Back up your smartphone to the cloud or risk loss of data

Back up your smartphone to the cloud or risk loss of data

Hardly a week goes by that an acquaintance does not ask me about recovering data from a lost, damaged, or otherwise dead smart phone. Just as the three most important words in computing are backup, backup and backup, backing up the contents of a smart phone may be even more imperative than for a desktop computer. Unlike a desktop computer, smart phones and tablets of any operating system are far more prone to breakage, loss or theft than the more stationary desktop computers. While many smart phone users do not faithfully back up their important content, those who do can better handle the inevitable disasters that face all users of smart devices.

Many of today’s smart phones and tablets offer the option of the use of an SD card of some type to provide supplemental storage and backup space for the contents of their devices, while many other phones only have internal memory without the ability to add an SD card for additional storage. SD cards have plunged in price as their capacity has increased; recently I purchased three name brand 32GB, 10 speed SDHC cards for some of my devices for about $10 each. Most phones that can utilize an SD card for “external memory” storage also have an integral function that can automatically back up important data to the SD card, including contacts, SMS text messages, photos and other data, apps, and almost anything else on the phone. While a great idea to have all of this information backed up to a removable SD card, be aware that if the phone is lost or stolen, that the SD card with all of the backup information is with the phone, such that the backup becomes useless to the rightful owner. While it may take minimal time and effort, the contents of the SD card can periodically be copied to the hard drive of a computer, making all important contacts and photos, as well as other information and apps, available if the “unconscionable” were to occur. Most phones can be connected to a computer through a common USB cable, possibly requiring some minor adjustments to the phone’s settings, and then simply copying and pasting the contents of the SD card (and sometimes other internal phone memory) to a hard drive. A removable SD card can also be removed from the phone and either directly or through an adapter, be read directly by a computer just as if it has an attached hard drive. For those who might want the utmost in simplicity and convenience, a new generation of USB flash drives known as “OTG” or “On The Go” flash drives have a proper USB plug that connects directly to newer, compatible phones, with a standard USB plug on the opposite side of the flash drive. To copy or backup the contents of the phone to the OTG flash drive, insert the plug into the phone or other smart device, and download the contents of the phone to the flash drive. The other standard plug can later be utilized to copy the data to a computer as a redundant backup. OTG flash drives are very convenient and inexpensive; a local “big box” store has major name brand 16GB OTG flash drives for about $10, 32GB for about $13, and 64GB capacity for about $22. These OTG drives are great for backing up compatible phones, but only if the user remembers to manually perform the backup on a regular basis, and does not lose or otherwise “misplace” the drive if it should ever be needed to recover the data. Since the other end of the OTG drive fits on a standard USB port on a computer, it is also very convenient to move large amounts of data between devices. Most OTG drives also offer optional encryption to protect stored data in the event the drive itself is lost.

While SD memory and OTG drives may be inexpensive, fast and convenient tools for backing up the critical information and data on our phones, they still often require manual intervention, and the small devices themselves can be easily lost or damaged. What has been become extremely popular as a supplemental storage or backup method has been using “the cloud” for storage and backup. The “cloud” is high speed, high capacity remote servers offered by many providers, and can be accessed over Wi-Fi, 4G or similar wireless connections, or any other method of connecting to the Internet from the device.

