What to do before selling or donating your phone

Prep your smartphone for sale with this handy game plan.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

The time has come to retire your trusty old smartphone in favor of something shiny and new, but just don't toss it away blindly. Today's cell phones are more than powerful communication tools. They serve as vaults for all kinds of precious digital entertainment and sensitive personal data, the sort you don't want disappearing or falling into the wrong hands.

Yes, chances are good that tucked away inside your handset are the audio tracks, movies, photos, and apps you took time and effort to gather and tweak. The same goes for vital e-mail, text messages, and calendar info which form the fabric of your life. All this means that jumping ship to a fresh phone without a game plan is not merely reckless. Indeed failing to prep your cast-off device properly before donating or selling it exposes you to serious security and privacy risks.

Why shoot yourself in the foot when a little forethought and few simple steps is all it takes to avoid potential trouble down the road? Here's how to kiss an unwanted smartphone good riddance while maintaining a little peace of mind.

Grab your contacts and go
Thanks to iOS and Android's heavy use of the cloud, i.e., online servers, to store basic personal info such as contacts and calendar appointments, moving between like devices (Android to Android, iPhone to iPhone) is a snap. Just make sure your latest account info has been synced recently with your Google account or Apple ID. Then, migrating data is as simple as punching in your particular account details into your new phone.

Transitioning between handsets of differing platforms is a little more complicated, but not terribly so. Moving from an iPhone to an Android phone is simple if you use a Gmail account as your primary repository for contacts and calendar details. If Apple's iCloud is where your info lives you'll have to port your address book and digital schedule over manually. Here's a deep dive into how to go from iOS to Android .

Pivoting from an Android device to an iPhone and dragging your contacts and appointments in tow will likely be less of a challenge. You can simply sign in on your iOS gadget with your Google account, then let it do the work. Pushing personal Android information directly to an iCloud account, however, requires third party software. Check out our handy guide which outlines everything you need to know to push Android aside for an iPhone .

Backup your apps associated data
Contacts and calendar data isn't too tricky to migrate from an old phone to a new mobile handset. To take along all your beloved apps and their linked information, however, requires stronger medicine. This is particularly the case with Android since the operating system's built-in backup feature only saves which apps you've installed, not the full snapshot of all the information they have accumulated. Don't worry, though, since many software solutions can tackle this task with ease. I personally suggest Helium which is a free download away, plus it doesn't require your phone to be rooted to work.

Backing up iPhones is easy in iTunes. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Thankfully, on the iOS side of the house, creating a complete image of your iPhone's software is a piece of cake. Just use iTunes' inherent abilities, plus your Mac, to perform the task. Here's everything you need to know to get it done .

Transfer your media (music, photos, and video)
Google Plus and Apple's iCloud services offer the option to push photos, music, and even video that lives on your phone, to online servers. That said, sometimes the old school manual approach is best. If you're not sure if all your multimedia files made the flight up to the Web, just drag and drop them yourself.

On an Android phone do this by connecting to a free USB port on your PC. Once the phone appears as a drive in the file explorer, simply drill down to the camera (likely called DCIM) and music folders to grab what you need and place them where you'd like on your computer. All iPhones use a similar method, but through the iTunes desktop software instead.

Know your SIM Card
All GSM phones require SIM cards to function, and if you're sticking with the same GSM carrier (AT&T, T-Moble) then swapping handsets is simply a matter of switching SIMs. One key bit of knowledge frequently overlooked is what types of SIM cards you're working with. Specifically what size your current SIM card is and what size your new phone accepts. For example, most recent handsets use micro-SIM cards, while many cutting-edge smartphones (including the iPhone 5, 5S, and Moto X) use a nano-SIM.


If you're migrating from a mini-SIM to a micro-SIM you can just cut the card down -- that is, if you own the right tool. You can go from a micro-SIM to a smaller nano-SIM yourself, too, but since there's less room (card plastic) to work with, there's less room for error. Of course the easiest way is to get a new SIM from your carrier, which costs about $15.

Wipe it well
Every smartphone, whether it be iPhones, Android devices, Windows phones, and BlackBerrys, let you perform a factory reset. Its a way to wipe the device's memory clean of installed apps, photos, videos, e-mail accounts, personal accounts -- everything. You even have the option to scour any data living on an installed SD card, though I suggest you physically remove it and take it with you.

For those who are extremely paranoid, you can take the extra step of linking the wiped phone to a dummy account, then conduct another factory reset. This increases the likelihood of would-be miscreants only having access to the most recent software and your decoy image, not your real data.

About the author

Brian Bennett is senior editor for appliances at CNET and reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from microwave ovens, blenders, ranges and coffee makers to personal weather stations. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he dreams of someday owning the sparkling house of the future.


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