Google Photos screenshot

Software Reviews

As our mobile phones do more and more for us, we need to take better care of all the vital stuff we keep on them.




There’s an old saying that a single backup is just a copy, and it means relying on the built-in tools alone may not be enough. If you really want your data - and especially your precious photos - to survive a disaster, you want at least two copies online.

A simple solution is to install another app that automatically copies new photos to cloud storage. For many users the best option will be Dropbox, which is available for all the major smartphones, as well as for Windows, Linux and Mac OSX. It will offer to automatically upload photos as part of the install process. You can then view photos in the Dropbox app, or on your PC or Mac, if you set Dropbox to sync them there too.

A second option is services originally from the other phones, for example OneDrive for Android or Google Photos for iOS. Do note that most services limit the amount of storage space provided free, typically to 5GB, although most also offer ways for users to earn bonus space. So it is a good idea to save space by moving your photos to other storage from time to time.

The most powerful option, though, is a third-party sync tool such as FolderSync for Android (similar apps exist for other platforms). This not only works as a file manager for pretty much any remote storage service you care to connect it to, but it can set up regular synchronisation between the phone and the cloud. Want to back up your phone’s downloads folder to cloud storage every day? No problem. Copy your photos to your home NAS (network-attached storage) server every night? Sure.

With the ad-free FolderSync Pro version you can also add filters and limitations, for example so it only syncs on certain connections or only in one direction. You can even set it to turn Wi-Fi on if needed and to use only specified Wi-Fi networks. The caveat is that synchronisation actions are a little more complex to set up.

Ritesh Sahu

SMS Backup & Restore

Free with ads or £3.99

Backing up text messages (SMS) can be awkward, especially on Android, and so can copying old texts to a new phone. There are ways and means, however, and one of the better ones is an app called SMS Backup & Restore. Not only can this backup your messages onto the phone both manually and automatically, but there is a networking add-on which lets it send the resulting file as an email or upload it to Google Drive or Dropbox.

You can back up to a new file each time, or use archive mode which appends new messages to a single backup file. Backups are stored in standard XML format, so they can be read by anything else that understands XML. In theory at least, this means it is possible to restore them on a completely different phone.

The app can also delete all the messages on the phone, and you can set a cut-off date for messages to be restored, so you can use it to archive old messages. For example, you run a backup, delete all messages, then restore only those from after the relevant date. The app can view and search backup files, so you can still get at the archive.

One caveat is that in versions of Android from 4.4 onwards, only the default messaging app can write to the SMS storage. This means you need to temporarily make SMS Backup & Restore the default app, restore your messages, then go into your usual SMS app and make it the default again.

Another route for Android users is a free app called SMS Backup+. This can automatically backup and restore your SMS and call log entries via a folder in your Google Mail account. It stores them as email messages, tagged with a custom label. Alternatively, if you use Google Hangouts for text messages, that may already be backing up to Gmail for you - have a look for an SMS label in your mail account.



Free or £3.17

Fully backing up an Android application can be awkward, especially on a standard unrooted device. Google can back up some app data, but not everything. What you really want is the ability to back up and restore an app together with all its settings and data. This allows you for example to revert to an earlier version if you hate the latest update, move entire working apps to a new phone, or simply recover from a major user error.

The most effective option is to root the phone [see box: 'Rooting and jailbreaking'] and run an app such as Titanium Backup. This can back up everything on the phone to the memory card, including all app data. It can also uninstall any app, even system apps, so is very useful for removing bloatware preinstalled by manufacturers and mobile networks.

However, rooting is not for everyone, so there have been attempts to provide the same functionality without the need for root access, most notably with an app called Helium. This sidesteps the requirement for root access by using ADB, a freely available tool from the Android software development kit. ADB lets you issue commands - in this case, commands to permit full backups - from a PC or Mac to a USB-connected Android device.

There are a few Android devices and apps listed on the developer’s website that Helium cannot back up, due either to bugs or to backup locks added by their developers. But for most phones, once you have connected it over USB and run the Helium Desktop process, the app can do full backups and restores. If you reboot the phone, Helium must be re-enabled from the PC. The free version allows manually controlled backup and restore to the memory card, while the paid version can also do scheduled backups and use cloud storage.

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