Smartphone Meltdown – Options for Data Backup

August 25, 2008 - Reading time: 7 minutes


I knew this would happen. Last night my Windows Mobile Smartphone suffered a serious meltdown. I tried repeatedly (and desperately!) to make it boot, but all to no avail. I tried everything from taking out the battery to yelling at it – I even thought about swinging a dead chicken over my head, but nothing helped. The device would mockingly make it to the booting logo, then freeze.

I’ve owned my MOTO Q for six months now, and this is the third meltdown that has occurred. As with the previous failures, I had to resort to a hard reset to make the dumb thing start working again. As you might suspect, a hard reset wipes out ALL the data on the device. All contacts, e-mail, and other data are gone. Poof!

Just in case you need to know, it’s easy to perform a hard reset on a MOTO Q. Heck, I’ve gotten quite good at it! While the device is off, simply hold down the middle button (between the arrows), then hold down the power button (end call). After several seconds, the hard reset prompt will appear, and your data will disappear into the mists.


Has this ever happened to you? Times like this should serve as reminders that you need a backup system for your smartphone. Fortunately for me, I averted disaster. I was able to restore my critical data within minutes. Had I not planned ahead for a crisis like this, I may have had to spend hours re-entering all my Contacts and Calendar information.

Let my experience serve as a reminder for you to do whatever it takes to make sure your data is safe. Since my phone is Windows Mobile based, the backup solutions I mention below are written with that in mind, though they may work for other platforms. Don’t use Outlook and Activesync? Good for you! Neither do I. However, for people like us, it’s even more important to find a consistent way to back up our data.

Here are a few ways to do so:

Option 1 – Funambol (free)

  • works with Windows Mobile devices, iPhones, and BlackBerries

Funambol offers one of the simplest and most elegant backup solutions that I’ve seen. Best of all, it’s open-source and FREE. All you need to do is create an account on the myFUNAMBOL portal, register your phone with them, and then install a plug-in (on your phone). Within minutes, you can effortlessly and continuously sync your Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Briefcase to their server. If you’re so inclined, you can even access an e-mail account through Funambol. I currently route my Gmail through it.

It’s slick, it’s easy, and it’s free. A few months ago I wrote a full tutorial on setting up Funambol. Read it here.

Option 2 – NuevaSync (free)

  • works with iPhones/iPod Touch and Windows Mobile devices

Setting up NuevaSync is slightly more complicated than Funambol, but the sync potentials are tremendous. Best of all, it’s FREE. It allows for direct, over-the air synchronization of your Contacts and Calendar to web services such as Google and Plaxo. Essentially, NuevaSync acts like an Exchange Server, using the built-in ActiveSync (OTA) protocol on your Windows Mobile device. Think of it as a proxy to Google Calendar and/or the Plaxo social network. You don’t have to install anything on your phone. Nice!

As with Funambol, I wrote a full tutorial on setting up NuevaSync with Thunderbird, Google Calendar, and Plaxo. You can read it here.

Option 3 – PIM Backup (free)

  • works with Windows Mobile

The PIM Backup application takes a different approach than the aforementioned options. Instead of backing up data to an off-site location, PIM Backup runs locally and creates backups of your data right on your Windows Mobile device. With just a few clicks, you can create a backup of the data you choose, including Contacts, Calendar, and other data (such as Appointments, SMS messages, call log, and more). PIM Backup needs no installation – just run the EXE directly on your phone.

Because PIM Backup only saves data locally, you must regularly save the data elsewhere, such as copying the archive to your computer or e-mailing it to yourself. Of course, being the backup fanatic that I am, I have a different solution: a combination of options 1 and 3. Here’s a summary of how it works:

I have Funambol set to regularly sync my Briefcase to its server, and I have PIM Backup set to regularly save a backup straight to my Briefcase! So, the tiny backups of ALL the data on my phone are automatically and effortlessly stored on Funambol’s server. Neat, huh?

Option 4 – Sprite Backup ($29.95, $19.95)

  • supports all Windows Mobile devices

I almost never post about a paid solution to any problem, but given the popularity of this one, it’s worth a mention. Sprite Backup (by the same makers of the ubiquitous Symantec Ghost) offers and easy and effective backup utility.

So, what does Sprite actually backup? Everything, including Pictures, Ring-tones, SMS Messages, currently-installed applications, and more. It also offers scheduling, plus support for FTP transfers. Heck, it even supports backing up encrypted data on Windows Mobile 6.

No, it isn’t free, but if you just want worry-free backups, Sprite Backup may be right for you. Plus, they offer lifetime support and free upgrades, so you’ll never be left out in the cold.

No matter which option you choose, I urge you to find a solution you like and use it regularly. You never know when your phone may decide to have a meltdown of its own.

Is there a backup option that I missed (preferably non-Outlook/ActiveSync)? If so, please let me know in the comments.

Good luck, and as always, happy backups!

— Brian Bondari

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