on a budget, check out our round-up of the best budget phones.