Everyone knows the pain of accidentally deleting a file that they didn’t mean to. It’s a heart sinking moment when you realize what you’ve done! Maybe it was a photo of a happy memory that you now can’t relive. Maybe it was an important document you needed for work. Whatever the case, losing files sucks (I’ve been there), but it’s a part of life in the digital age. That’s where Android data recovery comes in!
There may yet be a way to get that file back.
There may yet be a way to get that file back. Depending on the nature of the file, how thoroughly you deleted it, and how lucky you are; there are a few recovery methods that may work for you. Read on and we’ll take a look at some of the best techniques for retrieving lost files on Android.
Stop! Read this before you do ANYTHING else
If you are reading this article, there’s a good chance it is because you just deleted an important file. Hopefully, you came here first: because before you do anything else, you need to read this section!
The most important thing to know about Android data recovery is that you should stop using your phone as soon as possible. This will give you the best chance of getting your file back if it is really lost.
When you delete a file, the data actually isn't gone at all
You see, when you delete a file, the data actually isn’t gone at all. All that happens, is that Android marks the space where the information is stored as “empty.” That means you won’t be able to find the file, and it means Android will treat it as missing. That also means that the slots that once contained that data are marked as okay to write over, should space be needed by new files. It’s only when this happens that the data actually becomes lost and you can’t get it back.
And this is why it is so important that you stop using your phone and certainly stop taking new photos or installing new apps. In fact, I would highly recommend that you actually put your phone on airplane mode: this way you will prevent it from downloading emails, WhatsApp photos, and updates.
Hopefully, you won’t actually need to do this. The first options I’ll share with you are actually much simpler and easier. But it was important that I shared this advice with you first to ensure you stand the best chance of getting everything back.
Got that? Great! Then let’s get on with the best options for Android data recovery.
Method 1: Check your recycle bin
If you are lucky, then you won’t have deleted your files at all! Just like a PC, many Android apps have a recycle bin, meaning that files aren’t completely removed right away. For example, the Gallery app that ships with Samsung phones has such a safety net (this can also explain why deleting photos isn’t freeing up any space on your device!) To check the recycle bin, you will simply need to return to the top level on the Pictures or Albums tab, and then tap the menu in the top right. This will open up a menu that includes a “Recycle Bin” option. Select that, and you’ll be taken to a folder with all of your “deleted photos.”
Other apps also have this option, such as the popular file manager ES File Explorer. Whichever app you used to delete the file, check thoroughly to see if it has a recycle bin!
Method 2: Check cloud backup
Google Photos also has a bin that stores photos for 60 days, but this works a little bit differently: by backing up your photos to Google Drive. What this means, is that even if you completely deleted a photo via another app, it may still be salvageable via Google photos.
If you don’t see your photo or video here, check the bin from the hamburger menu in the top left. Files will remain here for 60 days. If you still don’t have any luck, then you can try visiting photos.google.com. Check the Trash folder from the hamburger menu too.
Even if you removed your photos from the bin in Google Photos, there is still a chance these changes haven’t yet been reflected in Google Drive – so check it quickly here, too!
Something you may not know about Google Drive is you can actually ask it to back up any folder on your device. Just open Photos, head into settings, and then select “Back up device folders.” This is a useful preventative measure to avoid Android data loss in future. Fool me once….
Of course, many other apps such as Gmail will also store your files on the cloud by default.
Method 3: Retrieving WhatsApp photos
If it’s a WhatsApp photo that you accidentally deleted, there are a number of options to try and get those photos back.
First, check the backup that is built into WhatsApp itself. Head to Settings > Chats > Chat Backup. You should see some information telling you when the last backup was carried out. If this is recent, then uninstall the app and reinstall it from the Play Store. This will then give you the option to restore your old chats and media. You’ll also see the optoin to backup photos to Google Drive, so try looking here too if that option is enabled.
But what if you accidentally wrote over your last backup? What if you deleted the photo, then saved a newer backup sans photo?
Even then, there is still hope! That’s because WhatsApp will actually keep a number of backup files on your device telling it which photos to retrieve from the servers.
Use the file browser of your choice and then head to WhatsApp > Databases. In here, you will see a number of files with names like msgstore-2020-01-05.crypt12. Simply find the most recent one of these and rename it to msgstore-1997.crypt12 (or whatever you like). Now WhatsApp will defer to the second most recent backup file when retrieving your photos!
