When it Makes Sense to Buy Refurbished Gear — and When it Doesn’t

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Many tech shoppers regard the word “refurbished” as synonymous with “used,” “outdated,” and/or “junk,” but it’s time to rethink that sentiment. 

Indeed, certain kinds of refurbished hardware can save you a bundle. In fact, in some cases, you’re actually better off choosing that over new. The trick is knowing what kind of hardware is smart to buy refurbished and what kind you should avoid. Allow me to share some secrets.

WHAT TO BUY REFURBISHED

Anything Apple Makes  Doesn’t matter if you’re in the market for a MacBook Air, an iPod Touch, or an iPad — Apple’s refurbished deals are second to none, and always a smart choice. That’s because the company’s reconditioning process gives products an extreme makeover: new case, new battery, and a full one-year warranty. I’ve purchased many refurbished Apple items, and each one was indistinguishable from new — except for the price tag. Desktops and Laptops  Most refurbished PCs are last year’s models, but that’s fine unless you need bleeding-edge hardware. And you stand to save big over what you’d pay for the same model new. The only potential downside is the warranty; most manufacturers give you only 90 days (but see below for a tip on extending that).

E-Readers  Lately I’ve seen some pretty stellar e-reader deals, like the refurbished Barnes & Noble Simple Touch for $69.99. It sells new for $99.99. And many of these units come with a one-year warranty, same as new ones.

Tablets  I’m also seeing lots of great refurbished-tablet deals, especially on 10-inch models that were designed to compete with the iPad. You can routinely find Acer and Toshiba models for under $300. Even though many of these have only a 90-day warranty, what can really break on a tablet? They have very few mechanical parts.

WHAT NOT TO BUY REFURBISHED

HDTVs  Based on personal experience, I’d say refurbished TVs don’t get the same loving reconditioning as many other products. I’ve seen units come with dangerously bad packaging and, unsurprisingly, broken stands. What’s more, HDTVs can develop screen problems without warning, so a 90-day warranty seems insufficient — regardless of how much you’re saving on the purchase.

Hard Drives  I wouldn’t buy a refurbished hard drive on a bet. Usually the savings are pretty slim, and I don’t want a drive that’s been used in any way. (There’s only so much “reconditioning” you can do on a hard drive.) Give me something that’s brand new with a full warranty. No exceptions.

FINAL THOUGHTS
If you’re eyeballing a refurbished product but concerned about a short warranty, consider paying with an American Express card, which can double the warranty period up to one year. That would turn, say, 90 days of coverage into six months.

Also, if you want to learn more about some of the pros and cons of refurbished gear and what you should look for when shopping, check out Lifehacker’s “When Should I Buy Refurbished Electronics?”

Have you gotten a great deal on a refurbished item? Or maybe a raw one? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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