Yes, I’ll probably want the iPhone 15 when it comes out. But as I consider a tablet for my six-year-old (so he’ll stop stealing mine), I don’t think a brand new device is necessary. Both economically and environmentally, refurbished tech might be a better bet if you don’t need the latest edition. Sometimes called “renewed,” refurbished has no legal definition, but typically refers to an item that’s not new but has undergone cleaning and diagnostics tests at the minimum, and includes replacement components when necessary. A refurbished device should operate and perform as if it were a new version of itself, with the only drawbacks being possible cosmetic imperfections.
In addition to being more budget-friendly, buying refurbished keeps electronics out of landfills and cuts down on the overall carbon footprint, since the majority of a device’s environmental impact comes from manufacturing. It’s also better than recycling in terms of keeping rare earth elements in circulation. But since the refurbished trade isn’t regulated, there are things to watch out for. We cover the salient points below, along with our recommendations on where you can safely buy refurbished tech and where you can browse renewed tech offerings.
What to consider when buying refurbished devices
Refurbished vs used
Refurbished is not the same as used. Used items tend to be sold “as-is,'' which means you’re simply inheriting whatever mileage and quirks a device had when the previous owner said goodbye to it. It’s true that most refurbished items were previously owned, and many are a result of the growing trend of trading in your old device when you upgrade. But others were hardly used at all and are one of the millions of returns generated each year. Either way, a properly refurbished item has undergone testing to verify that it works, along with cleaning, repairs and parts replacement as needed.
Since there are no government regulations for renewed items, it’s up to the sellers to define what steps they take to ready a device for sale. And it’s up to the buyer to find out what those steps are before taking the plunge. The processes for refurbishing devices from Apple, Bose, Microsoft and Samsung, for example, include cleaning, inspection, parts replacement as needed and shipment in a new box with the originally supplied accessories. They also all provide a one-year warranty.
Warranties and returns
A refurbished device should perform as well as its new counterpart, but the only way to guarantee that’s the case is to make sure it comes with a warranty. All of the sites we recommend below include a warranty with the products they sell. If you see something labeled as refurbished, but doesn’t include some sort of guarantee as to its reliability – shop elsewhere.
Also, a good return policy will let you send the item back (preferably with the same free shipping a new item gets) for any reason — including that you just changed your mind. That way if a refurbished product doesn’t look as good as you thought it would, you can send it back without having to prove there’s something wrong with it.
Most refurbished tech was used before it made its way back on the market. And while renewed items are cleaned, you’ll still need to consider your comfort with sanitation issues when buying things like headphones and earbuds.
Where to buy refurbished tech
We recommend going directly to the manufacturer whenever possible, especially for more technical items like smartphones and laptops. If you need a new MacBook, check out Apple’s refurbished stock first; if you want a new Galaxy phone, hit up Samsung before anyone else. Repairs will be handled using genuine parts and you’re far more likely to get items that were properly unpaired from the original owner and all data wiped.
Retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy are decent options if you’re on a tighter budget or if you’re looking for gadgets from a manufacturer that may not have its own refurbished outlet. Refurbished marketplaces like Decluttr and BackMarket can be useful if you’re looking for older, more specific items, or if price is the number one factor for your purchase.
They may offer less than they once did for trade-ins but Apple is still pulling in a decent inventory of refurbished MacBooks, iPads and other devices. Each refurbished piece undergoes an inspection and repairs using original Apple parts, with refurbished iPhones and iPads getting new batteries and outer shells. In addition to phones and tablets, Apple sells refurbished MacBooks, Watches, Apple TVs and accessories like the Apple Pencil. Everything is shipped in a new box with whatever cables, accessories and operating systems a new item would get. Items get the same one-year warranty and 14-day returns window that Apple offers on new products as well.
While they accept just about any device as a trade-in, Samsung only regularly offers refurbished smartphones on its site – you’ll have to look elsewhere for a renewed Samsung tablet or smartwatch. That said, a refurbished Galaxy phone can sell for as much as 30 percent off the standard price. The phones come with a new battery, are tested and repaired with Samsung parts and get new packaging, cables and the latest software. One-year warranties come standard, too.
