My HTC Droid Incredible Android phone has been mostly great.  But after the last major update to Android v2.3.4 it has picked up some really annoying issues.

Even though I have autocomplete turned off, the phone will always substitute what it thinks I meant when searching. This really makes me angry when searching maps and the internet. If I search for "Home Depot" it for some reason substitutes the name and address of the nearest Home Depot when I hit enter, when those results are almost always different than what I wanted. It does the same thing for internet search; I cannot search for what I type in, I can only search for what it thinks I meant. The other big issue is that it does not index any photos I took since the phone last rebooted. They are all still in storage, but Gallery does not show them. I tried moving all the photos off, deleting the thumbnails and any index-looking files I found, but that has not helped. As far as Gallery knows the only camera photos that exist were taken since last reboot. It does go and find all the random images, icons and photos elsewhere in storage, though.

A couple of other issues are that the Netflix app quit working and the calendar stopped syncing with Exchange. But I didn't use the phone for Netflix much, and changing jobs removes the need to sync the work calendar. I'm not sure if these issues coincided with the last Android update or if they happened at a different time.

I have done some internet searching and tried some things, but I have been unable to fix it. In the corporate PC world the fix for all desktop software issues is to reimage the PC, so I figured this would eventually require a factory reset of the phone which would make me lose all my apps, contacts, bookmarks, settings, SMS messages and home screen layout. I have been dreading the thought.

This weekend I am between jobs as I just finished my employment Friday and will start with my new employer Monday, so now my phone can forget all the data and sync settings for my old company's email and saved documents. My new company will issue me a company phone, so my personal Android phone usage will now change greatly. Also, I traveled a lot in the old job but will travel very little in the new job, so the application use pattern for my Droid will change a lot.

Changing jobs and roles doesn't require me to reset the phone; I could just delete the data and accounts associated with the old company. But give that I already have problems, why not do the factory reset now and start fresh?

In the Windows PC world, when you migrate or reimage a user's PC you generally catch everything the user wants by backing up My Documents, Favorites and Desktop from their profile, and then ensuring their local email is backed up which for Outlook is usually under application data or local settings and for Notes is usually under C:\Notes. (Bonus points for hunting down and backing desktop wallpaper, Outlook signature/proof/stationery files, email autocomplete settings and quicklaunch bar shortcuts.) So, I organized my thoughts about what I want to back up from my Android and worked on doing so:

  • SMS Messages - Not critical, but I have occasionally found myself referring to old texts
  • Contacts - Gotta have these backed up or I wouldn't know how to get hold of anyone!
  • Bookmarks - Not critical, but annoying to not keep them
  • Home screen layout - This sounds whiny, but you really do get used to a layout, and 20-40 icons and widgets are a pain to recreate
  • Files - I have photos, music downloads, movie downloads, eBooks and a lot of document downloads.
  • Maps saved locations - I would rather back up and keep my starred locations
  • Downloaded apps - I would like to have a list of apps I downloaded so I know to reinstall them again
  • Tweetdeck settings - I want my Tweetdeck to look the same
  • WiFi encryption keys and passphrases - I thought about this right before resetting my phone. I can reenter the phrases manually, but a couple of them are a pain on the on-screen keyboard. I don't see an immediate and easy way to view or copy them for backup, though.
  • What I forgot - I'm adding this after restoring my phone: My phone call history would have been nice to keep if I thought about it beforehand. I don't care about the following items, but others might: browser "favorites" sites, media playlists, browser history, downloaded-but-later-deleted apps (Google Play shows all previously downloaded apps whether they've been deleted or not).

So there is what I would like to back up and, in some cases, restore. Now, how am I going about doing this? There seems to be no built-in, catch-all backup for all these things. But since some are provided by the phone manufacturer, some by the service carrier, some by Google and some by third parties, I guess that makes sense. There are many backup apps, specialized and broad, free and for-pay. I'm not going to review all of them. Heck, I didn't even look at more than two or three. I'm just going to write about what I did.

You would think SMS messages would be found somewhere on the phone storage or sandisk storage and be accessible when hooking the droid up to a PC and browsing. But I never found them. So I found and used a free app SMS Backup & Restore to back up my text messages to an XML file and then uploaded the XML file to Google Docs. I could have emailed the file, copied over USB or one of many other transfers. I don't intend to restore my SMS messages after the reset, but the app will let you read a backup file just like it was your main SMS messages, so I will be able to read the messages without restoring. There is probably a way to view the XML messages on the PC, but I haven't even bothered to try yet.

There are many options for contacts, so many that any given user may already have theirs unknowingly backed up. First, note that contacts are a combined list of contacts from multiple possible sources: phone contacts, Google account contacts and mail app contacts. Google account contacts sync automatically by default and therefore are already "backed up" to Google. (These contacts are viewable online in Google Mail / GMail.) Mail app contacts should be synced and therefore "backed up" with the mail server, in my case my old company's Exchange server, but I deleted that account on my last day. The phone contacts need to be backed up, though. There is a "Backup Assistant" under settings -> Accounts and Sync that runs automatically by default, but as far as I can tell you have to pay the cell phone service provider a fee to restore that data using Backup Assistant. I used HTC Sync which is installable when I plug my phone in via USB, but that version didn't work anymore so I downloaded the one from HTC's site. It allowed me to sync my contacts with Outlook. The old version said it could sync to Windows 7 Contacts, but it wouldn't sync and the new version didn't offer to sync to Windows 7 Contacts. Oh well.

I don't have many bookmarks in my Android browser, but there were a few I wanted to be sure to keep. I didn't want to install an app to back them up, I couldn't find the bookmarks while browsing through phone storage and I saw no option to export the list. So I just wrote down what I had bookmarked (ESPN Dallas, NOAA Weather, other easy-to-recreate bookmarks), but there were a couple of links to articles I wanted to refer back to. Instead of writing those down, I touched-and-held the bookmarked, chose "share" and emailed the link to myself so I can later read the email, click the link and bookmark it. It's not as simple as export-import, but it's simple enough for as few bookmarks as I have, and I don't have to install an app to do it.

Home screen layout: I think what I am going to do is use a webcam and just take a photo of each screen and then recreate it manually. Since my app use will change with the job changes, it might make sense to rearrange things, anyway.

I back up all the files by hooking the phone to my PC via USB, enabling drive access and just copying everything over in Windows Explorer. All photos, music, documents and videos are locatable with browsing and searching, but phone settings, app settings and app data don't seem to be represented in the copied files. But I have a lot of data files, so this is definitely worth doing. I won't need all the files after the reset, so I'll selectively restore individual files. It should be noted that I manage my music and video files myself. If you are using an application to organize them and make playlists you may want to be sure those things are backed up.

Perhaps the easiest backup for me was to realize that my Maps saved locations/starred places are already synced in my Google Maps with the Google account I use on the phone. (My Places -> Starred in Google Maps.) Assuming I use the same Google account after resetting the phone, these places will be "restored".

Getting a list of downloaded apps was also easier than expected. Google Play (formerly Android Market) has My Android Apps which shows all the apps I've ever downloaded. But it currently shows them as "installed" even if I have uninstalled them on the phone. No biggie, because if I click on "installed" the next screen knows whether or not it's actually installed and lets me install it there. So my plan is to reinstall apps using this web page.

For my Tweetdeck settings I think I'll just list the columns I have and recreate them manually. I do not use a Tweetdeck account, just Twitter accounts, otherwise it might remember my accounts for me.

So there we go. I've backed up my data as best as I think I can (or am willing to do), I've blogged about it, so now I'll perform the factory reset. And write another blog about that.