Should you buy a refurbished phone?

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a new mobile model. And with some high-end handsets coming in at over £1,000 or more, getting a refurbished phone can help you get that dream iPhone or Samsung Galaxy without breaking the bank. If you’re desperate to get your hands on the iPhone 11, for example, you might find yourself drawn to refurbished phones. The advantages of refurbished phone deals are pretty clear. For one, you can knock a chunk off the handset price, and for another, they may even be unlocked, so you’re free to go to any network. However, you should be wary of buying a refurbished iPhone from anyone but a trustworthy mobile retailer.

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Man refurbishing a phone

What does refurbished mean?

This is a vital question when it comes to buying a second-hand phone. Unfortunately, this term is often used without reflecting the true definition of the word. Depending on your retailer, the level of refurbishment may vary, from inspection and cleaning to including a charger or installing a new battery. You should query this with your chosen network provider or retailer before going ahead with any purchase. 

Read on as we explore the current refurbishment processes from several leading providers:

Vodafone refurbished phones

Vodafone doesn’t sell refurbished phones in the traditional sense. Instead, it stocks “Nearly New” models. This means these devices haven’t been previously owned for an extended period, but they were previously purchased, unpacked and used, and then returned within the 14-day cooling-off period:

  • Only pristine handsets will be resold

  • Phones have never been previously owned longer than 14 days

  • Warranty included

O2 refurbished phones

O2 has a five-point check before phones can be sold ‘like new’, the only type of refurbished phone you can get from O2:

  • Check the battery successfully charges

  • Check buttons, security and cameras for functionality 

  • Check the sound and microphone for clear audio

  • Access touch screen for successful pinching, typing, zooming and rotation

  • Check the Wi-Fi connectivity

Other guarantees come with the ‘like new’ claim, including:

  • No more than five superficial scratches

  • No chips more than 2mm in length

  • Loaded with the latest operating system (OS)

  • Rigorous testing for functionality 

  • New packaging

  • 12-month warranty included

EE refurbished phones

EE devices are available as Good as New, offering you a saving of up to £240, according to EE. Good as New phones will:

  • Be previously purchased devices returned within 14 days

  • Have never been sent for repair for any known fault

  • Have passed testing for functionality and cosmetic defects

  • Come with original packaging and a charger

  • Come with a 14-day return policy 

  • Come with an EE lifetime guarantee – if something goes wrong, it will be replaced for free

  • Are eligible for a yearly phone MOT

You can also trade in your old device for money off your next EE phone deal. 

giffgaff refurbished phones

giffgaff offer a range of refurbished phones across four different categories:


  • Well-used

  • Visible and obvious wear and tear

  • Chips, scratches, scuffs and wear

Very good

  • Scratching and marking

  • Cosmetic wear and tear that is less obvious than “good”


  • Light non-obvious marking

  • Pristine screens

Like new

  • Brand new in appearance 

  • Returned unused 

All giffgaff used phones are tested for functionality and all of the previous owner’s data is removed. All giffgaff handsets are also:

  • Unlocked

  • Come with a 12-month guarantee

Apple refurbished iPhones

If you send an iPhone back to Apple directly, there’s an official process. A refurbished iPhone that has been serviced by Apple will: 

  • Be tested for full functionality 

  • Have faulty components replaced

  • Be thoroughly cleaned

  • Be repackaged

  • Be provided with the original OS or an updated version

  • Be supplied with new and complete documentation 

Unlike refurbished phone deals from network providers, you won’t get extras like MOTs or a total call package from Apple. You’ll just get the handset. 

Samsung refurbished phones

Samsung also offers refurbished phones. It claims to have a much more comprehensive refurbishing process than other options. However, as all deals are handset only, you won’t get extras like a complete data package. Refurbished Samsung phones will:

  • Have had damaged parts replaced 

  • Have had software updated

  • Need to pass over 400 tests for usability

  • Come with a new charger and set of headphones 

  • Come with a 12-month warranty

What is a factory reset?

A factory reset’s normal purpose is to wipe your phone of data. That doesn’t include online data or data on SD cards. It’s usually used when you have an issue like continuous freezing, slow performance or constantly crashing apps. 

Put simply, it ‘refreshes’ your phone so you can start again. A factory reset is not meant to be used as a way of removing all traces of you from your device – and it won’t. 

Is a factory reset enough?

No, probably not. A factory reset only clears your phone of data at a local level. That means information stored on your actual device. Information kept on the cloud and your online accounts will remain. So even if your apps are gone, should the next user download the same app, they might be able to log into your account. 

Tests also suggest that factory resets don’t prevent data being recovered. So while your data may not be easily accessible, if someone was truly committed to recovering it, they could do so. 

Is a refurbished phone secure?

A professionally refurbished phone has been completely data wiped. That means there will be no residual user data or files hidden anywhere on the system. 

I want to sell my phone – how can I wipe my data?

Go to a reputable network retailer. It’s worth remembering that, depending on your operating software, some phones don’t delete user data even after a factory reset, they will just hide them and mark them as deleted. With that in mind, you should never look to sell your phone without a trustworthy supplier wiping all your personal data from it. 

If you plan to give your phone to someone you can trust, like a sibling or a friend, this might not be too much of a concern. But you should avoid selling your phone to a stranger through forums or online listings. 

You could try a refurbishment yourself, though a lot of programs that are easily, commercially available will likely have a counter data recovery program for users with the opposite issue. To be completely certain your data cannot be retrieved, go to a network provider. You may even get money for your device or money off your next mobile phone deal. 

Where can I buy a refurbished phone?

You should only buy a refurbished phone from a trustworthy retailer, such as a network provider like Tesco, Sky or Virgin Media. If you’re looking on online auction sites, you’ll likely see listings incorrectly using the term ‘refurbished’ for phones that have only undergone a factory reset. You should avoid buying phones that aren’t from established mobile retailers. 

Also, you should bear in mind that a factory reset doesn’t affect online accounts. So, if your phone is tied to a Google or Apple account and the previous user has not removed their credentials, you’ll be stuck at a log-in screen and unable to change users, making your bargain second-hand phone a very expensive paperweight.