You can also try looking in the WhatsApp media folder to see if your photos are there.
Remember: WhatsApp stores copies of the photos you send, as well as the ones you receive. So if you sent someone a photo but then deleted it from your phone’s camera folder, there may still be a copy in the WhatsApp Media folder! Or you could just ask the person you sent it to. You tried that already though, right?
Method 4: Try Android data recovery apps for PC
If neither of these steps worked, then you’ll need to start trying third party solutions. Android data recovery apps are sometimes able to retrieve data that has actually been lost. This works by looking where data has been stored even when it has been marked as deleted by Android.
Data recovery apps are sometimes able to retrieve data that has actually been lost.
This is where it becomes important that you stopped using your phone as much as possible to avoid corrupting the data that you’re trying to recover. It also means you’re in a bit of a catch22 though, seeing as installing a 3rd party data recovery app on your smartphone might actually cause you to override the files you’re trying to save!
To prevent this problem, you should always try using a desktop computer recovery app first. We recommend Recuva as a good place to start. Install this app, and the wizard will then take you through a number of steps to try and recover your lost files. This method of Android data recovery works a little better for files that were stored on memory cards vs files that were stored internally.
Method 5: Play Store Android data recovery apps
If Recuva doesn’t do the job for you, then the next port of call is to try Android data recovery apps installed directly onto your device. In all honesty, this is not particularly likely to yield different results. That said, different apps do tend to use slightly different methods, so it certainly can’t hurt to try.
Method 6: File restoration
Every now and then, you may “recover” a file, only to find that it is corrupt beyond recognition. For example, you might save a photo and only be able to view the top few lines of the image, or you might get a video file that doesn’t play.
If this happens, there are actually services that offer to restore the damaged files for you. This may be possible depending on how much of the original file is still in tact (only a small deviation will render it unreadable by most apps, and this can sometimes be fixed manually). There are also programs that offer this same service, but I recommend that you only work with services run by actual human beings. Otherwise, you risk spending a lot of money on a piece of software that ultimately doesn’t work for you.
I once successfully used a service called MP4Repair.org. They overcharged significantly, but I was able to haggle them down a long way.
Method 7: Android data recovery services
Depending on how desperate and wealthy you are, another option may be to use a data recovery service. These services offer to recover data from any device, using a variety of different methods.
For example, one company called OnTrack.com, promises that “If data can be stored on it, we can recover it.” These companies need to collect your device in person, and will likely use a combination of the strategies listed here, along with the aforementioned file restoration processes.
I’ve not used any of these companies, but seeing as they only charge if they assess the file as recoverable, you don’t have a lot to lose. The only issue is that they are a lot more expensive than other options on this list, so you need to think long and hard about whether you really need those files.
Method 8: Contact the developer
This is something of a long shot, but if your lost files belonged to a game or an app that you downloaded from the Play Store, then you may actually be able to get them back with a little help from the developer!
That’s because developers will manage (or at least have access to) the servers that contain cloud backups of files. Not only that, but they may also know of some sneaky backups their apps make by default.
Either way, there’s a slim chance they will be able to retrieve the lost files from your account, or provide directions to help you do so yourself.
Or they’ll just think you’re a lunatic. But you can probably live with that!
Closing comments and a word of caution
Unfortunately, there is never a guarantee that you can retrieve lost Android files. With a bit of luck and determination though, there’s at least a reasonable chance.
There is never a guarantee that you can retrieve lost Android files.
But I waned to part on a word of caution: losing files is an extremely frustrating and emotional experience. When we’re frustrated and emotional, we can sometimes make rash decisions and do things that we normally wouldn’t.
So, if you are thinking about spending hundreds of dollars on file restoration software that likely won’t work, or if you have already wasted hours trying to recover work that only took you half an hour to create in the first place; maybe it’s time to get some perspective. Any work you try to recreate will come quicker (and probably better) the second time around. And you’ll still have memories to help make up for photos you might have lost. Just don’t drive yourself mad over it.
Read next: How to backup your Android phone
That said, I sincerely hope that one of these Android data recovery methods works for you, and that you’re able to get your files back in one piece.