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Refurbished mobile phones - the ultimate buying guide

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What is a refurbished phone?

iPhone 12 refurbished next to new handset

A refurbished phone is a pre-owned handset that has been returned and restored to good working order so it can be resold.

Not all phones described as refurbished were ever faulty. Some networks and retailers classify refurbished phones as handsets that were returned by customers who changed their mind within the 30-day cooling-off period after they signed up for a contract.

Before being put on sale, all refurbished phones have been thoroughly checked and tested to ensure they’re in full working order.

Tests carried out by the seller typically include whether the battery charges and checking the buttons and cameras work. The seller will also verify audio quality and screen responsiveness, as well as how the phone connects to Wi-Fi and 4G and 5G, if it’s 5G compatible.

In keeping with the Data Protection Act, the seller will securely wipe any data on the phone. So to all intents and purposes, you’ll be starting afresh.

Some refurbished phone sellers update the handset to the latest version of the operating system that powers it.


How good are refurbished phones?

Because refurbished phones have been thoroughly tested and restored to full working order, they are usually as good as new. However, a refurbished handset probably won’t arrive in its original packaging and might not come with all the usual accessories, like chargers and headphones. On the plus side, it should come with a one-year warranty, but be sure to check that before you buy one.

Refurbished phones: pros and cons

Here’s what you need to know to help you make up your mind:

  • With some brands and retailers, you can make significant savings, especially if you don't mind whether you've got the latest handset.
  • When you buy from a big network or established retailer, you’ll get a warranty, which is usually 12 months.
  • They’ll also include a charging cable or charger.
  • It's not guaranteed whether you'll receive other accessories that were originally bundled with the phone, such as headphones.
  • You probably won’t get the original packaging. Refurbished phones tend to come in plain boxes or network-branded packaging. So you won’t quite have that nice feeling of unboxing a brand new phone. But if you manage to save money on the deal, that might not bother you.

Refurbished phones grading

Data rollover hero image people using phones

All refurbished phones are given a grade that reflects their condition. There’s no universally applied standard for grading, so it’s best to check before buying.

But as a rule of thumb, the grades range from A-D and break down like this:

  • Grade A: This is as nearly new as nearly new gets. At best, it'll be a phone returned within the 30-day cooling-off period, so is to all intents and purposes still a brand new phone. At worst, it'll show minor signs of wear.
  • Grade B: Expect the odd chip or scratch, but nothing too unsightly.
  • Grade C: Refurbished phones graded ‘C’ will have perhaps up to five blemishes and will look like they've been used.
  • Grade D: A grade D refurbished phone will be broken in some way, will look second-hand and will have been well used.

Most networks will only sell grades A-C. You can get grade D phones from some refurbished phone traders on eBay, but even they’ll typically recommend you only buy one if you’re able to repair phones yourself.

To complicate things further, some networks use their own grading system. O2, for instance, favours the grades ‘Perfect’, ‘Almost Perfect’ and ‘Perfectly Fine’.

But where networks do use their own system, you can usually find a key explaining grades on their site.

What do you get with a refurbished phone?

iPhone 12 refurbished phone and new phone

To see how a refurbished phone compares to a brand new handset, we ordered an iPhone 12 from refurbished phones specialist, Affordable Mobiles. First things first, the iPhone arrived in a standard parcel. Upon opening it, we found that there’s no official packaging included. Instead, the iPhone 12 was well protected in a bubble wrap baggie.

There’s no charging plug, although you don’t get that with brand new models either. However, there is a fast-charging USB-C to Lightning cable included.

The iPhone 12 itself is boxfresh. No marks, smudges, fingerprints or scrapes anywhere on the device. One thing that’s lacking is a plastic protector on the screen - that little sheet you try to not peel off for ages and then suddenly buckle and rip off. While it’s in no way a necessity, it is something you get on a brand new phone.

When we switched on the refurbished phone, we were greeted with the familiar Apple setup screen. There are no previous-owner details, photos, or messages hidden away - you start up the phone like new and set it up as if no one has ever touched it before - there’s nothing that would suggest it’s previously been used.

