What to do before selling or donating your phone

Selling or giving away your smartphone this season? Prep your device properly with this handy game plan.

Whatever phone you have, be sure to follow these steps before deciding to part with it. Josh Miller/CNET

Before you retire your trusty old smartphone in favor of something shiny and new, think twice about tossing it away blindly. In addition to all the precious digital entertainment and media your handset has accumulated, it also holds a wealth of sensitive personal data that you don't want disappearing or falling into the wrong hands.

From meaningful photos to vital emails and text messages, failing to prep your cast-off device properly before donating or selling it can mean the loss of precious memories, or exposure to serious security and privacy risks.

To avoid potential trouble, follow these few simple steps so you can kiss your unwanted smartphone good riddance while maintaining a little peace of mind.

Grab your contacts and go

Thanks to Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows Phone's heavy use of online servers and clouds, storing and backing up basic personal information such as contacts and calendar appointments is a snap. And moving between like devices (iPhone to iPhone, for example) is especially easy. Just make sure your latest account info has been synced recently with your Apple ID, Google, or Microsoft Outlook account. Then, migrating data is as simple as punching in your particular account details into your new handset.

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Back dat (data) up on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Lynn La/CNET

Transitioning between handsets of differing platforms is a little more complicated, but not terribly so. Moving 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 (likewise if you're coming from a Microsoft Outlook account). Here's a thorough run-down on how to go from iOS to Android.

Pivoting from an Android device to an iPhone or Windows Phone and dragging your contacts and appointments in tow will likely be less of a challenge. You can simply sign in on your gadget with your Google account, then let it do the work. Pushing personal Android information directly to an iCloud or OneDrive 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.

Back up your apps and data

Contacts and calendar data isn't too tricky to migrate from an old phone to a new one. Porting over 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; many software solutions can tackle this task with ease. I personally suggest Helium, which is just a free download away, plus it doesn't require your phone to be rooted to work.

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Backing up iPhones is easy in iTunes. Lynn La/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)

Apple iCloud, Google Plus and Microsoft OneDrive 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 and Windows Phone handset, 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 for Android devices) 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.

Snip snap: If your SIM card has to be a different size, a quick trim can do the trick. Sharon Profis/CNET

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-Mobile) 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 Apple iPhone 6 and Motorola 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 more 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 an iPhones, Android device, Windows phone, or BlackBerry, lets you perform a factory reset. It's a way to wipe the device's memory clean of installed apps, photos, videos, email 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.

Play

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 that would-be miscreants might only have access to the most recent software and your decoy image, not your real data.

Editors' Note: This piece was originally published on December 18, 2013, and has been updated.

About the author

Lynn La is CNET's associate editor for cell phone and smartphone news and reviews. Prior to coming to CNET, she wrote for the Sacramento Bee and was a staff editor at Macworld. In addition to covering technology, she has reported on health, science, and politics.

Brian Bennett

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. See full bio

 

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