While many of us keep a lot of our personal data in the cloud on various services like Dropbox, Gmail, and Google Photos, or consume our media through streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, and YouTube, there's bound to be some personal data stored locally on your phone you might want to keep before conducting a factory reset on it. Whether you're preparing to sell your phone, giving it a wipe to speed it back up again, or are fixing a broken device, here are a few steps you can take to ensure you preserve the most amount of data possible.
Check account sync status
Even if you do use the cloud for most things, checking Android's sync status for your accounts is a good idea. This make sure everything that should be backed up is actually being backed up. Open the Settings app, tap the Accounts option, select your Google account, and verify that all the apps and services under the account have been synced recently.
If some of the services haven't been synced recently (for example, if you haven't opened one of the apps in a long time), tap the Sync Now button on the page. Depending on your version of Android, the Sync Now option might be under a menu. The reason to check this area is simple: sometimes sync breaks, especially on things like Google Contacts or a few other notorious Google services.
Make sure your photos are backed up
If you use Google Photos to back up the photos and videos you take with your phone, you should make sure it's still doing that. All you have to do is open the Photos app and look for the cloud checkmark at the top, which indicates everything has been backed up.
If you previously turned off cloud backups in Photos, you can easily turn it back on to do a big, one-time sync. Just open the side menu, tap 'Settings,' and select 'Back up & sync' to turn syncing on. Super easy.
Of course, there are plenty of other photo backup apps for Android, including OneDrive and Dropbox. If you're using one of those, go into the app's settings and check the current sync status. You can also import photos manually into these apps if you only want certain files or folders.
If you don't like using photo backup services, you can also simply copy all the images and videos to a flash drive or your computer.
Backing up photos/videos/other files to a flash drive
If you have enough storage on your flash drive, and an adapter if one is needed (either Type-C or microUSB), you can just copy your phone's entire camera folder to the drive. Plug the drive into your phone, then use the Files app (or the file manager of your choice) on your device to copy the 'DCIM' folder on your phone to the drive. Any other folders and types of files, like your Downloads folder, can be copied just as easily.
Every phone manufacturer has a different file manager, so if you can't figure it out, download Files by Google from the Play Store. Once you've opened the app, here's what you need to do:
- Go the 'Browse' tab.
- Select your internal storage
- Find the 'DCIM' folder in the list and hold down on it until a checkmark appears.
- Tap the menu button at the top-right and select 'Copy to'.
- Select your flash drive in the list.
Once your files are copied, you can disconnect the flash drive and back up the photos however you see fit.
Backing up photos or files to a PC
An easier option is just to connect your phone to your computer and copy the phone's DCIM or other desired folder, since all you need is the USB cable that (probably) came with your phone. Make sure your phone is in MTP (file transfer) mode from the notification shade, and not set to charge or another USB connection mode.
Backing up photos or files to a Mac
For Macs, you'll need to download the (awful) Android file transfer tool. This app is so notoriously bad and out of date that basically no one recommends using it. It often just straight up refuses to work, and is a big headache all around. So, we strongly suggest you use a cloud storage provider like Dropbox or set up an FTP server or SMB share on your phone with a tool like AndSMB.
These tools are messy and old, but they do work. Again, if you're uploading something really, really big, we recommend a dedicated cloud service like Drive or Dropbox. Not everyone wants their files in the cloud, but they don't have to be there forever just because you used them: delete the files from the cloud once you've downloaded them to your machine, and you'll be all good.
Copy contacts and calendars to the cloud
When you create a contact or calendar event, your phone might give you the option of saving the data in the phone's internal storage, instead of in the cloud. While that's a nice feature to have, especially for the privacy-conscious, it also means you might have saved some important data locally if you didn't pay close attention. Before you wipe our phone, you should check to see if any of your contacts or calendar events aren't backed up to the cloud.
The exact process for this varies by phone model, but you can start by opening the Contacts app and looking for a menu with all your accounts. For example, the Contacts application on recent Samsung phones displays 'Phone' alongside your Samsung and Google accounts. An option to move Phone contacts to an online account appears in a top menu.
Copying a local contact to an online account, on a Samsung Galaxy phone
It's also possible to store a limited number of contacts on your phone's SIM card, but this isn't a common practice anymore, so it's pretty hard to do it accidentally.
Checking for locally-stored calendar events is mostly the same process: open your Calendar app and look for a calendar not linked to any accounts. It's usually called 'Phone' or 'My calendar'.
Left: Phone calendar on LG phone; Right: Phone calendar on a Samsung Galaxy phone
However, most mobile calendar apps don't give you an easy way to export calendars. The best way to do this is to install this utility from the Play Store, open it, select your phone's calendar, and tap the 'Export' button. This will give you an .ics calendar file, which you can import into Google Calendar, Outlook, or any other cloud service.
Remove online accounts and disable Device Protection
If you're selling your phone, or giving it to someone else, you'll need to log out from all your Google accounts and remove any lock screen passwords. Android introduced a feature called 'Device Protection' back in 2015, which requires you to enter the password of the last Google account used on the device, after the device has been wiped in many cases.
While Google does say that Device Protection shouldn't trigger a password check after factory reset on most phones, removing your Google accounts and lockscreen before resetting is the only way to guarantee it won't.
To disable Device Protection, you'll first need to log out of all your Google accounts. Open the Settings app on your phone, go to the Accounts section, and tap 'Remove account' under each account.
Removing accounts on a Google Pixel phone
Removing accounts on a Samsung Galaxy phone
Once you've done that, disable any lock screen passwords you might have. This can be done from the Security section of the Settings app.