Transferring your contacts, phone book, SMS messages between phones

April 15th, 2010

If you’ve just bought a new phone, you don’t need to copy every single phone number over from your old phone manually. Ken’s Tech Tips explores some of the easier ways to do it.

Eternal clock
Creative Commons License photo: Robbert van der Steeg

When you change mobile network, you’ll get a new SIM card. Using a PAC code it is very easy to move (or “port” in mobile lingo) your number from your old network onto your new network and new SIM card. However using a PAC code will not help you to transfer things such as any phone numbers or text messages that you want to keep. Those things you’ll have to transfer separately (ideally before you use your PAC code as your old SIM card will get disabled).

When I recently went through the whole process of upgrading my phone and switching network (I moved from my LG Viewty KU990 on O2 to a shiny new HTC Desire on T-Mobile) my network gave me what seemed to be the standard piece of advice: to copy contacts over one by one onto my new phone. Not only would this have been tedious and time-consuming, it also gives a lot of potential for errors to be introduced when inputting the numbers into the new phone – only to be discovered later when you end up calling a complete stranger and you’ve lost your original phone book!

There are two ways to transfer numbers from your old phone to your new phone which will save you a lot of time:

  • Transfer via a SIM card
  • Transfer via a computer

How do I transfer my phone book and SMS text messages via a SIM card?

math
Creative Commons License photo: Akash k

Phone numbers and SMS text messages can be saved in one of two places: on the phone itself or on a SIM card. The default behaviour is usually to save the phone numbers and text messages on the phone itself, however it may depend on how your phone was set up and configured.

You can use a SIM card to transfer contacts and SMS messages between phones. The exact procedure depends on whether you are using a locked phone or not. The key is to use a SIM card which is acceptable to both phones.

1. If you are moving from an unlocked phone:

  1. Take your new SIM card and place it into your old phone.
  2. Turn your old phone on.
  3. Copy your contacts from the phone memory onto the SIM card memory. Most phones should have this functionality so explore the menus (or documentation) to find it. On the Viewty, this menu item was under “Contact Settings > Copy > Handset to USIM”.
  4. Copy any SMS text messages you would like to keep from your phone memory to SIM card memory.
  5. Turn both of your phones off.
  6. Put your new SIM card back into your new phone. Your contacts and SMS messages should now appear on your new phone.
  7. Optionally you can now move these phone numbers and text messages onto your phone memory. This may have several benefits such as performance and enable extra features.

2. If you are moving from a locked phone to an unlocked phone:

  1. Take your old SIM card and place it into your old phone.
  2. Turn your old phone on.
  3. Copy your contacts from the phone memory onto the SIM card memory. Most phones should have this functionality so explore the menus (or documentation) to find it. On the Viewty, this menu item was under “Contact Settings > Copy > Handset to USIM”.
  4. Copy any SMS text messages you would like to keep from your phone memory to SIM card memory.
  5. Turn both of your phones off.
  6. Put your old SIM card back into your new phone. Your contacts and SMS messages should now appear on your new phone.
  7. Move these contacts and messages from the SIM card memory onto the phone memory.
  8. Turn off both your phones.
  9. Remove your old SIM card from your new phone. Put your new SIM card back into your new phone.

3. If you are moving from a locked phone to a locked phone (of different networks):

phone_book
Creative Commons License photo: How can I recycle this

This is where things get a little tricky. As both of your phones are locked to different networks, you won’t be able to find a SIM card which is acceptable to both. You could borrow a friends phone to act as an intermediary phone or grab a really cheap unlocked one from Amazon (i.e. follow set of instructions 2 to  copy contacts from your old phone onto the unlocked phone, then set of instructions 1 to copy contacts from the unlocked phone onto your new phone). Or try the method below.

How do I transfer my phone book via a computer?

Most phones come with software which allow you to synchronise your phone book with your computer. For example, the Sony Ericsson PC Suite, the LG PC Suite, HTC Sync, etc. You should have received a copy of this software with your phone.

Use the sync software for your old phone to copy the contacts from your old phone into Microsoft Outlook. Then use the sync software for your new phone to copy your contacts from Outlook into your new phone.

You won’t be able to transfer any SMS messages using this method.

Your experiences…

We’d love to hear your experiences migrating to your new phone. Let us know if this worked for you, or if you’ve found a better way.

    

Like this tip? Get the most from your mobile phone...

  • Discover brand new ways to use your mobile phone
  • Techniques to get more out of your mobile phone for less
  • Be the first to learn about new mobile technology

Enter your email to receive free regular Ken's Tech Tips:

About Ken

Ken Lo

I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.

Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 25 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Wendy said:

    Thank you for your simple way of doing it! It worked

    Wendy

  2. Monica said:

    Ken, I had an old standard Samsung duos c3322. Now I shifted to xperia smartphone. I have been able to transfer all my contacts and received sms messages to xperia, but the real problem i am getting is in transferring my sent sms to the new smartphone.

    Inbox sms were easier, shifted from phone to SIM and then to the memory of new phone. But the problem came in Sent sms, because old phones had separate folder/place for sent items, while new smartphones have all conversation (received/sent) for any particular individual in same place i.e. their is no concept of Outbox in smartphones.

