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Buying a refurbished MacBook: What you need to know

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We're here to guide you through the process of buying a refurbished MacBook

It feels like everybody wants a MacBook, and it’s not hard to see why. Apple’s laptop range is consistent in pushing the boundaries of consumer technology, and after the launch of the new MacBook Air 2018 it’s no surprise that demand is high. Of course, the biggest obstacle to bagging yourself a MacBook has always been the price. Even the low-spec MacBook Air – supposedly the student’s laptop – starts at roughly £1,200. Fortunately for you, there’s a solution to your financial woes that requires nothing more than a willingness to buy a second-hand product. If you’re not turning your nose up at the thought, read on.

We are, of course, talking about buying a refurbished MacBook. If you’re already baulking at the use of the word ‘refurbished,’ consider this: Apple products sold via their very own Refurbished Store are primarily second-hand, but are always tested, checked, and cleaned. This makes them indistinguishable from new products, even if the MacBook in question has been returned by a customer.

In short, you’ll be purchasing a second-hand MacBook that has been repaired and cleaned to a high standard for a reduced price. Whether you enjoy buying second-hand or revile it as heresy, there can be no denying that this lesser-known option is a great way to grab a perfectly good MacBook for a smaller sum.

READ NEXT: Can’t decide whether to go with Apple or not? Read our guide to the Best Laptops 2018

Where are the best places to buy refurbished MacBooks?

1. Apple Refurbished Store

This should be your absolute first choice. A refurbished 2017 13in MacBook Pro (mid-range, with a 3.1GHz i5 and 8GB RAM) will cost you £1,399 from the Apple Refurbished Store, whereas even a new entry-level model would have set you back £1,449. Buying a refurbished MacBook with Apple via the Apple Refurbished Store is also the safest way to purchase; you’ll still be covered by the 1-year limited warranty, the 14-day returns policy, and the AppleCare support system (if you grab it as an extra).

Most MacBooks on sale on the Apple Refurbished Store are victims of the 14-day return policy. Of course, a MacBook that has been returned may not necessarily be faulty, but even products that are returned without fault are still subject to the rigorous testing and cleaning process. The rest of the items on sale are most likely to be old demonstration models, used as a part of a teaching programme. These products are prime resale material, given that they’re less likely to have ever been faulty.

Buy a refurbished MacBook now from the Apple Refurbished Store

Save £190 on a 13in MacBook Pro

This is why the Apple Refurbished Store should be your first port of call. This 13in non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro is currently on sale as refurbished for £1,059: given that these MacBooks are refurbished to the point of being identical to a new model (currently worth £1,249), this is a no-brainer saving.
Apple Refurbished Store
Was £1,249
Now £1,059

2. Amazon

The first thing to note here should be that you’re entering uncharted territory. The Amazon Renewed section offers a great selection of reasonably-priced MacBooks, although tends to favour older models. You’ll be buying from a third-party seller, which is definitely something to bear in mind, and Amazon is keen to point out that nothing they sell second-hand is Apple certified.

In other words, it is even more crucial than normal to check out the seller before you buy – and work out what kind of guarantee or cover they offer, if anything at all. That being said, you can place some trust in products that have been inspected by an Amazon-qualified supplier, whose job it is to check the MacBook for faults, clean it up and and refurbish it to Amazon’s standards.

Buy a refurbished MacBook now from the Amazon Renewed section

Refurbished 15in Apple MacBook Pro

Here's a great example of the savings to be made on refurbished products: the 15in MacBook Pro (2015 model) is on sale from the Amazon Renewed section for £1,429. That's an enormous £539 off the price of buying the same laptop new from Amazon. Given the site's emphasis on high-quality refurbishment from Amazon-qualified suppliers, you'd be safe to assume that this is a tempting offer.
Amazon
New from £1,968
Refurbished from £1,429

3. Laptops Direct

Laptops Direct is an experienced, trust-worthy seller of refurbished goods that forms one part of a much larger Direct network. There are a few key benefits to shopping with Laptops Direct: first and foremost, you'll be buying a 1-year warranty, which is a huge bonus despite the fact that all laptops have been professionally refurbished. Then there's the free delivery to most of the UK, and the option for next-day delivery if you're in a rush; there's even the option to stagger your payments over the course of a number of months, which is not something that Amazon can boast. 

The choice of refurbished MacBooks is perhaps more limited than the other sellers on this list, but Laptops Direct offers fiercely competitive prices and a grading system that informs you whether the product is (cosmetically-speaking) like new or a little world-weary. We recommend looking for the A1 grade: this tells you that the MacBook in question is as good as new, or perhaps even still sealed in its box. 

Buy a refurbished MacBook now from Laptops Direct

Refurbished 12in Apple MacBook - was £1,150, now £1,000

One other thing Laptops Direct does well: deals, discounts, and offers. This 12in Apple MacBook, for example, is currently on offer for £1,000, and has been refurbished to Grade A1 standard. In other words, you're getting a good-as-new MacBook for £1,000 - compared to the current retail price of £1,249, that's even more of a bargain.
Laptops Direct
Save £150
Now £1,000

4. eBay

eBay offers what eBay has always offered: a broad selection of second-hand, non-refurbished products that are often sold by the original buyer. It follows, then, that the same rules that apply with Amazon also apply here. Be extra prudent, check the buyer thoroughly before making the purchase, and above all, make sure you’re not diving headfirst into a transaction that you can’t back out of.