Several well-known companies offer limited free cloud storage, or nominally priced cloud storage for larger amounts of data. Some of the well-known cloud storage providers include Microsoft, Google and Amazon. Google offers registered (free) Google users up to 15GB of free cloud storage for anything that the users desire to store, as well as an unlimited number of reasonable-sized photos and short videos. Google offers a free “Google Drive” app for most devices and computers, including iPhones and iPads. Similar to using a file manager on a computer, Google Drive can be searched; display almost any format of document, image, or video; allow file sharing using a secured link; and perform other common and traditional file management functions. For those who may need more than the 15GB that Google offers free to all registered Google users (and 30GB free to people using “Google Apps”), 100GB of storage is $1.99 per month, and 1TB is $9.99 month, with other capacities available up to 30TB. In terms of full disclosure, I use Google Drive to back up all of the critical content on my smart phone, including contacts, photos, videos, and other information that I would not want to lose in the event of a catastrophe. In addition to the free Google Drive app itself, there are also several other third party apps that can automatically back up contacts and other information to Google Drive (as well as competing cloud storage services). Since this can be automated and scheduled, my contacts and other information are always backed up to the cloud, and can be recovered or restored to my device or a new device as needed, and I am still well under the 15GB limit on the free storage.

Microsoft also offers a similar cloud drive service, “OneDrive,” to its registered users (registration is free). OneDrive may be connected directly as a storage method for documents created with Microsoft Office products, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other office products. As with the product from Google, OneDrive can be used to automatically back up photos and videos from almost any Internet connected device including Apple products, and allows for secure collaboration on Microsoft Office documents. Competitive to Google, Microsoft offers all registered users 15GB of free cloud storage, 100GB for $1.99 per month, and 200GB for $3.99 per month. Paid subscribers to Microsoft’s Office 365 service can get up to 1TB of storage included with their monthly Office 365 subscription, which is currently $6.99 per month. As is common with other cloud services, there are many third party apps and utilities that can automatically backup smart phone contents to OneDrive.

Other providers of cloud storage include the very popular Dropbox service, which offers 2GB of free storage, methods and “tricks” to increase the free storage to 16GB, and additional storage for nominal fees competitive with the other providers. Another very economical and easy-to-use cloud storage service simply known as “Box” (not to be confused with Dropbox) has free apps available, and offers 10GB of free storage. For those needing additional storage, Box offers 25GB of storage for $10 per year. One of the most generous free cloud storage deals is available from Mega, which offers 50GB of free storage, along with sophisticated key-based encryption. Mega offers automatic backup of photos and videos taken with the phone’s camera. There are also several other very good cloud services including Bitcasa, MediaFire, SugarSync, and even Amazon’s Prime service which offers automatic and unlimited storage of photos.

While the storage amounts offered by these cloud services are generous, and all have free apps that can be installed on most devices including Android, iOS (iPhone and iPad), Windows, Mac, and others, there are some negatives about using any of these cloud services for storage and backup from Internet connected smart phones and related devices. One issue that frequently arises when backing up large amounts of data to the cloud from a phone is wireless speed, and the time that it takes to perform a full backup of the device. Another issue is the cost of transmitting and receiving large volumes of data, especially for those with limited data capacity and high “overage” charges, as well as a slowed Internet connection, known in the industry as “throttling,” once a data cap has been reached.

Many of the cloud connected apps default to Wi-Fi as the preferred method of connection, as cell phone carriers generally do not charge for data sent and received over Wi-Fi. The major problem with Wi-Fi connections is the available speed of the Wi-Fi connection at the time of the data backup or restore; if a very fast Wi-Fi connection is available, it still may take some considerable time to complete a large backup, while a slow or weak Wi-Fi connection may lead to an obnoxiously long wait for the process to be completed. Likewise, if using home Wi-Fi connected via router to a residential ISP (Internet Service Provider), be aware that some residential ISPs have monthly data caps just like some of the cell phone carriers, and could possibly incur additional monthly charges or “throttling” (slowing down) the Internet connection for the remainder of the billing cycle.

Between copying SD cards to a hard drive, backing up to an OTG flash drive, or using any of the many cloud storage services as a backup resource, it is very necessary to back up your phone information, just as it is to back up your computer data. With countless apps available to backup contacts, SMS text messages, photos and videos, apps (often as APK files), and other phone content to any of these storage resources, there should be no need to lose any important data and other information in the event that the “worst” happens.

Be prepared, and back up your smart devices; it is only a matter of time, and will likely be sooner rather than later.