    How to solve this, I even tried downloading Kies 3 but my old samsung phone would just not be able to connect with it. Re-installed n times but same result. Also, messages are somewhat personnel so do not wish to go to Samsung/Xperia shop.

    Can u help.

  3. Valerie said:

    Hi Ken,
    I have an old phone (Samsung GT-E1230) and have at last got an android one (Motorola Moto G).
    The problem I have is the 2 sim cards are different. How do I go about transferring my contacts from my old sim to the new micro one?
    Thanks very much for your help
    Valerie

  4. Sally said:

    Hi Ken,
    I own a very basic Nokia phone that is not a smart phone and I am planning to buy an Apple 4s. Is there any way to transfer texts that I would like to keep onto the new phone, as the aforementioned phones use different size SIM cards. I do not have a laptop or computer, only an Apple iPad.
    May I also ask if you would recommend 16GB or 32GB.
    I would also like to commend you on your excellent website. I have absolutely no knowledge about phones, but by reading your clear, concise information I feel that I can now make an educated choice and understand the many aspects involved in using a smart phone. Thank you very much.
    Best wishes, Sally

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Sally,
      Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, on the iPhone, Apple doesn’t allow you to import old text messages. I’m not really sure there’s going to be a way around this – though you can of course keep your old Nokia handset. Even after your SIM card has been deactivated by the network, you should still be able to read the old messages on your Nokia. A better solution would be to back up your messages on a computer but it sounds as if this isn’t currently possible.
      With regards to the 16GB vs 32GB model, I’d recommend having a look at my guide on smartphone storage. It’ll tell you how many pictures/music files/videos/etc you can store on the device.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  5. Mary said:

    Hello Ken-
    Wonderfully helpful site – have spent the best part of the evening on it, as I've only just discovered it!
    My query is the reverse:
    How do I ensure that all my precious Voicemail + Voice Memos + Notes + Photos + all my apps, especially those with personal content (eg. birthday lists, calendar, family trees etc.) will be saved to my PHONE? I'm changing from a contract to a Sim-Only 30-day tomorrow but will be keeping my phone and phone number …
    I have an iPhone 4S.
    Please can you help? I want to arm myself, instead of being at the mercy of a perhaps-inexperienced salesman tomorrow!
    Best wishes,
    Mary

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for the comment! The iPhone 4S automatically saves all of this material to the phone so you don't need to worry about that! SIM cards only have a limited amount of storage space and as such, very little is actually stored on it. Voice memos, Notes, Photos and Apps will still be there after changing your SIM card.

      With regards to voicemail, are you switching to another network or staying on the same one? Unfortunately it's not possible to transfer your voicemail messages to a different network, though you could try recording them manually. If you're staying on the same network, it's possible that voicemail messages will still be there after changing your account type. However, please double-check with the network about this as it depends on how they process the tariff change.

      If you're changing network, you may also need to unlock your iPhone. You should do this before cancelling the contract on your old network. You can find out more here.

      Hope this helps,

      Ken

  6. Shree said:

    hi Ken. i am upgrading from galaxy ace to galaxy note2.i also hv samsung notebook. how do i transfer my txt, contacts,memo.voice recordings to note2?galaxy ace is locked and note2 is unlocked. am with virginmedia.i tried to tranfer data to my notebook using usb cable and nothing happened.i read from yr site that i need to sync but with what?
    btw yr site is excellent for novice(OAP) like me.i hv learnt a lot.thank you.

  7. Shree said:

    h there. i want to transfer from galaxy ace on Virginmedia( locked) to micro sim(virgin media) on unlocked galaxy note 2. is there an easy way. if i have to put on pc what sync device do i need to use.(i hv samsung notebook).as if i activate micro sim then my old sim will b deactivated. i wish to transfer.voice recordings, calender,memo , txt msgs and contacts.pl help.

  8. Shree said:

    i have a slightly diff problem.hope you can help. i am upgrading from samsung galaxy ace to galaxy note2.i also have samsung notebook.i wish to tranfer all my contacts,txt msgs,photos,notes,voice recordings etc.in the past ,i used bluetooth which transferred without a hitch as phoneswerea the same make. now its the same make but diff type of sim.i have never transferred anything on to pc and not sure how to do it. what sync device to use?i particularly wish to transfer voice recordings for sentimental reasons.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Shree,

      The chances are that your voice recordings will be saved as a file on your phone. The easiest way to access it would be to connect your Galaxy Ace to your laptop. You can then copy the audio files onto your computer, and subsequently onto your Note 2.

      Ken

  9. Dawn said:

    Thanks Ken, I've tried loading my software but it is that old it says it will revert my laptop back to windows xp so I didn't bother carrying on because I didn't want to mess my laptop up.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Dawn,

      If you are using Windows 7, it's probably a dialog box saying it's going to run in Windows XP compatibility mode. Don't worry, it won't downgrade your laptop to Windows XP just to run a single programme – it just runs the programme in such a way the programme thinks it's running on XP.

