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Thinking about buying refurbished tech? What you need to know

By Julio Franco · 11 replies
May 13, 2018
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  1. Electronics are pricey, which is why refurbished models can be such great deals. But these devices get a bad reputation because sometimes products labeled as "refurbished"... haven't been. A true refurb has been inspected and repaired so it can function like a new unit, though it may show wear from use. There shouldn't be any functional difference between a refurbished model and a new model — other than price and cosmetics.

    Read on for Dealnews' in-depth guide to buying refurbished electronics, from smart shopping tips to the amounts you can save on smartphones, tablets, and computers.

    Getting a Deal on Refurbished Electronics

    If you're shopping for refurbs, you'll need to take a little care to get those savings. That means buying from the manufacturer or a reputable retailer, so you know you're getting an item that's actually been refurbished.

    A reasonable return policy and warranty are important, too; if your refurb turns out to be a dud, you want to be able to return or replace it. The longer the return policy and warranty, the better. Manufacturers often offer a full 1-year warranty on their refurbished models — just like they do with new items.

    But even with a good return policy and warranty, taking care means inspecting your items the minute you get them home. If you notice any damage or missing pieces, you want to take them back before the return period lapses.

    Manufacturers often offer a 1-year warranty on their refurbished models — just like they do with new items.

    Also, be aware that you won't have as wide a selection as you would if you bought new. Refurbished models are usually a bit older, and they may not be available in the size or color you want. These are certainly inconveniences, but the savings can be worth it. You'll often find electronics discounted by 10% to 50% — some gadgets have even deeper discounts.

    How to Buy Refurbished Smartphones

    While budget models are out there, it's far too easy to spend almost $1,000 on a new smartphone. However, refurbished smartphones flood the market whenever a new model is released. It's a great way to pick up a fairly new phone at up to 50% off the original retail price.

    We recommend only looking at phones that are a year or two old — and no older than three. Legacy models will be cheaper, but older phones may not be able run the latest versions of Android or iOS. At some point, every phone gets too old to receive security updates.

    Aging phones can also have battery problems, because their lithium-ion batteries naturally wear out over time. Sometimes refurbished phones will have the battery replaced before they're sold, but some won't — Apple is the only retailer we've seen that guarantees a new battery in every refurbished phone.

    Though you can expect a refurbished model to show wear, you should inspect it to be sure any scuffs and scrapes are only cosmetic damage. A common complaint with refurbished phones — particularly those refurbished by a third party — is scratches on the camera lens. Be sure to check before the return period runs out.

    You can find discounts running anywhere from 20% to 50% off, so it's well worth shopping for a refurbished smartphone. Here are some recent examples of how much you can save on smartphones from Apple and Samsung:

    How to Buy Refurbished Tablets

    Tablets don't always have the same predictable release schedule as smartphones, and people don't typically upgrade them as often. That means there's no particularly good time to shop for a refurbished tablet — just be patient and keep your eyes open for a deal (or create an email alert).

    Like smartphones, older tablets may have reduced battery life — but it's less of a worry with tablets, which have larger batteries. And because we don't typically use our tablets nonstop the way we do our smartphones, you may not even notice if the battery has degraded a little. Still, as with any refurbished product, check any refurb out to make sure it's working properly when you receive it.

    But there's one more thing to be aware of when you're tablet shopping. While most tablets are numbered so you can easily tell older models from newer models, not all of them are.

    For example, Apple has called five different generations of the iPad simply "iPad," and it's easy to get confused when browsing refurbs. Some will even be labeled "newest model" when they actually aren't. Be sure to look for the original release date (or, if you can't find a date, the model number) to see if you're getting a fairly new model or a fairly old one.

    Tablet discounts are typically lower than smartphone discounts — but you're also more likely to find newer models. You can expect to save between 15% and 30% on old models and new models, as long as you're willing to wait awhile. Here's what you could save on tablets from Apple and Microsoft, at the time of this writing:

    How to Buy Refurbished Computers

    Whether you're looking for a laptop or a desktop, there are plenty of deals to be found on refurbished computers.

    However, it can be tough to snag exactly what you want because of the number of models and configurations available. And because computers don't follow an easy-to-understand naming scheme, you may have to do some searching to figure out how new (or old) a product is.

    All of this conspires to make it more difficult to compare the prices of refurbished and new models. Though retailers may list original release dates or note what generation a product is, you want to pay more attention to system specs like memory, hard drive, and especially the processor.

    Buying refurbished computers from the manufacturers directly can save you as much as 50% off list price.

    If you have no clue as to the age of the computer you're looking at, a quick web search for the CPU model — which should be listed with the product information — will give you the processor's release date. That won't tell you exactly how old the computer itself is, but it'll give you a rough idea.

    So how much can you save? Even buying from the manufacturers directly can save you as much as 50% off list price. Since buying direct will usually get you a better warranty and a higher-quality refurb, it's hard to justify shopping elsewhere. For example, the standard Apple MacBook starts at $1,299 new, or pay $1,099 for refurbished unit (15% off) from Apple.

    Of course, you can also buy refurbished computers from retailers like Amazon and Best Buy. However, because of the multitude of models, we find third-party sites harder to navigate than manufacturer sites.

    But your mileage may vary! Check the Best Buy Outlet and Amazon Renewed to see all your options.

