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The iPhone deals you should not forget about this Black Friday

iPhone 12 deals
(Image credit: Future)

I've been keeping an eye on the best iPhone 13 Black Friday deals and iPhone 12 Black Friday deals for the past couple of weeks, and what's become apparent is that most of the top deals require you to buy a brand new cell plan as well as the phone.

That's all very well if you have come to the end of your current contract already, but what if you just want a new handset while staying with your current provider?

Except for a few rare circumstances, the deals are only available for new customers. And buying a box-fresh unlocked iPhone is often not much cheaper than it was when it was new, given Apple's phones don't lose their value nearly as fast as comparable Android phones launched that same year.

It may feel like you've found yourself in an impossible situation, but there is an alternative. It's not going to be right for every user, but shopping for refurbished iPhones may be what you need to get a cheaper, unlocked iPhone.

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iPhone 11 (refurbished): $415.88 @ Walmart (opens in new tab)
The iPhone 11 is a great value if you're looking for a solid iPhone that can run the latest iOS 15. You also get a colorful display, a good dual-camera system with ultra-wide photos and Night mode, a speedy A13 Bionic chip and long battery life.

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iPhone 12 (refurbished): from $685 @ Amazon (opens in new tab)
It's not box-fresh, but this iPhone 12 is unlocked and on sale, making it great for users who don't feel like switching phone plans. The iPhone 12 remains one of the best phones around, offering strong performance, great cameras and a durable design, plus 5G connectivity. 

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iPhone 11 Pro: $769 (save $230) @ (opens in new tab)
The iPhone 11 Pro delivers a crisp 6.1-inch OLED display along with a triple camera system that includes a telephoto zoom lens. The A13 Bionic chip provides plenty of oomph for running iOS 15 and playing the latest games. 

Refurbished devices are handsets that get returned to retailers, usually as part of trade-in deals, but then get bought up, get parts repaired or replaced, and packaged again ready to be resold. Some places go beyond this, such as Apple itself which guarantees the use of genuine replacement parts and a fresh battery and body for refurbished goods, and offers a year's warranty to boot.

Needless to say, you can find refurbished phones from other brands, the most prominent being Samsung Galaxy devices, but as you'll see in our Samsung Black Friday deals, Samsung's a lot more willing to discount brand-new devices than Apple is.

There can be a bit of stigma about using older or second-hand technology, but there's no good reason for this. Like we said before, Apple devices last a long time compared to Android ones. That's because of Apple's generous update schedule of up to five years or longer. While older devices may not run the latest version of iOS 15 as smoothly as the iPhone 13, it'll still be able to use most of the same new features. 

There's a good environmental argument for refurbished phones, too. Giving devices a second chance at being useful means a small number of users aren't needing brand new electronics, with all the resources that requires. It's still up to the companies themselves to really clean up their environmental credentials, but you can feel like you're doing your bit by make sure a device gets the longest possible useful life.

The disadvantage is that you don't always get the same kind of after-sales care that you would with a brand-new device. Walmart, for instance, offers only a 30-days warranty on a renewed iPhone 12 Pro, meaning any problem you find after a month of ownership is yours alone to fix.

What's more, most places don't guarantee a box-fresh look. Amazon, for example, only promises you won't see cosmetic blemishes on its refurbished iPhones when you hold them at arm's length. That's a lot further away than you'd typically use your phone, meaning small scratches and scuffs may be a bit more obvious during normal use. That's not something you'd need to worry about on a phone that you've peeled the plastic off yourself.

So as you can see, there are good reasons to buy and avoid renewed iPhones. Hopefully with this new knowledge, you'll be able to make more informed buying decisions while browsing the Black Friday deals this coming week.

Richard Priday
Staff Writer

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.