Science

How to save your text messages from disappearing when you get a new phone

This story has been updated. It was originally published on April 27, 2017.

For many of us, the humble text message remains an essential mode of communication. But while cloud-based services can back up our emails and social media posts when we lose an old phone or switch to a new one, our SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) histories tend to disappear. You’ve probably got some precious memories and a few important nuggets of information tied up in your text message conversations. Don’t let those texts get lost—use the tips below to safely back them up. These solutions not only preserve your text histories; they can also save any texts you send in the future.

How to save text messages on Android

Chomp SMS comes with built-in backup tools. David Nield

For better or worse, Android lets apps get their hooks deeper into the phone operating system. This makes it easier for them to access and export your text messages. It also means that you can swap your default SMS client if you want to—something that’s not possible on an iPhone.

Your first port of call should be your SMS client of choice, to see if any backup or export options are available. Depending on the manufacturer of your device, you may or may not have this option. On stock Android and the system’s default SMS app, Google Messages, backups happen automatically along with the rest of your OS. To manage it, go to SettingsSystemAdvance, and Backup. Chomp SMS, among other options, does include backup and restore features, which may be enough to make you switch.”

Looking at other apps outside your default text message program, SMS Backup+ is just about the best option for archiving texts. Install the app, connect it to your Google account, and all the SMS and MMS messages you send and receive will automatically get archived to your Gmail inbox, complete with their own label.

SMS Backup+, a tool for saving text messages on Android.
SMS Backup+ sends your texts to your Gmail account. David Nield

This program has the advantage of combining your text history with your Gmail account. SMS Backup+ makes all of your texts searchable within your inbox, and also integrates neatly with your existing Gmail contacts. On the downside, it’s not a particularly polished app, but it gets the job done. If you need to restore your texts on a new device, SMS Backup+ can do that too.

Also worth a look is SMS Backup & Restore. Rather than using Gmail and email threads, it backs up texts to local storage, Google Drive, or Dropbox in an XML format, which many other programs can deal with. SMS Backup & Restore is easy to use and configure—plus it handles MMS messages and calls.

Like SMS Backup+, SMS Backup & Restore can restore texts and call logs to your phone. The two are very similar, as both support scheduled backups and are free to use. It just comes down to whether you prefer to search through Gmail or through Google Drive or Dropbox for your message archives.

SMS Backup & Restore, a tool for saving text messages on Android.
SMS Backup & Restore works with local storage, Google Drive, and Dropbox. David Nield

One further option we can recommend is IFTTT (If This Then That), a free web service that lets you plug all kinds of apps and services into each other. Its “applets” are based around a trigger and a subsequent action—for example, a report about bad weather might trigger the service to send a warning email to your inbox.

[Related: Delete message attachments on your phone to free up space]

IFTTT includes support for Android SMSes, where sending or receiving a text can act as a trigger. The subsequent action is up to you: You can append the text and its details to a Google Drive spreadsheet, save it to a plain text file in Dropbox, forward it to your email inbox, or choose another option. Setting up this service will take a bit more time, but it gives you more flexibility in terms of how your texts get saved. On the other hand, IFTTT won’t automatically back up your text history—it will just save the texts you send in the future.

Finally, a variety of desktop apps can help as well—though be cautious when selecting one, as you’re granting these programs full access to your phone data. The well-respected TunesGo Phone Manager has been around for some time. It lets you back up texts from Android (and iOS), restore them to your phone, and even send SMSes from your computer if needed.

How to save text messages on iOS

iCloud backup on iOS.
Text message backup options come built into iOS. David Nield

Unlike Android, Apple’s iPhone operating system limits users to the backup solutions offered by Apple: save your messages to iCloud or your computer hard drive.

To check on your built-in backups, head to Settings, then tap your name, iCloud, and iCloud Backup. If the option is enabled, backups will be sent over Wi-Fi to your iCloud account. If not, they will be stored on your computer when you connect. Backups, including SMS messages, can be restored whenever you need them.

Meanwhile, plenty of third-party desktop apps will offer to export your text messages to a Windows or macOS computer, but be wary of trying too many. Check out user reviews, and the history and background of the developer, before you install anything. And don’t pay for one of these services unless they first give you a free trial or demo.

PhoneView, for saving text messages from iOS to an Apple computer like a MacBook.
PhoneView can access most of the data on your iPhone, including text messages. David Nield

With those caveats in mind, you can still find some decent backup options, such as PhoneView for macOS, CopyTrans for Windows, and iExplorer for both computer operating systems. All these programs work in a similar way: Plug your iPhone into the computer via USB, select the data you want to export to your computer, and the software does the rest.

You can easily view texts (together with their images and attachments) inside these apps, though none of the services support restoring texts on a new phone as iTunes or iCloud backups do. In PhoneView, for example, you get an interface with different types of data down the left (messages, contacts, apps, and so on), and you can view your texts by clicking on the Messages heading.

As well as viewing messages, you can save them to the computer in PDF, text, CSV, and XML formats, depending on what you want to do with them next. The whole process is user-friendly and straightforward. If you want to use PhoneView beyond the seven-day demo period, however, it’ll set you back $29.95.



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