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You should be backing up your cell phone regularly, but do you really?

Pala Bolin ruined her BlackBerry a few months ago. "It was," she says, "the worst day of my life." Bolin can laugh about it now, but it wasn't pretty. She was in her car when the phone slipped out of her hand and plopped into a cup of water. By t...

Cell phone
If cell phones are a form of power, they're also an Achilles heel. We rely so heavily on our pocket-sized gadgets that, if yours gets lost, stolen or dunked in water, it's not just an inconvenience. It kind of shuts down your life for a while. (Shannon Brady/Saint Paul Pioneer Press/MCT)

Pala Bolin ruined her BlackBerry a few months ago.

"It was," she says, "the worst day of my life."

Bolin can laugh about it now, but it wasn't pretty. She was in her car when the phone slipped out of her hand and plopped into a cup of water. By the time Bolin could stop and rescue it, little bubbles were rising to the surface: Her BlackBerry was filled with water.

She fished it out. Tried to turn it on. It made a loud buzzing sound and died.

"It wasn't until the next day," Bolin says, "(that) I realized: that is the only place I keep my appointments, my contact numbers, my everything."


Yes, everything. The whole family's schedule was saved on that phone: Bolin used it to keep up with everyone's activities, school events and doctor's appointments. She also had a contacts list of more than 200 phone numbers. But not anymore.

"It was terrible," Bolin says. "I had it backed up nowhere."

A few days later, she replaced her dead phone with an iPhone, but those data weren't coming back. Bolin hadn't just lost her phone _ she'd lost her whole schedule and network of contacts. She and the kids missed a couple of appointments. She didn't have anyone's phone number. She felt lost.

"My daily routine was I'd get up in the morning and check my BlackBerry to see what I was supposed to be doing that day," Bolin says. Even now, she wonders every morning: "Was I supposed to do something today?"

In this modern world, superfast smart phones put the world at our fingertips. We give up our land lines in favor of cell phones that go anywhere. We take piles of pictures with their built-in cameras. We surf the Web in waiting rooms, download songs in the car. We tweet. We text. We bank online. And we carry around an enormous amount of crucial data in our pockets.

But if cell phones are a form of power, they're also an Achilles heel. We rely so heavily on our pocket-sized gadgets that, if yours gets lost, stolen or dunked in water, it's not just an inconvenience. It kind of shuts down your life for a while.

McCall Keahey lost his iPhone the week before Christmas. And when it disappeared, he lost his most important tool for navigating through the day.

"Literally, my life just came to a standstill," says Keahey. "You don't think about how dependent you are."


He had to make calls from a pay phone. No one was able to reach him. And _ most important _ Keahey lost his data, including vacation photos and more than 300 personal and professional contacts.

Of course, with an iPhone, you should be able to sync your new phone to your computer and get all that data back. But that's not foolproof: Keahey had synced his iPhone with a laptop that he'd given to his stepdaughter. And she's away at school _ in Australia.

The way Keahey figured it, "it's either a $3,000 plane ticket to Sydney or just deal with it." So he's dealing with it. Since replacing his phone, he has been collecting numbers all over again _ adding contacts to his list as people call him, e-mailing friends to ask for their numbers. And he's being extra careful: Keahey doesn't want to lose it all again.

"It's my main objective in life right now: to sync my phone every 15 minutes," he says.

OK, actually it's more like once a week. But it's not a bad idea to be prepared. Think about this: If your phone disappeared, would your data go, too? Would you lose photos, files, music, a long list of phone numbers you need?

The time to back it all up is now. Here's what you can do to protect and save the information stored on your phone _ so that if it gets fried or goes missing, you won't lose anything more than a chunk of plastic.


Once your phone is gone, it's gone. Here's what to do.


_ Track it down. Is it possible your phone is just in the laundry hamper or hiding under the car seat? Call it. If you don't have a land line, go to www.wheresmycellphone.com and type in your phone number. The site will call your cell phone so you can listen for its ring.

