Things to Backup Before Messing with Our Android Device

Smartphone Android

Since known Android modding 8 years ago, I have installed dozens of custom ROMs and mods, made my Android devices bricked way more than my age count, and lots of regrets moment caused of one thing: Not made a proper backup of my Android device.


Licosha β€” Backup! Backup! Backup! That’s the first word every Android mod developer/maintainer will thrown to you on the first section of it’s thread. And yet, many times I always neglected it especially when I think “Meh, it’s justs the usual things I have installed few times this month”. And not so few occasions I have regretted after belittled the word of “Backup”.

So on this post, perhaps I wrote this post especially to remind myself what important things we need to save and back it up to a safe place (external storage or PC, for example) before I installed those mods or flashed those Android GSIs/custom ROMs so I don’t experience the bitter taste of ignoring backup ever again πŸ˜‚.

Note that of course “Backup” in Android modding here is a generic word, means there is no single path to perform it. But on my experience, I will try wrote the easiest ways to perform backup of our Android device important things as effective as possible, both time wise and cost wise.

I) Backup Android device the casual way

I.a) Backing up Android apps/games data using Google’s “Backup & Restore” feature

Medial sync phone Google

Illustration image. Based image by kreatikar@Pixabay. “Google icon” by Icons8

Just like we know (or maybe not) there is a core feature from Google on our Android device to easily backup our Android device applications & games data to our attached Google Drive account, called… “Backup & Restore”.

Backup & Restore feature will in background, more or less like syncing our applications & games data installed on our Android device to our Google Drive account.

To enable Backup feature of our Android device, you can enable it by following the steps below (example is from Android 10):

  1. Open “Settings” menu, then scroll down and choose “More settings” on the bottom.
  2. Choose “Backup” option, then choose “Google Account”.
  3. Turn on the switch of “Backup to Google Drive” and choose “Account” to choose your preferred Google Account where backup will be saved on its Google Drive.
  4. By default, Backup to Google Drive will use the main Google account you used to sign it to the Android device (e.g. Play Store). But if you wish to use different Google Account to backup your Android device data, choose “Change backup account” in the bottom and choose or add your preferred Google Account.

Things that are covered by Google’s backup feature of our Android device are:

  • Apps and apps data. Apps data probably right, but for me not the Apps itself since we need to redownload the apps again, not like the app’s “apk” is saved offline to our device storage.
  • Call history
  • Contacts
  • Device common settings, including Wi-Fi passwords and permissions.
  • SMS

I.a.1) Backup with Google One: The default backup feature on Android

Recently, there is a big change to the inbuilt backup feature of Android device, it is the included of “Backup with Google One”. Google One backup is a more unified system to backup our Android device.

Google One backup welcome UI

The backup feature main interface is also a little bit different. To enable backup of our Android device with “Backup with Google One” installed is (example is from Android 10):

  1. Open “Settings” menu, then scroll down and find “More Settings”.
  2. Choose “Backup” menu, and tap “Google Account”.
  3. To use different Google account where the backups will be saved, tap the email address and choose or add new Google account.
  4. Lastly, tap “Turn on” button at the bottom right.

The next time we open the the Google Account on the “Backup” menu, we will be presented with the summary of our Google account storage space left, things that can be backed up like Apps, SMS, Photos, etc. or enable backup to run over mobile data connection.

I.a.2) Restoring from Google’s Android Backup & Restore

So, how do we restore or retrieve the backed up data? The “Restore” part is mostly helpful at the first setup of our Android device, that is to help us setup things faster.

Remember the “Setup Wizard” the first time we used our Android device, where we sign in our Google Account so we can use Google’s services like Play Store? I think that’s where Google’s Backup & Restore are mostly useful 😜.

So, Backup & Restore feature from Google is unpopular for many especially for users around Android modding community because these cons:

  • It needs active internet connection all the time to sync the latest apps data with the currently running on our Android device.
  • We need to redownload the apps ‘apk’ again.
  • Mostly only works fork apps comes from Play Store only.
  • It needs Google account and Google Services πŸ₯Ή

I.b) Backup apps/games and data using Android application

Personally, I’m not a fan of Google’s Android Backup & Restore because of the cons earlier. Since the main reason I need to backup my Android device is because how I modding it all time by installing mods, custom ROMs, or GSIs, I need a fast and offline capable backup so I can restore it immediately, e.g. straight after the ROM or GSI is succesfully installed.

So, I usually use some apps to backup important apps and/or the data and also SMS messages using the following apps.

I.b.1) Backup Android apps/games split “apk” (apks/xapk)

If we want to backup Android apps/games for offline installation, first thing we need to know is whether the app/game are using split apk format, usually referred as “apks” or “xapk”.

