THE BACKUP ISSUE

Calling for backup! Are you ready for a device disaster?

Backing up data is not difficult and even novices can do it. Here is a simple guide

In the span of two weeks earlier this month, my office laptop crashed, my wife's smartphone repeatedly tried to restart itself without success and the hard drive in my father-in-law's Windows computer became corrupt.

I am not making this up.

My wife and father-in-law lost some data, but most of their files had either been saved to the cloud or an external storage drive. However, because I did not back up my files, my work archives were lost.

While having several machines all die at the same time might be rare, losing data - be it work files or photos - has become a part of modern life.

Consumer surveys conducted last year by data protection firms such as Acronis and Backblaze found that more than 20 per cent of people have never backed up their data, while roughly one-third of them have experienced data loss.

And even those who are lucky enough to have their devices run smoothly can lose data to hacks - especially through software known as ransomware. Ransomware - such as the WannaCry worm that infected hundreds of thousands of users last year - holds an affected user's data hostage in exchange for payment.

Fortunately, backing up data is not all that difficult and even tech novices can do it. To get you started, here is a simple guide on backing up your devices.

Backing up a smartphone

BACKING UP AN APPLE IPHONE

Apple users have two options - they can either back up their iPhones to Apple's online iCloud storage service or to a computer (Mac or Windows) with iTunes installed. The backup saves the contents of the phone, including contacts, photos, settings and app data.

Once set up, backing up to iCloud over Wi-Fi is convenient and automatic. It will take place periodically without you having to do anything.

The one problem is that Apple offers a measly 5GB of free iCloud storage. With the latest iPhones having at least 64GB of storage, it is highly unlikely that anyone has only 5GB of data to back up.

Apple charges monthly fees of $1.28, $3.98 and $12.98 to increase iCloud storage to 50GB, 200GB and 2TB respectively. The 200GB and 2TB storage plans can be shared with other family members.

Backing up with the iTunes software removes this limitation - you are bound only by how much room you have on your computer's hard drive - but you have to remember to back up the iPhone regularly as it does not happen automatically.

For those worried primarily about losing their photos, it is worth considering using Google Photos to back up snapshots and videos instead of iCloud. This frees up iCloud storage for other data.

Google Photos requires a Google account, which comes with 15GB of free Google Drive cloud storage. More importantly, uploading photos to Google Photos at the high-quality setting (capped at 16 megapixels) and videos at 1,080p resolution does not count towards this 15GB quota.

Since the iPhone's camera is only 12 megapixels, this means you could theoretically back up an unlimited number of photos taken at the default setting without any loss in quality.

BACKING UP AN ANDROID SMARTPHONE

There is no native Android all-in-one backup solution like the one on the iPhone. But many Android phones have a slot for a separate memory card. Photos, videos and other data can be saved onto the external microSD card and some apps can even be installed onto the card. If your phone is on the fritz, you can just stick the card into another phone.

Like for the iPhone, you can also back up your data to a computer. Unlike the iPhone, you do not need to download a special program to do it. You can just plug your Android device into a computer via a USB cable, locate the correct folders - photos are typically stored in the DCIM folder - and copy them to your computer. Your computer treats your Android phone almost like a USB drive.

Some smartphone brands such as Samsung and Xiaomi have their own cloud backup service that saves contacts, messages, photos and videos to their online servers. These services also make it easy to migrate data from one smartphone to another, though in such cases, the two devices likely have to be from the same manufacturer.

If your smartphone vendor does not have a cloud backup, you can use the Google Sync feature to upload information such as contacts and data from Google apps such as Gmail and Calendar to Google's servers. Use Google Photos for your photos and videos and you should be mostly covered.

If you need more than the 15GB of free Google Drive storage provided with a Google account, you can upgrade to 100GB at $2.79 a month and 1TB at $13.99 a month.

A neat service from Google is Google Takeout (takeout.google. com). Using a Web browser, users can retrieve the data Google has accumulated from their Google account. For instance, you can choose to download specific photo albums or all your photos in your Google Photos account to a computer. And instead of downloading them, you can add these archives to supported third-party cloud storage services Dropbox and OneDrive.