So then all there is left to do is set up your new (refurbished) phone and you’re good to go.


Where to buy refurbished phones

Lots of networks and specialist phone retailers sell refurbished phones, including O2, Vodafone and Mobilephonesdirect.co.uk.

You can also pick up a refurbished phone from auction sites like eBay, high-street retailers and specialist resale-and-recycle sites, such as Envirophone.

  • Uswitch: Here at Uswitch, we let you compare a range of Grade A refurbished handsets from reputable retailers to find the right deal for you. To check it out, go to our refurbished phones deals page.
  • Amazon Renewed: Amazon’s renewed handsets have been extensively tested so that they look and work like new. They also come with a one-year warranty. And best of all, you can save a lot of money on the latest handset. Check out Amazon Renewed handsets.
  • 02 Like New: O2’s refurbished handsets undergo a thorough quality check to ensure they’re as good as new. They also come with a 12-month warranty and you have 14-days to exchange or return it if you’re not completely satisfied. Take a look at O2’s Like New refurbished phones.
  • EE Good as New: All of EE’s refurbished phones have to pass rigorous quality control tests and they come with an EE lifetime Guarantee to give you complete peace of mind. Check out EE’s Good as New handsets.
  • Vodafone refurbished phones: All of Vodafone’s refurbished phones are professionally checked, repaired and tested to make sure they’re good to go. And they also come with a 12-month warranty. Take a look at Vodafone’s refurbished phone deals.
  • giffgaff refurbished phones: With guaranteed next-day delivery and a 12-month warranty, there are lots of reasons to get a refurbished phone from giffgaff. Have a browse through giffgaff’s refurbished phones.

How much cheaper are refurbished phones?

You can save hundreds of pounds by buying a refurbished phone instead of a brand new one, particularly on slightly older models. If you’re hoping to buy the very latest smartphone, you might well be able to pick up a refurbished handset, but you’ll enjoy a much bigger discount if you opt for a last year’s phone, or even the year before.

What's better refurbished or used?

Man holding two phones data transfer

If a phone is described as refurbished and you’re buying it from a network, an established retailer or a trader on an auction site, you can be sure the phone has been tested, cleaned, wiped and is covered by a warranty. So you've got peace of mind in every way.

The term ‘used’ is harder to define, so you'll need to be more cautious. It’s usually favoured by private sellers on auction sites and could mean anything from a few scratches, to battered by frequent drops.

Under eBay’s terms of use, a faulty item can still be returned to a private seller within 30 days for a refund.


What should I keep in mind when buying a refurbished phone?

The most important thing to check when buying a refurbished phone is that it comes with a warranty. That way, you can return it if it has any faults.

Aside from that, you’ll also want to check what grade it is to make sure you know what you’re getting. If you get a grade A phone, it should look as good as new and will be in full working order. If you go for a grade B or C, it will likely have a scratch or two but should still work properly. We’d recommend avoiding grade D phones unless you’re able to repair it yourself.

Is it safe to buy a refurbished phone?

Provided you’re buying from a reputable retailer, it’s perfectly safe to buy a refurbished phone. Most refurbished phones come with a warranty so you should be protected if there’s anything wrong with it. But it’s always best to check if the device comes with a warranty before buying it.

Here at Uswitch, we only recommend the highest grade of refurbished phones, which have all passed the same quality checks as brand new devices. Take a look at our best refurbished phone deals.


Do refurbished phones come with a warranty?

Warranties with refurbished phones depend on where you buy them.

Buy from a major network or retailer, which are the only refurbished phone vendors we have on Uswitch, and you’ll always get a 12-month guarantee.

That’s the case with O2, for instance. And the same goes for Vodafone and Affordable Mobiles..

Buy from a trader on eBay or Amazon and they’ll also typically offer a guarantee of up to 12 months.

