Get back your data after resetting an Android phone

Q. How much of my phone’s data, apps and settings will Android backup automatically?

A statue of Android Marshmallow at Google Mountain View, Calif., headquarters last August.

A. Historically, this has been a huge weakness of Google’s mobile operating system compared to Apple’s iOS. You may not have had to mess with iTunes, but you could not count on having your apps’ key settings — or just their placement on your phone’s home screens — would be preserved and restored.

Android Marshmallow, the 6.0 version released last year, advertised major improvements to this for apps that supported its new automatic, encrypted backup routine. But I hadn’t been able to test this feature until an in-retrospect hilariously stupid mistake left me no choice.

I had been switching back and forth between phones, taking notes on how Samsung’s version of Android differed from the stock version on my own Nexus 5X, and when it finally came time to reset the review phone at the end of a long workday, I…Well, I reset my own phone by mistake.

(Transcript of my reaction the moment I realized what I’d done: “Nooooooooo!”).

With nothing else to do but wait and see how well Android could restore my phone’s contents from the cloud, I started taking notes.

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A handful of apps came back with their old settings and even saved logins preserved: Pandora, Yahoo Weather, Swarm, WordPress and RunKeeper.

I also had to redo some system settings. Understandably, I needed to register my fingerprints for Android’s Nexus Imprint phone unlocking from scratch — like Apple’s TouchID, this security system confines that biometric data to the phone in encrypted form. But I also had to change such less-critical preferences as a data-roaming option and even a typing-sounds setting.

As before, restoring two-step verification — the important security feature that lets you verify an unusual login with a one-time code from your phone — was a minor ordeal.

Two-step systems that send those codes via text messaging were the easiest to redo. But to restore two-step protection provided by such apps as Google’s Authenticator, which computes these codes on its own and therefore works even without cell service, I had to confirm my first login on my newly-restored phone in other ways.

Most of the time, I had to get a login code texted to the phone number I’d saved to such accounts as Facebook and Twitter. Yahoo’s Flickr app offered an easier workaround: I could okay my login by tapping a button in the Flickr app on my iPad.

(Disclosure: I write for Yahoo’s Yahoo Finance site but have no say on how the company builds its mobile apps.).

Text messages themselves did not get backed up at all. But my research for an earlier column here had led me to configure a free, open-source app called SMS Backup + to copy my texts into a designated folder in my Gmail account. A reinstalled copy of the app worked as advertised, bringing all my text chats back to my phone.

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My last step was as close as this backup-and-restore runaround got to the iOS experience: I plugged my phone into my desktop, then dragged and dropped a few songs from iTunes to my device.

Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.Com/robpegoraro.

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