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Backing up personal data on your Android device - Part 1

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Introduction


Everyone is using a smartphone these days. Contacts, messages, applications, documents, bookmarks, pictures, videos and other stuff which you created and are present only on your device come under the umbrella called “Personal Data”.

There will come a day when you need to transfer personal data from your device to other places. It could be due to either of the following reasons –

  • You got a new phone and want to transfer all your data to the new phone.
  • Your old phone is broken and you need to give it to the authorised Company’s Service Centre to fix it. The repair shop will never take responsibility for loss of personal data.
  • Your phone has started to act sluggish and a factory reset could be one of the reasons to get it speedy again.
  • For safekeeping, just in case you lose your phone.
  • You are flashing a custom Rom and you need a backup of your personal data to restore it to your new Rom. However, users installing custom Roms may not find this guide that helpful as they may already be familiar with other powerful methods of backing up which are outside the scope of this article.
 

Backup of data to your Google account


When you configure / setup your google account in your device, you will be asked if you would like to backup all your data to Google’s servers. If you choose yes, then everything is backed up online to your google account in real time as you continue to use your device.

Once you setup the same account with another device, all personal data will automatically be downloaded that was uploaded to your google account by the earlier device. However, this method has the following drawbacks.

  • Most of us are on limited internet plans and using this method may hog a considerable portion of the quota of data that one may have purchased.
  • Setup on the new device will require you to have a working internet connection which may take considerable time if it is slow.
  • If you are concerned about privacy issues and are very skeptical, then maybe you would not want to backup your data to google’s servers.
 
In case you are comfortable with this method, despite the above issues then it is the easiest and the most convenient of all methods. Also using an online backup of data, does not require transfer of data to external devices and you are saved from the hassle of transferring stuff here and there. The backup is much more thorough and will not miss anything.
 
Samsung phones offer you to create a Samsung account just like Google that offer to save personal data. However, the Samsung account may not be accessible if you switch to a non-Samsung device. Google is global is this respect. 
 

Disclaimer


I will be using free applications to backup data. These can be downloaded via the “Play Store” app in your Android device. These apps are not attached as separate files with this article due to ownership, security and legal reasons. Another strong reason is that most apps are constantly updated and may not be backwards compatible.

However, they can be easily found by a simple search in Play Store. I will be providing a url to download the app but search is always the best, since URLs tend to break at some time or the other. 

In no way, do I own the apps and they are the property of their respective developers. Illustrations carrying any images of the apps are just to increase the effectiveness and readability of this article.

This article generally applies to devices running Android Version 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and above. Earlier versions may or may not work. Apps mean applications and both these words are used synonymously throughout this article.
 

Something worth knowing


Android has been designed to store app cache data in the .android_secure file located in the root folder of your device internal /external memory. Folders created by apps are not deleted when you perform a factory reset. All images, music and videos that you have copied to your device internal / external storage are also not deleted until you explicitly do so.

Therefore, it does not seem necessary to copy backup files elsewhere for the fear of deletion. However, it is highly advisable to copy everything to an external place as a precautionary measure.
 

Why you need to backup everything individually


Elements like Contacts, messages, call logs, bookmarks, applications and application data need to be explicitly backed up in some way since they reside in the android system in some form of database. This database is not directly accessible to the end user and is lost when a factory reset of the device is performed.

All said and done, the following steps will detail how to backup the above data step by step.
 

Contacts / People


Your contacts app should offer you a place to store your contact data (Name, phone number, email address, etc) every time you create or alter a contact. This could be your local phone memory or the Gmail account (or Samsung account as discussed above) which you are using.

In case of local phone accounts, it differs from phone to phone but you should find an option to save your contacts that use the following or similar phrases-

  • Save to external location
  • Export to other location
  • Backup to external memory
  • Send to other device

These methods allow you to create a database file which you choose to save at your desired path. Just in case you are not asked for the path, it is most probably the root of your removable memory or a file placed under the Contacts / People folder using the vcf extension.

Important Note – Please “select all contacts” or “Mark all contacts” before performing the above operation or you may end up with only one single contact (that was in view or was selected) in your backup file when performing the operation.

For users of Google accounts, there is no need to backup any data. It will be restored when you configure your google account on the new device (or on the same device if a factory reset was performed). However, you can export the data to external memory which can be imported back in the same way. But in case you do so, you may end up with Duplicates after you setup your Google account.

Just in case you want to view your contacts in your google account, visit http://contacts.google.com and login using your Gmail account and password. You should find all your contacts listed there where you can manage them more effectively. If you are already logged in to your Gmail account, then click the dropdown arrow next to Gmail & select Contacts. See image.

 
Gmail-contacts.png
 

Messages


Download the app “SMS Backup & Restore” by “Ritesh Sahu” from the play store.

URL - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.riteshsahu.SMSBackupRestore

After installing this app when you open it, you will be offered to backup / restore your messages and view your recent backups. If you choose to backup your current messages, it will generate an xml file containing all your messages which you need to backup (or copy) safely elsewhere.

If you choose to save it to the default location, you should easily find it when you reinstall the app after a factory reset.
 

Call Logs / Call History


This is the most forgotten part while taking backups. If recent call history is of utmost importance to you, then you need to backup your Call logs also. It also makes your phone seem as if a reset never happened. This app is also from the same developer.

Download the app “Call Logs Backup & Restore” by “Ritesh Sahu” from the play store.

URL - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.riteshsahu.CallLogBackupRestore

After installing this app when you open it, you will be offered to backup / restore your call logs and view your recent backups. If you choose to backup your call logs, it will generate an xml file containing all your call log data which you need to backup safely elsewhere.

If you choose to save it to the default location, you should easily find it when you reinstall the app after a factory reset.

On a side note – As of now, Android only stores the recent 500 entries for the past calls. So, you won’t be able to get your hands on calls before that because the details are not present on your device itself.
 

Closing Comments


Due to the article getting very lengthy, I have continued this article in Part 2. If you feel the article was helpful, please click the Yes Button.

Please visit this page to continue reading the article.

Ravi.
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Expert Comment

by:Jim Horn
Nice job with the two-part series, both with the easy-to-read content and the supporting images.  Voting Yes.
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