Buying a refurbished iPad saves you money, but is it the right choice?

iPad Mini and 9th generation iPad

Scott Stein/CNET

Apple has updated the Classic iPad and ipad mini last year, and new versions of the iPad Pro and iPad Air could be on the way in 2022. While it’s tempting to grab the newest, pristine model, you can potentially save a lot of money by opting for a refurbished iPad instead. You would also prevent more e-waste from reaching a landfill.

Generally speaking, something that is refurbished – refurbished for short – is a used product that has been tested or otherwise reconditioned by the manufacturer or a third party for resale. It could be something that was returned under warranty for a defect, or maybe its box was damaged in shipping, or maybe it was a sales model retail used for demonstrations.

Going the refurbishment route can not only save you money over newer models, but you can also get cheap older iPads that may no longer be available but still meet your needs. Plus, it perfectly keeps the good tech out of the landfills.

Still, buying something stamped “refurbished” can be a dicey proposition, as the word can mean different things to different retailers. What’s the point of saving money if you’re just buying someone else’s problems?

The key to getting a good refurbished iPad is to buy from a reputable retailer that clearly details not only the refurbished status, but also their own return and warranty policies. In this case, the best place to start is with the manufacturer.

Check Apple first

There’s a whole section of the Apple Store dedicated to its certified refurbished products. It’s a bit hidden. Scroll down to the site navigation at the bottom of any page and look for Refurbished & Clearance under the Apple Store header, or click that last link.

Getting a refurbished iPad directly from Apple is the safest and best option. Not only do its prices tend to be the best (about 20% off the list price), but Apple puts in a new battery, gives everyone a new outer shell, and tests them fully. They come in new boxes with Apple’s own accessories and a one-year warranty is included, as is free shipping and returns. You basically get a new iPad at a discount and that’s awesome.

What’s not great is that you’re at the mercy of what Apple has in store. Because supplies are limited and it doesn’t offer many older models, the exact iPad you want may not be available immediately – or ever again. More current models are your best bet, but even those can be hard to find.

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The base seventh-generation iPad is currently Apple’s cheapest option, although you might not see that specific model.

Apple/Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Then check everyone

Here’s where things can get confusing. If you search for “Refurbished iPads”, you’ll find plenty of options – from large retailers Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart, to smaller sites specializing in the sale of second-hand products like Gazelle and BackMarket – and then there’s the commercial minefield that is eBay. They all have different standards for refurbished equipment and have a range of return guarantees and warranties available for the refurbished equipment they sell. Also while you could buy it to Walmart or Amazon is not necessarily who sells you the iPad.

Best Buy is the second best buy

If you can’t find the iPad you want at Apple (and you’re in the US), check out Best Buy. Look for models listed as “Open-box Excellent Certified”. It’s basically Best Buy’s version of what Apple is offering, minus the new battery and shell. It includes a one-year warranty and is eligible for Apple’s extended AppleCare coverage. The discounts aren’t huge, but it’s something.

For deeper discounts, Best Buy also offers refurbished older iPads that are “repaired and restored to like-new condition.” A 90-day warranty is included, and refurbishment is also covered by the store’s return and exchange promise. The advantage here is that if something goes wrong, you can go to a store instead of trying to deal with things online or over the phone.

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Best Buy Certified Excellent iPads are like new and save you a little.

Best Buy/Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Best Buy also sells used iPads, which are usually the result of the store’s trade-in program, so they’ve been opened and used. They have been inspected and checked to ensure they are working properly, and they will be cleaned and restored to original factory specifications. But don’t expect original packaging or accessories. Confuses? Here are all the details on the Best Buy site.

Opt for Gazelle or Back Market for a better selection

Gazelle buys and sells all kinds of used mobile devices, including iPads. Its products are “certified pre-owned,” which means they receive a mild refurbishment, including a 30-point functional and cosmetic inspection and a factory reset. The return period is barely 30 days. However, device protection for one year can be purchased at purchase.

The good part about shopping on Gazelle is that they rate their devices – excellent, good and fair – so if you don’t mind a cosmetically flawed device, you can save some extra money.

While Gazelle deals with the refurbishment of devices for its site, Back Market works with third-party refurbishers that it controls as well as directly with manufacturers for the devices that it sells. All devices include a one-year warranty from the refurbisher, and the site also has a 30-day money-back guarantee. Like Gazelle, Back Market has a rating system so you can pay more or less depending on the condition of the device.

Be careful with market vendors

Walmart and Newegg sell refurbished iPads. They also have third-party sellers, just like Amazon, who use their sites to do the same. The issue here is that warranties and return policies may differ between the two.

For Amazon, stick with iPads sold under its Amazon Renewed label. To earn this designation, they must be “inspected and tested to work and look like new by a qualified, Amazon-operated vendor who is either the seller of record, when not Amazon.com, or a third-party supplier, when Amazon.com sells products that it purchases from third-party suppliers.” Amazon Renewed products include a minimum 90-day warranty and are covered by Amazon’s return policy.

Finding this information for sellers in Walmart’s Marketplace requires a bit more effort: you’ll need to click on the seller’s name. But frankly, you’re better off sticking to products sold and shipped by Walmart, simply because you can walk right into a store if you want to return it within your meager 15-day window.

First published in 2017.

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