Keep your photos, text messages and contacts safe by borrowing good habits from the PC world: back up your data
Many people now have a relaxed approach to phone backup. After all, they think, my photos, email and music are already stored “somewhere” in the cloud, so I've no need to worry; until their phone is lost, damaged or stolen, that is. In reality, most people's phones store important files and data in ways they may not find easy to copy to other locations.
For example, contact information may be stored in your phone's internal storage or on the SIM itself – or a combination of both. User settings, calendar entries and a whole host of other data is stored on the phone in enigmatic ways depending on the device. For instance, do you know where your SMS messages are stored?
Some of these files can't be replaced, while others would take a lot of work to collect and type back in. The best solution is to back up everything that you'd miss if your phone ever broke or disappeared.
What to back up
Before you go any further, you need to decide what to back up. There may be things that you won't notice until your phone has died and you start setting up a new one. You may wonder, for example, where all your contacts have gone. Or your text messages, some of which could contain very important details.
It is possible to categorise your phone's data into three chunks: stuff that's hard to back up; easier files; and things that probably aren't worth saving.
It's probably not worth bothering to back up your music if you bought it using iTunes, Google Play or as an Amazon download. Your music is already stored online by the service you paid, and you can simply download it again when you need to – or stream it directly.
Photos and video files you have created on your phone are good candidates for backup, and there are various ways of doing this. For example, if you're using Android, then enable Google's “Back up & Sync” feature. Dropbox can also upload your camera's files automatically. If you want to keep all of your files in one place, use an application such as BullGuard Mobile Backup, which can back up all manner of files.
Fortunately, BullGuard Mobile Backup can also manage hard-to-handle files, such as contacts stored on the phone's SIM and on the internal flash storage. It can also deal with calendar entries, ringtones, application settings and SMS/MMS messages.
When to back up
Backups are only useful if you have recent copies of your data.
Most backup programs let you choose between copying files automatically or as one-off events that you carry out manually. Sometimes, you can take both approaches. A good backup program allows you to choose the frequency with which you save files. Daily, weekly and monthly options are common.
Keep in mind that if you back up automatically you might inadvertently use a lot of your mobile data allowance. Backup applications that let you restrict automatic backups to when you're in range of a Wi-Fi network are useful. If the application can also pause backups when you're roaming, then so much the better (and cheaper)!
Where to back up?
You could choose to back up files locally to the internal memory or, probably more sensibly, to a removable memory card if your phone supports it. The advantage is that you stay in control of your data and you don't have to trust an online service to protect it from hackers.
However, this doesn't tackle the problem of a lost, stolen or water-damaged phone, which is why we'd actually recommend online storage. A third-party company is also arguably better equipped to keep your data safe.
BullGuard Mobile Backup lets you choose a suitable plan, ranging from 2GB to 15GB. Make the most of this allowance by syncing your photos and movies (which will require a lot of space) to Google Drive instead.
Test your backups
If you've gone to the trouble of buying, installing and setting up a backup program, it makes sense to take the time to test that the backups actually work. Familiarise yourself with the data-restore process and you'll be less likely to make mistakes when you have to use it for real. Create a few dummy records that you don't care about, run a backup and then delete this new data. Now follow the restore process to confirm that you can get your data back.
Once you know that your files are being saved, and that you can restore them in the event of a disaster, you can rest easy in the knowledge that if the worst happens – your phone is lost, stolen or destroyed – at least your valuable files will be recoverable.