Everyone wants to own one of the best new phones, but not everyone can afford it. Some people are happy to pay retail, but others are looking for a deal, and one way to find discounts is to look for refurbished phones. It takes more research and understanding to buy a refurbished phone than it does to walk into a store and ask for one. We can help you navigate the refurbished market so you can make the best decision when buying a new phone.

What does "refurbished" mean?

Even though the word "refurbished" gets thrown around a lot, it doesn't mean it's a standardized term. It is often referred to as "reconditioned," "open box," or "pre-owned." People are interested in them because they are sold at a discount.

The terminology changes, but the idea is the same.

Sometimes, refurbished devices were simply opened and returned to the manufacturer for a malfunction to be fixed before being sold again. Depending on the country where you are shopping, a purchased and opened product can no longer be sold as "new" and must be. The device is not new-in-box and therefore cannot be listed at the same price as a new phone.

When shopping for a refurbished phone, it is hard to know what led to the phone being refurbished or how it is certified as refurbished.

Samsung Galaxy S20+ and LG V60 together

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Android Central)

The issue with refurbished phones is that you don't know which pathways it took to become refurbished in the first place. Even after you have the phone in your hand, you may not know. There are some great tips to follow when shopping for a phone.

  • Buy from the original company or reputable store whenever possible. They do the best refurbishing process and can guarantee that the phone is in good working condition.
  • See what warranty, if any, is offered for the refurbished phones. Some manufacturers will offer a full warranty for refurbished phones, while third parties typically won't.
  • Read the fine print on the sale — even though it may be hard to find. Most refurbished or open-box phones are sold "as is" with little or no option for returns or refunds.
  • Keep in mind the age of the device you're looking to buy. Sometimes companies won't be selling refurbished versions of the latest phones but instead a model or two older. It may be nicely discounted, but much of that discount is likely due to it just being old.
  • If the price is too good to be true, then it probably is! If you see a retailer selling a late-model "refurbished" phone for something like half the retail price or less, there's likely some catch you've yet to find. Refurbished phones will be cheap, but they won't be a steal.

Where to buy refurbished

Galaxy S10 and Oneplus 7 Pro

(Image credit: Android Central)

If you are ready to buy a refurbished phone, here are some great places to find one.

The phones were refurbished by Gazelle.

If you have ever looked into reselling your phone, you probably know of the company called Gazelle. The site gives instant offers on phones, pays out via Amazon gift cards, or paper checks, and refurbished the devices you send to sell to someone else. This is a great way to make a quick buck on your old tech, but it is also an eco-friendly system that reduces e-waste by keeping gadgets in circulation for longer.

As a buyer, you can approach Gazelle with confidence. The 30-day return policy is better than most carriers offer, and every device goes through a lengthy certification process to ensure nobody ends up with a lemon. Gazelle frequently runs seasonal deals to bring your refurbished tech down to an even better price.

The warehouse has refurbished phones.

The Warehouse section of Amazon doesn't offer much in the way of refurbished phones. It has a lot of open-box devices that someone else bought and then returned in good shape. We all have been there; you buy a product hoping for the best, then realize soon after taking it out of the box that it is not for you. Maybe you don't like the software, or you bought an unlocked phone that isn't compatible with your carrier.

If you return the device within the allotted period, someone else on Amazon Warehouse will be happy to order it for you. These devices are not damaged or malfunctioning. This is similar to buying a new device at a discount.

Best Buy has refurbished phones.

Everyone has a Best Buy near their home, and while the company has a wide selection of new phones in its mobile section, it also has a few less-than-new devices. Best Buy sells a lot of open-box and pre-owned devices as well as fully certified refurbished models. You are most likely to find the best deals on refurbished and pre-owned devices, while open-box phones will generally be closer to full retail price.

One of the main advantages of Best Buy is its close proximity, and there is a good chance you can pick up an open-box phone at your local store. If you prefer not to worry about porch pirates, they can ship the phone directly to you or hold it at your location.

The back market has refurbished phones.

One of the appealing aspects of Back Market is how transparent it is with its customers. The company works with phone repair technicians and refurbishers to sell phones of various conditions and price points, with ratings listed for everything from the phone's physical condition to the amount of e-waste you're saving by buying a pre-owned device

All Back Market has a 30-day money-back guarantee and a minimum 12-month warranty. The company runs regular flash sales that offer huge savings on phones, laptops, tablets, headphones, and even computer peripherals.

Buy directly from your carrier

T-Mobile startup screen

(Image credit: Samuel Contreras / Android Central)

The phones are refurbished by the company.

If you're buying a phone, you might want to check with your carrier first. There is a small selection of certified pre-owned devices on the site, but you are unlikely to find pre-owned devices in brick and mortar stores. If you happen to find a deal, you can get a 90-day warranty on the certified pre-owned phones.

T-Mobile has refurbished phones.

T-Mobile has a great selection of pre-owned phones. The number of worthwhile devices it keeps in stock is very low. When the company has devices on hand, it backs them with the same 90-day warranty. Every device has to go through an 80 point inspection before it is listed.

AT&T has refurbished phones.

Even if you are an AT&T customer, the refurbished selection may not be worth your time. AT&T doesn't have a lot of pre-owned devices in stores, like T-Mobile does. You have a better chance of finding a great deal on a compatible unlocked phone from one of the other sites listed.

Receiving your new phone

Take a few minutes to check things over after you get the phone in. It is possible that a defect can slip through the cracks when a phone is refurbished. Even if you buy a brand new phone, it is still worth checking it out.

Make sure your new device doesn't have any cracks, bends, or bulges. If the back of the phone is not flat as it would be new, there could be a battery issue. The LCI is a liquid contact indicator that should be checked to make sure the device has never been wet. This is a small sticker inside the opening of the sim card. Light spots on the screen are an indicator of trouble inside.

A pre-owned phone can still have a lot of life left in it. If your phone is a few years old, a newer refurbished phone will offer a huge upgrade. Do your research, pick the right store, and compare prices before buying, and you are likely to find a good phone at a better price than you would ever find on a new-in-box phone.