How to back up your Android phone and keep all of your important information safe
Take five minutes and make sure your Android phone is being backed up.
Jason CiprianiContributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Keeping a current backup of your Android phone and all of the data it holds is an important task that's part of owning a phone. Let's be honest, phones break, get misplaced or -- even worse -- get stolen. And when that happens, the financial burden of replacing a phone is stressful enough; don't add to the stress by not having a back up of your calendar or photos.
Here's the thing about backing up an Android phone: It can be confusing. The backup process and even the service used is slightly different if you own a Pixel 4 or a Galaxy S10.
It's a good idea to sit down with your phone in hand and take a few minutes to make sure it's being regularly backed up.
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How to back up nearly all Android phones
Built in to Android is a backup service, similar to Apple's iCloud, that automatically backs up things like your device settings, Wi-Fi networks and app data to Google Drive. The service is free and doesn't count against storage in your Google Drive account.
Google's backup service is built in to every Android phone, but some device makers like Samsung provide their own solutions as well. If you own a Galaxy phone, you can use one or both services -- it doesn't hurt to have a backup of a backup.
Google's backup service should be turned on by default after you set up your Android device, but you should double-check that's indeed the case. If you have trouble finding the backup settings by following the steps outlined below, use the search bar in the Settings app to find "backup."
Back up apps, data and settings
To view your backup settings, open the Settings app on your Android device and tap on System > Backup. There should be a switch labeled "Back up to Google Drive." If it's turned off, turn it on. You can select which Google account you want to use to store your backups by tapping on the Accounts option if you are signed into more than one Google account on your phone.
Settings and data for apps not made by Google (varies by app)
You'll see a list of data categories under the Active Backups section, along with the last time that information was backed up. Tap a section, such as App Data, to view more information or fine-tune which apps are backed up. For example, if you tap Photos & Videos, the backup settings page for Google Photos app is automatically opened.
If you're switching from one Pixel phone to another, your home screen layout is backed up and restored. However, I've had mixed luck when restoring a back up from a Pixel to, say, a Motorola phone. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary.
At any time, you can visit this section and tap Back Up Now to manually start a backup. Make sure your phone is connected to a strong Wi-Fi network, and plug it into a charger to speed up the process. If you're upgrading phones, you should manually start a backup before setting up your new phone.
Google Photos provides free unlimited photo and video backup, as long as you're all right with Google changing them to "high-quality." That just means that Google caps the photo size to 16 megapixels and videos at 1080p.
You can opt to have Google Photos back up your photos and videos in their original quality, but anything backed up will count against your Google Drive storage limit.
The app will automatically back up your photos and videos whenever you're connected to Wi-Fi.
Samsung Galaxy devices
Samsung offers its own backup and restore service through Samsung Cloud, and in my experience, it's been slightly more reliable than Google's backup service.
Check to make sure Samsung's backup service is turned on by opening the Settings app and selecting Accounts and backup > Backup and restore. There you'll find backup settings for your Samsung account, as well as Google account.
Use both services. Using both not only creates two backups of your phone but also gives you the flexibility to switch to a non-Samsung phone a year from now, if you decide to, because you can use Google's backup service to restore your phone.
Under the Samsung account section, tap Back up data and make sure all of the data categories you want to be backed up to Samsung are checked. You can manually start a backup by selecting the Back up button at the bottom of the screen.
Backups to Samsung Cloud will use the 15GB of free storage space your Samsung Account has, with options to upgrade to 50GB for $0.99 or 200GB for $2.99 per month.
My favorite aspect of Samsung's backup service is that you can restore a single piece of data -- home screen layout, for example -- at any time. For instance, if you decide to rearrange your home screen and move a bunch of apps around, but later change your mind, you can go into Samsung's back up settings and restore your home screen from the last backup with just a couple of taps.
Under the Google Account section, make sure Back up my data is turned on. Selecting Google Account will open the same Google backup settings screen outlined in the section above, where you can view the current status of backups, as well as begin a manual backup.
What about backing up your files?
When it comes to backing up files you've downloaded or stored on your phone's storage, you have a couple of options. You can either connect your phone to your computer and move the files over manually, or you can use cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox.
Set up either app on your Android device, then select the files or folders you want to upload and let the app do its thing.
Going forward, if you get in the habit of saving any files in the cloud, you'll always have a copy backed up, and you shouldn't have to worry about routinely manually uploading any updates to either service.