For text messages, try third-party apps such as SMS Backup+ (free). Popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat also have their own backup feature. WhatsApp, for instance, can be automatically backed up to Google Drive.

For apps and other data on an Android smartphone, Helium (free, with a premium version that removes ads and has cloud backups) saves your data to a microSD card or a computer.


Backing up a computer


PHOTOS: APPLE, BLOOMBERG

BACKING UP A WINDOWS PC

With Windows 10, Microsoft added the File History feature, which works like Time Machine.

It automatically saves multiple versions of your files to an external storage drive.

By default, File History backs up only folders in your user account, such as Desktop, Documents and Pictures. But you can add specific folders and select the frequency of the backup in the settings.

Microsoft has also retained the Windows Backup and Restore feature from Windows 7. This feature creates a complete system image of your hard drive, including installed programs.

This is especially useful when Windows becomes corrupted or hard drive failure occurs. You can simply restore Windows with all the apps and data intact. It is also handy when switching or upgrading to a newer hard drive.

BACKING UP A MAC

Apple users have it easy because the operating system comes with Time Machine - a built-in backup feature that copies the Mac's data to an external hard drive.

This drive can be connected directly to the computer via USB or connected to the USB port of an Apple AirPort Extreme or other compatible router. The backup drive can be encrypted for security.

The best thing about Time Machine is that it supports versioning. It automatically makes hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for previous months. Thus, you can browse multiple, previous versions of a document and revert to a specific version. The initial backup may take a while, but subsequent ones are usually quick.

Time Machine can use the same hard drive to back up multiple Mac computers - if the drive has enough storage space. Each Mac computer gets its own folder on the backup drive. When the disk is full, the oldest backups are removed.


Top storage gadgets to back up files

HANDY GADGETS FOR SMARTPHONES AND COMPUTERS


SanDisk iXpand Base (above) 

From $139 for 64GB

The SanDisk iXpand Base backs up photos, videos and contacts in your iPhone while charging it at the same time.

Plug the iXpand Base into your power outlet, place your iPhone on its palm-sized rubber surface and connect the two with the Lightning cable. It stores your files in a removable SD card so you can transfer them to a computer or swop the SD card to one with a larger capacity.

An alternative is the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick ($90 for 128GB). This USB flash drive comes with built-in Wi-Fi, which allows you to wirelessly upload files from your mobile devices (Android and iOS) using a mobile app. It can also stream music and videos to up to three connected devices simultaneously.

Samsung Portable SSD T5 (above)

From $179 for 250GB

Solid-state drives (SSD) now offer sufficient capacity to be used as an external storage drive for backups. While they remain more expensive than portable hard drives, SSDs are much faster and more resistant to shock and vibration.

The Samsung Portable SSD T5 is as handy as a name card holder and weighs just 51g. A USB Type-C to C cable lets it connect to newer smartphones that use this interface.

ALL-IN-ONE FIX FOR MAC USERS

Apple AirPort Time Capsule

From $448 for 2TB

The AirPort Time Capsule is a Wi-Fi router with a built-in hard drive. Mac owners can use the Time Machine feature on their computers to easily back up their files to the AirPort's hard drive over the home network. Despite being launched in 2013, the AirPort remains viable as it supports the latest 802.11ac wireless standard.

CREATE A PERSONAL CLOUD 

WD MyCloud Home (above) 

From $249 for 2TB, Duo version starts at $509 for 4TB 

The WD MyCloud Home makes the network-attached storage (NAS) experience more user-friendly for novices. Its mobile app automatically uploads photos and videos from the smartphone to MyCloud Home. It can create a local backup of files in cloud storage accounts, such as Google Drive and Dropbox, for extra insurance.

But advanced users may find it lacking in features compared with a standard NAS. For instance, a desktop app must be installed to view its contents - Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder cannot see the files otherwise.

The Duo version comes with two hard drives that are identical copies of each other to protect against hardware failure.

Synology DS218j (above) 

$259

Synology is one of the top names in the NAS business, thanks to its excellent software, which has a Windows-like user interface.

It comes without any hard drives so users can outfit it with their preferred picks. Tech-savvy users will enjoy its breadth of features, from synchronising data between the NAS and cloud storage services to media server functionality.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2018, with the headline 'Are you ready for a device disaster? '. Subscribe