Carbon: the way Google should be doing backup on Android

In theory, apps and data on your Android device should be backed up to "the cloud" and tied to your Google account. This means -- again, in theory -- that when you sign into a new device your apps and data will be restored to that device. Anyone who has owned an Android phone or two (or ten) knows that this really isn't the case. There isn't any transparency as to what apps are backed up, which apps will be restored and least of all which apps will bring their associated data along. So how do you solve this problem?

Enter, Carbon - App Sync and Backup.

At the highest level, Carbon does one thing -- backup and restore your apps and their data. The app is only available to devices running Android 4.0 and higher, and that is easily explained once you understand what's going on under the hood. Carbon takes advantage of functionality built into the latest versions of android called "ADB Backup", which is meant to be used in conjunction with a PC running the Android SDK to backup and restore apps to your phone. Carbon pulls a clever trick, making the phone think that it is connected to a PC and initiates an ADB Backup.

The end result is the phone backing up apps and/or app data directly to the phone itself, not a PC. One big perk of Carbon compared to other backup apps is that it does not require that users root their devices. There is one extra step to take if users want to use it without root, however. Because of the way ADB Backup works, you'll need to connect your phone to a computer to enable it for the first time. At that point everything will be good to go until you reboot again. Root users can skip this step and backup with just the device.

When you do choose to backup, the UI couldn't be simpler. You're greeted with a list of all installed apps, and you simply check the boxes to choose which ones to backup. You can select/deselect all, and even create groups for repeated backups. You could, for example, make a group called "games" and more routinely backup your game save states. Restore works the same in reverse, simply select the apps to restore and hit "Restore". It's that easy.

By default, and in the free version of Carbon, backups are done to the phone's internal storage. If you choose to spring for the $4.99 full version, you'll have the ability to make backups to Dropbox, Google Drive or If you plan on backing up regularly as a way to save your data from device failure, you're probably best off with the paid version. You can also choose to schedule backups, taking your own interaction completely out of the equation.

Another default of Carbon is to just backup app data, and not the apps themselves. This saves a considerable amount of space, but means that you'll need to download your applications manually, and restore the app data afterwards. This will be a personal preference, but if you want to keep from backing up huge 500MB+ games, you'll probably want to choose to just back up app data.

The most important breakthrough of Carbon is that it provides full application and data backup to non-rooted users. This is something that should be included as part of the Android system, as well as accessible to regular users. "Normal" users are the ones that would benefit most from a simple and reliable backup and restore solution, and Google has neglected to offer it to them.

