Switching phones like a pro: How our reviewers do it

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.

Android’s built-in backup option

The Android Pie easter egg.

Over the last couple of years, Google has perfected Android’s backup and restore feature. 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 phones running Android 8.1 and below when you’re ready to switch devices.

Editor’s Pick

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 rest.

ADB backup

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.

As this process involves using Google’s developer tools, I recommend you only use this option if you have prior experience using ADB.

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 and don’t always completely work. It’s a route I take just so I have a backup file on my computer. It doesn’t necessarily capture everything.

App backups

The Google Photos app icon.

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. 

In addition to these, if you have any vital information in any of your apps, check to see if any of them offer some form of a backup service. 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. You might be surprised how many apps offer these types of services.

Passwords

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, many require a username and password.

The easiest 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 in Oreo, 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.

Related: How to set up two-factor authentication on your Google account

Most popular 2FA apps like Google Authenticator don’t back up the 2FA to the cloud or make it easy for you to transfer them. Fortunately, the LastPass Authenticator app keeps things saved so you can easily move between phones or access your 2FA codes on multiple devices.

If you’re rooted…

best root apps for android

If you’re 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 we missed anything in the comments.

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