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Data disaster averted! How to back up your Android smartphone to your PC

Oh no! You dropped your phone in the street. Then it was run over. Twice. And then you were almost hit by a Subaru trying to rescue it from the middle of the crosswalk.

If this sad story sounds familiar, or at least plausible, chances are the first thought racing through your head, as cars race over your phone, is of all the contacts, photos, text messages, and notes stored on there. What’s an Android aficionado to do in a case like this? Like your mother once said, “Plan ahead.”

Planning ahead is the easiest way to make sure your data isn’t lost to the ether, even if your phone is destroyed. Luckily, Google automatically syncs things like your contacts, calendar appointments, docs, and even app purchases – as long as you give it permission to do so.

While Google will preserve a lot of your data, there are other programs that backup the same data and more wirelessly to the cloud. Read on to find out how to back up your Android phone’s content to your PC.

Updated 6-3-2015 by Simon Hill: Refreshed the text, removed old solutions and added new ones, added new screenshots.

Go with Google

Giving Google permission to back up your stuff will vary slightly from phone to phone. In general, you’ll want to go to Settings > Backup & reset then tap Backup my data and Automatic restore. That will cover the following:

  • Google Calendar settings
  • Wi-Fi networks & passwords
  • Home screen wallpapers
  • Gmail settings
  • Apps installed through Google Play (backed up on the Play Store app)
  • Display settings (Brightness & Sleep)
  • Language & Input settings
  • Date & Time
  • Third-party app settings & data (varies by app)

You’re not done yet. While in Settings go to Accounts and click on your Google account. You’ll see a long list of sync icons covering App data, Calendar, Contacts, Docs, Gmail, Photos, and any other service you can virtually back up. Make sure there’s a check in the box next to everything you want backed up. That’s it.

But that’s not the only backup trick Google has up its sleeve. If you use Google’s Music service, all of your tunes will be preserved on Google’s servers, even if both your phone and your computer die at the same time. If you have a large music collection, like we do, the initial upload process will take a long time – we’re talking days. But once the first upload is done, subsequent albums will upload as they are added to your collection. Your music can then be streamed on up to ten Android devices or to other computers.

Drag and drop

Photos, videos, and music from your Android phone may also be transferred straight to your PC or Mac by plugging your phone into your computer and manually copying the files over to your hard drive. It’s not a perfectly synced solution, but it’s quick and easy, especially on a PC where Windows will mount it as an external drive and use Media Transfer Protocol. For Macs, download Android FileTransfer, install it, and run it once when you first connect your phone. It’ll start up automatically after that.

My Backup Pro

My Backup ProIf we were to design a simple, easy to use Android backup system it would work just like My Backup Pro. Available in the Google Play Store for $5, this app backs up everything that’s possible to back up without having your phone rooted – photos, app data, browser bookmarks, contacts, system settings, home screen shortcuts, alarms, calendars, MMS messages, SMS messages, music, and more. The app allows you to schedule backups at convenient times, like when you’re sleeping, and saves the backup files either to the microSD card in your phone or to the cloud, making your data instantly accessible at the My Backup Pro site. If your phone dies or if you move to a new phone, use My Backup Pro’s software to restore all of your settings, data, and apps in one session.

SMS Backup & RestoreSMS Backup & Restore

Want to preserve every last drunken text message for posterity? SMS Backup & Restore is a free app that integrates with your email account, Google Drive, or Dropbox to back up your SMS messages in XML format. You can store backups on your computer and send them via email. It’s possible to view and restore your messages selectively, or all at once. You can also use the app to schedule regular backups.

Use your device manufacturer’s software

Near enough every smartphone manufacturer out there offers some kind of backup solution for your device. Most of them are shifting away from computer-based backups to easy switching apps that let you port across your contacts, photos, messages, and the rest. Here’s a list of some of the options:

If you have rooted your Android device, then you should have a look at Titanium Backup. It’s a powerful backup tool that’s packed with power-user features.

Back that phone up!

As G.I. Joe would saying, “Knowing is half the battle.” The other half of the battle is backing up your data in case your phone accidentally meets the wheels of a truck. Google is definitely an ally in the backup battle, but you’ll want to enlist the assistance of the apps above to ensure all of your photos, notes, and messages are protected.

What are you waiting for? Go. It’s time to start backing up your phone!

Article originally published 7-21-2013.