Who knows when or if Google will bring this functionality to the core of the operating system, but in the meantime we know that Carbon is here as a great option.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I'm sure it will be copied sooner or later
  • Actually there were already a couple apps that did this before Carbon. DataSync is the big one that comes to mind, and I actually prefer it over Carbon.
  • Datasync requires Root. This one doesn't you just have to hook it up to a PC once. and don't reboot
  • That don't reboot bit could be a bit of a hassle, no? There are some phones that reboot on their own. If it happens while you are traveling away from your PC, you lose your backup when you want it most.
  • Or simply use the superior solution which is G Cloud backup ;)
  • i hope this takes google a couple i get my $5 worth :P but in all seriousness, this is a great app. planning on using it with my wife in a couple months when she upgrades. i am already using the paid version simple for the sync of data. its an awesome utility.
  • I wish google bring this feature in Key Lime pie so that I can save $5
  • So this works differently than Titanium Backup or MyBackupPro? I never had much luck restoring apps and data.
  • I was going to ask the same thing, as I use Titanium Pro also.
    I have heard from someone else who purchased this that it leaves .nomedia files all over the place which causes an issue.
  • MyBackup Pro, if you are not rooted, will not backup app data. Carbon, on non rooted phones, will backup app data.
  • Not sure if it works differently, but I have both Titanium Backup Pro and MyBackup Pro. My personal experience is Titanium Backup Pro works fine for backing up and restoring apps and data. (The created for recovery restoration is an awesome feature! Major time saver.) However, about an update after the feature was first introduced, I lost the ability to restore SMS messages (.xml format). Completely and totally, attempting to do so would cause Titanium Backup to force close. MyBackup Pro works for everything, but I only use it to backup/restore SMS/MMS messages. I don't really need another app on my phone when the two I have already do the same thing. Titanium Backup Pro can syn your data to Dropbox, Box and Google Drive. But obviously it requires root. MyBackup Pro same thing. So the only difference I'm seeing is that Carbon allows for backups without requiring root but you need access to your computer the first time to get things setup properly, but that's it after that. No more computer required (from what I gather based on the article and Play Store link).
  • "Carbon allows for backups without requiring root but you need access to your computer the first time to get things setup properly, but that's it after that. No more computer required (from what I gather based on the article and Play Store link)." If you power off your phone and restart it you need to plug it into your PC again before Carbon will work. Backup applications need to be available all the time otherwise they're pointless.
  • The concept is the same, except the apps are stored in the cloud and accessible on the go and can be accessible across multiple device, etc. With Titanium, you can take the entire backup and store in the cloud. But extracting which apps you want or don't want is not the same.
  • Titanium can back up directly to a few services as well. I know dropbox and google drive and probably one or two others I'm forgetting. This includes individual apps or the I believe.
  • When I seen this the first thing that came to mind was Titanium Backup. I got the Pro version and have used it also since I use to be a crack flasher. It comes in handy and you're right you can save to Dropbox, Google Drive and Box. Box being the best for this situation since I got 50GBs from them.
  • IMO this is one of the biggest letdowns of Android compared to iOS. What makes it even worse is that ANY time you call in for support or go to a store/carrier the first thing they do is make you wipe your device. Crap service, crap accountability, and rarely solves the issue anyway. This was never a big deal on iOS but hopefully Google just buys this out and incorporates it into the next release.
  • yep. annoying.
  • Never go to a carrier for help with your device. They're about as clueless as a bag of rocks.
  • Actually, this hasn't bothered me at all. Since leaving the iPhone, I have never missed the backup feature. (I hated it every time I used iTunes). True, if you phone goes in the toilet you probably lost all your pictures. But other than that, what have you ever really lost? Game progress? MEH! Its all in the cloud somewhere if you are doing things right. Still, this app might be nice for people that save tons of stuff on their phones without any backup. When you do get your brand new phone, unless its the exact same model as your old wet phone, the chances of being able to restore it from your total backup are pretty near nill, so you might as well just back up the application data. Zero point in backing up apps.
  • I have way too much time in Where's my Water and Hill Climb racing to see it go away if I have to wipe my tablet. Backing up game data may be 'MEH!' for you, but many others think differently.
  • it's not because YOU don't use it that'is it's useless for everywhone : for example I have a gps tool with lots of positions saved. if I had to create all of them again it'd be tiresome
  • According to Google Play, incompatible with my OG Razr.
  • You're on ICS, right?
  • "Note: Carbon is NOT available to Motorola devices. This is because Motorola phones have a bug that break Android's backup mechanism. Until this is fixed by Motorola, Carbon will not work on those Androids. You can download Carbon manually here:
    If you find that Carbon *does* work on your Motorola Android, please notify me."
  • Can anyone confirm if it backs up needneed for speed most wanted's game data successfully?
  • why not just try it and see... its free.. :)
  • I'm doing it now. It takes forever as apparently it's backing up EVERYTHING that Most Wanted installed. At the moment it's already over 1.7 gigs. -.-'
  • Of course, it's supposed to backup your apps and data. It's not a saved game position backup app.
  • I would love to hear if anyone is actually using something like this on a daily basis to keep game progress synced between multiple devices. How practical and hands off is it? -Suntan
  • dear Google, buy carbon.
  • Please, AC, do am article comparing different back-up apps. I use Titanium Backup, but others have mentioned DataSync and MyBackup. I'm sure many of us would like to hear your thoughts. I know I'd consider switching. The prospect of not having to individually approve every app installed by Titanium is quite attractive.
  • +1
  • If you get Titanium Pro, you don't have to approve each app individually.
  • I'm cheap. What can I say?
