A factory reset will put your Android phone back to the same state it was in when you bought it. You always want to perform a factory reset before you sell your phone, and resets can solve a range of problems. But look before you jump! Resetting your phone deletes all your personal information. Make sure you back up your data first!

We keep a ton of valuable information on our phones, including contacts, appointments, photos, notes, and more. Regularly backing up your phone is a good idea.

The problem? How to do that isn’t always clear. Part of the reason is that there’s no standard Android phone. They’re made by different manufacturers, run different versions of Android, and bundle different apps. The way you back up your phone may be different from how other Android users back up theirs.

So in this article, we’ll cover a range of ways to get that backup done. We’ll show you how to use Android’s features and cover a range of third-party backup applications.

1. How to Back Up Using Google’s Apps & Services

Google provides several official methods to back up your phone. They’re outlined briefly on Google’s support pages. These methods are not available on all devices—some were introduced with Android 9. Additionally, details vary from phone to phone, such as exactly where in the Settings app you’ll find the features.

For example, some phones place the backup settings on the main page, while others place it under Personal. The section may be called “Backup,” “Backup & reset,” or “Backup & Restore.” The layout of the settings can vary from phone to phone. You may need to use a little common sense or search around to find the backup feature.

Finally, some methods don’t back up all of your data. I recommend using a combination—for instance, use the Backup & Reset app, then copy files to your computer. Note that some non-Google third-party apps may not be able to back up their settings and data this way. If in doubt, contact the developer.

Android Backup & Reset

Let’s start with the backup app that’s built right into Android. It’s included on many Android devices that run recent versions of Android, though some manufacturers (including Samsung and LG) offer their own. We’ll cover those in the next section.

According to Google Support, the app backs up the data and settings of the following:

  • Google Contacts
  • Google Calendar
  • Text messages (SMS, not MMS)
  • Wi-Fi networks and passwords
  • Wallpapers
  • Gmail settings
  • Apps
  • Display settings, including brightness and sleep
  • Language settings, including input devices
  • Date and time settings

What’s missing? As I mentioned, settings and data for some third-party apps may not be backed up. Additionally, photos and files are not backed up by this app, so we’ll cover several ways you can do that below.

Here’s how to back up your Android phone using Backup & Reset:

  • Open Settings, then navigate to Backup & reset
  • Tap Back up my data, then enable the Back up my data switch
  • Select the Google account to back up to
  • Enable the Automatic restore switch
  • Tap on your Google account, then check every app and service you want to back up

After the factory reset, here’s how to restore your data and settings:

  • During the setup procedure, you’ll be asked if you want to copy your accounts, apps, and data from another device. Say No thanks
  • Sign in to your Google account. Follow the next few prompts
  • It’ll ask if you want to restore the last backup. When it does, tap Next

Your device will then be restored.

Copy and Paste Files to Your Computer Manually Using USB

You can connect your Android phone to your computer and transfer files as if it was a USB flash disk. Note that this won’t back up everything. It works with anything stored as files, such as photos, music, and documents, but not with information stored in databases. That means your contacts, call logs, apps, and more, will not be backed up. 

This works with both Mac and Windows. On a Mac? You’ll first need to install Android File Transfer. Here is what you need to do that:

  • Unlock your phone. If it’s the first time you’ve connected the phone to your Mac, open Android File Transfer (that will happen automatically in future)
  • Connect your phone via USB cable
  • Select File Transfer from the popup message on your phone (you may need to pull down the notification bar on older devices)
  • When the file transfer window automatically opens on your computer, use it to drag-and-drop the files you want to back up
  • Eject and unplug your phone

Note: Some folders you should backup include DCIM (your photos), Downloads, Movies, Music, Pictures, Ringtones, Video.

Sync Data to Your Google Account

Google also offers a manual way of syncing your data to your Google account.

  • Open Settings and navigate to Google Account
  • Select Google

Here you’ll find a list of data types you can sync to your Google account. They include:

  • App data
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Drive
  • Gmail

Each item will display the date and time it was last synced. You can then sync the items manually by tapping on each one.

Back up Your Files Using the Google Drive App

Files and documents stored in the Google Drive app are automatically stored in the cloud. Copying your files there is a convenient alternative to copying them to your computer, as we covered above.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Open Google Drive on your Android device
  • Tap the Add icon. Select Upload, then Upload Files
  • Select the files you want to back up, then tap Done
  • Your files will be transferred

Some third-party apps, such as WhatsApp, can be configured to automatically back up their data to Google Drive. Here are WhatsApp’s instructions on how to do that.

2. How to Back Up Using Third-Party Apps

None of Google’s apps will back up your entire device in one step. However, you can get close by using a combination of the methods we covered above. Third-party apps are a mixed bag. Some can back up everything with a single click, while others back up only limited data types.

Backup Software that Runs on Your Computer

MobiKin Assistant for Android (Windows only) can manage your Android device in several ways and can back up its contents to your PC with a single click. It’s also able to back up your data selectively via USB or Wi-Fi.

A tutorial with screenshots on how to back up your phone with the software is provided. Normally $49.95, the software is discounted to $29.95 at the time of this writing. A free trial is available.

Coolmuster Android Assistant (Windows, Mac) looks very similar to MobiKin’s program but is a little cheaper and also available for Mac users. It can back up your phone before a factory reset with one click, and may even be able to help if you reset it without first performing a backup. A detailed backup tutorial is included. Normally $39.95, the program is discounted to $29.95 at the time of this writing.

Coolmuster Android Backup Manager (Windows, Mac) is another program from the same developers and allows you to save money by providing one-click backup without the extra features. Normally $29.95, it’s discounted to $19.95 at the time of this writing.

