A growing number of savvy shoppers are buying high-spec mobile phones but without the hefty price tag.
The secret is to buy a refurbished handset rather than a brand new one. The cost savings vary from model to model and, as always, you need to shop around.
A “refurbished” smartphone doesn’t simply mean used or second-hand – it’s better than that.
Refurbished phones are ones that have been traded in or returned to retailers, then tested, repaired if necessary, and then graded to be resold.
Contrary to popular belief, not all refurbished phones have previously had a fault – some are returned to networks by customers who changed their mind within the 30-day cooling-off period after they signed up for a contract.
There’s certainly a thriving market for refurbished handsets. According to technology research company Counterpoint, the global refurb market grew 10% in the past year while the market for new smartphones declined 1%.
It’s easy to see why the market is growing. Tech addicts often upgrade their phones the moment a new model comes out, generating a busy market for second hand phones that aren’t very old and are in perfect working order.
Other people try out a handset for a couple of weeks then return it if it’s not quite right for them.
Where to find the good ones
Buying a refurbished phone doesn’t mean taking a punt on a random eBay seller or an online store you’ve never heard of.
Refurbs are sold by mobile specialists such as Carphone Warehouse and Direct Mobiles, major phone networks such as O2 and EE, and virtual mobile networks such as Tesco Mobile and Giffgaff.
Some phone manufacturers also sell refurbished handsets – but not the two big players Samsung and Apple (although Apples does sell refurbished iPods and iPads).
What you can save
The big advantage of buying a refurbished phone is the price.
Recycling site Envirofone reckons you can save between 15% and 30% off the price of a brand new phone by opting for a refurb, but exactly how much you can save depends on the handset and the deals you can find.
Although some refurb phones are sold by networks on contracts, most are sold outright and unlocked. This gives you the freedom to pair it with a cheap SIM-only deal to keep your mobile spend to a minimum.
As an example, you can buy a refurbished space grey iPhone 8 64GB on Giffgaff for £499 – £100 less than a new one bought directly from Apple.
Discontinued models, such as the iPhone 5s, will attract much bigger discounts than more recent models.
For example, you can get a second-hand iPhone 5s for £119 on Amazon Renewed (the section of the online giant which sells refurbished, pre-owned and open-box products).
What you’re actually getting
However, it’s important to understand what you’re getting when you buy a refurbished handset.
Some refurbs won’t come in the original packaging and might not include chargers, headphones or the special pin you need to open the phone and insert your SIM.
Some phones might have some cosmetic damage such as nicks or scratches.
Refurbished phones might be cheaper than brand new ones but they can still cost a few hundred pounds so it’s still a good idea to think about insurance.
Eleana Martyn, of gadget insurance comparison site Protect Your Gadget, warns that most insurance providers will only cover phones if they have been bought through a network provider, manufacturer, or other approved retailer.
“This is because buying a smartphone through a non-authorised reseller is considered riskier in terms of the condition of the phone. So, unless you are planning to buy directly from either of these sources, you will struggle to find insurance cover at all,” she said.
“Insurers don’t like smartphones which were bought more than a year ago. These timings vary between insurance providers so it’s important that you check the limitations of your policy to ensure that you have the right cover in place.”
Refurbished phones from networks and approved re-sellers should come with a 12-month warranty – but double check as some sellers will only offer six months.
Finally, make sure you don’t confuse “used” phones for sale privately on eBay or Amazon with refurbished phones.
The term “used” can mean anything from a few scratches, to completely battered, and a used phone may not work as well as a refurbished phone.