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I will admit that I grew somewhat tired of Android last year. I had been through way more than what most would consider a healthy number of phones, and the majority of those were Android-powered. And as many of you know, I'm a purist. I like my Android in vanilla flavor, and a large portion of those Android phones were skinned to the teeth with over the top animations, cartoonish icons, etc. In other words, they weren't my favorite software-wise and eventually pushed me to the limit, to the point where I didn't really enjoy Android anymore.

I will also gladly admit that Ice Cream Sandwich has worked wonders and completely restored my faith in the Android development team and the direction they are now headed. Most of the issues I've had with Android since day one have been answered in the 4.0 update, and the few remaining problem areas, I've temporarily fixed on my own with a custom ROM.

With all of that said, there is one thing that has really been grinding my gears from the day that the Froyo update dropped on the Nexus One. Ever since Google released the Android 2.2 update, upon signing into a Google account from an Android phone, users have been met with a prompt that allows them to enable or disable Google's automatic backup and restore services. The idea is that throughout your time with the phone, Google will intermittently backup vital information, like the applications you install, respective app data, contacts, settings and your Wi-Fi networks and passwords. And when you get a new phone, or if you have to restore your old one for whatever reason, getting the important data back on your phone is as simple as logging into your Google account.

For the most part, it works well, especially with really important data like contacts. I never have the fear of losing a person's number, so long as I add them to my address book and make sure it's synced with my Google account. But, in my experience, its functionality beyond that has been hit or miss and extremely unreliable.

Here are a few key points that need to be made about Google's automatic backup and restore feature in Android:

 

All of the backed up data only restores part of the time

In theory, when you login to your Google account from your phone upon the initial boot process, all of your backed up data should restore. Like I said before, I've never had a problem with contacts restoring. As for the other information, though, I can only count a few times that everything has completely restored on its own.

Every application that you had installed on your last phone is supposed to be automatically downloaded and installed. A good portion of the time, this works. Not every time, though. On top of that, the application data (settings, game progress, etc.) should be restored. I can't recall a single application that has ever had data and settings restored on its own. I'm not sure if Google or the developers of the applications are to blame for this. But that is beside the point – my application data never restores.

And Wi-Fi networks that you have previously joined should also be backed up to your account. These have restored on their own several times. Again, not every time.

A perfect example of this is my Galaxy Nexus, which I decided to root earlier this week. To unlock the bootloader (a prerequisite for flashing an alternative recovery image and gaining root access), the device must perform a factory data reset, which will put you back at square one. No app, picture, or user data is spared. When I logged into my Gmail account, no applications (and thus no app data) were restored, nor were Wi-Fi networks or any of my existing system settings. I had to go to Market and manually download over 70 applications, manually login to every application and manually restore all settings. Needless to say, Android's restore services completely bombed out.

 

There is no way to pick and choose what you want to backup

Sometimes, when a restore actually happens, I get more than I bargain for. Applications and data that I didn't want restored magically appear on my phone. For instance, an application that I haven't installed on a phone in well over six months was restored to my Galaxy Tab 10.1 when I flashed Ice Cream Sandwich to it. Of course, in most cases, if a couple apps or wireless networks I didn't want to be restored do appear, it's fairly simple to remove them.

And to be fair, you can turn off picture sync with Google+ and contact sync with your Google account. But the point I'm trying to make is that you can't specifically pick and choose which apps are synced, which Wi-Fi networks are backed up or what system settings need to be restored upon a restore. If something you really need backed up is missed and does not actually get backed up, you're simply out of luck.

That doesn't even take into consideration the fact that the restore only happens a fraction of the time.

 

Google needs to implement an interface with manual controls for end users

It seems as if Google wants to make this a completely seamless process without any user interaction required, which is a good thing. That would be one of the few parts of Android that just works. I commemorate them for that.

But that doesn't change the fact that their service only works part of the time. If it worked as it should in theory, the lack of an interface would be more of a non-issue. Instead, it is one of the most spotty, unreliable services offered by Google. Thus, it needs some sort of manual override and user interface, so users can see exactly what has been backed up, when it was backed up last and determine if and when they should perform a manual backup. This wouldn't be something people would have to check often, but it would be good to have around, so you could check it prior to resetting your phone or switching to a new one and ensure all the important stuff will be restored.

To put it frankly, there needs to be a way to force a backup or restore of specific data at any given time.

 

This should be a focal point in future updates

Just last year, Android phones were some of the easiest to restore. If this feature worked as it is supposed to, they would still be. But Apple jumped ahead with iCloud. Albeit slow at times, iCloud backup and restore works exactly as intended and nearly flawlessly. Google has the ability to make their restore services as good, if not better, yet they've done absolutely nothing with it – aside from adding bookmark sync with Chrome in ICS, which tends to work well – since Froyo.

It's just surprising to me that Google, of all companies, is missing on such a vital, key point. Instead of simply logging into my Google account and letting my Nexus restore itself over a matter of 30 minutes or so while I occupy myself with something else, it took me well over three hours to get everything back how I had it before. Here's to hoping they put a little more focus on this in the next couple updates and turn it into a reliable, user-friendly service.

 

Do you have anything to say about the automatic backup and restore function of Android? Has it ever worked as described for you? Or, like me (and most other Android users), has it failed on you time and time again?


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