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December 2014



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Congratulations: you just got a brand new Android phone! If you’re lucky, you got a great deal and a huge upgrade. Even so, your old handset has been with you for years and it’s set up how you like it—with all of your apps, contacts, and settings. Here’s how to move all of that precious data to your new phone.

For some people, setting up a new phone is fun, but if you just want to start using your new Android phone, here are some ways to get everything from the old phone to the new one as quickly as possible.

We’ve broken this guide into three categories: The first section is all about how backups work in new Android Lollipop devices. The second section is for stock devices, for users who don’t want to go through the hassle of rooting their old phone, or who have a new phone that hasn’t been rooted yet. The third section is for rooted phones, for users who know their way around under the hood of their Android device.

How Backups Work in Android Lollipop

Android Lollipop may not quite be here for everyone yet, but if you’ve been using the Developer Preview on your Nexus devices, you may have noticed that the way backups are handled are completely different—and much much better. Here’s how it works.

When you set up a new phone running Lollipop, you get two options while you walk through the setup process, and both of them make bringing data from your old phone to your new one quick, painless, and seamless:

  • Tap & Go uses NFC on both devices to transfer data like accounts, passwords, installed apps and app data, saved Wi-Fi networks, and more. Once you’ve tapped the two devices together (or really, just put them near each other), you’ll be prompted to log in to your Google account on the new device. Once you do, the transfer begins, and your apps start downloading on the new device. You just sit back, wait, and let the process finish. The video above from originiative shows you how it works. You have to have access to your old device, and both devices have to have NFC, of course, but if that sounds like you, it’s easy, fast, and super simple.
  • Get Your Apps & Data is equally impressive. After you’ve logged into your primary Google account, this step uses everything Google knows about your registered Android devices to give you the choice to restore directly to your new phone. You can see (in the screenshot to the left) your list of Android devices, choose the one you want to restore from, and even tap the list of installed apps and app data to restore as well (if it’s supported.) Select any device, and then go through the list of apps to either install them all and download their app data, or leave them off your new phone. It’s more of a “manual” restore, but it’s still incredibly easy.

Both of these methods require that you have your new and old phone registered with the same Google account, and that your apps sync app data with Google Play automatically. Most newer apps do this, but you may run into a few that still leave their data littered around your phone and you’ll find something missing. For more, check out this walkthrough by Android Central.

Either way, it’s remarkable how much data your Google account holds on its own, even in KitKat—your wallpaper, installed apps, app data, contacts (via Google Contacts), saved SMS messages (especially if you’re using Hangouts for SMS and IM), and more. There are still some things your Google account won’t save, however. Recent calls, saved photos and video (which is why camera backup via Google+ Photos or Dropbox is a good idea), downloaded files, and locally saved music are all things you’ll need to make sure you move on your own, either via cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive, or using a different backup tool, discussed below.

Moving Between Non-Rooted (Stock) Phones, or From an Old Device to a New One

If you just bought a new phone and there’s no method to root it yet, or you just don’t want to root your device at all, you have options too. The tool for the job here will be Helium App Sync and Backup. The pro version will set you back $5, but includes features like Android to Android app sync and cloud backup, which we’ll need here. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Head to Google Play and install Helium, along with the Pro license (you’ll only have to pay for it once) on both your old and new phones.
  2. Download and install the Carbon desktop application for your Windows, Mac, or Linux PC. If you’re installing the Windows version, you’ll also need to get the drivers for your Android phone.
  3. The first time you launch Helium, it’ll ask you to connect your phone to your computer via USB and open the desktop app. Go ahead and do this on your old phone first. Once they’re paired, you can back up to your desktop, or, since you have the Pro version, back up to the cloud or directly to another Android device.
  4. On your old phone, you should see “0 apps selected for backup” at the bottom of the screen, then a square directly underneath. At the top of the screen, you’ll see a scrolling list of the apps installed on your phone. Tap each one you want to move (along with its data) to your new phone, or tap “select all” at the bottom of the screen to get everything on your device.
  5. Below the “Backup” button, you’ll see a checkbox for “App Data Only.” If you uncheck it, you’ll be prompted on your new phone to download the app from Google Play, and your Helium backup will only include app data (save games, SMS messages, recent calls, photos, etc.) This means the backup file will be smaller and the backup will take less time, but you’ll have to install each app on the new phone before your can restore the data. Unchecking the box will streamline the process. We recommend unchecking it, but you can go either way.
  6. Once you’ve selected your apps, tap “Backup.” You’ll get a popup asking you to choose your backup destination. Internal storage, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box are all listed by default. You have a choice here: You can back up to Dropbox or Google Drive if you prefer (since you have a Pro account), or you can back up to your device’s internal storage or SD card. The latter makes it easier to sync any changes you make to your new phone, but if you’re only doing this once, either method works.
  7. Select your backup destination. The backup will begin immediately. Wait for it to finish (and sync to cloud storage, if you opted for that.)
  8. Now it’s time to move your data to your new phone. Open Helium on your new device, and connect it to your computer the same way we did in step three above. Next, tap the “Restore and Sync” tab.
  9. Next, choose where you stored your backups. If you stored them in the cloud, tap “Add Cloud Storage Account” to log in to your Dropbox or Google Drive account and find your backups. If you stored your backups locally on your other Android phone, you should either see it in the list here, or you can tap to log in and view your other devices. Do this, then your old device will appear in the list.
  10. From here, if you backed up to the cloud, you can tap your cloud service of choice, log in, find your backup, and browse the list of apps and app data in the cloud. If you backed up to another device, tap that device name to get the same list of available apps and data to restore.
  11. The same way you backed up the items, you can either select apps individually to restore, or you can tap “Select All” at the bottom of the screen to grab everything at once. If you opted for the smaller backup, you’ll have to tap each unchecked app to download it before restoring from it. Helium will kick you over to the right download page for each. If you went for the full backup, just tap “Restore.” The restore will begin, and you can sit back and wait.
  12. You’ll see a progress bar across the screen, and when your restore is complete, you’ll be notified. You may have to rearrange your home screens the way you like them, but all of your apps and their data should be back on your device.

Helium has come a long way from its original release. The app now supports a number of devices it didn’t before (including Motorola phones,) and still doesn’t require root to take full backups (although some protected app data may not come along for the ride.) If you run into issues, or the app isn’t working the way you expect, check the support wiki here. It’s remarkably complete, and has answers to a number of common questions. For a detailed walkthrough of PC backups as well as grouping, deleting old backup jobs, and more, this guide to Helium from The Android Soul is a good read as well.

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