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Phones

What to do before selling or donating your phone

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

Josh Miller/CNET

Before you retire your trusty old phone in favor of something shiny and new, think twice about tossing it away blindly. In addition to all the precious digital content and media your phone accumulated, it 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 losing precious memories or exposing yourself to serious security and privacy risks. To avoid potential issues, follow these steps so you can say good riddance to your seasoned phone while maintaining some peace of mind.

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

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Grab your contacts and go

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

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Back dat (data) up on iOS and Android.

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 contacts and calendar either manually or through the use of apps like SmoothSync for Cloud Calendar and SmoothSync for Cloud Contacts, respectively. 

Pivoting from an Android device to an iPhone and porting over your contacts and calendar is less challenging. Just sign into your Google account on your device and your phone will 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.  

Read also:

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Back up your apps and data

Porting over all your beloved apps and their linked information used to require several steps. These days, however, Apple and Google are making it easier. If you're using Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later, you can backup individual app information, and not just the apps themselves, onto your Google Drive account. You can access this option in the same menu as your contacts and calendar backup.

Older versions of Android may require stronger medicine, unfortunately. That's because those systems' built-in backup feature only saves the 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.

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.

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Backing up iPhones is easy in iTunes.

Lynn La/CNET

Transfer your media (music, photos and video)

Apple ID and Google Photos and Music services offer options to push the photos, videos and music that live in your phone onto 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 USB port on your PC. Once the phone appears as a drive in the file explorer, 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, download Android File Transfer to move content. All iPhones use a similar method, but through the iTunes desktop software instead.

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

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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 in the US) then swapping phones is simply a matter of switching SIMs. One key bit of knowledge frequently overlooked is what type of SIM cards you're working with. Specifically, what size your current SIM card is and what size your new phone accepts. For example, older phones use micro-SIM cards, but most current phones now use smaller nano-SIM cards.

If you're migrating from a micro-SIM to nano-SIM, you can cut the card down -- that is, if you own the right tools and are very, very careful. Of course, the easiest way is to get a new SIM from your carrier, which are often provided for free, but can cost about $10.

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Want to get rid of last year's phones? Be sure to erase your data first.

Josh Miller/CNET

Wipe it well

Every phone, whether it be an iPhone or Android device, 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 microSD card, though I suggest you physically remove it and take it with you.

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For those who want to be extra careful, you can take the additional 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.