In general, I’m a big fan of Apple Certified Refurbished (ACR) Mac system and mobile device hardware. Buying from Apple’s Refurbished stores you can save a substantial amount of money by opting to buy refurbished from Apple rather than ponying up for a brand new Mac or iPad.
And in my experience buying ACR Apple hardware over the past eight years or so, you likely won’t be able to distinguish an Apple refurb. device from a new one based on either appearance or performance.
While refurbished Apple products are technically pre-owned or “open-box” they all are put through a stringent refurbishing process and rigorously tested prior to being offered for sale. Any defective parts are replaced. You get all the same manuals and accessories, and with iPads a brand new battery and outer shell. The only tangible clue that an ACR unit is not brand new is likely to be the distinct packaging refurb. Apple products are shipped in.
The provenance of ACR units is that they’ve been returned under Apple’s Return and Refund Policies. While only some units are returned due to technical issues, all ACR products undergo the same full quality refurbishment process. Refurbishment procedures follow the same basic technical guidelines as Apple’s Finished Goods testing procedures, and ACR Products are covered by the same 12-month Apple warranty that applies to new Apple products, and Apple refurbs are also eligible for an optional total of two years of extended AppleCare Protection including the 12 month base warranty (total of three years for Mac products).
I’ve been informed (haven’t been able to confirm, but it seems plausible) that when you buy a refurbished Apple product, while you’re getting a recycled logic board, the latter has been tested three times more intensively than a new board off the assembly line, so it can be reasonably assumed that any latent defects are more likely to have been detected than would be the case with a brand new logic board, so you’re arguably getting something that’s been more rigorously vetted than a new product, or at least it’s been tested more, and is just as shiny, as well as cheaper.
That said, an exception to a buy refurbished policy, at least for the next half-year or so, might be if you’re in the hunt for a MacBook Air. Normally I would suggest that deals Apple is offering on June, 2012 model Ivy Bridge MacBook Airs look pretty attractive, but the mid-2013 MacBook Air upgrades Apple released last month represent such an extraordinary advance over last year’s models in terms of a Haswell CPU-enabled near doubling of battery life, substantially improved SSD speed, better graphics support and faster WiFi, combined with a $100 price cut on the base 13-inch model and doubling of standard RAM on the 11-incher (also equivalent to a $100 better value) make the new models pretty hard to resist, and shrink the cost advantage of buying refurb. in this instance.
That is until refurbished mid-2013 MacBook Airs come on stream, perhaps in the fall after a Haswell MacBook Pro release or early in the new year. The key to being a happy ACR user is to anticipate and time your hardware upgrades around refurb. availability if you have the option. However, in the current instance of MacBook Air purchases, you’re not talking truckloads of money difference.
At this writing, you can get an ACR 11.6-inch June 2012 MacBook Air with 2.0 GHz Ivy Bridge Core i7 power 8GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD for $1,199. The closest similar config. in a new Haswell MBA (1.7 GHz Core i7) will run you$250 more. Or if you can live with a 1.3 GHz Haswell Core i5, you can get the 8 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD for just $100 more than that refurb. Personally, I would go with the i5 new unit and get the longer battery runtime.
Similar comparisons can be made with 13-inch MacBook Air models, the Haswell mid-2013 units having made real world all-day computing on battery power a reality, CNET achieving more than 14 hours runtime Nona single charge in one test. Apple claims a nominal 12-hours for the Haswell 13-inch Air, the base configuration of which (1.3 GHz i5, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD) now sells for $1,099 — arguably the best value Apple has ever offered in a laptop. Bumping the spec. up to 8 GB RAM and 256 GB Flash storage takes the price to $1, 399 or $100 less than the base (8GB/128GB) 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which opens up more interesting choices, although no MacBook Pro can come close to matching the MacBook Air’s battery life — at least until Haswell-powered Pros are released, probably in October if current rumors are correct.
Incidentally, Apple on my last check was offering ACR units of the current 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro in its base configuration for $1,269, which bears considering.
Refurbished iPads present a somewhat different dynamic from refurb. MacBooks, being as the price differential between new and ACR is much smaller, with 4th-generation base 16 GB WiFi iPads selling for $419 on the U.S. Apple Store — just a $80 (or 16 percent) discount off the $499 price of a new unit. I expect that price to drop in a couple of months or so with the release of 5th-generation iPads to about $389 for the base model, which begins to get more interesting, especially if you turn out to be not so pleased with what Apple will do with the iPad 5
A downside of buying refurbished is limited and fluid model availability. For example, the only iPads I’ve seen offered on Apple Canada’s refurbished site this summer are 3rd-generation full-sized models, although the prices are decent enough. However, iPad 4th-gen and mini, as well as iPad 2s are frequently available on the U.S. store.
If you can find the model that you’re looking for — MacBook, iPad, or iPod , in most instances it’s worth considering a purchase from Apple’s refurbished store. Based on my anecdotal experience, you won’t likely notice the difference from a new unit other than in your bank balance.
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Or your country’s online Apple Store if you’re not a U.S. resident.