If you lost your phone today (or it was stolen or damaged), would you still have all your photos, contacts, and data? Too many times I’ve seen this happen to people, and they lose months or even years worth of cherished photos. You’ve probably seen it too when someone makes a Facebook status saying: “New phone, send me your numbers!”
But this is all easily avoided. Having your photos, contacts, and everything else you need backed up is really simple. Follow these instructions, and you’ll be able to switch to a new Android phone in an instant without losing any data.
The most common mistake I see new Android users doing is saving their contacts to their device rather than to their Google account. When you do this, your contacts are stored locally rather than on Google’s servers, which means that if something happens to your phone, those contacts are gone forever.
The solution, thankfully, is simple — just save all new contacts to your Google account. The process for doing this will depend on what phone you have and what customizations the manufacturer has made to your Contacts app, but if you want to simplify things, just download Google’s official Contacts app from the Play Store. There are alternative Contacts apps that are great, but here I’ll be demonstrating using Contacts by Google.
First, open the app and select the little “Add Contact” button in the lower right. Upon first use, it should prompt you to choose a default account to save the contacts to if you have multiple Google accounts. If not, it should default to your regular Google account. You can verify this by opening the contact and choosing your Gmail address underneath the Saving to drop down menu.
If you would prefer to stick with a different Contacts app (perhaps the one your Samsung, HTC, or LG phone came with), then look for a similar option. When saving a contact, there should be some drop down menu to choose between Local Contacts or saving to your Google account.
All contacts saved here are then accessible on any device where you’re signed into Google, even on the web.
If you already have a large number of contacts saved locally, saved to a Samsung account, or saved to the wrong Google account, you should be able to export all of them (look in the options or settings menu for this) then re-import them as Google contacts. To find them more easily, you can sort your Contacts by where they are saved. In the Contacts app, this is accessed via the three-dot menu in the upper right under Contacts to display.
And that’s it! Once you’ve got all your contacts saved to your Google account, you never have to worry about them again. As soon as you get a new phone and sign into your Google account, they’ll all be right there waiting for you.
Photos and Videos
There are lots of tools for automatically backing up photos from an Android device (and some more manual options), but the easiest by far is Google Photos. With Google Photos, you can back up an unlimited number of photos for free — which really makes it kind of an unbeatable deal.
To turn this on, first ensure that you’ve downloaded the Google Photos app, then follow these instructions:
- On Android 6.0 or later: Go to Settings > Google > Google Photos Backup and flip the switch on (as shown below).
- On Android 5.1 or earlier: Open Google Settings, then select Google Photos Backup and flip the switch on.
- Or, open Google Photos, slide open the menu from the left side of the screen, select Settings, then Back up & sync, and flip the switch on.
You can fiddle with the settings to ensure that it’s not sucking up too much of your data by setting it to upload over Wi-Fi only, and the 16MP limit on photos means that you can upload full-size photos from most Android devices.
Even if you do end up using another method for backing up for photos, there’s not reason not to enable this, just in case you forget to make a back up the one day you drop your phone in the toilet.
We’ve covered before why you should be using Google Play Music if you have an Android device, but it bears repeating. You can upload up to 50,000 songs for free (from your PC), and then stream them or download them for offline use to your Android device.
Otherwise, if you’re just loading MP3 files onto your Android device and listening to them, a stolen phone means no more tunes. With Play Music, your music is always stored in the cloud so you can access it from any computer or Android device just by signing in to Google.
Notes & Documents
You could use the built-in Notes app on your device, but it probably doesn’t back up anywhere — so if your phone dies, so do your notes.
Similarly, you can keep the rest of your work backed up to Google Drive to ensure that you never lose any important documents. 15GB of free storage is extremely competitive in the cloud storage arena (Dropbox gives you 2GB), and Google documents, presentations, and spreadsheets don’t even count towards that limit.
Then you can use Docs, Sheets, and Slides to actually get real work done — and it will all be automatically synced to Google’s servers. Of course there are other office apps and other note-taking apps, but you know that with Google’s official apps, you’ll never have to worry about losing your data. Though we couldn’t fault you for using Microsoft’s solid suite of Office apps (including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) that are free on Android devices with screen sizes smaller than 10.1″.
You probably already know that you can sync your Google Calendar data with your built-in calendar app or any alternative third-party calendar app, but there’s a little trick I want to share with you: You can sync more than one calendar with that account.
To do this, you’ll need to visit Google Calendar on the web and select the drop down menu on the left next to My calendars. Then select Create new calendar.
There will then be a lot of options for selecting a color, name, and so on, which allows you to keep one calendar for tasks you need to accomplish, one calendar for significant dates, one calendar for work meetings, and so on without having to sync with multiple Google accounts.
You can then open up your chosen calendar app (mine is Business Calendar 2, shown above) and choose in the settings which calendars you would like to show. Again, because all of these calendars sync with your Google account, any changes you make in your app will automatically be saved online.
This one’s a bit trickier, but there are methods for it. For instance, you could back up all your texts and phone logs to Google Drive, but if that sounds too complex, there is an app to help you out.
SMS Backup & Restore is a simple solution for keeping your text messages around. Unfortunately, it won’t sync every text message automatically to the cloud; instead, you’ll have to set a schedule for it to make the backups. By default, it just saves a local copy of the backup, but you can set it to sync to Google Drive or other cloud storage services.
Then, if something happens to your device, just redownload the app, locate the backup file in your cloud storage, and restore it from within the app.
I have to say, texting seems pretty dated by now — maybe you should check out one of these many messaging apps that automatically save all your messages.
Backing up games used to be difficult, but with the introduction of Google Play Games a while back, it’s gotten steadily easier. Most games now integrate directly with Google Play Games to save your progress and achievements — just ensure that you’re actually signed in while you’re playing.
For games that don’t sync with Google Play games, be sure that you have an account for that game that saves your data so you can just sign in on a new device and be exactly where you left off. If that’s not an option either, search through the settings for a manual backup option which you could then upload to cloud storage.
This should cover most of the essentials, but it’s always a good idea to take a look through all your apps and ensure that you could recover all the data there somehow if necessary. Most apps where you have an account are safe for this, because your data is simply linked to your account — so if you get a new device, all you have to do is sign into that account, and you’re good to go. This is the case for most Google apps as well as social media apps like Facebook or Twitter.
But if an app doesn’t have you sign up for an account, if you re-download it on a new device, it won’t know who you are and won’t have any of your old data. Those are the apps you’ll want to be aware of, but the good news is that most apps require or at least highly recommend an account nowadays.
How Do You Stay Backed up?
This is my go-to method for ensuring that everything is backed up, but there are other ways. For a more complete method that basically takes a screenshot of your phone as it is, check out our other guide on backing up your Android device. If you have a rooted device, I’d even recommend making a Nandroid.
But of course, this isn’t the only way of backing up an Android phone. What tips do you have for folks who don’t want to lose their data? Let us know in the comments below!