Refurbished tech - what to look out for before buying

Refurbished tech; a photo of a man repairing a refurbished smartphone
(Image credit: Elnur / Shutterstock)

Refurbished tech is often overlooked in the race for the latest laptop, phone or tablet and can include refurbished Apple devices, refurbished phones and refurbished laptops. But as the cost of living crisis continues to affect many of us, buying new technology can seem like an expense we just can’t afford at the moment. However, if the laptop or smartphone you rely on breaks, you may not have much choice.

However, there is a way to get hold of devices without paying over the odds for them. Buying a refurbished laptop, the same product you’re looking for as new, can save you some hefty cash. Now, don’t think that buying refurbished is simply getting second hand products. While buying second hand – or used – devices is another fine way to save money, you’re buying them ‘as is’, with all the signs of wear and tear included.

Refurbished laptops, phones and Apple devices, meanwhile, have been carefully restored, repaired and tested by the manufacturer, so they come almost as good as new. You can get refurbished Apple laptops and phones directly from Apple, for example, or from refurbished Amazon deals. 

In some cases, these refurbished devices have never even been used before and you can find the best iPad, for example, for less. Best of all, many manufacturers offer a warranty on their refurbished products, which takes a lot of the risk out of buying them. Buying refurbished will save money, but also take a look at our cost of living guides, such as 6 ways to save money as a freelancer and ways to make money online as a creative.

Different products are better bought refurbished than others, and some companies – such as Apple – do a much better job as supporting their refurbished devices with warranties than others, so in this guide we’ll show you how to shop safely and get the very best deal you can.

How to buy refurbished laptops

Refurbished laptops; best laptops for programming, woman at laptop

Refurbished laptops offer a way to get a high-spec computer for less (Image credit: Oscar Wong on Getty Images)

Refurbished laptops are a great way to get a fantastic deal on a device that would usually cost a lot of money. However, laptops are complex devices made out of intricate electrical components, with large screens that are easily damaged, and have mechanical parts, such as hinges and keyboards, that can be adversely affected by heavy use.

So, when buying a refurbished laptop, you should check the information about the condition the laptop is in. Any seller worth buying from will have an honest list of any noticeable defects. Some, like the odd blemish or scratch on the body, may be perfectly fine, and may help keep the price low. However, any noted damage to the screen, keyboard, ports or hinges should be red flags for you not to buy.

MacBooks tend to keep running longer than Windows laptops, so you can go back a few more years if you want a real bargain

Make sure there is a decent warranty, in case anything goes wrong, and a returns policy as well if you’re not happy with what you receive. Good resellers will offer a warranty, for example Apple backs all of its certified refurbished tech with a one-year warranty.

Keep an eye on the specs as well, as many refurbished laptops may have older tech inside. A few year’s out of date isn’t too bad, but if it’s any older you may get frustrated with the performance.

For Windows 10 and Windows 11 laptops, we recommend 8GB RAM as a minimum, and 256GB storage. The processor should be no older than an 8th generation Intel, or AMD Ryzen 3000. Bear in mind that Windows 11 won’t run on laptops with CPUs over a certain age.

MacBooks tend to keep running longer than Windows laptops, so you can go back a few more years if you want a real bargain, but again be aware that Apple stops releasing new versions of its macOS operating system for MacBooks over a certain age.

Laptops Direct, Amazon and Dell all sell refurbished laptops with warranties.

How to buy refurbished phones

Refurbished phones; a photo of the OnePlus 10 Pro

Buying a refurbished phone is a lot easier than a laptop as the tech tends to hold up better (Image credit: Basil Kronfli / Creative Bloq)

Buying a refurbished iPhone or phone is another great way of saving money, and in many cases is a lot more risk-free than buying a refurbished laptop. Many refurbished phones are devices that customers have sent back if they’ve changed their minds, or when they’ve got a new handset. Because many people change their smartphone more regularly than they replace their laptops, it means you can get some great modern smartphones with little evidence of wear and tear.

As with refurbished laptops, you’ll want to make sure that any refurbished smartphone you buy comes with a decent warranty to protect you if anything goes wrong.

Refurbished phones are checked to make sure they work properly, and for any signs of damage. If needed, they will then be repaired and given a grading, which will allow purchasers to know exactly what they are buying.

  • Grade A means they are almost as good as new, with very minor marks or signs of use. These are the most expensive refurbished phones, but they still offer a decent saving compared to brand-new models.
  • Grade B means they have more obvious wear and tear – but this will still be minor, and will not impact the overall performance of the smartphone.
  • Grade C means the smartphone will look like it’s been used before, and there will be noticeable blemishes on the body – but, again, this damage won’t impact the use of the phone – so there shouldn’t be any cracks on the screen or broken ports.

One last thing to bear in mind with buying refurbished phones is that they often won’t come with extras, such as chargers and earphones, so you may have to buy them separately.

eBay, Amazon, O2 Like New, and Giffgaff are all reputable places to get refurbished smartphones from.

How to buy refurbished tablets

Refurbished tablets; a photo of a child using a tablet

Buying refurbished tablets is akin to refurbished phones, as the tech can often be fairly new (Image credit: Sven Brandsma)

Buying a refurbished tablet is a lot like buying a refurbished smartphone. Tablets should also be graded depending on their condition, and be thoroughly tested and repaired by the seller or manufacturer.

