How To: Back Up Your Android Data Before Upgrading

With all of the Android devices available, it's important to be able to make sure all your data makes it from one device to another when you upgrade. But what's the best way to make the transition?

One of the best things about the Android platform is the sheer number of devices available. However, that does lead to a few drawbacks. For starters, there are so many Android options that it's difficult to settle on just one. Second, many end up upgrading to a new, more powerful device sooner than expected, seeing as how a bigger and better Android phone seems to come out every few weeks (compared to the indefinite wait people face with the iPhone 5).

Unfortunately, upgrading any mobile phone comes with one major headache: migrating your data. It used to be that all you had to back up was your contact list, but inside smartphones you have your contact list, text messages, photos, apps, ringtones and settings. Contact lists were sorted a long time ago with the introduction of SIM cards, and backing them up to the cloud is even easier when using your Google account. For all the other data, Google's cloud storage goes a step further.

Backing Up Natively with Android Cloud Storage

On Android devices running Froyo (version 2.2) or later, there is a "Back up my data" option that grants Google permission to store some of your information on its cloud servers. You can find it by pressing Menu and going to Settings > Privacy.

Enabling the option will automatically back up your installed applications (even the exact version you have installed), your Wi-Fi settings, and even your wallpaper. You can also enable the "Automatic restore" option to back up saved application data, such as game progress or app settings. Everything is completely automated. As soon as you setup your Google account on your new phone, it will apply all of your saved settings and install your backed up applications.

This integrated backup feature isn't an end-all solution, though. In fact, it has some pretty significant limitations. First, unless your phone carries the "Google Experience" branding, there's a chance the feature may not be available to you, even if you're running Froyo or later. This is because manufacturers who like to put custom interfaces on their phones don't always have permission from Google to add such features. Second – and this is a big one – it doesn't actually back up all of your apps! In an attempt to thwart piracy, it will only back up apps whose developers have specifically enabled that capability.

Back Up More with MyBackup Pro

The Android Market is full of backup solutions, and MyBackup Pro ($4.60) is one of the best. It will allow you to back up almost everything, such as your applications (all of them; not just those that support Google's backup feature), contacts, bookmarks, SMS/MMS messages, alarms, user dictionary, and even homescreen widgets and shortcuts.

Using the app is very simple and straightforward. Just start it up and select "Backup". It will then prompt you to back up either your applications, or data, followed by the option of where the backup should be stored — either locally on your SD card, or on MyBackup's secure servers. When backing up your data locally, MyBackup will create a folder on your SD card called "rerware". This folder will store all of your backed up information and will need to be transferred to your new phone in order to be restored. MyBackup Pro also lets you create automatic backup schedules, which, in tandem with the online storage features, makes for a great safety net should your phone ever get lost or stolen. Restoring the data is just as simple. After installing MyBackup onto your new device, select "Restore" and choose the appropriate data file. It will automatically restore all of your old files and apps.

MyBackup can't save everything, though. Application data, such as saved games and app settings, is protected by the system. Apart from rooting, there's no way to gain access to the data in order to back it up. Because of this, it's best to use Android built-in backup feature to save what you can (those apps that developers have allowed to be backed up) and use a third-party app, like MyBackup, to save everything else.

Rooting Saves It All

By rooting your Android phone, you remove the restricted file system limitation, and root-aware applications will be able to back up all of your application data. MyBackup Pro is capable of this; however, many people prefer the backup tool created specifically for rooted devices: Titanium Backup (free or $US6.14 for Pro version). Just like MyBackup, it can back up absolutely everything, but it also includes tools useful for rooted devices, such as file encryption, ROM management tools, application version freezing, and even an experimental bloatware exterminator for removing unwanted pre-installed software. Just like MyBackup Pro, Titanium Backup allows scheduled automated backups to online storage, though it makes use of Dropbox rather than its own servers.

You'll also want to keep in mind that any data that requires you to be rooted in order to back up will also require you to be rooted in order to restore it as well. This can be problematic when upgrading to a new device, as sometimes it can take a while before rooting methods are discovered. It's often wise to keep a root-free version of your backup files just in case.

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