TunesBro Android Manager (Windows, Mac) is a toolkit for Android users. It can transfer files, back up and restore, manage content, and root with a single click. TuneBro is designed to be both comprehensive and easy to use, and a user guide on its use is provided. The Windows version costs $39.95; the Mac version is $49.95. A free trial is available.

ApowerManager (Windows, Mac) is another phone manager capable of backing up all the data on your Android device via USB or Wi-Fi. You can purchase the software for $59.99 (normally $129.90), or pay a subscription fee on a monthly or yearly basis.

Backup Software that Runs on Your Android Device

G Cloud Backup is a highly-rated and easy-to-use backup app for Android devices. It will back up your contacts, messages, photos, videos, music, documents, call logs, files, and more to the cloud. The app is rated 4.5 stars on the Google Play Store and is free to download with in-app purchases.

Backup Your Mobile can back up and restore phone data to an SD card, Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or Yandex disk. Supported data types include contacts, SMS and MMS messages, call logs, system settings, Wi-Fi passwords, calendars, applications, bookmarks, and browser history. The app is rated 4.3 stars on the Google Play Store and is free.

Resilio Sync lets you transfer your files to another device, your PC, or the cloud. It backs up files—including photos, videos, music, PDFs, docs, books—but not database content. Rated 4.3 stars in the Google Play Store, the app is free, though it hasn’t been updated in some time.

Super Backup & Restore will back up apps, contacts, SMS messages, call history, bookmarks, and calendars to an SD card, Gmail, or Google Drive. The app is rated 4.2 stars on the Google Play Store and is free with in-app purchases.

My Backup backs up your phone to an SD card or the cloud. Supported data types include apps, photos, videos, music and playlists, contacts, call logs, bookmarks, SMS and MMS messages, calendars, system settings, and more. The app is rated 3.9 stars on the Google Play Store and is free with in-app purchases.

Helium backs up your apps and data to an SD card or the cloud. The app is rated 3.4 stars on the Google Play Store and is free. Its premium version allows you to back up to Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, then sync with other Android devices.

OEM Backup Apps

Some manufacturers, including Samsung and LG, provide their own backup applications. These function in a way similar to Google’s app, and are also found in Settings > Backup.

As an example, here is how Samsung’s app works on Samsung phones:

  • If you haven’t already, sign up for a Samsung account
  • Open Settings and navigate to Backup and reset
  • In the Samsung account section, tap Back up my data
  • Sign in to your Samsung account
  • Check the apps and services you want to back up
  • Enable the Auto back up switch or tap Backup Now to perform a manual backup
  • Your files will be backed up

Here’s how to restore your data after you perform the factory reset:

  • Open Settings and navigate to Backup & reset
  • In the Samsung account section, tap Restore
  • Select the current backup, then check the apps and services you want to restore
  • Tap Restore Now

3. How to Minimize Your Need for Backup By Using Cloud Services

If you’re in the habit of using cloud services, your data already lives online, making backup less of a concern. It’s still worth backing up your device, but less catastrophic if something does go wrong.

It’s no surprise that Google’s apps automatically save their data to the cloud. When choosing third-party apps, try to make sure that they do the same. Here’s Computerworld’s take:

These days, backing up an Android device and keeping your data synced takes little to no actual effort. Most of the work happens seamlessly and automatically, behind the scenes — either without any involvement on your behalf or with a one-time opt-in when you first set your phone up. And restoring your data is typically as simple as signing into a device and letting Google’s systems work their magic.

Although many apps automatically save to the cloud, you may need to check the settings to make sure. Here’s how to do that with Google’s apps.

Google Photos

Google Photos is preinstalled on most Android devices and is one of the best photo management tools available. The app can automatically store an unlimited number of photos online for free if you use the “high quality” option.

This will reduce the file size of very high-resolution photos and videos while retaining enough detail to look good on-screen. Photos that are 16 megapixels or smaller and videos that are 1080p or smaller will be left as they are.

You can choose not to have your photos downsized, but you’ll be limited by the amount of space you have available on Google Drive. Google currently offers 25 GB for free.

Here’s how to make sure your photos are being saved to the cloud:

  • Open Google Photos
  • Find the menu button at the top-left of the screen, then tap it
  • Select Settings
  • Make sure Back up & sync is turned on

Google Play Music and Spotify

Backup is simplified if you use a streaming service like Google Play Music or Spotify rather than maintaining your own music library. That’s because the music you listen to is stored on the provider’s servers and only temporarily copied to your device. After resetting your phone, just sign back into your account.

Google Play Music can even back up your personal music collection. You can upload 50,000 songs for free and listen to them from any computer or device. You can use a web browser on your Windows or Mac computer to do this. Steps are laid out in Google Support.

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides

We’ve already seen that Google Drive is a convenient way to back up files from your Android device, but if you use Google’s productivity apps, they’ll be stored there automatically.

  • Google Docs is a popular, collaborative, online word processor that can open, edit, and save Microsoft Word documents. It’s rated 4.3 stars on the Google Play Store and is free.
  • Google Sheets is a collaborative, online spreadsheet that can work with Microsoft Excel files. It’s rated 4.3 stars on the Google Play Store and is free.
  • Google Slides is a collaborative, online presentations app compatible with Microsoft PowerPoint. It’s rated 4.2 stars on the Google Play Store and is free.

4. How to Perform a Factory Reset

Now that you’ve backed up your phone, you can perform a factory reset. The steps are simple; you can find them on Google Support.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Open Settings and navigate to Backup & reset
  • Tap Factory data reset
  • Tap Reset
  • At the confirmation screen, tap Erase Everything or Delete All

Your phone will be reverted to the same state as it was when you bought it. Your data will be gone; your next step is to restore it. How to do this depends on which method you used to back up your phone. In many cases, we outlined those steps above.