Because of their very nature, tablets have large screens that can be prone to damage, so make sure you check the status of the screen before you buy. Any tablet that’s listed as Grade A and Grade B should have no issues at all, and Grade C should only have minor scratches at most.

As with buying any refurbished device, make sure your tablet comes with a decent warranty of at least a year. Also, like refurbished smartphones, you may not get a charger included, so bear that in mind when you buy.

• Top places to buy refurbished tablets from include eBay, Amazon and Laptops Direct.

How to buy refurbished games consoles

Refurbished games consoles; the best Nintendo Switch games are represented by a photo of a Nintendo Switch playing Mario Kart

Nintendo Switch is one of the more common refurbished games console you'll find (Image credit: Nintendo)

Did you know that you can also buy refurbished games consoles? This is a great way of saving money, and even of getting hold of consoles that can be quite hard to buy new (such as trawling through the best PS deals).

Because of their relative newness and popularity, refurbished Xbox Series X and PS5 consoles are a bit thin on the ground, but there are some great offers out there. Unlike smartphones, tablets and laptops, these consoles aren’t made for carrying around, so there should be less issues with wear and tear.

As always, these refurbished games consoles should have been thoroughly tested and repaired before being sold, and make sure they come with a warranty. Check what they come with as well, as they may not include peripherals such as controllers.

Refurbished Nintendo Switch consoles are more widely available, and they are a great way of getting the popular console for a decent amount less than if bought new. Getting a good deal on hardware means you'll have more to spend on the best Nintendo Switch games and even the best Ninendo Switch accessories.

• Check out Game in the UK, Amazon and Walmart for refurbished games consoles.

How to buy refurbished Apple devices

Refurbished Apple; a photo of a person holding an iPhone with iOS shown on the screen.

(Image credit: Future)

Apple is one of the best manufacturers when it comes to offering refurbished versions of its products. As you’d imagine, every refurbished iPhone, iPad, MacBook and more is carefully checked and repaired by Apple itself, and comes with a one year warranty, along with AppleCare support.

You can get a decent price cut buying refurbished devices from Apple, while also getting exceptional support, and while other retailers also sell refurbished Apple products, we recommend buying direct from Apple itself

You'll also get a one-year warranty with every refurbished Apple device, which is worth having. Considering the older MacBook Air (2020) tops our best student MacBooks buying guide and the MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021) is our preferred MacBook overall, in our best MacBook guide, older Apple tech certainly holds up.

Refurbished tech: frequent questions

Refurbished Apple; two iPhone handsets held next to each other.

We answer some of the burning questions about buying refurbished tech (Image credit: Apple)

What exactly is refurbished tech?

Refurbished doesn't mean damaged or secondhand; it means the product was returned because the user didn't want it and / or couldn't afford it. All good refurbished tech has been tested and / or repaired, often by the manufacturer, and then given a new warranty. Refurbished phones, laptops, tablets and consoles are safer, better value that pre-owned products.

Is buying a refurbished product safe?

As long as you buy from a reputable retailer, and ensure it comes with a warranty, then buying a refurbished device is perfectly safe. Check to make sure any device you buy has been professionally checked and fixed.

What should I look for in a refurbished laptop?

In many ways, as refurbished is a level up from pre-owned, you should take the same steps you'd take when buying any new tech. I'd recommend running through the tick-list below:

• Take a look at review sites, like Creative Bloq, and check the tech is generally recommended, even if new.

• Ideally buy refurbished tech with a warranty, especially Apple laptops, iPhones or iPads.

• Match the product to non-refurbished to make sure the discount is actually worthwhile.

• Check for what has been covered in the refurbish process, for example batteries should be replaced on laptops and phones, and ideally on Nintendo Switch consoles.

Is buying a refurbished laptop or smartphone a good way to save money?

Absolutely. Refurbished devices are sold at lower prices than brand new models, and most of the time they are sold in a condition that isn’t far off from when they are brand-new, which makes them far more affordable.

Are refurbished products damaged?

Depending on the grade of the device, there may be some minor signs of wear and tear, such as scratches on the body. However, there should not be any damage that impacts the performance of the device, such as broken screens or faulty keyboards.

How much should I pay for a refurbished Nintendo Switch?

You should expect to pay no more than $200

The quick answer is that a used Nintendo Switch is selling for around $200 / £180 to $240 / £250, depending on the type of Nintendo Switch (Standard, Lite or OLD). If you're buying from a good dealer or store the quality will be standard, and often a warranty will be available.

Is it worth buying an old Nintendo Switch?

If you already own a Nintendo Switch then you may not really need to upgrade, however if you're new to this console then the 2020 Nintendo Switch models with the newer processor and OLED screen are worth the extra money (usually $50 / £50 more). You can even get these refurbished and are worth looking at for a bargain.

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Matt Hanson

Matt has been a technology journalist for over 15 years, writing for publications such as T3, MacFormat and Creative Bloq. He's a managing editor of TechRadar, Creative Bloq's sister site, where he can be found writing about and reviewing laptops, computers, monitors and more. He often writes for Creative Bloq, helping creatives find their perfect laptop or PC.