SAI Android app backup list

Installing split apk could not be done the usual way like by select it from file manager and just install it, but it need different care, the same like backup it. And one app I always use to handle split apk format is Split APKs Installer (SAI).

πŸ“Ž SAI v. 4.5.apk (4.89 MB)
Android 5.0 and up β€’ Play Store

I.b.2) Backup Android apps/games normal apk

What? Is it SAI app from earlier is enough to backup our installed Android apps/games? Unfortunately not, it only handle split apk format but not the normal apk. So, apps/games that are using single apk format will not appears on SAI app backup menu, which is we will use different app to backup the rest of it.

But actually, backing up Android apps/games apk that using normal apk format is easier since the installation file is only consist of single apk file. You can search for “Backup APK” on Play Store or alternative stores like F-Droid and you can find dozens app that offers the feature, but my favorite one is by using MixPlorer file manager Android app.

MiXplorer Android app installed list

πŸ“Ž MiXplorer v6.59.1-API29_B23020190.apk (3.7 MB)
Android 2.2 and up
Play Store | XDA thread
MiXplorer Android app addons
πŸ“Ž MiX Archive r. B2202010-universal.apk (3.7 MB)
πŸ“Ž MiX Image r. B2202010-universal apk (8.6 MB)
πŸ“Ž MiX PDF r. B2302020-universal.apk (10.1 MB)
πŸ“Ž MiX Tagger r. B2202011.apk (1 MB)

To easily backup Android apps/games apk using MiXplorer, you can follow the following steps:

  1. From MiXplorer main menu, tap the hamburger (three lines) icon on the top left to open the sidebar.
  2. Now on the MiXplorer sidebar, look at the bottom and choose “App” (content://mix/app) item.
  3. Now to make it easy by filtering user installed app only, tap “USER APP” (greyed text on the breadcrumb path at the top).
  4. Because we have backed up the Android apps/games using split apk format earlier using SAI app, so now we choose the rest of apps/games that are not covered by SAI. Choose the apps/games just like we want backup just like it is a normal file operation and then copy it to location we desire, the external micro SD card for example.

I.b.3) Backup Android device’s SMS messages

Just like backing up normal apk, there are also lots of apps on the Android stores that offers SMS backup and restore in one click (most of them even paid one). But my favorite app to backup and restore SMS messages on my Android device for free is by using Swift Backup app.

Swift Backup Android app SMS backup menu

πŸ“Ž Swift Backup v. 4.2.3 (561).apk (43.1 MB)
Android 6.0 and up β€’ Play Store

How to backup SMS messages using Swift Backup Android app:

  1. From Swift Backup Android app main menu, choose “Messages”, then tap “+ Create backup” button on the bottom.
  2. Select the SMS messages we want to backup, then tap “Backup options” button.
  3. Select “Device” to backup the SMS messages to our Android device internal storage, or Cloud (e.g. Google Drive). Note that Cloud restore in Swift Backup is Premium feature.
  4. Done! The SMS messages backups is saved locally on our Android device [internal storage]/SwiftBackup/{accountuniqueid}/backups/sms/local.

Then, the steps to restore the backups of SMS messages made by Swift Backup are:

  1. From Swift Backup Android app main menu, choose “Messages”.
  2. The backed up SMS messages archives will be listed from the top.
  3. Choose backups the backup we want to restore by tapping it, then choose messages we want to restore and tap “Restore” button at the bottom.
  4. The device will ask to thoose default SMS app, choose “Swift Backup”. Don’t worry as this will affect shortly only for restoring process.
  5. After the process is done, tap “Done” button at the bottom. Swift Backup will warn us to rechoose back our default app for SMS messaging, tap “Change SMS app” -> “SMS app”, choose our default/preferred SMS messaging app (Typically are Message, Messaging, etc.).

II) Backup Android device the root way

Have a rooted Android device, e.g. by installed Magisk or Supersu? Then we are done! There is only one app we need, the most sophisticated of all: Swift Backup Android app.

Swift backup Android app-batch backup

One advantage using Swift Backup backup and restore is when we restore the apps/games later it will also restore all data even to settings related to Android system itself like battery optimization, data preferrence, install source info, etc.

