Refurbished vs. Used vs. Certified Pre-Owned: Which Is Better?
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With yearly upgrade cycles, there are regular chances to snatch shiny new phones, laptops, TVs, and wearables. But what if you aren’t worried about being on the leading-edge of technology? Or what if you want to save some money on your purchases? How to Be Frugal While Still Enjoying Tech & Gadgets How to Be Frugal While Still Enjoying Tech & Gadgets Just because you're being frugal doesn't mean you can't enjoy tech! Here are some tips on how to not break the bank with tech purchases. Read More

Well, you can always purchase non-new devices. A new device is one that is has not been used, purchased, or opened at all. It should still be in the original manufacturer’s packaging and with the full manufacturer’s warranty.

Any product that isn’t listed as new should be assumed to be pre-owned in some form. But there are a lot of terms thrown around in the second-hand market, from refurbished to used to pre-owned and even certified pre-owned. But what is the difference between them all?


A refurbished item is likely to have been used and either returned as used or returned as faulty. A product that is listed as refurbished will have undergone diagnostic testing, any faulty parts will have been replaced, everything will have received a thorough cleaning, and it will have been repackaged.

Guy Repairing and Tinkering With Smartphone
Image Credit: mickyso via Shutterstock

As an incentive to purchasing a refurbished item, the manufacturer or retailer will typically add an additional warranty. This is a huge benefit so you can have peace of mind should anything go wrong with the device. However, it is best to check the length and terms of the warranty as it will differ between retailers.

On eBay, there are two different categories of refurbished devices: manufacturer refurbished and seller refurbished. They even maintain an Item Condition Look-Up Table which allows you to view the item conditions for different categories of products. Both types of refurbishment should have restored the device as close to original specifications as possible, but the difference is that a seller refurbished device has not been approved by the manufacturer.

How to Shop Refurbished

eBay does let you contest a sale if the item is not as described. However, it’s probably still worthwhile to do some research on the seller First-Time Shopper On Ebay? 5 Important Things You Need To Know First-Time Shopper On Ebay? 5 Important Things You Need To Know Welcome to Ebay Shopping 101. You are the select few, chosen to be trained as sharp-shooting Ebay bidders, capable of finding the best deals and winning every auction. Read More before committing to a seller refurbished device. Make sure you check out their ratings, how many products they have, and try to get a sense of whether you can trust their refurbishment process.

Factory Refurbished Sign
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Many manufacturers have their own certified or factory refurbished devices for sale, usually at a decent discount. Some of the most notable are Apple Buying a Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need to Know Buying a Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need to Know No one wants to lay down a wad of cash for a dinged-up, battered second-hand computer - here’s what you need to know on your search for a pristine, but affordable, refurb. Read More  (who started selling refurbished iPhones Apple Now Sells Refurbished iPhones, But They're Expensive Apple Now Sells Refurbished iPhones, But They're Expensive Potential iPhone owners who balk at the price of the new iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus can now buy a refurbished iPhone 6S or iPhone 6S Plus from Unfortunately, they're not cheap. Read More ), Dell, and GoPro. Amazon recently launched a Certified Refurbished store where you can browse all the certified refurbished items listed on the site.

While Amazon allows both manufacturer and seller refurbishment, the Certified Refurbished category is determined by Amazon and can be revoked from a seller if they are found to not have a robust refurbishment process. Amazon’s Certified Refurbished program also provides each item with a warranty: 90 days in the US and 12 months in the UK and EU.

There are places to buy refurbished items outside of major retailers or online stores. However, you are likely to be taking a bigger risk with your purchase as a smaller retailer or an unknown website claiming to sell refurbished items may not be as reputable. This could cause problems if you have any issues with your purchase.

If you choose to purchase a refurbished item outside of a major store, then make sure that the terms of sale are laid out in writing before you pay, and that there is a warranty or return process.


Depending on where you purchase the item from, there will be different definitions of used. eBay defines it as “[an] item [which] may have some signs of cosmetic wear, but is fully operational and functions as intended.” By that definition, the item should work as expected but could be scratched or have a damaged screen.

Broken Used Smartphone

Outside of a regulated site like eBay or Amazon, the term “used” can take on any number of meanings. While a site like Craigslist can help you get a great deal The Ultimate Guide to Buying Used Devices The Ultimate Guide to Buying Used Devices I bought my current laptop, a 2011 Macbook Pro, on Craigslist almost four years ago. Here are some tips I picked up during my quest. Read More , there is no regulation of how items are described and any sale is between you and the seller only, making complaints difficult to manage.

Some people are happy to take the risk with buying a used device Is It Safe to Buy a Used PC? 5 Risks and How to Clean It Up Properly Is It Safe to Buy a Used PC? 5 Risks and How to Clean It Up Properly Planning on buying a used PC? Here's what you need to know about the risks and how to securely clean a second-hand computer. Read More , especially since they offer far heavier discounts than pre-owned or refurbished devices. However, if you don’t want the hassle of attempting to fix a broken item Thinking of Buying a Used Smartphone? 6 Things To Consider Thinking of Buying a Used Smartphone? 6 Things To Consider Don't want to be stuck with a long-term carrier contract or simply can't afford to fork out the full price of a brand new smartphone? Whatever your reasons, the following are a few things that... Read More , or being out of pocket, then you may want to pass over used items.


