Switching phones can be a complete pain. Not only do you have to make sure all of your data is backed up, but you also have to find ways to transfer your accounts and make sure all your favorite apps get reinstalled.
Our reviewers at Android Authority have become pros at switching between devices every couple of weeks without much of a headache. Here’s how we do it.
Things to do before switching phones
- Before you switch phones, you’ll want to make sure you’ve backed up your important data, contacts, photos, and files. Up next we’ll run through how you can do that, fast, to ensure you can transfer phone data easily. We do have a separate entire guide dedicated to backing up your Android phone for security, while this article focuses on backups and preparation for switching phones and transferring data.
- You’ll also want to make sure your old phone and your new phone are fully charged and ready to go without major interruption. Some manufacturers will include dongles or cables to help you transition from the old device to the new. If so, that’s great, but it’s not always common, and many people are switching to used phones, without dongles and proprietary cables.
- Do it on Wi-Fi. Just in case, with lots of downloads and uploads about to happen, you’ll want to be on Wi-Fi, not your carrier or network data if possible. Have your Wi-Fi password on hand!
- Switching from iPhone to Android? This guide isn’t really for you, but this one is: How to switch from iPhone to Android.
- Tip before we start: If you can, don’t wipe your old phone for as long as possible. You can never quite be sure if your Android switch and app weirdness might mean you need to fire up the old phone one more time to track down data or files. Some banking apps, for example, like to authorize single devices and don’t let new devices become authorized until the old device has been manually unpaired. It’s a strange world in apps sometimes there, and keeping your old phone for a week or two at least might save you some phone calls, at worst.
Install backup apps:
There are some free Google apps that are highly recommended to use while preparing for a backup, if you don’t already. Google also makes it extremely easy to back up your pictures, videos, and other files using Photos and Drive. With Google Photos, you can choose to automatically back up every photo, screenshot, and video found on your phone to the cloud. Backing these up in their original quality will count against your online storage allotment, but Google offers to store all of your files for free if you allow the company to downsize photos to 16MP and videos to 1080p automatically.
Google Drive is great because it allows you to upload any files from your phone and access them from almost any other device. Using the app, you can save any significant documents to the cloud and pull them back down to a new smartphone after you’ve signed in with your Google account.
Google gives each account holder 15GB of free cloud storage to use however they like. If this isn’t enough, you can sign up for Google One and pay for more space.
For backing up crucial SMS, we do also regularly hear people who use SMS Backup & Restore to save SMS and MMS as well, which Google may not fully backup automatically depending on the SMS app you use and how you save media.
Use backups in your apps:
One useful feature for more complex apps with vital information is their own backups. For example, if you send messages through WhatsApp, you can go into its settings and have the app save your chat records to a Google Drive account, which ensures you don’t lose a message. Signal offers the same, while Telegram stores your chats in the cloud, so that it’s accessible once you login on your new device.
You might be surprised how many apps offer these types of services, but you’ll have to double-check each one that might have your most important files, especially if you have documents or a special photo or vault app.
How to transfer data from one phone to another
Option 1: Android’s built-in backup option
Over the last couple of years, Google has perfected Android’s backup and restore feature and made it easy to Android switch. As long as the option is enabled, your phone should handle saving your app data, call history, contacts, device settings, and even SMS text messages to your Google Drive account.
Full Android backups can be enabled by going to Settings > System > Advanced > Backup. Backups happen automatically in the background, but they can be manually started on Android phones just by hitting the Back up now button.
By going this route, when you enter the setup process on a new Android phone, Google should offer you the option to restore all of this data from the cloud. Just select the latest backup and the handset will handle the work to copy data across.
One important tip: You can’t restore a backup from a more recent Android version onto a phone running an older Android version. That means you can’t restore an Android 10 phone to an older Android 9 phone: the process assumes you’re always upgrading. But, if this is a problem, you should be able to update the Android 9 phone first, it’s just going to take some time.
