How to Back Up Your Android Device Without Rooting

If you’ve rooted your phone, the process for backing up is easy:

  1. Get Titanium Backup,
  2. Use it.

But what if you haven’t rooted, or don’t want to, or can’t do so without wiping your device first? There’s a ton of data on your device, and although a lot is automatically synced to your Google account, some isn’t.

Let’s look at what you need to back up, and how you can do so.

First Stop: MyBackup Pro

MyBackup Pro (Market Link) is the best backup app for non-rooted devices. It does cost a little money ($4.99), but there is a free, limited 30-day trial available.

MyBackup Pro

MyBackup Pro

It will back up:

  • App install files
  • Contacts list
  • Call log
  • Bookmarks
  • Text messages
  • MMS messages (with attachments)
  • System settings
  • Home screens
  • Alarms
  • Dictionaries
  • Calendar
  • Music playlists

…all to either the SD card or MyBackup Pro’s secure online servers. You can view the data you’ve backed up without having to restore it.

But in case MyBackup Pro doesn’t work on your device, or you want to have an extra backup of some things for peace of mind, what other options are there?

What to Back Up

SMS, MMS, and Call Log

(Can be backed up by MyBackup Pro.)

My first choice for this is SMS Backup +, which will store your text messages as threaded emails in your Gmail account. It will associate each contact’s messages with their email address (assuming you have them stored in your phone), and tag them with a label of your choice (like “SMS”). This means you get the convenience and search ability of Gmail with all your text messages — great!

It seems to be based on SMS Backup, a similar application by another developer, but adds the ability to restore SMS messages to your phone. It also allows you to back up (but not restore) MMS messages to Gmail, and back up your call log to Google Calendar (enabling restore).

Messages are backed up automatically and regularly, so you don’t have to think about it.

SMS Backup +

SMS Backup +

If you prefer to back up to a file, check out Sprite Backup, which can back up SMS and MMS messages and your call log.

Emails, Contacts, and Calendar

(Contacts and calendar can be backed up by MyBackup Pro.)

If you’re using Gmail, your emails will be synced the the cloud; you’ll still be able to access them on the Gmail website even if your phone is wiped — as long as you don’t actually select specific emails within the Gmail app and press the Delete option! Once you reinstall the Gmail app, it’ll download your emails from the server again.

For other email providers, backup will vary depending on options that you’ve set. It might be the case that once your emails are downloaded to any device, they are removed from the server, and only exist on that one device. Your best option here is to check with whoever provides your email account. Also, take a look at the options for the email app that you use, and see if there is an Export or Backup option.

The Calendar app on your phone is backed up to your Google Account, just like Gmail. Sign in to on your computer and see whether your schedule appears; if it does, you’ve no need to worry.

Your Android contacts are also¬†synchronised to your Google Account¬†— take a look at This does not include contacts that have been imported from Facebook, Twitter, or Exchange, but you can always import them again.

To be doubly sure that your contacts are safe, you can export them to a file on your SD card. Check out the section titled “Fix the Bloated Contacts Storage Bug” in How To Clear Space Without Rooting for more information.

Applications, App Data, and App Settings

You can find a list of every application that you’ve downloaded from the Market in the My Account section of the Market website. The apps aren’t removed from the list if you delete them from your device.

A section of the list of apps I've downloaded

A section of the list of apps I've downloaded

If you wipe your phone and reflash it, leave it for a few minutes without opening the Market app, and all the apps you used to have installed should automatically download and install themselves again. Magic!

Alternatively, you can use ASTRO File Manager to copy APK files of each application onto your SD card; just hit Menu | Tools | Application Manager/Backup, select all the apps you want to keep, and press Backup. You can restore them later from the same menu.

The disadvantage of using APKs is that, once restored, you will no longer receive automatic updates for the apps from the Market. For this reason, I recommend only using this method for apps that you did not obtain from the Market. MyBackup Pro can also back up the application install files themselves, to make it faster to re-install them later.

Application settings and data (including high scores) are a lot harder to deal with. People who’ve rooted can copy all of this to their SD card, but for those of us who haven’t, there’s no single easy solution.

  • Some applications will allow you to back up your data from within the app itself; look for a menu option called Backup or Export.
  • Some applications store their settings and data on the SD card, in which case there’s no need to worry.
  • Most applications store this info on the internal storage, in a protected area that can’t normally be accessed by other apps or by you. A few of these apps are integrated with MyBackup Pro, though — a full list is available here.

Photos, Music and Other SD Card Data

(Not backed up by MyBackup Pro.)

Your photos and music are stored on the SD card, which won’t usually be wiped if you have to wipe your phone. Of course, you can always back up the whole SD card to a computer by connecting your device to the computer and simply copying everything over.

My choice for backing up photos and music is iSyncr (PC | Mac) with its WiFi Add-On, which automatically synchronises my phone with my iTunes playlists (updating play counts and smart playlist contents). Even if you don’t use iTunes, I’d still recommend it for its photo sync features, which copy all the photos I’ve taken onto my computer, wirelessly and regularly, without me having to remember to do anything.

But for a one-time backup, you don’t need to do any more than manually copy the files from SD card to computer.

System Settings and Home Screens

(Can be backed up by MyBackup Pro.)

You should find that your settings and home screen layouts are backed up to the cloud, so that, just like with your apps, a few minutes after reflashing your device you’ll find it looking and acting just like it used to.

The settings to enable this can be found in Settings | Privacy Settings — if you can find that menu option. Some devices (particularly Froyo devices with Sense UI) seem to have hidden this section; it’s possible to find it by searching your phone, but I’ve heard reports that the sync itself doesn’t work.

To be safe, use MyBackup Pro or the aforementioned Sprite Backup to export your settings and home screens.

Anything Else?

Have I missed anything? I know that custom dictionaries are not on this list; unfortunately I’m not aware of any app that can back this up apart from MyBackup Pro.

If you’ve recently wiped your phone and kicked yourself for forgetting to back something up, let us know in the comments.