This story has been updated. It was originally published on November 29, 2017.
Just bagged yourself a shiny new gadget? You’re probably eager to start playing with it as soon as possible. But to make sure your new device’s life stays trouble-free, you should first take the time to set it up properly. Follow these simple pointers to keep it running smoothly for years to come.
1. Install all updates
Installing system updates can be a chore, but they’re there for a reason: They squash performance bugs, patch up security vulnerabilities, and generally make your device’s operating system more stable and reliable. If you’re lucky, they might throw in some extra features too. Because updates can affect the rest of your system, you want to install these before you take any other steps.
Even if you purchased a shiny new gadget, its manufacturer may have released a few software updates since it left the factory. So as soon as you switch it on, you may receive a plethora of alerts prompting you to install pending updates. Click or tap a notification, and the device will help you bring its system up to date.
If you don’t receive these notifications, you should still check for updates manually. In macOS, look for the App Store icon in the dock and open it. On iOS, open the Settings app, go to the General menu, and choose Software Update. On a Windows device, open Settings, go to Update & Security, then select Windows Update. And in Android, open Settings, tap System, Advanced, and visit System Update.
2. Set up security
You probably store a lot of personal information on your Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS devices—and this new one is no exception. That means you’ll want to protect your digital life with strong security settings.
For phones or tablets, security starts on the lock screen, where you should at least set up a PIN code or password. If your device offers more unlock options, you can extend that to a fingerprint or face recognition test. For more tips, check out our guide to protecting your smartphone’s lock screen.
As for computers, you don’t want just anyone waking them from sleep mode. Protect them by requiring a password or some other security check. On Windows machines, find this option in Settings under Accounts. In macOS, open System Preferences, click Security & Privacy, and look under the General tab.
[Related: How to get started using a password manager]
Once you’ve protected your computer from snooping strangers, you’ll need antivirus protection. On Windows, the built-in Windows Defender will do a perfectly capable job for most. However, if you’d like extra peace of mind—or you own a macOS machine—install a third-party package. According to independent testing site AV Test, Bitdefender Internet Security ($35) and Norton 360 ($55) work great for Windows because of their high virus-detection rates, user friendliness, and low impact on overall computer performance. For macOS, try Avast (free), Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac ($25 a year), or Norton 360 ($55), all of which performed well on tests.
On a smartphone, antivirus software isn’t necessary because Google and Apple tightly regulate their respective app stores. Just remember to guard against other security threats, such as falling prey to phishing attacks.
3. Transfer files from your old device
Don’t leave files and applications languishing on your old phone, tablet, or laptop for too long. For every extra week they sit gathering dust, you become more likely to forget about them completely.
Moving apps onto your new device isn’t difficult, but it does require a little grunt work. First, make a list of the programs you currently rely on. Next, head to the app store on your new device and download them one by one. You’ll be able to re-download apps you’ve already purchased for free, because they are linked to your Microsoft, Apple, or Google ID. Just remember that some will require you to uninstall them from your old device before you can put them on your new one. Finally, for apps that require it, sign into your account. This last step will automatically transfer a lot of your data and settings, such as playlists in Spotify.
As for file transfer, you’ll need a cloud syncing service. Apple, Microsoft, and Android devices have built-in services: iCloud, OneDrive, and Google Drive, respectively. In addition, Dropbox is a reliable third-party option. All of these options—except for iCloud, which is limited to macOS and iOS—will work easily with multiple operating systems.
All of these services work similarly. On your old device, install the app and use it to upload your files to the cloud. Then install the program on your new device and you’ll be able to access everything you need. However, you may need to pay for extra storage space, depending on how much data you plan to transfer. If you’re moving files between computers, you can also skip the cloud and use an external hard drive. Simply save your folders to the hard drive, then move them to the new machine.
Once you’ve saved everything you need from your old device, it’s time to securely wipe it so you can dispose of it safely. (For more detail, check out this guide to protecting the data on old devices.) Uninstall apps, deregistering them if necessary, and then restore the machine to factory settings. On Windows, head to Settings, then Update & Security, then Recovery, and click Get started under the Reset this PC heading. On macOS, you’ll actually need to reboot your machine, so hold down Command + R as it restarts. If your computer has Apple silicon, hold the power button until you see “Loading startup options,” choose Options, hit Continue, and follow the instructions.
Whether you used Command + R or the power button, you will end up at the Recovery window. From there, choose Disk Utility from the menu. Select your main disk drive, click Erase, and choose APFS from the Format menu. Then click Erase Volume Group. When it’s done, quit the Disk Utility program and select the reinstall macOS option. The process is a little easier on Android and iOS. On Android, choose Settings, then System, Advanced, and Reset options; on iOS, open the Settings app and choose General, then Reset, then Erase All Content and Settings.
4. Prepare to back it up
Now that you’ve finally moved your files and photos to your new machine, you need to put a backup routine in place. Establish this, and you’ll be able to put it out of your mind, safe in the knowledge that your information will stay safe should anything happen to your device.
If you’re setting up a phone, Android and iOS will automatically back up a lot of your most important data, though on Android you might need some extra help saving your text messages. You can find more detail on exactly what’s included in your phone backups, and how to make sure they’re running correctly, directly from Apple, Google, or the manufacturer that made your Android phone.
In addition, as we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of cloud-storage apps available. Perhaps the simplest solution is to use the built-in service for whatever device you’re using—Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, or Google Drive. You may have to pay a few dollars a month to get enough online storage space, but it’s worth it.
Third-party options also deliver the goods, particularly if you want to use them to back up data from multiple machines running different operating systems. Dropbox syncs your files seamlessly across multiple platforms, and costs $9.99 a month for 2TB of cloud storage space. Or you could opt for BackBlaze, which charges $6 a month and up. It creates perfect copies of everything on your Windows or macOS machine in the cloud, but doesn’t sync files to multiple devices like Dropbox does.
Your photos and videos are some of the most precious files you’ve got. For those, we recommend Google Photos. It works just about everywhere, and will store a chunk of your pictures and clips for free, but you can pay a subscription fee to get more space. That said, the other cloud-storage services we’ve discussed are also perfectly capable of handling your photos and videos. For more information, check out our guide to storing photos in the cloud.
Finally, don’t forget the option of physical storage: If you’re setting up a Windows or macOS computer, you can simply choose to buy (or salvage) an external hard drive and periodically copy over your most important files to it. Just make sure to keep it in a very safe place.