How (and Why) You Should Buy a Refurbished iPhone

Apple store

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Shopping for a new iPhone can be a complicated endeavor. Not only do you have to figure out whether you want to invest in the latest model, or pay a little less for a model that’s a year old, but you also have to determine when you want to upgrade to a new iPhone. You also have to decide how much storage you’ll need for all the apps and media you’ll load on your new iPhone, and if you’re really hoping to save money or reduce your impact on the environment, you may be wondering whether it’s worth considering buying a refurbished iPhone.

It turns out that buying a refurbished iPhone can be a great deal as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, and keep a close eye on the policies and warranties that apply to your purchases. Buying a refurbished iPhone can be a little more complicated than buying, say, a refurbished Mac or iPad. That’s because Apple doesn’t sell refurbished iPhones in the Apple-certified Refurbished section of its website (which may be because it reserves stock as replacements for customers who run into issues with their iPhones, or because it’s chosen not to dilute the market for new iPhones). In the past, an apparent partnership between Apple and eBay resulted in a “secret” eBay store that sold refurbished iPhones, in “like-new condition” with a one-year Apple warranty, “repackaged with manual and charger,” and having undergone a “final quality inspection by Apple.”

Doing your homework

As Consumer Reports cautions, there are a few things you should do when purchasing refurbished electronics, whether you’re shopping for a smartphone, a tablet, or a PC. You should always check out the return policy, and ensure that you’ll have adequate time to make sure that your device is working correctly. It’s also a good idea to look for a long warranty period — 90 days or more is ideal — and it’s always wise to buy from sources that you trust and that guarantee their inspection process. That way, you can be confident that if something does go wrong, the company has a process in place to deal with the problem.

Shopping for refurbished iPhones

While Apple’s online refurbished store is the only source for official refurbished products that are certified by Apple, and no one else is authorized to sell iPhones that have been refurbished by Apple, that doesn’t help you much if you’re looking for a refurbished iPhone. So you’re probably going to need to evaluate at least a few third-party retailers. But if you’re willing to do the research, it’s often worth the time, since buying a refurbished iPhone can save you a significant amount of money, and reduce your environmental impact as compared to buying a brand-new iPhone.

If you’re looking into a source that you don’t know, do your research on return policies, warranties, and how the company refurbishes and tests devices. For instance, you might consider buying a refurbished iPhone from Best Buy, since the company sends all refurbished products to authorized repair technicians. Or, if you’re considering buying one of Amazon’s refurbished, used, or open-box devices, you’ll likely have to factor in the cost of an optional extended warranty (since Amazon’s refurbished electronics often don’t include warranties).

The same can apply to Best Buy’s refurbished products, which come with a range of warranties, some of them year-long warranties like the one that Apple offers on the refurbished products it does sell. Other sources to evaluate when you’re shopping for a refurbished iPhone are your mobile carrier, major retailers like Walmart, or online-only retailers that specialize in buying back and refurbishing used iPhones. Whichever source you choose, it’s important to evaluate the return policy, the warranty, and any inspection guarantee to ensure that the retailer will be accountable in the event that you run into issues with the device.

Identifying a refurbished iPhone

Buying a reconditioned iPhone from a third party isn’t the only way you may end up with a refurbished iPhone. As MacRumors explains, there’s also nothing wrong with receiving a refurbished iPhone as a replacement from Apple, since the company closely inspects refurbished devices. However, if you’ve received such a phone and are wondering how it got to you, you can take a look at the model number — accessible by opening the Settings app, tapping General, and then tapping About — to check the first letter of the model number. If the first letter is an M, it’s a retail device; an N means that it’s a new or refurbished unit that’s been earmarked as a replacement device; P signifies a personalized unit; and F signifies a refurbished unit.

Another way to determine whether a device has been refurbished is to open the Cellular section of the Settings app and check the lifetime cellular usage. When cellular statistics are reset, the lifetime metric doesn’t change, even if the device is wiped or has a new operating system installed. On a new device, the number will be zero (or close to it, since factory testing can add a few minutes).

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