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Upgrade guide for Android users

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Upgrade guide for Android users
by Todd L'Herrou

Ok, so it's time to upgrade to the latest and greatest Android phone...

You've spent a 6 months to a year or more with the old phone, and you have the apps, the music, the settings just the way you like them.

Soooo, how do you make sure the new phone is going to match that?

Short answer: You can't.

Long answer: Read the following, and I'll do my best to get you as close as possible.


All of your contacts should be backed up to your primary GMail account, the one that comes up when you touch the GMail icon on the phone, right? Well... "should" is the right word. The first step in the process is to use a PC to log onto that primary GMail account and clean up your contacts.

When you log into GMail, on the left column, just below the GMail logo, is the words Mail, Contacts, and Tasks. Mail should be highlighted on login, but you want to click on Contacts. You'll be taken directly into My Contacts.

Your first step is to clean up the existing contacts. You can delete those you don't want or need (who doesn't have old, unused contacts in their phone?). You can also merge contacts. This may be handy if you entered someone's work number as one contact, and their cell or home number as a separate one - or when you have an email address that isn't part of the phone contact list. Simply check the checkboxes next to the pair of contacts you want to merge, scroll to the top, pull down the list titled "More" and select "Merge Contacts." You'll need to do this separately for each set of contacts you want to merge.

Once you've cleaned up My Contacts, click on Other Contacts (just below My Contacts on the top left). Scroll through those contacts looking for ones that contain phone numbers. It's likely that these have come from your phone, but may or may not show up in the My Contacts list. Check the checkbox by each of these that you want on your new phone, and when you've selected all of them, scroll back to the top and click on the "Move to My Contacts" button. Now go back to My Contacts and make sure you don't have any duplicates. Merge or delete as needed in My Contacts again.

Texts and Emails

If you are using GMail as your only email on your android phone, all email should be backed up to the server. This is true if you are using the GMail default or if you have other accounts set up as well (for example, I have the GMail icon set for the main GMail account on my phone, and have a work GMail account I use as well under the Email icon, both of these are fully synchronized between phone and webmail).

But what if you have an email account that isn't a GMail account? If it's any other form of IMAP account, it should be synced with your server as well, but if it's a POP3 account, then mostly likely not (wikipedia links, if you want to know what POP3 and IMAP are). So, can you back up those emails? No, once POP3 emails are on your phone, or you've sent email using a POP3/SMTP-only account, those emails are pretty much inaccessible to even the rooted versions of various backup apps (see below).

Texts can be backed up using any of several backup applications. I personally like SMS Backup +. which will back up your SMS messages and call logs to your GMail account on an ongoing basis (daily, etc), as well as restore them.


Good news! (well, kinda): Current flavors (2.0 and above) of Android know which apps you have installed. When you first log in to your new phone, DON'T open Google Play (formerly known as Android Market). Your phone should start downloading the apps that you had purchased and/or installed. If your OLD phone does NOT have a flavor of Android that's 2.0 or above, you'll need to consider other methods. The other bad news is that only the App is installed, not your settings.

So, what do you need to do? If you are already on Android 2.0, first of all, make sure all of your current Apps that you want on the new phone are updated. That way, when the new phone gets the latest version, any settings files should match up. Then use a backup App like MyBackup Pro (see below) to transfer the settings.

If you aren't on Android 2.0, the best suggestion is to just go through your Apps and write down a list, then install them once you have the new phone. Otherwise, you can use Astro or a similar File Manager App. In the tools menu, just select the Application Manager and pick the Apps you want to back up. Protected Apps cannot be moved, the rest will show up as APK files on your SD card and can transferred to another Android phone. Apps transferred this way will NOT update through Google Play, so this is less than ideal.

Music, Ringtones, and Photos

Most music should exist on your SD card, and can be directly transferred to your computer via cable or card reader. I use a card reader, dump the music files onto a folder in my desktop, then move them to the correct folder on the SD card in the new phone. Some of the backup Apps below will move music to an online folder (like Dropbox) but that can take a while and use up data depending on your plan and setup (use WiFi for this if possible, if you go this route). Make sure you mirror the correct directory structure when you copy the files to the new SD card.

