Tomorrow is World Backup Day, a new annual celebration of the joys of backing up your data. Okay, I admit, there’s rarely much joy involved in backing up, but it is important to think about before you lose all of your documents, images, videos and other important data to tragedy or theft.
Backing up an Android phone or tablet isn’t that hard and can even happen automatically in the background. A caveat: unless you root your phone, there’s no way to back up absolutely everything (like app data). However, there is a way to back up your apps, SMS history, settings, and even your Home screens.
(Related: Backup Your iPhone and iPad Automatically)
It’s also a good idea to remember that if your data is backed up only in one place, it’s not fully backed up. Take advantage of more than one of free and inexpensive backup options listed below.
Back Up Android Apps and System Settings
Android’s Built-In Backup and Restore
Under Settings > Privacy you’ll find Android’s built-in backup and restore utility, usually in the form of check boxes next to “Back up my data” and “Automatic restore” or similar language.
Your Google account already keeps track of the apps you install — paid and free — but this utility takes things a step further. It will also store application settings and data so that if you lose or upgrade your device Android can download and install the apps without any input from you.
While this utility usually restores all apps whether the settings and data from the apps also restores depends on whether the developer coded their app properly. In my experience, the apps don’t always restore completely every time.
In addition to apps, the utility also saves your current settings and Wi-Fi passwords.
I suggest turning this option on because it’s a free and easy way to back up and can make switching to a new device easier.
Android’s backup and restore doesn’t deal with text messages, Home screen configurations, or your call log. That’s why I also use the handy MyBackup app. With this you can back up a long list of settings and all of your apps.
Note: if you have a rooted phone you can back up apps + data. Sadly, if you’re not rooted, MyBackup can only back up the apps and not their associated settings.
The free MyBackup app will work on one device, but I suggest springing for the $4.99 Pro version in case your phone or tablet is stolen, lost, or breaks beyond repair and you want to restore to a different device. Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Download and install MyBackup or MyBackup Pro from the Google Play Store. When you first open it the app will ask you to set a password and an email address. This allows you to access and manage backups stored online.
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 Online.
Step 3: On the next screen tap the checkbox next to “Select All” for Apps. Leave the Photos for now, we’ll use something else to back those up. Tap Ok.
Step 4: Choose a backup name or go with the one auto-generated by the app.
The backup can take several minutes to complete, especially if you have a lot of apps.
Step 5: Once done, the app will show a backup summary including a long PIN that you’ll need if you restore from this backup. The easiest way to keep track of it is to tap Email my PIN and have it sent to secure email address.
Step 6: On MyBackup’s main screen tap Backup again and choose Data. Again, choose Online.
Step 7: 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.
Step 8: Choose a backup name or go with the one auto-generated by the app.
Step 9: Email the PIN to yourself.
To create a redundant backup on your SD card (that you can sync with DropBox or SugarSync), go through the steps above again but choose Local instead of Online. Pay attention to where the app says it will place the file. It’s usually a folder on the SD card called backpro.
After doing the initial backups yourself, you can set a schedule for automatic backups.
Step 1: Tap Schedule on the MyBackup main screen. The app will give you a choice of Local (internal storage/SD card) or Online. Choose Online.
Step 2: Instead of a separate list for Data, Applications and Media they’re all listed here together. Tap Select All then OK.
Step 3: Schedule either a Daily or Weekly backup (which occurs on Sunday) and a time.
Step 4: Under Keep How Many Backup Files I suggest you change this to 2 or 3, especially if backing up everything.
Step 5: Tap Schedule.
Step 6: On the main screen. Tap the Menu key, then Options. Scroll down to Misc. Settings and tap the checkbox next to Schedule. This will notify you whenever your scheduled backup completes.
If you ever need to restore from these backups, simply re-install MyBackup from the Google Play Store. If you bought MyBackup Pro you’ll find it under My Apps. On the app’s main screen tap Restore and follow the directions.
SugarSync / DropBox / Cloud Backup
Since smartphones are usually connected to the Internet, it’s easy to keep them constantly backed up to the cloud using a service like DropBox or SugarSync. I prefer SugarSync for both my phone and PCs because it offers more free space (5GB) than DropBox (2GB). Plus, SugarSync will keep any folder on your Android device synced automatically whereas with DropBox users have to choose files individually that aren’t photos or videos.
Both SugarSync and DropBox will offer to sync photos and videos when you go through the initial setup process. They’ll also give you a choice to only upload media going forward or to upload existing files as well. If you haven’t backed up previous to this, I suggest going with the second option.
In SugarSync you have a few more options. Tap on the gear icon in the upper left corner of the main screen to get to the settings.
Under AutoSync Settings make sure the checkbox next to WIFI Only is checked. This will keep the program from syncing data while you’re on 3G or 4G — very useful for people who don’t have unlimited data plans. You can still manually push or pull down files on mobile data if you want.
Tap Interval to choose how often AutoSync runs. I’ve set mine at 24 hours to save on battery, but you can set it to as often as every hour.
To sync any folder or file on your device:
Step 1: Look for your phone or tablet under My Devices and tap it.
Step 2: Find the folder or file you want to sync, tap the downward arrow, then tap Sync.
This will sync the folder to the Magic Briefcase.
I suggest syncing the folder where you stored the local MyBackup Pro backups. If you have a paid SugarSync account with enough room, I also suggest syncing the Android folder as this contains app data you may be able to restore, such as saved games and other files.
Backing Up To Google+ / Picassa
One other option for keeping photos backed up to the cloud is to use the Google+ app’s Instant Upload option. This will upload all photos you take with your phone or tablet to Google+, though it will not make them public by default.
Step 1: Go to the Google+ app main screen and tap the Menu button, then Settings.
Step 2: Under Photo settings tap the checkbox next to Enable Instant Upload.
Step 3: Under when to upload photos, I suggest you leave it on the default When Wi-Fi Is Available setting.
To save battery, also leave On Battery checked.
Step 4: When photos upload, you’ll see a notification when you’re signed in to Google. You can also find them by going to plus.google.com, clicking Photos, then clicking Photos from your phone.
It only takes a few minutes to set up any of these backup solutions. Once you do, you won’t have to worry about them until you need them. If you’re lucky, you never will. But if you do, you’ll be glad you spent the time.
Visit the World Backup Day Facebook page for more backup tips and to win backup-related prizes.