  • +1. Also, biggest issue for me is being rooted and trying to upgrade/switch to new device, such as if a device is lost or stolen. Carbon may solve this but, generaly, a new device (unrooted) has to be rooted before you can even think about restoring anything with Titanium or other app + data backups. If I'm away from home and have to replace my device, I'd like to be able to get back to where I was without having to root first. Obviously, I wouldn't be able to install root apps, but mostly they're utilities to solve problems like backing up and not generally day-to-day apps that I would need while out of town. That's a scenario I've never seen addressed in reviews of backup type apps. Please, AC, help us figure out how to make this work.
  • I tried this today as I was upgrading my ROM and doing a full wipe. I backed everything up, installed the new rom, and. . . "No backups found". Good thing I was careful and made a Titanium Backup as well or I'd have lost everything.
  • I swap batteries at least once each day on my S3. Thus, I'd have to connect to my PC each day to enable Carbon. No thanks!
  • You mean TWICE a day.(Once to use your second battery, then again to charge your first battery) But if you had something like an Anker external battery, you wouldn't have to swap batteries at all.
  • Some of us have an external charger for our batteries.
  • This! I use an external charger and second battery. I also have a MyCharge, but I rarely use it. I need to be able to use my device until it dies, then quickly do a battery swap and continue using it. The problem with devices like the MyCharge and the Anker units is that your phone is no longer convenient to use while your battery is being replenished.
  • lol... so if this is an app you would use why not support the dev (he is the one that made clockwork mod too so he has been around the community a long time)and buy the paid app... problem solved.
  • Just curious, can someone explain to me how we can have two apps by the exact same name? It just seems odd that this could happen given our current state of paranoid copycat litigation in the tech world. I'm sure there's a simple and logical explanation?
  • Internally, they have different names, so they don't conflict on the device. When you look in the market you find the full name is "Carbon - App Sync and Backup", or "Carbon (premium). The Twitter app is named "Carbon for Twitter". There are well over a hundred apps with the word Carbon in the name.
  • Thanks icebike! I figured they didn't conflict on the device, but I couldn't believe one wasn't suing the other and saying "hey, that's the name for our app, you can't use it for yours" kind of thing.
  • Does not yet work on encrypted phones.
  • bummer. then its no use to me. i try to a make a nanroid backup at least once a week and even if i lost everthing my photos,music,bookmarks,contacts and angry birds scors are all backed up with google. everyhing else i can piece back together over time.
  • The more data we store on our phones requires encrypted data by default. Our encrypted data needs to have the capability to be remotely nuked whenever we want to disable the device. Conversely, we need to have the confidence our data & apps can be EASILY restored from the cloud. This requires users to schedule incremental data and application updates daily. The UI needs to be sixth grade level approved for ease of use. I'm tired of being a beta tester for developers who don't have the umbrella of all data / all applications to easily b / r unrooted smartphones incrementally. I won't pay for their crapware until a solution is created that meets this criteria across Android 4.0 + devices, vendors and service providers. When this is created, give the product away for three months and easter egg it to default to a monthly service for a couple bucks a month or the user can move off or lose their data. Users will pay for ease of use and confidence their data is key'd only for their use to/from the cloud. Only when users pay for the service would I allow them to use dropbox, box or some other cloud. User IDs would be tied to their hardware MAC address. BOOM. There's a business plan for someone to bite off. Just do it already.
  • Now I have two apps named Carbon on my home screen.
  • One of the biggest features f this app, which is not mentioned is that it can poll apps on other devices you own and initiate a restoration in one click. For example, you want to pick up where you left off on a game while using your GS3 you started on your Nexus 7 while on the will copy the save over even if you are on a different network. No previous backups needed. However, it starts up a "Carbon Server" process on the other device which doesn't close afterwards which causes a wakelock. So...if you do it while your not near the device you will probably come home to a dead battery.
  • Why not just back up your phone to your computer?
  • "Why not just back up your phone to your computer?"
    I'm wondering the same thing. I have the entire internal and external storage of my S3 copied to my PC. Won't restoring those files to my phone suffice, including app operability?
    I have never had occasion to try it, so I'm not sure if that process actually works.
  • No
  • AC should put a big SPONSORED disclaimer everytime they post about Carbon! No batch restore? No thank you.
  • This functionality needs to be built-in into the Android ecosystem.
  • I've used carbon backed up apps with data but still most my apps have to be redownloaded from play store before app data can be restored.never had that issue with titanium. Kinda regret spending 5bucks for an app that dosent do what is supposed to
  • Sucks that you have to root just to backup your device without needing a computer. Backing up your data should be an included function in Android. This is definitely something Google dropped the ball with.
    On the other hand my computer isn't working so this isn't even an option at the moment smh :-(
  • For those running android older than 4.x u can use this app to backup your apps: , it won't save the app data though, but Google already takes care of that.
  • Google kinda takes care of it, sometimes. Not every app, not all the time.
  • I can see where this would be really handy if you have a device that hasn't been unlocked yet. Back up data, unlock, root, restore data. This has been a huge barrier for me, as I didn't want to lose all of my data when unlocking my phone!
  • Doesn't work on my rooted rezound, no support from developer on issue.
  • My note II was broken earlier this month, after repairs all data was wiped. I got back exactly ZERO settings from google and their magic data saving mechanism. Quite pissed off. Why did it have to be this hard? I did have a titanium backup around, but I'm don't want to reroot my phone again, because it refused to update the stock OS the last time round when it was rooted.
  • You can use this app to backup your sms,mms,callog,calendar,bookmarks and contact:
  • Unfortunately I can't install the Windows drivers for Helium on a Samsung Tab2...Australia is not mentioned lol Would the region really matter??