      Ken

  10. Dawn said:

    How do you transfer numbers and text message from an old sim from an old phone to an iphone 4 sim card as they are a different size? Once the new sim is activated will the old sim not work in the old phone?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Dawn,

      You make a very good point about that. Which is your old phone? An iPhone 3G S or a non-Apple phone?

      Ken

      1. Dawn replied:

        My old phone is a sony ericsson w810 and my new phone is an iphone 4s

        1. Ken Lo
          Ken replied:

          Hi Dawn,

          I think the easiest thing to do for you would be to use Sony Ericsson's software to sync your contacts to your PC (Outlook probably). Then use Apple's software to sync it from there onto your iPhone 4S.

          Ken

  11. ros said:

    How can I save text messages please from old Samsung with T-mobile to new LG viewty? Any help would be much appreciated./

    Yours technopohobically

    ros

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Ros,

      Is your new LG Viewty also on T-Mobile (or unlocked)? In which case you should be able to copy your texts to your SIM card and use that to transfer it over. Otherwise you may have to sync it through your computer.

      Ken

  12. sammy said:

    thanks it worked for me although i couldnt get my messages saved onto my sim card but anyways goood advice thanks!!

  13. Brian Moreau said:

    Just taken delivery of my new HTC Desire and although generally I am very impressed with the phone it does appear to have some very strange bugs that I have never experienced before even with really old basic phones.

    Copy contact from SIM to phone.
    This appears to be impossible or at least I have not managed to find a way to do this yet, and looking at all the blogs it appears I am not the only one having difficulty with this simple function. As said above this is not something I have ever had difficulty with in the past.
    Usually it’s an option in the setup but not so with the Desire.

    The contacts I do have are also displayed in a really strange format. Lastname;Firstname/1

    Ok Update Update…
    It can be done in only 13 steps!
    I will post instructions on my website tonight.

  14. Richard Willans said:

    I am so tired of people who should know better not telling the real truth. I have just attempted to migrate from an N95 8gb to HTC Desire and it is NOT simple. For instance, the Contacts Manager does not have the capability of listing last name first – it doesn’t even have the requisite number of fields. I have confirmed this with HTC themselves. Which means that no matter what you do, the contacts info synched through MS Outlook will not be correctly transferred. I have 670 contacts – not unusual for the “business world” – including notes and addresses, as well as different phone numbers. What regular Phone Directory do you know doesn’t allow you to display or even enter, last name first? I have gone round the world trying to find an Android app that will take over this function, but so far I have found nothing that sounds even remotely adequate. Yet funnilty enough, in all my research, I have not found one single person who has admitted that transferring all one’s contact info to Android Phones is likely to be next to impossible!

    Perhaps I am being too harsh. If there is a work around, I would be grateful for the information. Otherwise, I am in for a very long hall doing everything by hand. Oh yes, please don’t mention Google Synch to me either. Since the Contacts Program on Desire doesn’t have the right number of fields, I don’t see how that will work either. And the Sim Card thing is irrelevant. The number of fields available to transfer to the Sim Card is even more limited.

    Yours, very frustrated,

    Richard.

  15. dave said:

    ps. that dumb smiley should be 8 then ) – god save us from the LOL generation…

  16. dave said:

    I had to move my contacts recently between a touch diamond and a desire. It wasn’t fun. Simcards are designed to stop a number of strings and a number. Humans want to store contact info. These are different beasts. My friends have longer names than sim cards seem to allow, and they split out the 2 or 3 numbers I have for each person into seperate numbers. Synching doesn’t work because gmail doesn’t seem to understand that people have phone numbers as well as email addresses. I don’t want to wade through a list of email addresses on my desire looking for the symbol which means `phone number`. And although you can hide contact info other than on the phone (ie hide sim, gmail etc), this only seems to work in 1 or 2 places, meaning that other apps which use contacts don’t honour it and again you’re wading through useless data. The only solution is to:
    1) copy data onto sim on old phone
    2) put sim in new phone
    3) copy sim data onto phone
    4) delete all data off sim card
    5) delete all synced gmail/sim data
    6) ensure anything to do with syncing contacts is disabled
    7) spend 30-60 mins manually editing names so that:
    Jackson, Ric
    becomes
    Jackson, Richard
    8) manually stick peoples home, work, mobile numbers onto 1 contact
    9) manually cut&paste peoples names so surname is in the surname field and first name in first name field (mine was back to front).

    I entertained the idea of using some app to do this for me, but quickly decided that finding and learning how to use one would probably take more than the 30 odd mins it would take me to do it myself. I have no idea why phones don’t do this for you – logically it’s very very easy (mobile numbers have a prefix; identical names can be combined etc).

  17. Graeme McKay said:

    I may be wrong, but aren’t there SIM CARD READERS that can be bought that allow for transfers and backups to be made? These may be able to be used to transfer contacts and/or text messages between phones…

Leave a Reply

E-Mail Notifications: By default, I'll drop you an e-mail when there's a reply to your comment. If you don't want to receive such a notification, please select the "Don't Subscribe" option from the dropdown menu above.