_ Shut it down. If you think your phone might be stolen, get in touch with your service provider and suspend your service as soon as possible.

_ Change your passwords. Does your phone offer one-click access to your e-mail? Facebook? Your bank? If your phone is stolen, then someone else has one-click access, too. Even if you suspend your service quickly, it's a good idea to head for the nearest computer and change your account passwords. And notify your bank and your credit-card company if you think the thief might have access to that info through your phone.

_ Lock your phone. Before it happens, do something smart: set up your phone so it requires a password. Yes, it is a hassle. Yes, you will hate typing in your password every time that you want to make a call or check your e-mail. But you'll be relieved if your phone disappears and you know that no one has instant access to your phone.


_ Sync often. A lot of smartphones come with tools that let you sync your phone with your computer and back it up online _ the BlackBerry Desktop manager, for instance. But your data-recovery system is only as good as the last time you synced it. So this is the key: If your phone connects to your computer, connect it often. Set up a regular time to do so _ say, once a week or the first day of every month, or every time you add something you don't want to lose.

_ Get backup from your service provider. Consider adding a backup option to your cell phone plan. You can almost always arrange to have your contacts list stored on a remote server, which means you can transfer that list to another phone when yours dies or disappears. Be aware, though, that some companies charge a monthly fee; figure out whether you have a cheaper option before adding it to your plan.

Here's what the major carriers provide:


_ AT&T: Mobile Backup program lets you enter your contacts on the Web and then sync them to your phone. It's $1.99 a month.

_ Sprint/Nextel: MobileSync connects certain Sprint and Nextel phones to the Sprint server, where you can save your contacts list and restore it if you lose your phone. It's included with your plan if you have a compatible phone.

_ T-Mobile: Mobile Backup is available to most customers for no extra charge; it stores your address book on a T-Mobile server, updating automatically each time you add something to your contacts list.

_ Verizon: Backup Assistant is $1.99 a month, unless you're enrolled in My Verizon online. You can download all your contacts to a new phone automatically. Also: The V CAST Media Manager, a free download, lets you sync your phone with your computer and store information there.


Plenty of gadgets and software programs offer a way to store your phone's data as a backup. Here are some of your options. (Note: Not every program or gadget supports every kind of phone. The more popular your phone, the more likely it's compatible.)

_ Backup-Pal: The Backup-Pal is a little gadget that stores your contacts without a computer. You plug it into your phone and it saves your phonebook. If you lose the phone, you can plug the Backup-Pal into your new phone and restore your contacts. $49.99; www.backup-pal.com .

_ DataPilot: This software allows you to sync your phone with your computer to store information. With some phones, you can back up only your contacts. For others, including many BlackBerry models, you can also back up your ringtones, pictures, videos, text messages, calendar and more. $29.99; www.datapilot.com .


_ Skydeck: This program allows you to use your computer much like your cell phone. Sync the phone with the computer, and you can send and receive text messages, voice mails, etc. through your computer. It also backs up your contacts, text messages and voice mails. $9.99 per month (but free for iPhone and Android users); skydeck.com.

_ iDrive Lite: If you have an iPhone, BlackBerry or Android, this one's free. Download the software, set up an online account, and you can restore your contacts if you lose them. You can also transfer the contacts list from one phone to another and manage your list online. Free; www.idrive.com/idrive-lite .

_ CyberSynchs: This service lets you keep everything _ contacts, text messages, photos, ringtones, voice mails, notes, etc. _ on a secure server. Also: If your phone is stolen, you can use the service to wipe the data off your phone while keeping it safe on the server. $2.99 per month; www.cybersynchs.com .


Keep your phone close. Ever wish you could put an alarm on your phone so you wouldn't walk off without it? You're in luck: by summer, the ZOMM should be available. The ZOMM, which wowed crowds when it was introduced last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is a little tool that attaches to your keychain like a key fob. Among other handy functions, it features an alarm that will sound if you wander too far away from your phone. A godsend for the absent-minded. Go to www.zomm.com and sign up to get an e-mail when the ZOMM is ready.

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