You back up your computers, or at least know that you should. But what about your smartphones? They carry massive amounts of personal data, and are subjected to life-or-death situations on a daily basis. Here's how to back them up:
You don't have to use a smartphone for more than a few weeks to amass a staggering amount of stuff on it, from text messages and phone numbers to personal settings and photo libraries. And as with your laptop or desktop, a significant portion of this stuff is stuff you want to keep, whether you know it or not. And cellphone backup isn't just a matter of keeping copies of data that you consciously archive every day, like contacts, photos and notes—it's about keeping copies of information that you didn't even know you wanted. How many times have you needed to dig through an old text message conversation? Referred back to your received call list to recover a number you didn't save? In a lot of ways, your smartphone is more closely tied to your personal identity than your computer is. So, people: back it up. You'll feel better.
If you've got an iPhone, there's a good chance you've already sat through—and been annoyed by—its backup routine. iTunes updates your iPhone's backups at every sync, which makes users' lives a bit easier, and guarantees some kind of safetly net by default. But! As with most fully automated systems, iTunes backup is kind of enigmatic. It just sort of... happens, and it's not clear what you're saving, where it's going, and how to keep it truly safe.
What it's doing is performing a full backup equivalent. In other words, instead of just mirroring your entire device as a big image file, it's extracting all the useful bits, so it can restore your iPhone as if it had undergone a full, mirrored backup. This includes, among other things, bookmarks, app settings and data (including in-app purchases, but not the apps themselves), contacts, call history, Mail accounts, SMSes, videos and photos. In other words, pretty much everything. Backups are performed automatically, and restoring to one is a simple matter of plugging in your iPhone, alt-clicking on its icon in iTunes, and selecting "Restore from Backup."
Crucially, this is different from selecting "Restore" in the device summary page: doing that will revert your device to a clean, factory-default image, which will delete all your personal data. Which isn't what we're trying to do here! (In fact, it's the opposite!) If you attempt to do this, you will be prompted to perform a backup, which should be a red flag.
iTunes stores its backups as archived files in semi-cryptic directories, so if you want to pull them out of the closed iTunes system for proper backup, i.e. to an external HDD or online storage solution, you can find them here, as per Apple's useful support page on the subject:
On a Mac: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
On Windows XP: \Documents and Settings\(username)\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\
On Windows Vista: \Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\
To add a backup to iTunes, simply copy it back to its default directory, and it should show up as a restore option, labeled by date, when you're setting up a wiped or recently capital "R" Restored iPhone or iPod Touch.
Google's position Android backup and sync has been translucent, perhaps to a fault: Since it depends so much on web services, it doesn't need to be backed up, right! It's already backed up, in the cloud! We're freakin' Google, y'all! THIS IS THE FUTURE! (Carried to its logical conclusion, this is the Chrome OS ethos. Anyway.) To a certain extend this cloud-focused cheerleading is fine, and can be put to good use. Gmail and Gcal are always safe, and your contacts can be added to your Google account too—should you designate them to be saved as Google contacts, not just SIM or Phone contacts. To do this:
1. Open your Contacts list
2. Press the Menu button
3. Select Import
4. Tick the "Google Contacts" box
But for anyone who wants to back up more than their Google-service-based info, this doesn't really help. For that, you'll need to go third-party. There are lots of backup apps for Android, but most of them are paid, either immediately or after a free trial. I assume just go with the best free(ish) solutions, all of which you can find by searching for their names in the Android Market.
Backup apps on Android are split into two types: the all-in-one apps that sync your data to a single file, and the piecemeal apps. Unfortunately, the AIO apps tend to be paid; doing this for free takes multiple downloads. Download these three apps: SMS Backup and Restore, Call Logs Backup & Restore, and APN Backup & Restore. Each one backs up its respective data to your microSD card (in /sdcard/*appname*BackupRestore/) for easy restoration on another phone. Using these apps is self-explanatory, since there are only three buttons: Backup, Restore and Delete.
Astro File Manager fills a remaining gap: app backup. It's a free file browser at heart, so the backup option is kind of hidden—once in the app, press the menu button, then click "Tools." Select "Application Manager/Backup," and you'll be able to backup your apps to your SD card. To restore, just install this same app on the device, insert the old SD card, navigate to the same "Application Manager/Backup screen" again, and select the "Backed Up Apps" tab. Astro is also a solid file browser, you can can manually move your data—like photos and videos—to a microSD card, where you should probably be storing them by default anyway. [Pic via]
There! Sprite Mechanic does the same in a slightly simpler way, but I'm hearing reports that it's a bit buggy on certain handsets (the Hero variant and Droid, specifically). Still, it's free, so it may be worth a try.
Lastly, if you've got a rooted phone, Backup for Root Users backs up virtually everything, and it's totally free. That catch? You need to have a rooted phone, or else it won't work. Which is either a crying shame, or a great excuse to root your phone.