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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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Derek Walter / IDG

Getting a new phone is awesome, but transferring all of your data over from your old one isn’t. Luckily, it’s gotten a lot better than it used to be, and it doesn’t take too much work anymore. With a Google account and a little patience, you don’t need to be an Android whiz to ensure your stuff can easily transfer to a new phone.

Google Drive

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 phones running Android 10, there’s a Backup option inside the System 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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Your Google account comes with a great built-in backup inside Google Drive.

Once you’re there, you’ll see a couple options. On Pixel 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 likely find the toggle inside the Google tab, but the options will be the same: App data, Call history, Contacts, Device settings, Photos and Videos, and SMS text messages. You have the option to select one or all of them whenever you back up.

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 devices that have been backed up, with your current phone occupying the top slot (possibly with a funky name like SM-G96OU1 or HD 1905). Tap it and you’ll be able to see when the last backup took place and which apps were included.

Other backups

Most Android phone makers offer their own helping hands when it comes to moving over your stuff. Granted, they’ll work best when transferring to a phone of the same brand (like a Galaxy S8 to a Galaxy S10), but they all generally do a fine job. You can find it by typing backup into the search field in Settings.

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Samsung, LG, and other phone makers offer their own backups and transfers inside the Settings app.

Samsung offers its own service called Smart Switch that’s built right into Settings. Turn it on and sign into your Samsung account, and it will sync the same things Google does, plus your notes, alarms, messages, and even your home screen layout to your new phone. The catch is that you need to use Samsung’s apps to get the most out of it.

Aside from proprietary backups, most phones will also allow you to transfer apps and settings. You’ll be prompted during setup, and most will require a cable, but it’s a good fallback if you don’t remember to regularly back up. For example, 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. Other phones let you transfer data from a competitors’ phone—even iPhones—but the results are somewhat spotty, so we still recommend turning on Google Drive backups.

Mail and Calendar

Even if you have Google Drive backups turned on, you’ll still need to check a few more settings to make sure your most important things make it over when you power on your new phone.

Mail, of course, is the easiest of all. If you use Gmail, you need only sign in to your Google account to bring over all of your messages, labels, etc. 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. Some calendar apps also sync with Google Calendar, so you’ll want to make sure it’s set up even if it’s not your scheduling app of choice.

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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You can back up all of your photos in high quality without using a single megabyte of space in your Google Drive.

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 gave original Pixel users unlimited backups of their original photos and Pixel 2 and 3 users three years’ worth, anyone else (including Pixel 3a and 4 owners) 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, YouTube Music, or Apple Music, just head over to the app in your new phone and sign in to access all of your songs. This is your best bet, as the loss of the Google Play Music app has made it harder to play local tracks on your phone.

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It’s rudimentary, but if you want to play songs that are stored on your device, YouTube will let you.

If you aren’t a streamer, YouTube Music will still help you get your groove on, letting you access files stored on your device without needing to subscribe to the service. It’s very rudimentary and a little frustrating, but with a little patience, you’ll be able to get it to work. To see your tracks, simply store them in a microSD card or your Google Drive, and then transfer them to your new phone’s files app. YouTube Music will find them and display them under the Device Files tab, and you’ll be able to play them as you like, but you won’t be able to add them to YouTube Music playlists or cast to another device.

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, and scroll down to the Smart Lock for Passwords option.

This setting stores passwords from supporting apps and Chrome sites to your Google account. Switch it on, and the next time you sign in to Chrome on your new phone you won’t have to re-enter the same passwords over and over. It works with some third-party apps, too, as long as the developers have built in support. Just head over to the Security tab in your Google Account to see which ones are stored.

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Your Google account stores passwords, but you’ll want to use a password manager for the best security.

If you’re leery about app passwords being saved 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 Dashlane, LastPass, and 1Password, and they’ll all store your passwords in an encrypted locker. Most charge a fee, but it’s worth it. You only need to sign in on your new phone, and you’ll have access to all of your passwords through Android autofill feature. (See PCWorld's roundup of the best password managers for more details.)

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 in to Chrome on your new device.

SMS and MMS messages

Moving your conversations over is a little trickier than the rest, but it’s getting better. The easiest way is if you use WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, or some other third-party service, since you only need to sign in to the appropriate app to access your full chat history. Also, If you own a Pixel phone and/or use Android Messages, there is an option inside your Google Drive backup for backing up your SMS messages, though it will leave behind any photos or videos.

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If you want to bring over all of your SMS and MMS messages, you’ll need to download a backup tool.

So until Google starts backing up MMS messages, the most fool-proof way to move all of them 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 our testing, 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 caution, 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.

And that’s it. 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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