4 Tech Gadgets You Can Totally Buy Used—and 3 You Definitely Shouldn’t

From iPhones to iPads, you can snag a refurbished model that's "like new" for up to 30 percent off, but it's not always the bargain you might hope it is.

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Second-hand smartphones can be a smart move

4-Devices-It-Pays-to-Buy-Refurbished—and-3-to-Pass-onMacrovector/shutterstock What does refurbished mean when it comes to buying a smartphone or for that matter any portable electronic? Simply put, it's not brand spanking new—and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it was delivered on someone's doorstep in a mangled box and therefore returned. Or perhaps the previous owner dropped it down a flight of stairs, but it was repaired. Either way if you are buying from a reputable seller, expect a "reconditioned"or "certified used" phone to be in good working condition. "Consumers should trust companies that boast strict security guidelines and use programs such as CheckMEND to make sure that phones sold aren't stolen. These companies ensure that devices are top quality, not damaged and obtained legally, so consumers can have peace of mind," says Yanyan Ji, GM of e-commerce at gazelle.com. "Look for e-commerce sites that provide a certification process on their used devices." Devices sold on Gazelle.com are "Gazelle Certified" meaning that these devices go through a rigorous inspection process which includes a 30 point inspection service. You can especially feel good about buying refurbished when it's from the manufacturer—for example, in November 2016 Apple finally started carrying refurbished iPhones on their website. So now, not only can you cop an iPhone 6S with 128GB for $629 (16 percent off!), Apple hooks you up with its one-year warranty and an option to purchase more protection through Apple Care. Caution: It's buyer beware on sites like eBay or Craigslist. Carefully review third party seller's ratings and read buyer's comments before you click buy.

Used laptops can satisfy your inner nerd

4-Devices-It-Pays-to-Buy-Refurbished—and-3-to-Pass-onMacrovector/shutterstock So you want the latest hot laptop with all the bells and whistles? Your head says, "I'm in" but your bank account says "Don't look at me!" You could pull off a brand-new cheaper version that skimps on memory or software—or check out an older refurbished Macbook that fulfills your inner nerd without draining your savings. A laptop that's been reconditioned shouldn't be technologically sub par—in fact, it can be way superior to what you could afford new. If working quality is what you're looking for a garage sale is not the place to pick up a laptop or most electronics. But if you're purchasing a used product from a manufacturer or third-party, Laptop Magazine notes that authorized sellers typically sanitize, sort, and grade the units based on physical looks and functionality. They disassemble each one, checking for damaged components, battery function, screen quality, power supply, loose connections, hard drive, and optical drive. "As with anything you buy second-hand, consumers should ensure it's been properly tested to 100 percent functionality before paying for a device," says Matt Zieminski, account manager at iFixit.com. Here's some other things Zieminski recommends checking out:
  • Battery Life: When was the device originally manufactured? Is the battery user-serviceable? Has it ever had a replacement performed? Just like on cars, batteries need to be replaced in devices every so often. For lithium-ion products found in popular devices today the lifespan is about 18 to 20 months with normal use.
  • Cellular/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi signal: Does it connect to everything properly and (in the case of Bluetooth) relay data appropriately?
  • Charging: If you plug in a charger to the device, will it recognize the charge?
  • Cosmetic defects: Some dents and scratches are to be expected as time goes on but be on the lookout for sever cosmetic issues like scratches and cracked screens.
  • Operating System: The most important thing is to make sure it has a new Operating System (OS) installed before it makes its way to your work station. Otherwise, you might be buying someone else's headache.

Tablets don't have to be new to make the grade

4-Devices-It-Pays-to-Buy-Refurbished—and-3-to-Pass-onMacrovector/shutterstock If you're going to buy a tablet, a second-hand model with good reviews makes way more sense than purchasing a new model that's less money, but lame. Do your research—a reconditioned model becomes a much better deal, especially if you buy an Apple iPad direct from Apple's Refurbished store. Not only will a refurbished iPad look and act brand new, but a used model can cost 15 to 30 percent less than a new one. By snagging an older generation model, there's a good change you might be able to get more storage capacity for downloading movies and photos. Plus, Apple stands behind their repaired products just the same as their newer models—that means you're getting a product that's been tested, inspected, and put through the ringer, which also comes with their standard one-year warranty that can be increased and extended to two years by purchasing an AppleCare Protection Plan for $99. What happens if you can't find the iPad you want directly from Apple? Check Best Buy, according to cnet.com, and look for models listed as "Open-box Excellent Certified." It's basically Best Buy's version of what Apple offers, minus the new battery and shell. They include a one-year warranty and are eligible for AppleCare protection. Other retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Newegg sell reconditioned iPads and have third-party sellers. Make sure you read the fine print for warranties and return policies so you know exactly what you're responsible for!

