Can you trust a refurbished phone or laptop? 5 questions to ask before you buy – CNET

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Refurnished devices can save you a bundle.


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Buying a used phone or laptop is an easy way to save some money when purchasing pricy electronics. While there are plenty of sites where you can buy a used gadget directly from the current owner, it’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting when doing so. 

That’s not to say that buying a used device from someone on Swappa or eBay isn’t a good idea — both sites have buyer protection policies to ensure you get what you paid for. However, you have another option: Buy a refurbished phone or laptop. 

There are some important questions you should ask yourself when browsing through a refurbished store, regardless if it’s Apple or Gazelle. Here are the top factors to consider. 

What is a refurbished phone or laptop, exactly?

When you sell or trade-in your old gadgets to a company like Gazelle, Best Buy or even your wireless carrier, it will go through an evaluation process. If it’s a newer device and in working order, odds are it will go through a refurbishing process and end up being sold as a used or refurbished device. 

But each company approaches how it refurbishes and ensures a phone or laptop will keep working. For example, Apple classifies all of its refurbished devices as “like new,” after every device is cleaned, any faulty parts are replaced and the device is thoroughly tested. A refurbished iPhone ($900 at Boost Mobile) comes with a new battery and housing. 

Amazon’s Renewed program for refurbished products takes a similar approach by inspecting, testing and repairing broken parts. Amazon guarantees the battery has 80% capacity and cautions that you may see some scratches on the exterior of Renewed products. 

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There are plenty of refurbished options available. 


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Is there a return policy for refurbished phones, laptops and other electronics?

Whether a device is brand new or refurbished, lemons happen. It’s possible a device won’t turn on or work as expected. Some companies like Gazelle and Amazon don’t replace a device’s housing, so you’ll get a phone or laptop with some cosmetic damage. Gazelle does a good job explaining what you should expect when buying a phone in fair condition and even provides example photos. 

To be clear, the photos aren’t of the device you’ll be buying, but serve as examples of what the different levels of wear and tear look like on devices it sells. But what happens if you get a phone that has more damage (although it still works just fine) than you were expecting? 

In most cases, you should be able to return a device you aren’t happy with. I suggest looking through the site’s FAQ or policies, often linked to at the bottom of the site, to find the return policy. If you’re having a hard time finding it, a Google search that includes the site’s name and return policy (for example, “Gazelle return policy”) usually will get you to the right place.

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Extended warranties might be a good idea. 


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What kind of warranty applies to refurbished devices?

Just because a device is refurbished doesn’t mean it shouldn’t come with a warranty. Things happen, components quit working and if a company wants you to feel confident in your purchase, it should offer some sort of warranty beyond the return period. 

All of Apple’s refurbished products come with a standard one-year warranty. Gazelle has a 30-day return policy that’s also considered the warranty, but sells an extra year of protection with an extended warranty that also covers accidental damage. Prices start at $55 depending on the device. For comparison, AT&T wireless charges $8.99 a month for a similar service. 

Amazon offers a 90 satisfaction guarantee during which you can return a Renewed device for a refund. 

As you can see, warranties for second-hand gadgets vary wildly. Take a few extra minutes to research what a vendor’s policy is before clicking that checkout button. 

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Does the phone work with your carrier?


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Will a refurbished phone work with my carrier?

When browsing refurbished phones, pay close attention to any carrier limitations. Refurbished sites like Apple, Amazon or Gazelle clearly state which carrier the device is intended to be used on, or if it’s unlocked and can be used on any carrier. 

This is an important step when shopping for a phone, new or used. If you buy a phone locked to Verizon and want to use it on T-Mobile, you’re likely going to run into issues. There is a possibility you can call a carrier to unlock a phone for you, but you can save yourself time and buy a phone that works with your carrier of choice. 

Do accessories come with refurbished products or do I buy those separately?

If a product listing doesn’t list everything that’s included with your purchase, such as a charger or cable, I recommend reaching out to the company or seller and asking what’s included. 

Apple ships everything you need to use the device. Most important of which is, a charger. As does Amazon, but the charger may not be the official charger that would come with the phone or laptop were it a brand new purchase.

If you’re comfortable with the idea of buying a refurbished phone or laptop, remember that you can save even more money by selling your device to the very companies that sell refurbished products. Can I offer some personal advice? Never buy or sell these seven used tech devices.