Because I'm a big believer in saving money, I'm a big believer in buying refurbished. Tech items in particular are often priced well below new, despite being nearly as good as new.
So why not buy everything refurbished? First, let's define our terms. A refurbished product is one that, for any number of reasons, no longer qualifies as new. In most cases it's something that was bought and then returned to the store or manufacturer, perhaps because of a defect, though more likely because it didn't meet expectations. (According to a 2011 survey, just 5 percent of technology returns were due to defects.)
Either way, the returned item gets inspected and, if needed, repaired and/or reconditioned. To what extent? That varies depending on the product itself and who's doing the refurbishing -- the manufacturer or a reseller.
For example, Apple's refurbs are quite literally good as new. MacBooks and iPads, for example, get a new battery and outer shell, plus a one-year warranty. (That's why I always go refurbished when shopping for Apple products.) Risk factor: zero.
However, if you find, say, a refurbished iPhone 5 for a rock-bottom price from a third-party reseller, chances are good it'll have the same battery as when it was manufactured, and only a 90-day warranty -- if that.
There are some other concerns as well. So here's my list of tech items you probably shouldn't buy refurbished, and why.
The argument for buying anything refurbished goes like this: If it was returned because it had a problem, that problem has already been fixed -- meaning you're potentially better off with a refurbished unit than you are with a new one.
I don't think that applies to hard drives. Whether it was returned owing to a defect or simply because a person didn't like it, the fact is that it's been used. There is no reconditioning process I'm aware of that can restore a hard drive to factory-new condition. And with drive prices so low already, is it really worth gambling your data on a unit that's already seen some action?
I routinely see very compelling deals on refurbished smartphones. At this writing, for example, Daily Steals has the refurbished unlocked iPhone 6 (64GB) for $269.99. That sounds like a great price, but as I mentioned before, you're getting a used battery. How long was it used? That's impossible to say, but a big part of the appeal of buying any new phone is getting a new battery.
Unfortunately, because all iPhones and many Android phones have fixed, non-removable batteries, it just doesn't make sense to buy refurbished -- not unless you're guaranteed to be getting a new battery. (On the other hand, if you're handy enough to replace the battery yourself or you can find a shop that'll do it on the cheap, the math might still work in your favor.)
What about tablets? The battery issue is still there, but because tablet batteries are so much larger, a used one might not sour the experience. (If you ever purchased a refurbished tablet, hit the comments and let me know if battery life was an issue.)
This is more of a guideline than a rule, as a refurbished printer might prove to be a decent deal.
My chief concern is that if ink or toner has already cycled through the printer's innards, then what you're really getting is a used printer, not one that's been restored to factory-new condition. And as we all know, ink and toner have a way of gumming up the works, especially if the printer sits idle for a long period.
That said, if you can confirm from the seller's description that the printer has indeed been recertified by the manufacturer, and that it comes with brand-new ink/toner, it might be worth buying -- especially if the savings are significant.
Although buying a refurbished TV can save you a decent chunk of change, sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars, I won't do it.
The big reason: the short warranty. A typical refurb is covered for 90 days, and TVs these days are too unreliable for that short a protection plan. You need at least a year of coverage, and ideally double that if your credit card offers extended warranty protection.
What's more, based on personal experience, refurbished TVs don't seem to get the same careful reconditioning afforded laptops, tablets and the like. I don't know if it's because they're so large and heavy, or because their packaging is so fragile to begin with. I had one refurb arrive with a busted stand, another that looked like it had been packaged by drunk monkeys.
The only exception is if you're able to buy (and pick up) locally, so you can inspect the box and its contents to make sure everything looks okay, and you can easily return it if there's a problem.
Walmart, for example, currently sells the refurbished Samsung UN60J620DAFXZA 60-inch HDTV for $499.99, a full $200 less than Best Buy's price on a new one. The warranty isn't specified anywhere, but I'll bet you a box of donuts it's 90 days. However, you can add a three-year protection plan for $52, so you'd still be getting a solid deal and an extended warranty.
But would I take that deal from a store that wasn't local, one that required shipping? No way, no how.
What refurbished tech gear have you purchased, and how did the experience turn out? Hit the comments to share the good and the bad.