How To Completely Erase and Reset Android Phones – A Comprehensive Guide

Getting rid of an Android smartphone? Perhaps you got a new one and want to sell or give away the old one. Or you bought a handset only to find it’s not exactly what you want and you intend to return it to the store or carrier.

No matter the reason, you should always erase and reset the device. Most people think that just doing a Factory data reset will erase everything and return the smartphone to a fresh state. Not quite. There could still be personal data lurking on the device or the SD card, if there is one.

You can’t count on the store, carrier, or reseller to erase the data for you, as we’ve seen recently. Best to clear the data yourself. This guide will walk you through backing up your data and apps, erasing the internal storage and SD card, then resetting the phone.

Back Up Your Data

If you already have Android’s built-in Backup and Restore turned on (it’s an option under Settings > Privacy) then your apps should be backed up on Google’s servers and should restore when you activate your new phone.

I say should because this process doesn’t always work completely. And it only works with apps, not SMS, MMS, contacts not saved on your Google account, and some other settings.

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Make a backup of your own just in case Google doesn’t restore everything you want it to and you want to keep your existing text messages and other data.

Step 1: Download and Install MyBackup from the Android Market.

MyBackup Main Screen

Step 2: Tap the Backup button and then Applications & Media. The app will give you a choice of Local (internal storage/SD card) or Online. Choose Local.

MyBackup Options

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Step 3: On the next screen tap the checkbox next to “Select All” for both Apps and Photos. Tap Ok.

Step 4: Choose a backup name or go with the one auto-generated by the app. Pay attention to where the app says it will place the file. It’s usually a folder on the SD card.

The backup can take several minutes to complete, especially if you have a lot of apps and images.

Step 5: On MyBackup’s main screen tap Backup again and choose Data. Again, choose Local.

Step 6: You’ll see a list of data available for backup including Call Log, SMS and MMS, Settings, Home screens, Alarms, Playlists, and more. Check off what you want to keep then click Ok.

MyBackup Data Backup Options

Step 7: Choose a backup name or go with the one auto-generated by the app. Pay attention to where the app says it will place the file. It’s usually a folder on the SD card.

Step 8: After the backup is complete, connect your phone to your computer with a USB cord and open it in a file explorer. This will give you access to the internal memory with media files and app data and/or the micro SD card installed.

Step 9: Create a folder on your computer for the backup and copy all of the files and folders to it. Be sure to get the folder where you stored the backup.

Step 10: Unplug the USB cord.

Erase the SD Card and Internal Storage

A Factory Data Reset will erase apps and some of your data, but you need to take a few steps beforehand to ensure that all of your personal files are gone and no one else can access them.

Note: Different Android devices and versions use slightly different wording. If you don’t see exactly the terms in the steps or screenshots you should at least see something close.

Step 1: Erase the micro SD card by going to Settings > Storage and looking for the SD Card heading. Tap Format SD card and again on the confirmation page.

The Settings - Storage screen in Android

The Storage Settings Screen on the Droid RAZR (left) and Galaxy Note (right)

Step 2: In Settings > Storage look for the Internal Storage or USB Storage heading and tap Format Internal Storage or Format USB Storage. Confirm on the next screen.

Note: some phones do not offer this second option. In these instances, the Factory Data Reset should erase and reformat the internal storage.

Feeling particularly paranoid about the data on the SD card? Then take a few extra steps to make sure the data there is gone and no one can retrieve it. (if you’re not paranoid, you can skip to the next section.)

Step 3: Windows users, download Roadkil’s Disk Wipe utility (free) and install. Mac users, open the Disk Utility (under Applications > Utilities).

Step 4: Remove the micro SD card from your phone and, using an SD card adapter, insert it into your computer’s card reader.

Step 5: For Windows: Use Disk Wipe to write random data on the disk; 7 passes should be fine.

Roadkil Disk Wipe utility for Windows

For Mac: Click on the SD card on the left, then Erase at the top of the main screen. At the bottom click Security Options for secure erase options. The 7-Pass Erase is fine for this purpose.

Mac OS X Disk Utility Erase Screen

Mac OS X Disk Utility Secure Erase Options

Be sure to pick the correct disk before you erase.

Don’t put the card back in the phone just yet.

Do a Factory Data Reset

Finally, the last step. After this you’ll be ready to pack up the Android smartphone and send it back tot he store or on to its new owner.

Step 1: Go to Settings > Privacy. Uncheck Back up my data and Automatic restore (if applicable).

Privacy Settings Screen

Step 2: Tap Factory data reset.

Step 3: On the confirmation screen you may be prompted to format or erase the internal/USB storage and/or the SD card. There’s no harm in doing this again, so go ahead and check those. Then tap Reset Phone.

Factory Data Reset Screen on Galaxy Note

Factory Data Reset Screen on Galaxy Note (Gingerbread)

Factory Data Reset Screen on Droid RAZR

Factory Data Reset Screen on Droid RAZR (Gingrerbread) - Note the different options available

Step 4: The device will shut down and reboot. After it restarts you can turn the phone off.

Step 5: If you removed the SD card to erase it, insert it again now.

If you’re getting a new phone or Android device and had Automatic Backup on, your apps and some media will show up on the new device after you enter your Google account information. Anything that doesn’t come back you can restore using MyBackup.