Requirements:

  • Rooted Android device. Also read: How to easily root Android device using Magisk from custom recovery.
πŸ“Ž Swift Backup v. 4.2.3 (561).apk (43.1 MB)
Android 6.0 and up β€’ Play Store

II.a) Backing up Android apps/games and its data using Swift Backup app

  1. First, open Swift Backup Android app, and make sure we gave it root access. From the main menu, choose “Apps”.
  2. We might want to filter apps/games by user installed only to make it easy, tap the three horizontal lines icon at the top to bring the “Sort” menu, then choose “User” on the “App type” section and tap “APPLY OPTIONS”.
  3. [For backup individual app/game] Tap the app name -> “+ Backup”.
  4. [For batch/multiple backup app/game] Tap “Batch actions” button at the bottom -> “Backup”, select the Android apps/games we want to backup, then tap “Backup options” button at the bottom.
  5. On “User app parts” section, choose whether to backup the app(s)/game(s) APK(s), Data and/or Ext. data ([external storage]/Android/data/), Expansion (obb file), Media (Android/media/), if it have one.
  6. On “Select backup locations” section, choose “Device” to save the backup on our Android device internal storage or Cloud service e.g to Google Drive. Note that restoring from Cloud is a premium feature in Swift Backup.
  7. Tap “+ Backup” button at the bottom to create the app(s)/game(s) backup archive(s). The backup archive(s) will be saved on [internal storage]/SwiftBackup/{accountuniqueid}/backups/apps/local of our Android device.

II.a.1) Restoring Android app/game backup of Swift Backup app

  1. Open Swift Backup Android app, make sure we gave it root access. From the main menu, choose “Apps”.
  2. [For restoring individual app/game] Tap the app/game name we wish to restore, then under a backup archive tap “Restore” button.
  3. [For restoring batch/multiple apps/games] Tap “Batch actions” button at the bottom -> “Restore”. Select the apps/games we wish to restore, then tap “Restore options at the bottom”.
  4. Greyed apps(s)/games(s) means the app(s) is not installed, so to restore the data from the backup we need to install the app(s)/game(s) itself (restoring the apk(s) if we have its backup or install it first from the store or apk(s)).
  5. Choose what to restore: The APKs, Data, and/or Ext. data ([external microSD card/Android/data/]), Expansion (obb file), Media (Android/media/) if it have one.
  6. Tap “RESTORE” button at the bottom to begin app(s)/games(s) restoration process.

III) Creating Nandroid backup

Nandroid backup is a term for creating a snapshot of our Android device partitions typically using custom recovery such as TWRP (Team Win Recovery Project). I think Nandroid backup is the most convenient form of backup & restore, as it needs only a few click to do it.

TWRP backup partitions select

Nandroid backup is mostly intended as a safety layer before we make system modifications such as installing mod, custom ROM, GSI, etc. So, if anything goes bad (bootloop for example), we just need to boot our Android device back to recovery mode and restore the Nandroid backup.

How to create Nandroid backup using custom recovery (example using TWRP):

  1. From TWRP main menu, choose “Backup”.
  2. Tap “Select Storage” button at the bottom to choose our preferred storage where the backup will be saved and tap “OK”. Next, Tap “Refresh Sizes” to refresh the partition info.
  3. Next, choose the partitions we wish to create Nandroid backup. Typically most important are are “System”, “Data” and “Boot”. “Vendor” and “Recovery” partitions are rarily changed and can be easily restored by reinstalling the source anyway (e.g. reinstalling the ROM or reflashing the recovery image.)
  4. Swipe the “Swipe to Backup” slider to the right at the bottom to begin the Nandroid backup creation.

How to restore our Android device from the Nandroid backup (example using TWRP):

  1. From TWRP main menu, choose “Restore”.
  2. Select the backup package we want to restore.
  3. Choose the partitions from the Nandroid backup we want to restore.
  4. Swipe the “Swipe to Restore” slider to the right at the bottom to begin the Nandroid backup restoration process.

IV) Backup Android device internal storage

And the last thing actually the easiest of all but I have regretted many times because not did it, is backup our Android device internal storage, some or all.

Man copy files from phone tp external device

Base illustration source by Icons8

I have experienced a few times after installed some mods (escpecially GSIs) where my Android device experienced the most horrendous situation for a Qualcomm chipset device: The Red Blink of Death (RBoD).

Read Blink of Death is a situation where our Android device practically useless, can’t boot, can’t enter recovery, can’t do fastboot, the only way out is utilizing Qualcomm’s emergency download Mode often referred as QDL/EDL mode.

So many times I lost my game saves I played on my Android devices, especially using emulator like RetroArch, PPSSPP, Drastic. Those hurt feelings when I must restart all over my games from beginning caused by that stupid Qualcomm red blink of death, as I need to reflash my Android device firmware image thus flushing the internal storage just to bring my Android device back to life 😭.

While backing up internal storage is as simply copying the files to our external storage or PC, here are some trick to speed up the file copying process:

  1. Archive folders when there are lots of files in it, then copy the archived folders instead copying the folders.
  2. Do the copy file process while our Android device is in recovery mode. On my Android device, copying files while in recovery mode is faster compared to doing it when the device is turned on.

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