With new iPads now available, buying a refurb will save both your money and your sanity. Here's where and how to buy one.
Joshua GoldmanManaging Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
ExpertiseLaptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and dronesCredentials
More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Generally speaking, something that's refurbished -- a refurb for short -- is a used product that's been tested or otherwise reconditioned by either 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 it was a retail floor model used for demonstrations.
Going the refurb route not only saves money compared with new models, but you can also get cheap older iPads that might no longer be available but meet your needs. Plus, again, it keeps perfectly good tech out of landfills.
Still, buying something stamped "refurbished" can be a dicey proposition, because the word can mean different things to different retailers. What good is saving money if you're just buying someone else's problems?
The key to getting a great refurbished iPad is to buy from a reputable retailer that clearly details not only what condition the refurb is in, but its own return and warranty policies. In this case, the best place to start is with the manufacturer.
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Getting a refurbished iPad direct from Apple is the safest and best option. The prices are good (around 20% off list price) and Apple puts in a new battery, gives each iPad a new outer shell and fully tests them. They're put in fresh boxes with Apple's own accessories and a one-year warranty is included, as are free shipping and returns. You're essentially getting a new iPad at a discount, and that is awesome.
What's not awesome is that you're at the mercy of what Apple has in stock. Because supplies are limited and it doesn't offer many older models, the exact iPad you want might not be available immediately -- or ever. More current models are your best bet, but even those can be hard to come by.
Then check everyone else
Here's where things can get confusing. If you search for "refurbished iPads" you'll turn up a lot of options -- from big retailers Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart, to smaller sites that specialize in selling used products like Gazelle and BackMarket -- and then there's the shopping minefield that is eBay. They all have different standards for refurbished gear and have a range of return guarantees and warranties available for the refurbs they sell. Also, while you might be buying it on Walmart or Amazon, that's not necessarily who's selling you the iPad.
Best Buy is the second-best buy
If you can't find the iPad you want from Apple (and you're in the US), check Best Buy. 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. 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 older refurbished iPads that are "repaired and restored to a like-new state." A 90-day warranty is included and the refurb is also covered by the store's return and exchange promise. The benefit here is that should something go wrong, you can actually go into a store instead of trying to handle things online or on the phone.
Best Buy also sells secondhand iPads, which are typically the result of the store's trade-in program (so these iPads have been opened and used). They've been inspected and verified to ensure they function properly, and they'll be cleaned and restored to original factory specifications. But don't expect original packaging or accessories. Confused? The details are all on Best Buy's site.
Go with Gazelle or Back Market for better selection
Gazelle buys and sells all manner of used mobile devices including iPads. Its products are "certified pre-owned," which means they receive light refurbishment, including a 30-point functional and cosmetic inspection and a factory reset. The return period is a scant 30 days. Device protection for one year can be purchased when you buy, however.
The nice part of shopping on Gazelle is that it grades its devices -- excellent, good and fair -- so if you don't mind a cosmetically imperfect device, you can save some extra cash.
Amazon, Walmart and Newegg sell refurbished iPads. They also have third-party sellers using their sites to do the same. The problem here is that warranties and return policies can differ for refurbs sold directly from the store and those from third-party sellers.
For Amazon, stick with iPads sold under its Amazon Renewed label. To get this designation, they have to be "inspected and tested to work and look like new by an Amazon-qualified and performance-managed supplier who is either the seller of record, when that is not Amazon.com, or a third-party vendor, when Amazon.com sells products that it sources from third-party vendors." Amazon Renewed products include at least a 90-day warranty and are backed by Amazon's return policy.
Finding this information for Walmart's marketplace sellers requires a bit more effort: You'll have to click on the seller's name. But frankly, you're better off sticking with products sold and shipped by Walmart, simply because you can walk right into a store if you want to return it within your paltry 15-day window.