Hippo Manchester
October 27, 2005

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Techie: Get it while it’s hot, used

You don’t have to buy it new, just cuz everyone has one

By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Collecting the latest and greatest gadgets can be harrowing, for two main reasons.

First, the latest is only such for a very short time, and isn’t even guaranteed to be greatest. Second, it costs a lot of money.

Now, sure, if you told a man from the 1820s that you could gather up just one week’s salary and buy a machine on which you can: calculate complex mathematical formulae; communicate with people all over the globe; record, copy and listen to music; store thousands of pictures; and kill tons of imaginary monsters, well, he’d regard you as a rich and noble person of the highest order.

Still, if you go around buying one of these magical boxes every week, you won’t eat very much. And you’ll get rained on a lot.

Fortunately for you — make that “us” — there is no need to buy everything new. You can have it all, though it may be barely used, imperceptibly damaged or otherwise not perfectly pristine. If you’re really, really lucky, you might even get stuff in its first week or two of newness and, therefore, coolness.

I speak of the market with many names — refurbished, reconditioned, open box, display model, etc. Any way you go, you can get some real bargains.

In theory, different terms mean different things. In practice, a store might mark anything that’s been opened as refurbished, or anything that’s not new for whatever reason as open box.

Refurbished products have been marked as defective in some way, checked out by a technician, fixed if necessary and re-packaged for sale once again. Often, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the product — the purchaser might have bought it in haste and not known what to do with it; the instructions might just be incomprehensible, and a savvy geek like you never reads instructions anyway. If there was something wrong, it was repaired, and most manufacturers put refurbished products through all their normal tests before declaring them fixed. You’re actually more likely to get a trouble-free product if it’s been refurbished.

Reconditioned is pretty much just a synonym for refurbished, but some manufacturers make a nuanced distinction. Apple, for instance, refurbishes products at its factories; Apple-certified techs, on the other hand, recondition them wherever they are.

Display models have been taken out of their boxes and, well, displayed, probably in a store. Some have been pawed by fellow geeks, while others have reclined pristinely behind glass, not even turned on.

Open box items could be any of these. The box might have been opened just to satisfy someone’s curiosity as to what accessories came with the main product.

Generally, the fewer moving parts, consumables and scratchable surfaces a gadget has, the more likely it is that your not-new item will be, for all intents and purposes, flawless. A printer could have less- than-full ink cartridges, misaligned paper rollers and an LCD screen with dead pixels and still be justifiably marked only open box. A small flash-based MP3 player, on the other hand, is probably just fine.