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Routers that won't steer you wrong

4-Devices-It-Pays-to-Buy-Refurbished—and-3-to-Pass-onMacrovector/shutterstock Most router returns seem to be from user error and NOT because the actual router had anything actually wrong with it. So when there's an influx in the market of used routers at appealing prices, it's a great time to scoop up some deals. But what is the reliability for these cheaper routers? According to some in the warranty area, most routers that have failed and been returned are not repaired and sold again, but trashed because the cost of the item doesn't justify repair. A technician costs about $30 an hour not counting the additional cost for parts. Instead, manufacturers are selling models as refurbished that may never have even been removed from the box! (According to a 2011 survey by technology consulting firm Accenture, only 5 percent of returned electronics are defective. Someone else's buyers remorse could make your day.) Again, stick to a reputable seller, to avoid getting scammed. Here's how you can sound more cyber-savvy.

Used TVs put watching your favorite shows at risk

4-Devices-It-Pays-to-Buy-Refurbished—and-3-to-Pass-onMacrovector/shutterstock Looking for ways to save on buying a television? Purchasing a pre-owned model versus a newfangled unit is probably not the best route to satisfying your Netflix fix. Time and again people report that their refurbished TVs just don't work right. The screen goes kaput or the Wi-Fi won't connect, and then there's the whole darn problem when the TV won't even turn on. Some chalk it up to the size of TVs and their lack of good packaging, but in the end it simply might be logistics. "Larger consumer electronics, like televisions, sometimes don't make economic sense to repair; that's not for lack of trying really, just lack of parts," says Matt Zieminski of iFixit.com. "Whereas cellphone and computer parts are readily available, TV replacement parts are harder to source as each model is different and manufacturers more tightly control the market. If/when you do find the necessary pieces it usually requires an in-depth repair that necessitates a professional TV repair tech." In other words, someone might find it too costly to fix their old tube the right way and sell you their lemon. Take your chances on a used TV set, but be prepared to drop some more cash on a brand new big screen if things don't pan out.

Don't let a used gaming system game you

4-Devices-It-Pays-to-Buy-Refurbished—and-3-to-Pass-onMacrovector/shutterstock You would think that purchasing a pre-owned gaming system could be a sweet way to score the latest Xbox One or PS4 at a discount. However, there is a decent amount of controversy over this—enough consumers have had issues with used gaming systems that kicked the bucket after the warranty period ran out. Not only do reconditioned units seem to have shorter lifespans than other refurbished electronics, the warranties can be lacking for these entertainment systems. Even Gamestop, which tests and repairs its refurbished gaming consoles, offers a scant seven-day return window. Two months from now when you're about to take down your latest opponent and your box goes black, you'll have no recourse but to throw your controller across the room in frustration. And did you know playing video games is supposed to reduce anxiety? No gamer should have to resort to that type of defeat. Plus, the cost savings at Gamestop for buying a refurbished console compared to a just purchasing a new one is negligible; a new console is often not much more coin. Definitely a loser move for even the best gamer.

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Cameras could make you miss the shot

4-Devices-It-Pays-to-Buy-Refurbished—and-3-to-Pass-onMacrovector/shutterstock If you're going to buy a second-hand camera, aim to do so from a seller authorized by the manufacturer. Most offer a 30- to 60-day warranty, so even if you end up with a dud, you can take it back. Most manufacturers, like Nikon and Canon, list verified dealers on their product pages. And don't forget to make sure that all the kit components come with the camera, like a battery and charging cable that are in working order, too. Need another opinion before you buy? Download an app like Veryfier to find an expert to inspect the item you want to buy before you purchase.

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