What’s the Deal with Second Hand Phones?

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on January 24, 2019, Buying Guides

New mobiles cost a fair amount of money these days, and we can't all spend a fortune on getting the phone that we would like to have. And that's where second-hand phones come in. But is a second-hand phone really your best option? We're taking a look at second-hand choices, how to buy them, where to buy them and whether or not you're getting a deal. So if you're looking to save yourself some cash, read on!

Second-Hand Phone Options

There are actually three options when it comes to second-hand phones. You can buy a regular second-hand mobile, meaning one that has been owned by someone else and then sold on to you. But you can also buy refurbished and reconditioned phones, both of which provide a more affordable mobile than simply buying new. What's the difference? We'll get to that in just a second…

Refurbished Phones

Okay, a refurbished phone is going to be the most expensive of your three options. Basically, a refurbished mobile has been bought by another customer and then returned. Generally, it's been returned fairly quickly and most probably because the customer changed his mind, rather than because there was a problem with the phone itself. But the packaging has been opened, meaning the phone can no longer be sold as new.

When this happens the phone is thoroughly tested (usually by the manufacturer, though some mobile operators do this themselves) and then certified for resale. In terms of what this means for you, you're getting what is, in essence, a new phone. Probably no one has ever used it, it's in as-new condition, and it's unlikely that you're going to see any difference at all between a refurbished phone and a new one. You might find that the phone isn't in original packaging, and it's possible that you won't get the original manual. Other than that though, a refurbished phone is pretty indistinguishable from a new one.

Mobile operators usually sell refurbished phones, as do manufacturers (Apple are particularly good for refurbished iPhones), and you'll save a few pounds, though the discount generally won't be huge. Be aware that most operators do not sell refurbished phones on contract, though a couple do occasionally. You will nearly always get a warranty with a refurbished mobile.

Reconditioned Phones

Unlike refurbished phones, reconditioned phones have been used. Usually, these models have been used as rental phones, rented out to companies to use as business mobiles, though occasionally they are pre-owned phones.

A reconditioned phone is sent back to the manufacturer, where it's completely tested. Some parts may be replaced (most often a screen, battery, or casing parts, though sometimes internal things). Once the phone is in good working condition, it will be certified for resale. Reconditioned phones are usually cheaper options than refurbished ones.

However, because a reconditioned phone has been used before you might see some cosmetic issues, scratches or dents, for example. The phone will work perfectly though since it's been tested by mobile engineers. Sometimes you can find reconditioned phones through mobile operators, but more likely you're going to find them through manufacturers or third party websites.

Second-Hand Phones

Now a second-hand phone has also been pre-owned, but the difference between second hand and reconditioned is that you have no guarantee that the phone itself has been tested and certified as ready to use. Obviously, this makes second-hand mobiles a little riskier. If you buy second hand through a website, for example, you might find that that site offers guarantees or has a testing process, though whether or not the testing process is as in-depth as it would be were the mobile to be sent back to the manufacturer is debatable.

You can also buy second-hand mobiles person to person, using sites like eBay or Craig's List for example. In this case, it's unlikely that the mobile has undergone any testing whatsoever, and you're taking what could be an expensive risk. If you do decide to go this route, then whenever possible you should see the phone in person before agreeing to buy, since you can then make sure that it's in working condition.

Second-hand phones tend to be the cheapest option in terms of investment, though if you end up getting something that doesn't work as you'd like it to, then you're basically paying money for nothing…

The Downsides of Second Hand Options

All three of these second-hand options have one drawback in common. Whilst getting a new phone on contract with a mobile operator means that you don't need to pay a whole bunch of cash up front, with refurbished, reconditioned or second-hand phones you're probably going to have to pay the full purchase price all at once. Depending on what that price tag is, this might be tough to do. Sure, a £500 phone is £500, but there's a difference for most of us between paying £500 immediately and paying, say £20 per month until the phone is paid off.

As we've already mentioned, second-hand phones are a bit of a risk. But finances aside reconditioned and refurbished phones really aren't that risky at all. You know they've been tested and certified, and in performance terms, you're going to be getting something that is more or less like new- which can make them a good investment.

The Final Verdict

So is it worth going second hand? Well, that sort of depends. For most people, a brand new phone bought on contract is generally the best option, simply because you don't need to spend a wad of cash all at once. But if you don't have this option, maybe because you don't qualify for a contract or because your current contract hasn't ended yet, then reconditioned or refurbished phones can be a good choice. Second-hand phones are more complicated, and really should be a last resort, since there's little recourse if your deal doesn't work out.

Second-hand phones can save you money, but in many cases, it might be worth paying a little more to know that you're getting a mobile that's in good condition…