What You Need to Know About Refurbished Phones

What You Need to Know About Refurbished Phones

Refurbished devices are predicted to push the secondary smartphone market to an estimated value of $65 billion by 2024 as fewer people are willing or interested in paying a thousand or more dollars for a new cell phone. Refurbished phones are a more affordable alternative to brand new premium models and often for similar quality.

Shopping for refurbished smartphones also has more benefits than just saving money — it's also a great way to get more flexibility over binding contracts, and it even helps the environment.

Refurbished phones from certified resellers are always factory reset, so the device you get acts as if it's the first time it's been turned on. 

What Is a Refurbished Phone?

A refurbished phone means a used or preowned device — smartphone or otherwise — that retailers, manufacturers or third-party resellers have inspected, cleaned, repaired and reset before placing it on the secondary market for resale. Not all refurbished phones have been used extensively — some have just been removed from original packaging and sent back after the owner changed their mind. Others have seen hours of use and wear and may have even sustained some level of cosmetic or internal damage, such as:

  • Shattered or cracked screens
  • Depleted batteries
  • Faulty volume and power buttons
  • Broken or clogged charging ports or audio jacks
  • Cracks and scuffs on the shells and frames

As mentioned, there's always a factory reset done on a refurbished phone, meaning that the device you get acts as if it's the first time it's been turned on. You can then choose all your settings, import your contacts, files and apps and transfer your number, as you would with a brand new device.

Buying a Refurbished Phone: Are Refurbished Phones Good?

Yes — a refurbished phone can be just as good as a brand new, out-of-the-box device, as long as you purchase from the right retailer and do your homework. A Consumer Reports survey found 82% of respondents said they were highly satisfied with their recent refurbished phone purchase.

Refurbished phones (also sometimes call refurbished handsets) are assigned grades or ratings which vary across resellers. That's good to know when you're looking to buy refurbished phones, or weighing the difference between a brand new handset or a refurbished version. The most common are:

  • Grade A: Grade A phones (some would say most refurbished phones) are in nearly the same condition as a brand new device and do not have any noticeable wear or damage. They may even come with the original box and accessories. These phones may be labeled as "excellent" or "like new."
  • Grade B: Not all phones make Grade A: Grade B phones are less pristine than Grade A, but still offer a great value for what is typically minimal cosmetic wear. They might also be labeled as "good."
  • Grade C: A Grade C refurbished device may be noticeably used, often with moderate cosmetic damage, but it should still function and operate without any significant issue. You might see these phones labeled as "fair" on resale sites.

If you're interested in a refurbished phone that doesn't have a rating or label, ask for more information about how it was restored, what kind of tests it's undergone, what the reseller's standards of quality are for resale and whether it has all of its original parts.

Advantages of Refurbished Phones

You'll Save Money
They're More Flexible
It's Better for the Environment

Advantages of Refurbished Phones

Buying refurbished Samsung phones or iPhone models is one way to save money, avoid contracts and help the world around you.

You'll Save Money

Because they've already been bought, used and either returned or resold, refurbished phones cost less than new devices. For example, a brand new Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra cost about $1,400 upon release, while a refurbished model averaged about $814. Statistics show refurbished shoppers saved up to nearly $600 shopping the secondary market in 2020.

The low cost is such a significant selling point that many smartphone manufacturers have come to rely on the secondhand market and third-party resellers as a way of offering lower-cost devices as they release premium models with a higher price tag.

When you buy a refurbished phone, lower costs also mean the phone will be less costly to repair or replace, assuming it's from a known manufacturer. You might even be able to resell it or recycle it when you're finished, giving the phone another chance for use and giving you some extra spending money.

They're More Flexible

Many new smartphones come with legally binding contracts that dictate when and how you can replace your device, how your phone connects to a carrier's network, and you may issue fines or fees if you replace your phone or try to end your contract early. Shopping for refurbished phones eliminates this scenario, allowing you the freedom to shop and sell wherever you're ready, regardless of how long you've had the device or what condition it's currently in.

This flexibility also extends to the network you're on. Refurbished phones labeled "unlocked" can be matched with your preferred carrier.

It's Better for the Environment

Modern devices contain chemicals and toxic metals that are not biodegradable and pose significant health risks to those who work or live near landfills and waste centers. This is also known as electronic waste or e-waste, and it's a growing problem. The world is set to generate approximately 30% more e-waste in 2030 than in 2019, reaching 74.7 million metric tons of toxins and wasted materials. E-waste toxins, including lead and mercury, have been plausibly associated with several health conditions, like thyroid and lung changes. Smartphone production will even account for 14% of the world's CO2 emissions by 2040.

Excessive e-waste is not sustainable. Materials used to build electronics are in high demand and can be reclaimed from old devices and repurposed. 

More on Used Phone Definitions

There are also a few more terms you'll want to know about when you are shopping for a refurbished phone:

What Is a Renewed Phone?

In most cases, "renewed" and "refurbished" mobile phones are one and the same. Some retailers, manufacturers or third-party sites, as well as refurbished phone sellers, may use the terms interchangeably. If you're shopping for a refurbished phone and see both terms on the same retailer's website inventory, reach out to customer service to learn more about their individual labeling process.

