Much of the data on your Android phone or tablet is backed up by Google (or the individual apps you use) automatically. Your photos can also be backed up automatically, but aren’t by default. However, some data is never backed up automatically.
We’ll explain exactly what data is backed up automatically and what isn’t, so you can rest easy knowing your data is safe – or take steps to back up some application data on your own.
What Google Backs Up Automatically
By default, Google backs up most types of data you care about and associates it with the appropriate Google service, where you can also access it on the web.
- Contacts, Email, and Calendars: Your Android contacts are synced with your Google contacts online (you can access these contacts from Gmail or on the dedicated Google Contacts page), your email is safely stored in your Gmail account, and calendar events are synced with Google Calendar.
- Chrome Browser Data: If you use the Chrome browser, your bookmarks synchronize with your Chrome sync account. In newer versions of Android on some phones, the stock browser syncs with your Chrome bookmarks as well.
- Google Talk Chat Logs: Google Talk chat logs are stored in your Gmail account, assuming you haven’t disabled chat logging in Gmail.
- Some System Settings: Android also synchronizes some other system settings – for example, Android stores saved passphrases for Wi-Fi networks and retrieves them on each Android device you use.
- Apps and Other Purchased Content: Any apps you have purchased (or installed) are linked with your Google account. When you set up a new Android device (or enter your account after resetting your Android phone or tablet to factory default settings), Android will offer to automatically download and install the apps you previously had installed. You can also view apps you have previously installed in the Google Play app, so you won’t forget which apps you have used (or purchased). Other content you purchase from Google Play is also tied to your Google account.
- Some Third-Party App Data: Third-party apps often, but not always, sync their data with web services. If you have an app containing data important to you, be sure to check whether it syncs data online before wiping or getting rid of your phone.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should give you some idea of what’s backed up automatically. The most important things are backed up automatically, so you don’t need to worry about losing your email, contacts, apps, or even saved Wi-Fi passphrases.
How to Automatically Back Up Your Photos
If you have upgraded your Google account to Google+, you can open the Google+ app and enable “Instant Upload” for your photos. Any photos you take on your phone will be automatically uploaded to a private album in your Google+ Photos account online (Google+ Photos is the new name for the service previously known as Picasa Web Albums.) You can have Android upload your photos immediately or wait until you connect to a Wi-Fi network.
You can access photos from your Google+ Photos in Android’s Gallery app, so you’ll never have to worry about losing your photos if you use the Instant Upload feature.
Google+ isn’t the only app that offers this type of feature. You can also use the Dropbox or Facebook apps to automatically upload your photos to your Dropbox or Facebook accounts. It’s your choice where you want to store your photos online.
What Google Doesn’t Back Up
Now that we’re covered what Google does automatically back up, let’s take a look at what they don’t:
- SMS Messages: Android doesn’t back up your text messages by default. If having a copy of you text messages is important to you, follow our guide to backing up your text messages to your Gmail account.
- Google Authenticator Data: For security reasons, Google doesn’t synchronize your Google Authenticator codes online. If you wipe your Android device, you’ll lose your ability to perform two-step authentication. You can still authenticate via SMS or a printed authentication code and then set up a new device with new Google Authenticator codes.
- Game Progress: Google provides an “Android Backup Service” that allows developers to back up their data and have it automatically restored in the future. However, you’ll find that many apps don’t take advantage of this feature. If you’re playing Angry Birds or Cut the Rope and you get a new phone or perform a factory restore, you will notice that your game progress was erased and you have to restart from the beginning. Some games may back up your data, but be warned that many do not.
- Logins: You will have to log into the apps you use on each new device. For example, Google won’t remember your Netflix password – you will have to enter it into the Netflix app each time you get a new device or restore your device to factory defaults.
- App Settings: Many other app settings aren’t backed up by default. Whether it’s preferences in an app you use or alarms you’ve created in the Clock app, they probably aren’t backed up online. Some third-party apps contain backup features that export the app’s data to a local file, which you must then keep track of manually (perhaps by uploading it to Google Drive).
This isn’t an exhaustive list, either. Much of this will depend on the individual apps you use and whether they back up your data or not.
Full Phone Backups
Most people shouldn’t have to back up their Android phone or tablet manually – Android’s default backup features should be more than good enough. However, some people may want to back up data that Android doesn’t back up by default – game saves, logins, app settings, or whatever else.
If you want to back up and restore your Android data manually, you have several options:
- Titanium Backup: Titanium Backup is the granddaddy of backup apps. You can use the free version of Titanium Backup, but Titanium Backup is so popular that Titanium Backup Pro is the second most popular paid Android app on Google Play, even at $6.50. However, Titanium Backup does require root access, so it’s not for everyone. We have previously covered using Titanium Backup to back up and restore your Android device.
- Android’s Hidden Local Backup Feature: Android has a built-in backup and restore feature that doesn’t require root, but this feature is hidden. You have to perform a backup or restore by connecting your device to your computer and running a command. The Ultimate Backup Tool simplifies things a bit, providing a different interface to the same hidden backup feature.
In short, Android already backs up the most important things by default – but be sure to enable Instant Upload using an app like Google+, Dropbox, or Facebook so you have a backup copy of your photos! Advanced users may want to use a local backup tool, but most people shouldn’t need to.
Image Credit: warrenski on Flickr
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 03/14/13