If you’re buying from an individual or private seller rather than a trader on eBay, the process of getting a refund is more complicated and could depend on the written description of the phone on the listing.


Do refurbished phones have new batteries?

Before a refurbished phone is resold, the battery will have been through rigorous testing to make sure it’s in full working order. In some cases, this may mean that the battery has been replaced. But most of the time, it will be the original battery that has been restored to its original condition.

Are refurbished phones sustainable?

iPhone 12 refurbished next to new handset comparison

Yes, the good news is that not only are refurbished phones a lot cheaper than new handsets, but they’re also more eco-friendly. This is because a phone that was returned is being given a new lease of life. And it’s a lot better for the environment to resell an old phone, rather than a new one.

How can you tell if a phone is new or refurbished?

When you purchase a new phone, the retailer, manufacturer, network or reseller should make it very clear if you’re buying a refurbished phone. If you’re buying a phone online, a refurbished phone should be clearly labelled as such. Or, if you’re buying one in a store, the sales assistant should make you aware if it’s not a brand new device before you purchase it.

Found a refurbished phone you like off contract?

Good news. Now you just need a good SIM only plan.

You can compare contracts at our dedicated SIM only comparison page.

SIM only deals

What do I do with my old phone?

Once you’ve decided to get a new phone, don’t just stick your old handset in a drawer and forget about it. If it’s still in good working order, you might want to give it to a friend or relative. Just make sure you transfer all your data across to your new device and then do a factory reset on your old handset before giving it to someone else.

If it no longer works, there are still loads of great options. From recycling or donating it, to trading it in to get money off your new phone, there are plenty of ways you can use your old handset to benefit you, someone else or the environment.

Sell your old phone

From how to write product descriptions to tips for cleaning up your phone so it looks its best, head to our guide to help you get the best price when you sell your phone.

Donate your old phone

Around 1.9 million households in the UK don’t have access to the internet. And environmental charity Hubbub is helping reconnect households with their loved ones and essential online services by refurbishing and redistributing used smartphones.

So if you’re able to, you could donate your old phone through the campaign. If your phone isn’t in donating condition, it can probably still be recycled for valuable parts and metals.

To donate your old phone, visit Hubbub's website.

Just bought a refurbished phone? You'll want insurance to protect your new purchase from accidents, damage and loss. Check out this useful mobile insurance comparison tool and find the best insurance plan for your shiny new phone.

Rather go with a new phone? See all our latest mobile phone deals here.

Mobile phone deals

FAQs

iPhone 12 refurbished vs new handset

How long do refurbished phones last?

Because refurbished phones have been thoroughly tested before being resold, they should last the same length of time as a new handset. However, if you’re buying a much older model, it may not be supported with new software updates for as long as newer handsets.

How much cheaper are refurbished phones?

Refurbished phones can be a lot cheaper than new handsets. In fact, you can save yourself hundreds of pounds by choosing a refurbished phone. Take a look at our best refurbished phone deals.

Are refurbished phones still water-resistant?

Whether you’re buying new or refurbished, not all handsets are water-resistant. However, if you’re buying a like-new refurbished handset that’s marketed as water-resistant, it should have the same level of waterproofing as a brand-new model.

Do refurbished phones have scratches?

Sometimes. If you’re buying a like-new or grade A refurbished phone from a reputable reseller, it shouldn’t have any scratches on it. Or, if it does, they shouldn’t be noticeable. However, if you’re buying a phone that’s graded B or below, it might well have a scratch or two.

Do refurbished phones arrive with a factory reset?

Yes, to comply with the Data Protection Act, resellers must restore all refurbished phones to their original factory settings before selling them on to a new customer. So, when you switch on your refurbished phone for the first time, you’ll need to set it up.

Does a refurbished phone come with accessories?

Sometimes. If you’re buying a like-new refurbished phone, it may well come with a charger, although you’re unlikely to get headphones included. Also, it’s worth noting that it almost certainly won’t have its original packaging.

Check out our sustainable phones guide for more sustainable tech tips.

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