The Case for Apple Refurbs: Why New Isn't Always Better
There's a reason Apple products boast such an outspoken and devoted following: they're pretty, they're user-friendly, and they've topped the American Consumer Satisfaction Index's annual consumer satisfaction survey for the past 12 years and counting. So why doesn't everyone have one? Blame the price tag, because quality doesn't come cheap.
We've written before about why buying a Mac at the Apple store is a waste of money, but just because the brick and mortar store doesn't offer many (read: any) discounts on its gadgets, doesn't mean you can't find a deal on an iPhone, MacBook or iPad directly from Apple. How? One word: Refurbished.
A word of warning: we're going to get really deep into the weeds here. Here's a quick summary of what we're about to cover, the links will jump you down to more detail on each topic:
- Are refurbished Apple products good? Yes.
- If you want the best warranty on a refurbished Apple device, go with Apple Certified products.
- Open box and refurbished are not the same thing.
- Apple Certified refurbs sell out quickly.
- Trading in old electronics could save you big time on a new Mac.
- Always double-check the refurb model number against that of its new counterpart.
If you're interested in making a purchase right now, use the links below to scroll down to our deals on each of the following products, and make sure to give our All Things Apple! shopping guide a look.
What does "refurbished" mean in this context?
We get a lot of reader questions like: "Are refurbished Apple products worth it?" or "Can I trust refurbished Apple devices?" The answer to these questions is, in a word, yes. BUT -- it depends on where you buy them. Refurbished electronics have a reputation for being buggy, broken or without any kind of meaningful warranty, but when you buy an Apple Certified refurbished item, it's guaranteed to be just as good as something brand new -- as long as you buy it directly from the Apple Certified Refurbished section of Apple's website. Apple Certified Refurb items aren't going to be drastically cheaper than buying new (discounts hover around the 15 percent mark) but it still pays to go straight to the source for a few big reasons.
Whereas most companies that refurbish Macs (think MacMall, Mac Connection, B&H, Best Buy and Abt Electronics) offer only a 90-day warranty and charge you for a longer one, Apple offers a one-year warranty that is the same as the warranty offered on its regular products, and gives refurb customers the option to purchase Apple Care as well. So if you purchase your refurbished Apple product somewhere other than the Apple Store, you're not going to be able to take it back to Apple for repairs -- your warranty will be tied with the store where you bought it, and that's where you'll have to take it if anything goes wrong.
And then there's the messy issue of open-box sales. If you buy an open-box Apple product from another retailer, you could be stuck with no warranty at all, because some resellers will only provide a warranty that's based on when the item was originally purchased. So if you're buying an open-box MacBook at Best Buy on March 1, 2016 and the previous owner of that MacBook bought it at Best Buy with a year-long warranty on March 4, 2015, you're now the proud owner of a laptop with a warranty that is set to expire in three days. Lucky you!
So what's the difference between "open-box" and "refurbished?"
A refurbished item was returned to the retailer because there was something wrong with it. When this happens, the retailer (or a third-party refurbishing outfit) takes it apart, fixes the problem and returns it to operational status before selling it again under a refurbished banner. Apple runs its refurbished items through pretty extensive testing. And since they are the ones that are making these products in the first place, that testing is going to be a lot better than the testing done by a resale company.
An open-box item is something that was returned to the retailer after the original buyer changed his or her mind. Often the store in question will inspect the item to determine whether or not it has anything mechanically wrong with it. If they deem it safe for resale, they call it an open-box sale. It's worth noting that this "inspection" isn't an official test, meaning the retailer usually doesn't take the item apart to make sure it's in pristine condition. Apple doesn't offer-box items, although many of the items it sells under the refurbished banner are likely open-box returns, it still has to call them refurbished because they've been previously owned.
For serious discounts on Apple products, utilize trade-in programs.
Have an old iPad, MacBook, iPhone or iPod laying around gathering dust? If you're looking to buy a new Apple product at a significant discount, look into the Apple Reuse and Recycling Program. Apple will buy your unused smartphones, laptops and tablets (and they don't have to be Apple products!) and issue you an Apple Store gift card as payment. If I wanted to buy a new laptop right now, I could get about $400 off by turning in my old iPhone and my 2011 MacBook Pro. That would make a refurbished MacBook Pro or 21-inch desktop around $600 -- nearly 50 percent off retail.