Ringtones are a special category of music. These are typically MP3 files, but often must be in a particular directory for them to be available to the phone for use as a ringtone, usually something like \Media\Audio\Ringtones. Ringtones assigned to individuals may be carried over if you use a backup App like one of those below, but be aware that they are notorious for getting these settings wrong.

Photos are typically stored on the SD card as well, and can be backed up to your computer as with music. They usually can also be backed up with the backup Apps, although they can make for large backups. And, you can usually attach and email them to yourself. Just like with ringtones, don't count on restoring the right photo with the right contact.


Backup of eBooks works a little differently. If you have the Kindle App, once that is re-installed all your books should carry over. Non-Kindle books are often in other formats, and may need to be hand-transferred just as your music files were.


Settings probably shouldn't be last, but much like Apps, if you are starting from a current flavor (2.0 and above) of Android, once your new phone launches, it should carry most settings over (WiFi, privacy, . Things like custom ringtones will not. You'll need to move the ringtone by hand (see music, above), and then set it manually.

Be aware that this is not perfect. Sometimes a hard reset is needed to get the full settings to carry over. You can use a backup App to do some of this as well. Remember too, that you are likely going to a new flavor of Android no matter what, and there may be new settings to be set (and where the range of settings has changed, the new one may not be set anyway).

What about Apps for backup?

I've mentioned backup Apps a couple of times, so why haven't I recommended them outright? Because most backup Apps are limited in what they backup, and the more comprehensive among them will only work on a rooted phone, where they can get greater access to the settings and data. Of course, the catch 22 is that if you are rooting your phone, you need a backup, in case something goes wrong.

Here's my short list of Apps to consider:
Sprite Backup: Does not need rooted phone, backs up to Dropbox or Box.net. Produces single file for each backup.

MyBackup Pro or MyBackup Root (rooted version): Available in rooted and non-rooted versions, decent for non-rooted, barely second only to Titanium Backup Pro for rooted version. Backs up to SD card or to online storage through company.

Titanium Backup Pro: Best of show for rooted phone, but only available for rooted phones. Backups are stored on SD card.

For all of these, I have provided a link to the company website, but I recommend installing through Google Play.

Odds and Ends

Retailers may copy over some files upon request, but typically rely on Android/Google to for contacts, etc. Make sure you are prepared BEFORE you walk in the door of your retailer - by copying files and using a backup tool if desired before the retailer begins to configure the new phone. Once they have started, there may be no going back.

Your wireless provider may have some backup tools available to you (Verizon has a backup app available for free with online storage for subscribers, for example).

Final note: Because phones, wireless providers, and the OS flavor each may have changes, you aren't going to get all the way back to looking / feeling the same. Hopefully with the use of my suggestions and recommended tools above, you can get close. But it's always a good idea to write down on paper any settings you want to be sure to go back and set the way you had them!

I welcome additional thought and feedback in the comments below. If you like this article, don't forget to vote "Yes."
  • 2
LVL 38

Expert Comment

@lherrou -
Thank you for putting this together.
I'm just trolling through all of the EE (phone) Articles I can find and trying to to decide which flavor to pick for my first smart phone.

If you have any specific recommendations - or know of appropriate articles/links - please ping me back.

"Yes" vote above.

LVL 38

Author Comment


iPhone is designed to "simply work", so it makes a great first smart phone. Android, on the other hand, is a lot more flexible for customizations. Both will work great for the basic features - texting , phone calls, email, calendar, and web browsing. I have found the Android app for Yahoo tends to hold a lot of messages and receive them in "clumps" and iPhone app doesn't seem to be as bad - keep that in mind if you think you might want to use Yahoo on your phone.

Other than that, get one you like, and have fun!

LVL 38

Expert Comment

The 'basic features' you mention are exactly what I will use it for - plus my son and his wife have had their iPhones for a couple of months. They can bail me out when I need help.

They have some of those big box stores down in the flatlands, so I should probably just head on over and play with the different offerings.

Thank you for posting back. I'll update you when I get a new toy.

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