If you want to feel a little more secure in your purchase, eBay often hosts accounts for companies with physical stores, including some that offer a reputable refurbishment programme. Keep an eye out for these, as they’re more likely to come with some kind of warranty and be refurbished to a certain standard; it’ll give you a little more peace of mind.

Buy a refurbished MacBook now from eBay

What about buying second-hand, non-refurbished MacBooks?

We’d strongly recommend looking at certified refurbished MacBooks first, but if you’re really looking to save some cash, then buying second-hand is always an option. There are a fair number of things to watch out for, some of which we’ve already covered; allow us to run through them again anyway, so that you know exactly what you’re getting into and come prepared.

Buying second-hand: A brief checklist

1. Ask for proof of purchase

Without meaning to sound paranoid, it’s a good idea to ensure that the MacBook you’re eyeing up has been obtained legally and is, in fact, the property of the seller. We’re not saying that all third-party sellers are criminals, but it’s never a bad idea to be thorough. Ask for a receipt, paper or electronic, and make sure you have a copy. In all honesty, most sellers ought to have some proof of purchase visible on the product listing, and if they’re being intentionally evasive on the subject it’s time to bail.

2. Check for a returns policy

It is absolutely crucial to have a back-up plan in case the item you’ve purchased has been falsely advertised (or just isn’t quite what you’d wanted). It’s unlikely that Dave from Gumtree is going to offer anything by way of buyer protection, so factor that into your considerations; the bigger the establishment, the more likely it is that they offer a returns policy, as the old saying really ought to go.

3. Meet in a public place

Speaking of Dave from Gumtree: if you’re meeting an individual to complete the transaction, be cautious. At risk of once again sounding paranoid, it’s unwise to go bombing round to some stranger’s house alone, particularly where large sums of money are involved (as they inevitably will be with a second-hand MacBook). Meet in a public space such as a shopping centre or coffee shop, in broad daylight, on a busy day. We’re sorry for sounding like your parents; we’re only doing it for your benefit.

4. Check the important stuff

Before you make the purchase, turn the MacBook on. You’ll want to check a few basic things, the most crucial of which is the iCloud status. All being well, the seller will have successfully removed their iCloud account and performed a proper factory reset. If the iCloud account has not been removed, you will struggle to do much of anything without getting the seller’s password.

Once you’re certain that you’ve booted up a completely clear MacBook, spend a bit of time checking the basics. Does it charge? Do the keys work? Can you play uncomfortably loud pop music through the speakers? If something strikes you as faulty, don’t hand over a single penny; nothing is going to fix itself with further use.

5. Pay securely

Hopefully we shouldn’t have to tell you to avoid walking around with a rubber-banded stack of £20 notes in your back pocket. PayPal is great for circumstances such as these: the money is held by an intermediary before being deposited in the seller’s bank account, and the digital paper trail is pleasingly detailed. If something should go wrong, you’ll be glad you didn’t pay with a briefcase full of cash.

READ NEXT: Our guide to Buying a Refurbished iPad

Which MacBook should I buy, refurbished or otherwise?

We wouldn’t be writing this if we couldn’t lend a hand in choosing the right MacBook for you. The only real caveat is that you’re more likely to find slightly older models on sale as refurbished, which means you should check carefully through the spec of any potential purchase. As is the case with most multi-generation laptops from most manufacturers, unreliable or unsuccessful features tend to live and die with the product that introduced them, so make sure you’re not in for any nasty surprises before you buy.

That being said, Apple is famous for packing best-in-class hardware, so don’t be put off by what appears to be an outdated processor or charging port. I’m writing this on a relatively ancient MacBook Air, and it handles my excessive number of Chrome tabs without breaking a sweat; if you’re planning on using resource-intensive software, then obviously you’ll need to check and double-check that your refurbished MacBook will be capable of running them, and that any version of MacOS required will run as well.

The MacBook Air has ruled the roost as king of the ultra-portables since its release way back in 2008, and was refreshed last month to pack in an edge-to-edge retina display, Touch ID, and the latest internal gubbins. You won’t pick one of these up refurbished (yet), but with prices falling on the older versions there’s never been a better time to buy one.

The alternative, of course, is the ever-powerful MacBook Pro. It’s highly customisable, jaw-droppingly expensive, and as portable and lightweight as the brand-new MacBook Air; in fact, we’re struggling to find a single good reason not to buy one.

If you’d like to know more about the dynamic duo of Apple MacBooks, feel free to read our comparison of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air 2018 here.

If you’re interested in something even slimmer, but don’t want to sacrifice too much in terms of power, then the MacBook might be for you. Neither Pro nor Air, this ultra-slim, ultra-light notebook comes in a choice of colours and features surprisingly uncompromising internal hardware. The only downside is that extreme portability comes at the cost of external ports, so expect to purchase an adapter or two.

The reviews for each laptop are also embedded as links above, so you can make an informed decision before you buy refurbished, second-hand, or otherwise.

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