Option 2: ADB backup
Recommended only for power users and developers, one of the lesser-known backup methods is using Google’s Android debug bridge (ADB) tool. You can back up most of the data on your phone as well as installed applications. The backup file is even saved to your computer so it can be accessed at any time or restored onto any Android device. That gives you more control over your backup options and lets you the same base to multiple phones at once.
But, as this process involves using Google’s developer tools, we caution you to only use this option if you have prior experience using ADB or you’re ok going slowly and cautiously on your journey.
To get started, you’ll need to download and set up the Android SDK on your computer. Once you’ve enabled developer options and USB debugging on your smartphone, connect it to your computer and make sure ADB is working correctly.
From there, type in and run adb backup -apk -shared -all -f <filepath>/backup.ab in the Terminal or Command Prompt. From there, a window should appear on your Android device. Here, you have the option to password protect the backup the file and initiate the process.
Make sure your smartphone’s display doesn’t go to sleep during the backup process or else it’ll stop working and won’t save all of your device’s data.
When you’ve got your new device set up and plugged into your computer, run the adb restore <filepath>/backup.ab command. A similar window will pop up on your phone asking you if you would like to restore the backed up data. After several minutes, you should see a rough copy of your old device on your new one.
Unfortunately, ADB backups aren’t perfect. It’s a route some take to have a backup file on sitting on a local computer, not the cloud, and doesn’t necessarily capture everything.
How to transfer apps from one Android to another Android phone
Transferring apps is actually pretty straightforward, with a few options available.
1. Restoring from previous backups
If you’ve successfully backed up your device, the first step is to let Android access your backups, which includes the list of apps you had installed on your last phone. As long as your new Android phone can connect (again, get it on Wi-Fi!), your new phone will install all available apps from the Google Play Store again. Unfortunately, some apps will remember you, some will need you to login. That’s down to developer choices, it’s not your fault!
2. Go to your Google Play Store library
If you elected not to replicate your apps from your last device, or simply skipped that option to start with a clean phone, you can quickly access your previously installed apps. To do so, open Google Play Store > Menu > My apps & games > Library.
This will list every app you’ve installed on any device associated with your account. This may be a long list of forgotten friends with lots of decisions to make as you go. It may be faster to do exactly the same thing from just from a PC on the web, or it may be slower depending on how many clicks are involved.
Don’t forget passwords and 2FA
One of the most prominent pain points when switching between devices is having to log back into each app. While some developers have implemented the ability to log in using your Google account (or other social media accounts), many require a username and password.
The easiest and most secure way to breeze through this process is to use a password manager like LastPass or 1Password. Not only do these services allow you to generate incredibly complex passwords and keep them secure, using the password Autofill APIs added to Android back in 2017, these apps can quickly paste in your credentials so you don’t need to remember them. Of course, the autofill API isn’t implemented in every app, so you’ll eventually have to copy your password directly from the password manager.
On top of this, various apps can authenticate Two Factor Authentication (2FA) logins. While we strongly recommend that you secure your every possible account with some form of 2FA, you have to be careful when switching phones. Being locked out of even just one 2FA secured login is going to be painful, at the least.
The good news is, finally, popular 2FA apps like Google Authenticator finally do give you the option of backing up 2FA to transfer to another device. The likes of Authy and LastPass have done this for a while too.
If you’re rooted…
If your Android phone is rooted, the fantastic tool called Titanium backup can make an almost perfect copy of your entire smartphone. Not only does it reinstall every app you had on your old handset, it also attempts to remember all of your in-app preferences and can sometimes even keep you logged in.
Of course, the caveat here is you have to be rooted, which isn’t an option for a lot of people. Thankfully, all of the above solutions make for an almost seamless backup and restore experience so you shouldn’t have to worry about jumping through hoops to make Titanium backup work.
How do you backup and restore your phone? Let us know if you’ve spotted any useful new apps or techniques as Android continues to mature and evolve.