System backups of any kind are great. Knowing that your information is safely stored in the cloud takes a lot of work out of transferring your information from one phone to another, and it takes a bit of the edge off of losing your phone. Apple’s iCloud backups have long been one of the best mobile backup solutions, with Android typically tailing a bit behind — but how far off is Android’s backup system from matching iCloud’s ease of use and efficiency? Well, as it turns out … not very.
With iCloud on an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, every last detail of your phone is backed up to the cloud. Apps, contacts, photos, home screen layout, wallpapers, etc. Backups can be scheduled to happen automatically, and should you ever need to restore a device from those backups, the end result is an almost identical clone of the system you had before. If there’s a problematic app or just something you don’t care to keep, you can choose to remove it from the backup, and for everything else, all of you game progress, text conversations, and app preferences will be restored. If you encrypt your backup, it’ll even restore your passwords and credentials so you don’t have to go through the hassle of signing back into every app (though this won’t happen by default).
Google’s methods rely less on a full system backup, and more on individually saving pieces to the cloud. For example, all of the photos you take can be automatically uploaded to Google Photos. Contacts are saved to your Gmail, and a list of all of your apps is kept on Google Play. You can even upload all of your music to Google Play Music if you want to — up to 50,000 songs. The great thing about all of these options is that they can be accessed at any time from any device you’ve signed in to Google with. I constantly adjust my contacts on my desktop and let them adjust themselves on mobile, and I usually find managing photos easier on the computer as well. Once you sign in to Google on a new Android device, it begins to pull in any contacts, photos, songs, and wallpapers you have backed up, and assuming you’re using Google Now Launcher it’ll even restore your home screen layout! But that’s kind of where the magic stops.
Google Play will start to re-download your apps, but it’s not terribly smart about it. Nine times out of ten, I find that my recently restored phone has begun downloading apps I haven’t used in years, because they show up in my All Apps list. And while it’s nice that it installs your apps for you, it doesn’t back up the contents therein; there are apps that back up your settings independently, but that’s ultimately up to the developer and you’re basically out of luck otherwise. I don’t mind signing back into my apps, but I spend a lot of time tweaking settings and it’s a bummer that they don’t carry over through Google. It’s also unfortunate that Google doesn’t back up text conversations. While I’m sure they’d rather everyone use Hangouts and save their conversations that way, the fact of the matter is that not everyone does (hell, not everyone has a phone that’s compatible with Hangouts), and it’s discouraging to have to rely on third-party backup options for important SMS messages — I still haven’t found a way to back up MMS threads.
Ideally, I’d love a full system backup for Android the same way that iCloud works with iPhones, but of course that’s easier to do when every device runs exactly the same software. For modders, Nandroid backups go even further in depth than iCloud and restore an exact image, without a single bit of information changed … but that’s hardly a practical solution for average users.
What are your thoughts on system backups? Is iCloud miles ahead of Android backups, or is Google’s piece-by-piece, accessible format the way to go? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!