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How to transfer everything from your old Android phone to your new one

No one wants to spend forever moving all their stuff to a new phone. Here's a quick and painless guide to get you up and running fast.

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Credit: Derek Walter / IDG

Moving to a new phone can be a pain. Android might have the edge over iOS when it comes to tight integration with cloud services, but Google still has a ways to go when it comes to effortlessly transferring all your data off your old phone and onto the new one.

But it has gotten better. You’ll need to rely heavily on Google’s services, of course, but with Android Nougat, moving your personal info has never been easier. It’ll still take a some vigilance and a little work, but you don’t need to be an Android whiz anymore to ensure your data is ready to move the next time a catastrophe hits your phone—or you just really want a new one.

Know your backup options

Before you can do anything, you’ll need to make sure your old phone is signed in to your Google account. It almost certainly is, but head over to the Google tab in Settings to make sure. 

Then, you’ll need to find your phone’s backup settings. On Pixel and Nexus devices there’s a Backup & reset option under the Personal tab in Settings, but the location varies on other phones. The easiest way to find it is to type “backup” into the settings search bar.

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On Pixel and Nexus phones, you can back up mostly everything to your Google Drive.

Once you’re there, you’ll see a couple options. On Pixel and Nexus phones, there’s a Back up to Google Drive switch that will enable several types of content to be backed up, including installed apps and accompanying data, call history, device settings, calendar entries, contacts, photos and videos, and, exclusive to Pixel phones, SMS messages. It’ll be backed up automatically overnight, so once you switch it on, you won’t have to give it another thought.

On other phones, you’ll see a Back up my data toggle. Turning it blue will ensure that your application data, Wi-Fi passwords, and various phone settings are sent to Google servers and at the ready when you sign in to a new phone. This way you won’t have to re-enter passwords to networks you’ve already saved. Yes, that means Google probably has all the world’s Wi-Fi passwords. But that’s a story for another day.

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Your Google Drive is the gatekeeper for all your backups.

You’ll also see a second toggle called Automatic restore. Turning that one on will restore the data and settings if you decide to reinstall a previously deleted app.

Since backups work through Google Drive, if you head over to the app, you’ll see a Backups option in the sidebar. Inside you’ll see a list of any device that has been backed up, with your current phone occupying the top slot (likely with a funky name like SM-G955U or 2PZC5). Tap it and you’ll be able to see when the last backup took place and which apps were included in it.

Mail, calendar, and contacts

If you don’t want to use Google Drive backups, you can still make sure your most important things make it over when you power on your new phone.

Mail, of course, is the easiest. If you use Gmail, you need only sign in to your Google account to bring over all of your messages. And your other accounts, whether Outlook, iCloud, or Hotmail, will be just as easy. Simply download your favorite app, type in your username and password, and you’ll be on your way. Additionally, there are numerous apps such as Newton and Blue Mail that will keep multiple accounts synced with a single login.

For people and appointments, Google has you covered here, too. Even without a proper Google Drive backup, any entries inputted into Calendar on your phone will automatically appear on your new phone as soon as you open the app. The same is true with Contacts. Whether you’re opening the app itself or using the Phone app, your contact list will be fully synced with your new phone, no matter which phone you’re switching from or to.

Photos and music

Photos are rapidly becoming the one thing that absolutely needs to be transferred from one phone to the next, and Google has built a fantastic way to do it in its Photos app.

Available for all phones, it’s far and away the best photo management option, backups aside, so if you’re not regularly using it, you should be. To make sure it’s backing up everything, head over to the Settings in the sidebar and tap Back up & sync. Make sure the toggle is blue and the backup account is the same as the one you use for everything else.

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Google Photos is hands down the best way to back up your pictures.

Google lets you back up as many high-quality photos as you’d like, and it won’t count against your Google Drive storage. If that’s not enough resolution for you, you can opt to back up the full-sized original photos to your Google Drive, but it’ll cost you. While Google gives Pixel users unlimited backups of their original photos, anyone else will have to use their allotted Google Drive space, so you might have to bump up your storage to accommodate the extra gigabytes. Google Drive users only get 15GB free, so if your camera roll is bigger than that, you can pay $1.99 a month for 100GB or $9.99 a month for 1TB of storage. But whichever size you choose, all of your photos will appear when you open the Google Photos app on your new phone.

When it comes to music, there are two ways to do it. If you already subscribe to a streaming service like Spotify, Google Play Music, or Apple Music, just head over to the app in your new phone and sign in to access all of your songs.

