What to Do When You Lose Your Tech Gear
Create a Smartphone Backup
The more extensively you use your cell phone, the more completely you depend on the data it stores. So regularly backing up your phone makes sense.
Often the easiest way to perform a backup is by using a cable connection: Most smartphones--including models ranging from iPhones to BlackBerrys to Palm WebOS phones (including the Pre) to Windows Mobile devices--come with syncing utilities that are designed to create a complete backup of the phone's contents. Thanks to those programs, if you sync your phone regularly, you should always have a recent copy of your files, contacts, messages, and photos safely stored on your computer. Do this religiously.
Unfortunately, though, not all smartphones encourage you to synchronize and back up your data manually. The worst offenders in this regard are Android phones, which tend to behave a lot like stand-alone computers; for this reason it's easy to neglect syncing the phone to a desktop PC for months on end. Though Android is designed to work seamlessly with Google's cloud-based apps (such as Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts), which automatically sync all of your data to the Web, most of the data stored on your device won't automatically sync to anything.
A number of backup apps are available for Android, but my favorite is MyBackup Pro. This $5 app wirelessly syncs all of your Android phone's data--including apps, contacts, bookmarks, SMS messages, pictures, and music playlists--to a secure server. If your phone is lost, stolen, or damaged, you can download the data onto a replacement phone and pick up where you left off.
Adopt Advanced Security Measures for Your Gear
Dealing with a misplaced phone that you know is somewhere in your own home or at a friend's house is no big deal. But if you leave your phone in a cab or unwittingly drop it on the sidewalk, you will probably need more-advanced recovery and protection features to get it back and keep its contents safe. Fortunately, a few cool programs and services are available that cover every major smartphone platform. They aren't free--but if your data is valuable to you, they're worth paying for.
If you want protection across multiple smartphone platforms, your best option is TenCube's WaveSecure. Available for Android, BlackBerry, Symbian S60, and Windows Mobile phones, WaveSecure provides as complete a package of protection as you can hope to have for a device that's prone to wandering away.
For $20 annually, WaveSecure enables you to track the location of your phone, monitor its call log, and detect whether someone has changed its SIM card, all via a Web browser. In the event that your phone is lost or stolen, you will quickly have a pretty clear idea of where it is and what it's up to.
WaveSecure also lets you remotely back up the contents of your phone to the secure server and then wipe all of your data from the device. So even if the phone falls into the hands of a thief, none of your personal information will be at risk. After removing the data, you can either turn the location information over to the authorities in hopes of getting your phone back (don't count on it) or forget the stolen handset and use the insurance you bought from your carrier to purchase a replacement, and then download the backup of your data onto the new device.
Apple offers a similar tracking service, called Find My iPhone, for iPhone users. But you can get Find My iPhone only as a component of Apple's MobileMe service, which costs a whopping $99 per year (or $149 for a four-user family pack).
To its credit, the Find My iPhone interface is relatively slick and works very well. Like WaveSecure, Find My iPhone lets you track your phone's whereabouts and send a custom message to whoever may be holding it at the moment. It also allows you to wipe out the phone's contents remotely and lock the handset with a passcode remotely (in the event that you failed to set one up before losing the device).
Palm Pre users can obtain similar protection by signing up for Where Is My Pre. The premium version of this service, which costs $2 per month, enables you to view your phone's location on a map, send messages to the device, modify the phone's preferences remotely, and even take pictures with the phone's Webcam remotely to see who's holding it.