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Should You Buy a Refurbished Mobile Phone?

Updated on January 10, 2016
Max Dalton profile image

Max holds a BS in Mass Communications from SIU and an MA in Communication from U of I, and is pursuing an MBA from Webster University.

Introduction

Whenever you buy a refurbished mobile phone, you're taking a gamble. As a result, there are a number of risks you need to be aware of and additional costs you may want to factor in to protect yourself. Familiarizing yourself with all of the positives and negatives will help you determine if the risk of a refurbished mobile phone is worth it, or if you should just cave in and buy a new mobile phone.

Some mobile phones may have been heavily abused before they were refurbished, and problems may not show up until after you've had the device for a few months.
Some mobile phones may have been heavily abused before they were refurbished, and problems may not show up until after you've had the device for a few months. | Source

Hardware Problems

A refurbished mobile phone may look like it's in good shape, but there may be lingering issues resulting from whatever went wrong with the device in the first place that didn't turn up while the device was being tested. For example, let's say the device originally had an issue with the headphone jack and the company simply replaces the headphone jack and then gives the refurbished mobile phone the green light to be sold. The poor headphone jack may have been the result of a power surge the device was hit with, and the lingering effects of that power surge (such as a mobile phone that randomly turns on and off, lines or static on the screen, static during phone calls, buttons not working and more) may not be evident in the manufacturer's testing because those problems haven't surfaced. Essentially, if the manufacturer doesn't see a problem, they won't spend the money to replace hardware because there's no need to.

Value Trap

The discount you get for purchasing a refurbished phone with a contract depends primarily on how popular that phone is. If the phone isn't in high demand, the retailer could knock 50 percent off the price or give it to you for free. However, if the mobile phone is in very high demand, such as an iPhone that's only one generation old, the savings won't be as great, and will probably be more along the lines of 25 percent -- maximum. If you buy a refurbished mobile phone without a contract, you'll save significantly less, but you won't be locked into having to pay that contract even if the phone dies. And if you are locked into a contract and your phone dies, you'll likely have to buy a new phone at the full price to use with the cellular data provider you have a contract with, which could end up costing you significantly more than if you'd just bought a new phone with a new contract.

Warranty

The warranties offered with a refurbished mobile phone are typically shorter than the warranties offered with new mobile phones, and they also may cost you more to insure, as they have a higher likelihood of malfunctioning. These added costs can quickly eat into any savings you're getting by purchasing a refurbished mobile phone. As a result, it's always a good idea to read the entire warranty that's made available to you for your refurbished mobile phone, as the same rules often don't apply to them as to new mobile phones.

Do Your Research

Some mobile phones have a history of being more problematic than others. Do a quick online search for problems with the type of refurbished mobile phone you're looking at getting to see if there's a common problem that people seem to be experiencing with that refurbished phone or if there's a laundry list of problems raised by thousands of dissatisfied customers. Obviously, there are going to be some issues, but if the problems seem to be widespread, you may want to avoid that particular model.

Software Problems

Buying a refurbished smart phone likely means that model has likely been on the market for a year or two. The updates released for smartphones often contain critical security patches and add new functionality. However, those improvements are often designed to run on newer-model phones that can support the same software. As a result, what often happens is that eventually notice updates that you install start to degrade your phone's performance -- and this typically happens around the two-year mark. It's definitely something to keep in mind when you buy an older-model phone.

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