Pre-owned is generally a bit of a gray area. While it technically refers to any second-hand product, in most cases it usually refers to a well-taken-care-of item. This category of devices sits between Refurbished and Used, where it is in good, but not exactly new, condition.

Phone Cases Multicolor
Image Credit: RomanJuve via Shutterstock

In this sense it’s similar to “vintage” being applied to clothing. Another term you tend to see intermingled with pre-owned is pre-loved. The implication of those terms is that they are in generally good condition even though they’ve been used. There would be nothing explicitly wrong with them outside some minor cosmetic damage.

However, it’s always best to be skeptical of terms like pre-owned, pre-loved, and vintage. They are words designed to evoke a feeling in you that the items have been taken care of, but this isn’t guaranteed. As there is no agreed-upon definition, it varies across stores, sites, and sellers.

As with other second-hand items, understand the risks of purchasing a used item, especially when it comes to electronics or high-value purchases. Before committing, make sure you understand the seller’s return policy and any warranties offered.

Certified Pre-Owned

While pre-owned is essentially marketing speak for used, Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) actually has an entirely different meaning. CPO is a term in the used car industry that describes a vehicle that has been inspected by the automaker or dealer and returned to the original specifications. In this sense, it is very similar to a certified refurbished item.

Used Car Certified Pre-Owned
Image Credit: kurhan via Shutterstock

The used car is inspected and, if found, faults are repaired and parts are replaced. The warranty is typically extended either based on mileage, the months of the original warranty, or a parts warranty. However, just as with Certified Refurbished, there is no hard-and-fast rule and the details will often vary between dealers and automakers.

Which Is Right for You?

For most people looking to invest in a second-hand piece of technology, refurbished is probably the way to go. You get the reassurance of a return to original condition as well as it being cheaper than a new model. This is especially true for certified refurbished products, which are typically refurbished by the manufacturer and offer a guarantee should anything go wrong with the device.

Note that depending on what you are trying to buy, whether its a smartphone, digital camera, or audio equipment, there are things to consider before you buy second-hand regardless.

If you are looking for a project, or have something specific in mind, such as a heavily used iPhone, then you probably won’t mind losing out on the warranty — and the price of a used device is likely to be far lower than a refurbished device. However, if you are looking to save some money on an item for yourself or as a gift, then your mileage will vary with a used item, and should something go wrong, you aren’t guaranteed that you won’t be out of pocket.

If you end up deciding to buy new, check out our Android guide for new budget phones versus old flagships New Budget Phone vs. Old Flagship: Which Offers More Value? New Budget Phone vs. Old Flagship: Which Offers More Value? Is it better to buy an older model flagship phone or a brand-new budget device? We take a look at the pros and cons of each. Read More .

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  1. Tom B.
    June 14, 2017 at 4:53 am

    Also, refurbished (certified) devices are usually slightly used because they were returned as faulty after a fews days or weeks by their original owners.

  2. Eddie G.
    December 6, 2016 at 7:09 am

    I don't have a problem with buying refurbished items, BUT I won't do it from eBay, but fro ma respectable establishment such as WalMart.....Staples.....or Amazon. I have purchased laptops and desktops that were refurbished and are now way past their "expiration date" but they have been running like stallions (Linux of course!) and with RAM upgrades, fan replacements and TB HDD replacements everything is fine. I don't see the need to run out and buy "latest & greatest" because the price almost NEVER justifies the length of time you'll have the item. Take for example, a brand spanking new Dell latitude laptop with a touch-screen (HATE that particular technology on a laptop!...that's the whole point of having a touchpad!) or buying an all in one that has a 4K display? yeah, it doesn't justify the money they're asking for it. Because in 4 - 7 years time? that will be the new "Windows XP" and it won't be worth anywhere near what they're asking for now! I prefer to buy refurbished and to extend the life of the machines with hardware and RAM upgrades. I guess eventually the "new" stuff will come along and be used and I can score some really nice stuff later on. I'm patient enough to wait for a nice gaming PC! LoL!)

  3. Ron
    December 5, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    I have used eBay for purchasing used phones. My rule of thumb is if you purchase from a company that has "hundreds" of the same item for sale, you take more chances than from an individual who is a general eBayer who just happens to have a phone to cell. Also check the pictures that are attached and ask the seller any question that you have. I once purchased a phone with the wrong carrier back, after confirming this via email.

  4. George Lucas
    December 3, 2016 at 1:28 am

    Purchased my last two PC,s factory refurbished from Staples. Both have given me excellent service. Last one was an HP and I noticed that the hard drive was smaller than stated in the specifications. Contacted HP and the confirmed that the wrong hard drive had been installed and they sent another replacement at no charge. Warentee was the same as buying a new one. When this finally packs up would but refurbished again.