Even if the device you want to trade in for a discount isn't eligible for a trade-in at the Apple store, there are still a lot of places that will buy it from you. If you want more information on electronics trade-in programs, check out these related blog posts:
- Recycling that Pays: 6 Ways to Cash in Old Electronics
- 5 Ways to Save on Your Next Smartphone Upgrade or Purchase
How do I buy a refurbished Apple product like an expert?
We're going to break down the best refurb deals we could find on all your favorite Apple products in a minute, but before we do that, we thought we'd let you in on a couple insider tips and tricks for refurb shopping:
- If you're going to buy an Apple Certified refurbished item, make sure you check the prices against the brand-new models at other retailers. New products are never discounted at the Apple Store, so while the price on an Apple Certified refurb will be lower than the Apple Store price on a new model, it might be selling for more than a discounted new item at another store. For example, this past holiday season, Walmart was selling the iPad Mini 2 -- brand new -- for $199, but the Apple Certified refurbished model was going for $229.
- Once you've done your homework and are sure that the refurbished price is the best out there, don't wait too long to buy. Apple refurbs sell out quickly and often take weeks to restock. This is especially true for laptops, iPads and the Mac Mini.
With this expert knowledge under our belts, let's dive into the deals...
Apple offers a variety of different kinds of laptops, but because they don't update their styles very often, it can be tricky for the average consumer to tell the difference between a brand new model and something that's a few years old. Brad's Deals editor Casey has a special trick that can help you make sure the refurb you're buying has the same specs as a brand new model: check the part number.
We added two 12-inch, 'Space Gray' MacBooks to our Apple Store cart. The top MacBook is new, and the bottom is Apple Certified refurbished. We circled their model numbers in red, and as you can see, they match exactly except for the first letter.
As a rule, Apple Certified refurbished items will have model numbers that start with "F" but will otherwise match their new counterparts, so this is a good way to double check the specs before you spring for a refurb.
As we outlined earlier, Apple Certified refurbs go quickly, but here are a few things you can get right now:
- 12" MacBook from $1,099 (retail price $1,299)
- 11.6" MacBook Air from $759 (retail price $899)
- 13.3" MacBook Pro from $1,099 (retail price $1,299)
- 15.4' MacBook Pro from $1,609 (retail price $1,999)
Apple Certified refurbished iPads get brand new cases, cables and packaging, which no other refurbishing outlet will offer you. Right now, the Apple Store is offering these deals on refurbished iPads:
- iPad Air from $339 (retail price $399)
- iPad Air 2 from $419 (retail price $499)
- iPad Mini 2 from $229 (retail price $269)
- iPad Mini 3 from $299 (Apple isn't selling new versions of this model anymore, but the iPad Mini 3 is pretty similar to the iPad Mini 4, which is going for $399 right now)
Apple refurbished iPhones feature the same warranty as their new counterparts, a brand new battery and a new outer shell. Right now, the Apple store is offering these deals on refurbished iPhones:
As with laptops, make sure to double check the model number so you know exactly what you're getting before you decide to purchase an iMac. Right now, the Apple Store is selling quite a few different kinds of refurbished desktops, here are two that stood out to us:
- 21.5" iMac from $1,059 (Apple isn't selling this particular model new anymore. Was $1,249 according to the refurb website)
- 27" iMac from $1,439 (retail price $1,799)
Refurbished Mac Minis
Mac Minis offer the Mac desktop experience at a much lower price tag. They're essentially an entire computer stuffed into a smooth 7.7" square frame, and you can plug them into your TV or monitor and customize the size of the screen you want.
Right now, Apple is selling a refurbished 3.0GHz Dual-core Intel Core i7 Mac mini with a 1TB hard drive for $849. Apple doesn't sell this exact model new, but they are selling a new 2.8GHz Mac Mini for $999, so the refurbished option is both cheaper and has similar specs.
Refurbished Apple TVs
Currently, Apple is selling three iterations of the Apple TV new: a 32GB for $149.99 and a 64GB for $199.99, and the third generation, which doesn't have any storage, for $69. they're currently featuring is a third-generation model from 2012 for $59. I have one of these (which I bought in 2013), and it's still up and running three years later.
Refurbished Apple Watches