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.
Editors' note: This piece was originally published on December 18, 2013, and has been updated.
Grab your contacts and go
Thanks to Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile'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.
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 rundown on how to go from iOS to Android.
Pivoting from an Android device to an iPhone or a Windows Mobile handset and dragging your contacts and appointments in tow will likely be less of a challenge. You can sign in on your gadget with your Google account, then let it do the work. In addition, if you're switching to Apple iOS 9 or later, the company released the Move to iOS Android app to help transfer photos and messages.
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. There are some software solutions that can tackle this task, however, like Helium for Google Android.
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 computer and iTunes, 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 Photos and Music, 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. If you have a Mac and an Android phone, you can download Android File Transfer to help move content. 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-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, many handsets use micro-SIM cards, but more and more premium smartphones (including the Apple iPhone 6S and Google Nexus 6P) 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 iPhone, Android device, Windows Mobile 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.
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.