Apple's tablet portfolio has grown dramatically in recent years, with 2019's 10.2in iPad the latest to join the selection and an updated iPad Pro expected to drop in the first half of this year. But which is the best way to buy an iPad: new, second-hand, or refurbished? And what's the difference? In this article we talk you through your options.

What does refurbished mean?

First of all, let's clarify that refurbished Apple products are second-hand, really - but the fact they've been refurbished by Apple itself means you can be a lot more confident in the quality and reliability of what you're getting. It's a nice halfway house between new and second-hand, in effect, and you can save loads of money by opting to buy a refurbished iPad from Apple in its Refurbished Store rather than from the traditional Apple store.

Refurbished Apple products are technically pre-owned, but they undergo such a rigorous refurbishing process that it's unlikely you'll even notice.

In fact, pre-owned may mean only used once. Perhaps it's a unit that was loaned to a journalist, or it was returned promptly by a customer who decided they wanted a different model, or maybe there was a minor fault with it, but Apple has now rectified this as part of the refurbishment process.

What's the difference between a refurbished iPad and a brand-new iPad?

If you buy a refurbished iPad from Apple, you'll get the same one-year warranty as if you bought a brand-new iPad, all of the manuals and accessories that come with a new iPad, a brand new battery and outer shell and a new white box for it too.

The new box is not the same as the box you would get if you purchased a new iPad, and we assume that this is to prevent people from buying a refurbished iPad and attempting to sell it on as new. However, we think you'll struggle to spot anything different about the contents of that box.

Apple promises that all refurbished iPads it sells are in full working condition, and they have each been fully tested to ensure this. Any parts that were defective when the iPad was returned by its previous owner will have been replaced, and the entire iPad will have been cleaned and inspected to make sure it's in top-notch condition.

If you'd prefer to have a longer warranty than the one-year version that's included, you can buy AppleCare+ for your refurbished iPad. AppleCare+ extends your warranty to two years, allows additional technical support, 24/7 access to Apple experts, and hardware coverage for up to two accidental damage incidents. Each damage claim will cost an additional £39/$49, though.

Should I buy a refurbished iPad?

What iPad models can I buy from Apple's Refurbished store?

The products in Apple's Refurbished Store can change quite frequently, so you'll want to check back regularly if the particular product you're after isn't available. Stock may vary depending on whether you're buying from the UK or US, too.

At time of writing, the UK Refurbished Store offers the iPad 9.7in from 2017 (also known as the fifth-gen iPad), iPad Air (2019), iPad mini 5 (2019), and four sizes of iPad Pro from 2016 onwards.

The US store, meanwhile, currently offers all of the above models except for the 9.7in iPad Pro from 2016.

Should I buy a refurbished iPad?

We think it is absolutely worth considering buying a refurbished iPad before purchasing a brand-new one. It'll look as good as new, so you won't notice the difference anywhere other than in your bank balance and that giveaway packaging as mentioned above.

Right now, anyone looking for an iPad 10.2in has no choice but to buy brand-new from Apple or a third-party reseller, since it hasn't appeared on the Refurb Store yet. But if you'd be happy with an older generation of iPad you may find you can get a bigger capacity model or a Wi-Fi + Cellular model for less money than it would cost you for a new model with less impressive specs.

Here in the Macworld office, we've purchased Apple products from the Refurbished Store and have been completely happy with them, so we can recommend the option first hand.

Buying and selling iPads second-hand

We think the Refurbished Store is a strong option offering good deals on iPads. But it's not the only one, and in some cases there are others that will get you one of the newer models second-hand or refurbished at a great price too.

Here are just a few:

mResell is another retailer that offers refurbished iPads and other Apple devices. You can see its current rates across a range of models below:

Further reading

All being well, the advice above has helped you reach a decision about how to buy your iPad. If you're still not sure which model to go for, take a look at our iPad buying guide, as well as our guide to the best iPad deals.

We look at the process of selling an iPad in far more detail in a separate article: How to sell an iPad.