How to switch phones without losing your information

Ditch your old device but keep your data.

This post has been updated. It was originally published on 11/07/19. 

A new smartphone model—from Google, Apple, or another manufacturer—catches your eye, and suddenly your old handset just won’t cut it. But don’t switch phones without taking precautions. After all, you store a lot of important information on your smartphone, and you don’t want to lose any of it by leaping unprepared into an upgrade.

Luckily, moving from one phone to another is a lot easier than it used to be, because we now store most of our digital possessions in the cloud. Plus, you can find some key apps to help make the transfer a little smoother. Here’s what you need to know about getting a new phone.

Check out automatic backups

Unless you’re planning a full digital detox, you’re going to want to take everything on your old phone—from browser settings to contacts—along with you. Start by going through the apps on your device while thinking about where each program stores its data and how seamlessly you can transfer it to your new gadget. In some cases, you won’t need to do anything. If you’re letting Apple or Google manage your emails, contacts, and calendars, for example, all of that will automatically show up on your new phone as soon as you sign in, as long as you’re sticking with the same operating system. Email clients from Yahoo and Microsoft work the same way, storing everything in the cloud rather than on your physical device.

[Related: How to ditch your Android for an iPhone—and take your files with you]

In fact, the backup tools built into Android and iOS let you save almost everything you need to the cloud or a computer, which is incredibly helpful when you switch phones. On Android, head to Settings, System, Advanced, and Backup to see that the feature is working properly. On iOS, go to Settings, tap your Apple ID name, and go to iCloud. You can also make a backup by connecting your iPhone to your computer. Both backup strategies take care of a lot of your phone’s contents, including photos and videos, call history, and browser settings. For more information, Apple has a full guide here, and Google has a full guide for Pixel phones here.

That said, we need to flag a couple backup problems—particularly on Android, where the process isn’t quite as clear-cut as it is on iOS. For example, while Apple has long backed up all your SMS and iMessage conversations, Google only recently beefed up its message backup capabilities and you may run into problems. Check out our full guide to backing up text messages for some assistance.

On top of that, it can be tricky to work out which of your non-Apple or non-Google apps are actually taking advantage of the built-in backup options. Your best bet is to head into these third-party apps and see if they mention backups. If you’re still not sure, contact the developer directly. Even if an app doesn’t create backups, many of the most popular ones, like Netflix and Spotify, keep everything in the cloud anyway.

What to know about manual backups

With so much of your phone’s data backed up automatically, transferring it to a new handset is relatively easy. The moment you sign in with your Google account or Apple ID credentials during the setup process for a new Android or iOS device, you’ll receive a prompt asking if you want to restore data from a backup.

So what’s left to transfer? As we’ve mentioned, individual apps might need some attention—particularly your games. Check whether the program lets you save your hard-earned high scores to the cloud or to another device. Some games will take advantage of the automatic backups provided by Google and Apple, but some won’t. Again, check with the developer if a game’s menus or options don’t make its backup status clear.

The biggest headaches come when you’re switching between Android and iOS. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple and Google both want to make it burdensome for you to leave. Your Android backups won’t work on your new iPhone, and your iCloud or iTunes backups won’t be compatible with your shiny new Android. Oh, and you’ll also need to deregister iMessage before you switch from iOS to Android.

[Related: How to ditch your iPhone for Android—and take your files with you]

At the same time, Apple and Google are eager to tempt you over to their platform, and have written official guides on making the switch. If you’re moving from Android to iOS, consult Apple’s guide and read our breakdown. There’s an official Move to iOS app which will transfer most of your stuff, including messages and photos. If you’re going the other way, look up Google’s instructions and check out our tips on the process. Here, you’ll move contacts, calendars, photos, and videos via Google Drive.

One of your biggest problems will be third-party apps, especially if you’re going from an Apple phone to a Google-powered one. The only app Apple makes available on Android is Apple Music, so you won’t be able to transfer your iTunes library or documents you’ve made in Pages. Going the other way is much more straightforward, because just about all of Google’s apps are available in iOS form, which eases the transition.

Just work methodically through your apps and make sure anything you absolutely need will be available on your new handset once you wipe your old one. If you can’t figure out how to make that happen, a quick web search or an email to the developer (find contact details on the app’s store listing) should do the trick.

Move your subscription accounts

Even once you’ve figured out how you’ll move your data from one phone to another, you’re not quite ready to roll. Next, you’ll have to think about the accounts you’re signed into on your old device. Because some services won’t work on too many devices, you’ll have to deactivate or log out of certain accounts on your old phone before they’ll function on your new one.

This doesn’t apply to every service, but it’s true for some subscription apps like Google Play Music (see Google’s instructions). So review the apps on your phone and look up their policies online. Then follow their instructions to set the same apps up on your new device.

Don’t forget about security

With your new phone set up, consider the security of your old one. You may use your phone as part of the two-step authentication process, where a code is sent to your phone whenever someone tries to log into one of your accounts on a new device. Most accounts and services, from Facebook to Google, offer this security feature.

[Related: How to do two-factor authentication like a pro]

While two-factor authentication improves your security, it also adds to the hassle of switching phones. For accounts that authenticate via text message, you won’t need to do anything, assuming that you’re keeping the same SIM and phone number. But if your accounts authenticate with an authenticator app, you’ll need to carefully navigate the switch from one device to another. To find more details, look on the app’s web page—here are the instructions on moving Google’s app, for example.

In some cases, you might have to briefly disable two-step authentication while you move everything over. Still, we’d recommend keeping both phones close at hand until you’ve securely logged into all your accounts on the new device. For more advice, head to the support section of the app you’re using: Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Mail, and others.

When everything’s up and running on your new device, you can safely reset the old one—just wait a few days to make sure the switch has been successful.