How to back up all your devices

Instead, we recommend taking a look at some of the simpler network-attached storage (NAS) devices that are out there. For example, the A-listed Synology DS212j offers a friendly Windows-like interface, with some nice extras such as the ability to mount ISOs as network volumes and to stream audio over your local network. It also supports RAID mirroring, so you can be confident a hardware failure won’t mean losing any data – which is, after all, what it’s all about.

Mixing PCs and Macs

If you own a Mac as well as a PC you may well be using Apple’s Time Machine system to handle backups. Most people do this via an external drive connected directly to the Mac – but if you prefer, you can use a shared network drive. The easiest way to achieve this is to invest in one of Apple’s dedicated Time Capsule boxes. This will work automatically with Time Machine – and it can be simultaneously mounted on Windows clients for use as a backup destination. If your Time Capsule isn’t visible from your Windows PC, check out these instructions on getting it working.

Back up all your devices

The potential downside of this is that Time Capsules are quite sophisticated by NAS standards, featuring 802.11n and a USB socket for sharing printers and secondary drives. This makes them fairly expensive, with prices starting at £249 for a 2TB unit. Annoyingly, Apple doesn’t officially support saving Time Machine backups to generic NAS devices, or shared Windows volume. But there are workarounds if you don’t mind a bit of technical hackery. You’ll find one guide here: note that the process involves changing system settings and isn’t guaranteed to work with all devices, nor with Mountain Lion. Proceed at your own risk!

iPhones and iPads

When it comes to mobile devices, backing up isn’t hard to do – but the details vary considerably depending on what sort of hardware you have. If you’re using an iOS device – that is, an iPhone or iPad – backup is built into the system. By default iTunes automatically backs up all of the data on these devices, including purchased music and shows, messages, application data and device settings, each time you sync.

There are some caveats. For one, only the most recent state of your device is stored. If you want to backup your backups, as it were, you’ll have to manually copy them out of the default location. In Windows 7 this is C:Users[your username]AppDataRoamingApple ComputerMobileSyncBackup. What’s more, the information is stored in a proprietary format, so you can’t just go trawling through your files on your PC. Restoring it to your iPhone or iPad is simplicity itself, however: simply right-click on the device in iTunes and select Restore from the context menu.

If you’re using iCloud, iTunes backups are disabled, and your data is instead backed up automatically once a day to your iCloud account – so long as your device is powered and connected to the internet via Wi-Fi. You’ll find options to turn on iCloud, and force manual backups, by opening the Settings app and tapping iCloud | Storage & Backup. Free cloud storage is limited to 5GB, so you may want to exclude some applications from backing up their data – you’ll find the options for this under Settings | iCloud | Storage & Backup | Manage Storage.

If you need to restore from iCloud, you can do so by completely erasing your device (go to Settings | General | Reset | Erase All Content and Settings). The next time you restart you’ll be prompted to restore from an iCloud backup.

Android and Windows Phone

For Android users, if you opt in to allow it then Google automatically keeps a central copy of your contacts, bookmarks, dictionaries and some other settings. This can be restored to a new phone or tablet simply by logging in to your Google account for the first time, taking much of the pain out of replacing or upgrading hardware. You can control what syncs by going to Settings | Accounts & sync on your Android device, then clicking on your Google account (the lower-case “g” in a blue square).

However, there are plenty of things Google doesn’t back up, such as downloaded files, application settings and SMS messages. If you want to safeguard these, you’ll need a third-party application. One of the most popular choices is MyBackup Pro. The app costs a princely £3.22, but it lets you backup more or less every file and setting on your phone, either to local storage or to the company’s own online servers. Backups can be run manually or to a schedule, and a new experimental feature lets you trigger a backup remotely, so if your phone is lost or stolen you may still be able to grab a copy of its contents.

Of course, My Backup Pro isn’t the only backup software for Android. If you’ve “rooted” your device – that is, broken the operating system’s built-in protections – you may want to check out the free Titanium Backup app, again available from Google Play. This is a comprehensive backup tool, with support for advanced features such as encrypted backups, multi-user support and automatic uploading to online services including Dropbox and Google Drive. If you don’t have a rooted phone or tablet, however, it won’t work at all.

What about those using Windows Phone? The Zune software will back up your settings and media when you sync with your primary PC or Mac, just like Apple’s automatic iTunes backups. But there’s no officially supported way to perform a full backup that includes your message history and application data.

There are, however, third-party tools that can help. The unauthorised Windows Phone 7 Backup application lets you make a complete copy of your phone’s data and OS, ready to restore at a later date. You get absolutely no guarantee it’ll work, though – and even if it does it’s an all-or-nothing operation, with no way to selectively restore some types of data while skipping others. In other words, you’re protected against disaster or loss (as long as you replace your lost phone with an identical model, as backups aren’t guaranteed to work across different hardware) – but not if you recklessly overwrite a data file and later wish you hadn’t. If you’re feeling bold and want to take the plunge, you’ll find more details and download links in this forum post.

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