Restore your apps and settings Android

Google has always synced calendar events, contacts, Drive documents, Gmail settings and other account-related information across devices, and since Android 5.0 Lollipop the company started offering the ability to restore apps to a new device. With Marshmallow, the feature was expanded to include app data as well as system settings, with all the information stored in the cloud. Android 7.0 and 8.0 doesn't bring changes to the backup service itself, but Google has placed more focus on privacy and how sensitive information is sent or stored.

If you're using the Google Now or Pixel Launcher, your home screen background, icon and widget layout, as well as the folder structure, is now saved to the cloud, allowing you to restore your settings to a new handset and retain your home screen layout.

Where does all this data get stored? Google is backing up the app data to Drive, allocating 25MB for each app. Data used by the backup system doesn't count toward your storage quota. Meanwhile, developers can choose to select what app data gets stored in the cloud and you can opt-out of the service at any time through your device settings.

Here's how you can restore your apps and settings when moving to a new Android phone.

How to enable the Android backup service

First, make sure you have the backup service running on your current phone.

  1. Open Settings from the home screen or app drawer.
  2. Navigate to Backup & reset.
  3. Select Back up my data.

    Backup Android

  4. Toggle Back up my data to On.
  5. Select Back to go back to Backup & reset.
  6. Check that the correct Google account is associated in Backup account.
  7. Toggle Automatic restore to On to restore settings and data when installing an app.

    Backup Android settings

Now that you've enabled the Android backup service, your system settings and app data will be automatically saved to Drive. When you're switching to a new phone, you can rely on the service to restore your settings, apps, and associated data.

Note: The menu layout may not look exactly as above on your phone, but any phone running Lollipop and above should have an equivalent of Backup & reset.

How to restore apps and services on a new Android phone

Restoring apps is straightforward if you're using a handset running Lollipop and above. This setting is available to phones as they're booting up for the first time, or after they've been factory reset.

  1. Select the arrow at the welcome screen to start setting up your handset.
  2. Select the System language.
  3. Log in to your home Wi-Fi network.

    Android restore welcome screen

  4. Select Accept and continue.
  5. You can easily copy your Google accounts, apps, and data from another device, but for now, we'll not use this option.
  6. Log in to your Google account (you have two-factor authentication enabled, don't you?).

    Android restore login to Google account

  7. Tap Accept to sign in to your Google account.
  8. In the Google services page, you can select whether you want to enable the backup service for your account.
  9. Choose your preferences, and select Next.
  10. If you want to add another email account, you can do so in the Add another email section. Otherwise, just select Not now and hit Next.

    Android restore select Google services

  11. We now come to the Which device? section, which lets you select the device you want to restore from.
  12. You'll see a list of all your previous devices, and when you've last used them.
  13. Select a device to see all the apps available for restore.
  14. If you want to restore all apps and settings, hit Restore.

    Restore apps Android

  15. Don't want everything restored? Hit the arrow next to Restore all.
  16. Selectively choose which apps you want to restore.
  17. Hit Restore to retrieve apps and settings from the cloud.

    Restore apps on Android

  18. You can now set up fingerprint security and enable Google Now.

    Android restore finish

That's it! Once the initial setup is completed, apps and settings will be restored in the background.

Your privacy

Gathering data and sending it off to a remote server means it's outside the app sandbox and depends on Google and the people who made your phone to be doing the right things. That may not always be the case, as phone manufacturers have a lot of leeway when they make an Android-powered phone. Google's thoughts on the issue:

Caution: Because the backup transport can differ from device to device, Android cannot guarantee the security of your data while using backup. Be cautious about using backup to store sensitive data, such as usernames and passwords.

Google provides plenty of documentation on how to use the Backup service, so developers have the means to be cautious and do the right thing with sensitive data. Don't let this scare you away from using the service, but you do need to be aware.

How to see the amount of data synced to the cloud

Although you can't see what data is being backed up to the cloud, you can take a look at the amount of app data that's being stored. Here's how you can find out:

  1. Open Google Drive from the home screen or app drawer.
  2. In My Drive, select the hamburger menu from the top left corner.
  3. Navigate to Settings.

    Android app data Google Drive

  4. Tap Manage backup.
  5. You'll see a list of all the apps that are using the backup service.

Android app data Google Drive

The backup system works well for restoring apps and system settings, but app data remains an issue. When I did a clean Marshmallow install on the Moto G4 Plus and used the restore feature, apps like Fenix were already logged in, and my preferred settings for the Twitter client were intact from a previous phone. However, not all apps take advantage of the backup service, and with the feature limited to apps built on API level 23 (apps built for Marshmallow) and above, there are several older apps that aren't eligible. The biggest issue is that even though the service is free and requires no special cloud services, developers just aren;t using it.

The ability to restore apps and settings is available on all current phones running Android 6.0 and above, although there are a few outliers. Recent Xiaomi phones, for instance, do not offer the restore service at all. I had to manually install apps individually on the Play Store like it's 2013. The issue is more common in countries like India, where there is an influx of Chinese phones with heavily tweaked user interfaces.

In Western markets, this should not be an issue. If you're buying a phone from the likes of Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, Motorola, or any other handset manufacturer that has a foothold in the U.S. market, you'll be able to use the restore functionality to retrieve your apps and settings data with ease.

How has your experience been with Android's restore feature? Let us know in the comments.

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