    When NOT to Buy Refurbished Electronics

    We think it's always worth looking into refurbished products, but you have to do a price comparison. While refurbished models are usually cheaper than new models, sometimes the difference is negligible. Different retailers can also offer significantly different refurb prices, so shopping around is a must.

    And sometimes refurbished products aren't high quality, depending on who refurbished them. Televisions are a prime example here. While some refurbished TVs are perfectly fine, many shoppers report receiving refurbs with damage to the stands or screens — and these old models may not save you much over new sets.

    Buying from a retailer with good reviews and a good return policy will protect you from getting stuck with a refurb that doesn't work. But getting a broken item you have to return is a hassle that may not be worth the savings.

    Elizabeth Harper is a contributing writer at dealnews. Republished with permission.

    Permalink to story.

  2. phillai

    phillai TS Enthusiast Posts: 52   +15

    My local phone accessory shop likes to swap his old worn out iPhone batteries for new ones when he has a screen to repair!!
  3. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 4,611   +3,070

    I've been buying my phones from Consumer Cellular at around $200 a pop. At that price any repair becomes too impractical so a replacement is more logical. Never buy phone replacement insurance since I've been carrying one for the past 15 years and have yet to damage or break one. All in all I like them but I do wish they were a little more reconfigurable for no other reason than just to "play".
    Evernessince likes this.
  4. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,839   +193

    I have purchased laptops, desktops, BD but in the end these devices do not hold up so well. BD from SONY was a great deal I had thought at the time. Can't play current BD and it has issues with some regular DVD it not being used. I can use laptop equip with BD or DVD instead. But today everything is streamed. Desktops factory service is the name we should call these products. But even saying that you end up paying more in the end. HDD, RAM, Video LAN etc. can go on you. Then you have to spend more to replace them. Keep the FS still going until the dreaded MOBO goes on you that's it. Factory Service or New. I am going NEW because at lease you know what your getting. They will stand-by the product. Cell phones factory service and yet you still have to check out that model and see why it was factory serviced. Did they fix the issue or just cleaned it up and send it out as repaired. Toshiba Tablet has a defect audio issues, they didn't fix them they just sent you out a new one. Same problem just had returned. Some companies don't even tell you the tablet has battery issues. I say anything you buy today just make sure you look up the model and see if he has any issue for it.

    Does Model Number xxxxxxx have any issues.. Then read what was wrong with and then you decided if buy it used or factory service.
  5. hahahanoobs

    hahahanoobs TS Evangelist Posts: 2,304   +802

    I've had good luck with refurbs so far. Would recommend.
    Evernessince likes this.
  6. GeforcerFX

    GeforcerFX TS Evangelist Posts: 832   +339

    Bought a refurb studio xps m1340 in jan 2010, still works to this day. Only swapped a fan and hdd over the years.
  7. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus Stone age computing. Posts: 3,671   +1,031

    Maybe the real question is, "Where do little refurbs come from?" My best guess is that they come from infantile failures (chips which fail in the first few days of use) which requires electronics bench to fix or from manufacturing mistakes which require knowledge of probable cause plus bench time or from trade-ins which must be tested thoroughly (often left to the refurb purchaser) or from leased units coming off lease which look a bit more used than they really are. To warrant refurb, the product has to be pricey. To warrant buying the refurb, the reputation (and 1 year warranty) have to provide assurance that any problems were identified and fixed. Manufacturers and well established licensed repairers are the only folks who really offer that level of assurance.

    Otherwise, the term refurbished means "blew dust out, wiped with rag, turned on, it ran, no smoke, no strange noises". So, buy those as if 'used' -- which I price at 50-66% of original retail further reduced on a pro-rata basis set on expected remaining life. So a $1500 laptop with a 5 year expected life would be less than $400 when it is 3 years old ($1500 x 0.66 = $1000; $1000 x 2/5 = $400). I have 3 excellent monitors which I bought this way after checking the manufacture date - and I am glad they still run well even though they have now passed 'expected life'.
  8. nismo91

    nismo91 TS Evangelist Posts: 971   +59

    Bought a factory-refurbished creative mp3 player about 12 yrs ago. run fine but it has cosmetic marks. also bought few webcams from them which is practically brand new.

    well both are very simple tech so I guess there is very low risk involved. would not risk buying refurbished console, laptop or phone as buying used and *mint condition* one with warranty still makes sense.
  9. veLa

    veLa TS Evangelist Posts: 833   +272

    I've bought a few refurbished items along the years. Technically my LG G4 is a refurb. It still works fine, although I'm pretty bored with it.

    The first refurbished product I remember buying was a PCI capture card. This was when I was still a kid, so going the refurbished route was way cheaper, and it let me and my friends get involved with video production early on.
  10. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,753   +1,030

    When it comes to phones, I don't buy a "referb", but, what I will by is last years new thing.
    I figure it will give me at least 2 years of service, last off the production line means any hardware
    issues should be resolved, and (at least with the Huawei Mate phones), comes with pretty good
    up to date software, so to speak). Usually, half the price of what they were 2-3 months before
    the new one was released. Good bang for your buck.
  11. Jon Tseng

    Jon Tseng TS Booster Posts: 48   +31

    I get that Techspot needs to make money, but this is low grade clickbait. Makes me less likely to trust what else Techspot are selling - sorry - writing. Shame on you.
  12. lazer

    lazer TS Booster Posts: 182   +38

    I actually got a great buy on a smart phone refurbished, but it I now understand it isn't always the case.

    Thanks for pointing out what to watch for....

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