On a given day, you’ll find between three and 30 refurbished Bose items on the company’s site, including speakers, headphones, soundbars and almost always a few pairs of Bose Frames. Savings range from 10 percent to 45 percent and each item undergoes measures similar to Apple and Samsung, with testing, repairs and cables in a new box, plus internal cleaning and replacement parts like earcups. Bose also includes a 90-day, free returns policy and a one-year warranty to make sure the device works as it should.
Sonos devices don’t often go on sale, which makes the brand’s refurbished program even more enticing. You’ll typically only find a handful of the company’s renewed speakers and soundbars available at one time, so it pays to keep checking the site. Each refurbished device undergoes testing and gets repaired with Sonos parts as needed. They ship in new boxes and include all accessories and the same 45-day returns policy and one-year warranty as a new device.
Like Bose and Sonos, you’ll typically only find a few refurbished Razer laptops available at a time. The savings can be pretty significant – on the order of a few hundred dollars off the list price. The refurbishment process involves full data wipes and a new OS installation, along with cleaning, testing and repairs as needed. Each device gets a 14-day returns policy, a one-year warranty and tech support.
You’ll mostly find Surface tablets and laptops on Microsoft’s refurbished page. If you’re looking for an Xbox, renewed Series X and Series S consoles have their own destinations (and could be something to look into when the Series X goes in and out of stock). All refurbished Microsoft products get tested, repaired and cleaned and come in new packaging along with the usual accessories plus a 30-day returns policy and year-long warranty.
Amazon Renewed is different from Amazon Warehouse, which sells used items that have been tested and graded, but haven’t undergone any refurbishment. Items under the Renewed designation have been cleaned and professionally inspected and come with replacement accessories as needed.
Refurbishment isn’t always conducted by an in-house team, as Amazon mostly lists items sold by third-party refurbishers. The exception to that is with Amazon devices like Kindles, Ring doorbells and Echos, which are tested, shipped and sold by Amazon. Find those items on the certified refurbished Amazon device page, formerly called Kindle Refurbished.
The guarantee on all refurbished items sold on the site only extends for 90 days, but that’s a combined warranty and returns policy, which includes sending the device back because it simply wasn’t what you expected, regardless of whether there’s something wrong with it.
There’s a wider allowance for condition ratings with Amazon’s refurb program, allowing for the minor cosmetic imperfections of “premium” and “excellent" ratings, along with visible marks and scratches at the “good” and “acceptable” condition levels.
That said, Amazon Renewed offers a wide selection of products you might not be able to get directly from a manufacturer, including kitchen equipment, tools and gaming accessories.
Like Amazon’s program, Walmart Restored uses third party sellers and refurbishers and also grants a 90-day combined return and warranty period. The products are rated as having no cosmetic defects when viewed from one foot away, unless otherwise noted in the listing. Products include tools, tablets, kitchen appliances, TVs and video game consoles.
Unfortunately, the warranties for Target’s refurbished program varies by item. Depending on the listing, you’ll see warranties that extend six months, one year or have no warranty at all. However, all items we checked did include a return period ranging from 15 to 30 days – though you’ll need to bring the item back to a Target store. Obviously we don’t recommend going for any tech device (refurbished or not) without a warranty, but like Amazon and Walmart, Target’s program may offer a way to find deals on a wider selection of tech than going through a manufacturer. Just be sure to scroll down to the warranty details in the About This Item section on the product page.
Best Buy combines open box, clearance and refurbished items under the Best Buy Outlet umbrella. They even run a few brick and mortar Outlet stores that sell clearance, open-box and returned items. For the most part, however, those don’t include items that have undergone the refurbishment process. For that, you’ll want to look at items marked “Geek Squad Certified Refurbished” online. These are products that have been spruced up either by Best Buy's own repair centers, by the manufacturers or by third-party refurbishers. The devices come with a 90-day warranty, which covers defects, in addition to Best Buy’s standard 15-day return policy.