Refurbished vs. Certified Refurbished

Depending on where you're shopping for refurbished phones, they may or may not have an extra label — "certified." Compared to noncertified devices, certified means the seller has inspected the phone and agreed that it meets their standards. Some retailers do not label their phones as certified refurbished but have similar quality tests in place.

Some refurbished phones might also be labeled "preowned" or "certified preowned," and similar distinctions apply.

Things to Consider Before Buying Refurbished Cell Phones

Choosing to shop the refurbished market has several advantages, but it's not for everyone — consider these factors before placing your order.

You'll Have to Wait for Newer Models

Because the very nature of a refurbished phone rests on the fact that it's been previously owned and used, you won't find brand new releases on the secondary market. It could take weeks or months for recent releases to start popping up on third-party sites, and they could be in high demand for a while.

If having the latest and greatest model is important to you, refurbished phones might not be the best fit — but if you can wait a few months, you could save significant cash for a practically new phone.

You Might Not Get the Original Packaging and Accessories

Refurbished phones don't typically come with the original packaging, and only some include manuals and original accessories. Grade C and some Grade B phones might not even come with the original charger. Check with the vendor for specific information about what's included and leave room in your budget to replace any missing components, including a case.

Where You Shop Matters

Not all refurbished phones share the same high quality and low price. Who or where you buy your phone from makes all the difference. For example, buying a used device from an individual from your local online marketplace might seem like a good deal, but you have no way of verifying the device's true quality and what that person's definition of "refurbished" means. For many, it just includes being factory reset with no parts replacement or cosmetic repairs. Should your new purchase not work, you're also left without a warranty or return policy to get your money back.

Manufacturers and trusted third-party vendors are the safest options when shopping for a refurbished phone because they have high in-house standards and are available to help if any problems arise.

How to Buy Refurbished Phones

Here are a few things you should know before you start searching for your next upgrade:

Make sure there's a warranty
 Check the print
 Ask questions
Test compatibility

How to Buy Refurbished Phones

Are you sold on the benefits of refurbished devices? Here are a few things you should know before you start searching for your next upgrade:

  • Make sure there's a warranty: Never purchase a refurbished phone without checking the warranty and return policy information. Reputable sellers should have clear details outlined and instructions for what to do if the phone doesn't work as promised. Note the return window, refund stipulations and how long the warranty is valid. Keep a written copy in your physical or digital records, and don't hesitate to reach out if your new phone isn't working the way you'd hoped.
  • Check the print: Always read the fine print when shopping for a used device, especially if you're unfamiliar with the vendor. Look for key terms like "sold as-is" or "no returns." These could indicate that the phone isn't in great condition and could be a waste of money. If no terms of sale are available, take your search elsewhere.
  • Ask questions: Always ask questions when buying from a private seller. You want to know how old the phone is, how many owners it has had, any previous damage or significant drops, replacement parts, operational quirks and any other information you find important that could impact your purchase decision or the phone's value and cost. Plug the phone into a charger before agreeing to purchase it and test all the functions you can, like the volume, home and power buttons, touchscreen and physical keyboard or stylus, if applicable. Don't accept the phone if it hasn't been factory reset.
  • Test compatibility: Test compatibility with your existing smart devices and apps before purchasing any new phone, especially if it doesn't come with a long-term return policy.

How ecoATM Can Help

Every day, people like you bring their unwanted phones to an ecoATM kiosk to sell or safely recycle. 

If you're planning on getting a new phone, bring your current one to an ecoATM kiosk and see what it's worth. You could get some instant cash you can put in your phone-shopping fund!

Here's how it works:

  1. Answer a few questions about your phone and its model, age and current condition to get an estimated trade-in value.
  2. Prepare your phone by removing any accessories, then factory resetting and wiping your phone of any personal information. You should also charge it, if possible.
  3. Bring your phone to an ecoATM kiosk near you, plug it in, follow all on-screen prompts and wait a few minutes while we determine the value of your phone.
  4. Choose to accept or decline the displayed offer.
  5. Receive your cash and you're done!

ecoATM has a multi-layered approach to data privacy plan. When valuing your phone, the kiosk does not access personal information on your phone, it will only access critical information about your device, like the model, memory, IMEI number and current wireless provider. 

FIND AN ecoATM Near You

Sell your used smartphone for instant cash today. 

Find an ecoATM Kiosk Near You

Buying a new phone is exciting, but it shouldn't break the bank. Although you'll have to wait a bit to get the latest releases, the refurbished market is full of quality second hand smartphones from all manufacturers and carriers, and choosing to buy a preowned device can save you hundreds of dollars without any binding legal contracts. Owning a refurbished phone also keeps it out of e-waste landfills and minimizes waste and harmful toxin exposure.

Always shop for refurbished phones from a trusted third-party vendor or the original manufacturer and avoid buying from an individual seller. Ensure your device comes with a good warranty and return policy if it doesn't work as promised, and always read the fine print before paying. Confirm whether your phone will come with all necessary accessories, like a user manual and charger.

Finally, bring your unwanted smartphone to an ecoATM kiosk and see if you qualify for instant cash to put toward your refurbished phone purchase — no matter your phone's condition or value, we promise it will get the opportunity for  second life.