Should you buy a refurbished phone?

Considering a refurbished phone but don’t know where to start? Here’s where to buy, how much you can save, and what to check before you invest.

What is a refurbished phone?

It’s a pre-owned device that has undergone tests, checks and repairs as necessary to ensure it’s in full working order before being sold on. Refurbished phones are graded and priced according to their condition.

There are different circumstances a phone might be refurbished; the main ones are:

  • It’s been traded in for an upgrade
  • It’s not ready to be recycled
  • It’s been returned due to a fault that can be easily fixed
  • It’s been returned due to the customer changing their mind

In comparison, a new phone hasn’t been owned or used by anyone else. You’re buying it in a brand new state, straight from the manufacturer

How popular are they?

Global sales in refurbished devices increased by around 5% in 2023. This could be due to:

  • Consumers becoming more cost-conscious as the cost-of-living surges
  • Changes in new smartphone models are more incremental each year
  • Shoppers are growing more sustainability-conscious too

iPhone box and headphones

What condition do refurbished phones come in?

Some refurbished phones are like new, while others are much older with obvious signs of wear and tear. The condition of the phone should be clear from the grade it’s given.

A grading system may be used where, for example:

  • A is Like New
  • B is Good condition with minor signs of wear and tear
  • C is Fair condition with visible signs of wear and tear, like scratches

Grading systems vary from seller to seller so check what each grade means before you buy.

Will it work like a new phone?

The grading categories listed by most refurbished retailers relates to the device’s external condition, not its operating ability.

The refurbished process usually includes:

  • Testing: Passing several tests and checks to ensure the battery, software, camera, screen, connectivity and audio quality is working as it should be.
  • Repairing: Carrying our any repairs needed, which may include replacing certain parts. Some retailers replace batteries as standard but not all.
  • Restoring: Restoring the phone to its original factory settings which wipes any data from it so that it’s in the same state as if it were new.

How much money can you save?

The same make and model of refurbished phones can vary greatly between retailers, affecting the potential savings you could make.

To give you an idea of how much you could save we’ve compared Apple’s iPhone 13. Prices may change regularly, but this is an example of savings.

New iPhone 13 vs Refurbished iPhone 13

In the refurbished example below, the phone was condition rated ‘Excellent’, Red with 128GB storage.

Here’s the cost and savings in Jan 2024:

Costs refurbed website Apple website Saving
Handset €590 €759 €169
Delivery charge Free Free  
Total cost €590 €759 €169

Other refurbish sellers may have different prices, so it’s worth shopping around. Savings will vary depending on the phones’ make, model and condition.

Once you’ve found a handset you like, you’ll still need to choose a SIM-only plan with the data and calls you need. Our guide on switching to a SIM-only deal can help.

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Can you buy a refurbished iPhone from Apple?

Although it might seem like the obvious place to buy a refurbished iPhone, you can’t buy them from the Irish Apple website.

You’d have to buy it on the UK Apple website and arrange delivery to a destination in the UK and then on to Ireland, which could be costly.

Apple refurbishes its phones to an ‘as new’ standard and as well as undergoing the same testing as new iPhones, they also come with:

  • A one year warranty
  • Genuine Apple replacement parts
  • New battery and outer shell
  • Brand new white box
  • Free shipping and returns

What to check before you buy

You may be tempted by a potential bargain but it’s worth checking what you’re getting for your money before you buy. Here are a few things to check:

  • The technical specification of the phone: This includes things like the SIM type, model, display type, storage, camera, battery etc.
  • The warranty: The longer the warranty the better so you’re covered if something goes wrong with the phone.
  • Delivery timeframe and cost: Make sure you can get the phone when you need it, and factor in the delivery cost to the total cost of the phone.
  • The grade of the phone: Grading systems vary so check the details and make sure you’re happy with the condition of the phone.
  • What tests have been done: Not all retailers share this information but some detail the tests they run. Phones should be sold in good working order, and have had a factory reset.
  • How much you’re saving: Make sure it costs less than a new phone first and then shop around to see if another retailer is selling an equivalent refurbished phone for less.
  • Payment options: See what methods they accept and check for card charges. Some retailers offer the option to pay for the phone in instalments but check if you’ll be charged interest.

Refurbished handsets are sold unlocked and SIM free, so you’ll need to get a SIM-only deal to suit your usage habits when the phone arrives.

Where you can buy refurbished phones in Ireland

There are lots of online retailers that sell different makes of refurbished phones, including iPhone and Samsung, here are just a few of them:

  • Backmarket
  • Creative IT
  • Mint Plus
  • GetTech
  • refurbed
  • Swappie

They all offer a 12 month warranty on their refurbished phones, except for GetTech which includes a 24 month warranty.

Compare SIM-only deals

Do refurbished phones come with a warranty?

A reputable retailer should include a warranty for refurbished phones, but you should check this before buying. A warranty usually lasts 12 months, but they can vary between 6 and 24 months.

What if you change your mind?

If you buy a refurbished handset and then change your mind, a 14 day cooling off period applies. This means you can get your money back if you advise them within 14 days of receiving the device.

You usually have to pay to return the handset, and depending on its value, you might want to insure and track the item in case it goes missing.

Always check the supplier’s returns policy as there may be conditions to follow, such as:

  • Notifying them by email
  • Completing a returns form
  • Quoting your order number with your returned goods
  • Sending by tracked mail

Are refurbished phones worth it?

It really depends what you’re looking for, but here are a few things to consider to help you decide:

  • Your budget: If you’re on a tight budget and aren’t bothered about a few scratches and signs of wear and tear, you can get a cheap low grade refurbished handset. You could also get a higher spec refurbished phone for the same price as a new older model.
  • Your time: You’ll have to do your research to get the biggest saving you can on a refurbished phone but if you have the time, it pays to shop around.
  • SIM-only vs bill pay phone: With a refurbished phone, you’ll need a SIM-only plan which costs less per month and there’s no contract but you’ll have to buy the handset upfront. Some bill pay phones come with free handsets but you’ll pay more per month for up to 24 months.
  • ‘As new’ vs new: You can get an A Grade (like new) refurbished phone for up to 40% less than the same new phone - but new doesn’t mean the latest model.
  • Functionality vs innovation: If you lean more towards functionality in a phone and aren’t worried about the extra frills, then a refurbished phone is definitely worth considering. For the latest innovations and features, a brand new phone will suit you more.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Your refurbished phone should be sold in full working order but occasionally something goes wrong.

If a problem arises within the warranty period, you can check the retailer’s returns policy and follow their procedure.

It can be more difficult to get insurance for a refurbished phone so you’ll have to shop around.

If you’ve bought an expensive device, it’s worth considering cover. Our guide: Is mobile phone insurance worth it? can help.

What are the advantages of SIM-only deals?

SIM-only plans are cheaper than deals that include a phone. So, if you’ve paid off your phone and are still happy with your handset, you’ll make a saving by switching to a SIM-only deal.

If you’re out of contract, you can also move to a SIM-only deal with your current provider, rather than rolling on your contract. Some networks will automatically move you to a plan-only price once your handset is paid off, so check with your provider.

You may decide to buy your phone outright and get a SIM-only deal. It works out cheaper than paying it back as part of your monthly mobile cost, but the upfront cost can be steep.

Get a SIM only deal with the calls, texts and data you need for less.

It only takes a few minutes to find a cheaper deal and start saving.