Refurbished gadgets are a touchy subject. Buying a refurbished phone instead of a new one can save you money and reduce the environmental impact of your smartphone addiction. (And if you do your research and shop at a reputable source, there are plenty of other refurbished gadgets that you shouldn’t be afraid to buy.) Buying a used gadget can, under the right circumstances, be just as good as buying new. But it also bears mentioning that there are a few reasons that you shouldn’t buy a refurbished phone. Read on to check out the reasons why you might want to go new instead of refurbished for your next smartphone purchase.
1. Things can go wrong with refurbished phones
Because refurbished phones have had a life before they get to you, you never know exactly what kind of abuse they’ve taken or what potential problems they may have. Many refurbished gadgets actually haven’t been used extensively, and likely haven’t had any major issues that need repairing. Others have been used for a year or so, then exchanged for new models. And still others were returned after shoppers changed their minds or encountered a defect. But the quality of the restoration depends on who did the refurbishing. (The manufacturer? A carrier or consumer electronics chain?)
Make sure that you get an idea of how extensively refurbished gadgets are evaluated and tested, and do your research on the kinds of things that can go wrong with the specific phones that you’re considering. While some issues tend to pop up immediately, there are others that won’t surface until after months or a year of use have elapsed. With a phone that’s refurbished, you’re likely much closer to that point in time that the phone can run into trouble.
If you really need a reliable phone, you may not be comfortable with the element of risk, however slight, that comes along with relying on the guarantee that a refurbished phone is in like-new condition and will continue to function as expected. Of course, you can (and should) always do your research on how a refurbished phone is restored and reconditioned, and get as many details as possible on the history of the specific device you’re considering.
2. Warranties often aren’t as good for refurbished devices
Warranties and guarantees for refurbished phones often don’t match up with those for new devices. While it will save you money to buy a preowned device, you need to make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into as far as the quality of the restoration and the warranty that will protect you in case something goes wrong. A big part of that is checking to see how the long warranty lasts and evaluating whether that’s long enough for your comfort.
A new phone, for instance, may carry a warranty that lasts for an entire year. A refurbished unit of that same phone, on the other hand, may only get a 90-day warranty. Some people are comfortable with that 90-day window, while others are convinced that everything will go great through day 90, and then the device will suffer a catastrophic failure on day 91. It’s impossible to predict what issues you might have with a phone. But if you’re the kind of person to worry about it, then you’ll want to look for a long warranty period — which you’re much more likely to find on a new device than with a refurbished phone.
3. Buying a more affordable phone new will be much less worry
It’s no longer true that you have to pay $600, $700, $800, or more just to get a good phone. There are plenty of less expensive flagship phones, often from smaller smartphone manufacturers, that can get you high-end specs for just $300 or $400. While cheaper flagships may not have all the bells and whistles of the latest Samsung or Apple release, you’ll likely have trouble pointing to places where everyday performance differs from a $400 phone to an $800 phone.
Big manufacturers compete to make the flashiest phones on the market, often by including lots of unnecessary features. A few features that raise the price, but often don’t make much of a difference in how your phone performs, include flashy camera extras, features that are more about branding than functionality, superfluous physical buttons, and features that only work if you and all of your friends have the same smartphone. Extras that can be nice to have, but really shouldn’t cause you to pay hundreds of extra dollars for a phone? Those include wireless charging, a bigger screen, QHD screens, and cameras with more megapixels.
If you’re worried about a refurbished phone malfunctioning, it’s probably going to be much less hassle and worry just to buy a new phone that you can afford, rather than turning to the refurbished market to get a more expensive flagship. Especially if you walk into your local electronics store without doing your research, it’s easy to end up with more phone than you need, and hard to see that you don’t actually need to spend $700 to get a brand-new smartphone.
4. Getting a malfunctioning phone replaced can be difficult
When you’re buying a refurbished phone (or even when you’re buying a brand-new one), there’s always a chance that something will go wrong. But especially if you’ve opted for a used device, you should make sure that you’re buying from a source that will stand behind the device in the event of a meltdown — figurative or literal.
Rafi Letzer reports for Tech Insider that when he tried to get a malfunctioning refurbished phone replaced, Verizon customer service focused on “trying to find reasons I was at fault for my phone suddenly turning into a hot plate.” A carrier store may decline to replace a pre-owned phone, and even customer service contacted online or via phone may not replace damaged phones, since “with a refurbished device, it’s in a third-party’s best interest to find any reason it can not to honor the warranty.”
As Letzer explains, “Most tech companies give themselves many outs from their promises, and whether or not they choose to help customers out is largely a matter of corporate culture. A company like Verizon has next to no stake in the quality of a refurbished Samsung product, and most of its customers are locked into multi-year contracts.” He adds, “Device manufacturers and small companies have a much greater stake in your good opinion. As a general rule, you can expect better customer service from these outfits.”
5. Finding a refurbished phone for the right carrier can be difficult
When you’re purchasing a brand-new phone, particularly one that’s a recent release, it’s fairly easy to find the appropriate phone for your carrier of choice. But pickings can be a little slimmer when you’re looking at refurbished phones that are a year or two old. As always, you’ll need to do your research and double check (and triple check) that you’re getting the right model for the carrier that you plan to use.
Even if you’re considering an unlocked model, that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to do your research ahead of time. Make sure that every phone you consider will be compatible with your carrier (and get you the speeds that you need on your carrier’s network). Ensure that you know what you need to do or buy to get the phone operational on the network, and ensure that you’re aware of any fees associated with getting the phone set up. There are always some phones that won’t work with some networks, so you’ll need to be absolutely sure that the phone you’re considering can be activated and used on your network of choice.
6. Buying a used phone will never feel like buying something new
If you’re the kind of person who loves having the latest gadgets and the latest features, buying a refurbished phone likely isn’t going to work out for you. A refurbished phone is, necessarily, going to be one that’s been on the market for a while. While you’ll save money going for a preowned device instead of a new one, people who follow smartphone news and crave the latest features are always going to feel that they’re behind if they opt for a refurbished phone.
Even worse is what happens when there’s an even newer version of your phone on the market. If you’ve just bought a refurbished phone, you likely aren’t going to be replacing it anytime soon. But a phone that’s a model or two behind, even if it’s new to you, isn’t going to feel new enough if what you really want is a newly released phone. You’re likely better off choosing a new, less expensive flagship phone. That way, the device won’t start off feeling outdated, and you’ll be able to keep it around for a year or two before you start itching for new features.