But if you aren’t a streamer, Google Play Music will still help you get your groove on, letting you store up to 100,000 tracks for free. To get it to work, you’ll need to head over to the Google Play Music site, sign in with your Google account, and install the Music Manager app on your PC. After you select the source of your tunes, the app does much of the work, uploading whatever it finds and adding it to your music library in the cloud. Big libraries will take a little time, but for the most part the process is simple and speedy.

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Google Play Music will let you store up to 100,000 songs in the cloud for free.

Then, when you sign into Play Music on your new phone, all your tracks will magically appear. You can choose to keep those songs in the cloud if you’re tight on storage, or download them to your new phone so you can rock out no matter how spotty your signal gets.

Passwords and bookmarks

If you use Chrome on your phone, you can also take your browser history, passwords, and bookmarks to your new phone. First, head over to the Google tab in Settings (on pre-Marshmallow phones it will be a separate app called Google Settings), and scroll down to the Smart Lock for Passwords option.

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On pre-Marshmallow phones, Google Settings is its own app, but it’ll take you to the same place.

This settings stores passwords from supporting apps and Chrome sites to your Google account. Switch it on, and the next time you sign into Chrome on your new phone you won’t have to re-enter the same passwords over and over. It works on third-party apps, too, as long as the developers have built in support.

If you’re leery about app passwords being stored in your Google account, you can blacklist any app from using Smart Lock. Or you can forgo it all together and download a password manager. There are plenty of great ones out there, including DashlaneLastPass, and 1Password, and they’ll all store your passwords in an encrypted locker. Most charge a fee, but it’s worth it.

For the rest of your web needs, head over to the Chrome settings. Tap on your account name and then sync to see everything that you want to store in the cloud, including bookmarks, history, open tabs, and saved credit cards. Once you select the ones you want, they will all be available when you sign into Chrome on your new device.

SMS and MMS messages

This one is a little trickier than the others. If you own a Pixel phone on Android 7.1 or later, there is an option for backing up your SMS messages, though it will leave behind any photos or videos. If you use Allo, you can turn on chat backups in the latest version of the app, and everything will be synced to your new device, including media. And, of course, if you use WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, or some other third-party service, you only need to sign in to the appropriate app to access your full chat history.

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SMS Backup Plus will move over all of your conversations from your old phone to your new one.

But the most fool-proof way to move all of your messages from Android Messages or your text-messaging app of choice to a new phone is an over-the-top service. There are several in the Play Store—SMS Backup+ and SMS Backup & Restore are two of the most popular and highest rated—and they act as a sort of middleman that collects your messages until you’re ready to transfer them to a new app.

It’s not the speediest process, so you’ll need to carve out some time to let it run if you have a lot of messages, but it works quite well. In a recent test, we used SMS Backup+ to back up and restore a batch of more than 2,000 messages on a test device without a problem. It’s baffling why Google hasn’t implemented a similar system in Android, but for now, apps like SMS Backup+ will certainly do the trick.

One word of warning, however: Don’t wipe your old phone until you’re sure your messages have appeared on your new one. This way you’ll be able to start over if something goes awry during the transfer.

Some software to ease the move

Most Android phone makers offer their own helping hands when it comes to moving over your stuff. Granted, they’ll work best when changing to the same brand (like a Galaxy S7 to a Galaxy S8), but they all generally do a fine job.

Samsung offers its own service called Smart Switch that’s now built right into Settings on the Galaxy S8. Turn it on and it will sync the same things Google does (contacts, calendar entries, etc.), plus your notes, alarms, messages, and even your home screen layout to your new phone. It works with non-Samsung phones as well, though it works best if you also use Samsung’s own Galaxy apps.

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Samsung has its own backup system built into the Settings in the Galaxy S8.

LG also offers an app called Mobile Switch that lets you wirelessly transfer your photos, video, music, text messages, and apps from one LG phone to another. In our experience, the results were pretty spotty, so you’ll probably be better off using the other methods outlined here.

The bottom line is, with the right combination of apps and cloud services you don’t have to worry about leaving anything behind anymore when you get a new phone. No matter if you want your messages, music, or mail, your Google account is the No. 1 tool in your arsenal, and it’s quickly becoming a one-stop shop for backing up and transferring everything from one phone to another.

This story, "How to transfer everything from your old Android phone to your new one" was originally published by Greenbot.

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