It’s annoying and inconvenient if your portable kit is lost, stolen or damaged, but the hardware itself can be replaced. Unfortunately, the same isn’t always true of the data stored on it. As well as following our advice on protecting your gear from theft and accidental damage, it’s wise to also protect your data.
First and foremost, this means backing up your data on a regular basis. As the primary method, we suggest that you regularly synchronise your portable devices with your home or office PC. This means you need only one backup solution, since the data from all your devices will be backed up in the same place as your PC’s data.
Backing up your central PC can be done locally, online or, in an ideal world, both.
We looked in some detail at how to do that in our Backup Superguide. In essence, though, you’ll either be backing up to local storage, such as a hard drive or optical disc, or to an online service, most of which are free up to a given amount of storage space.
Convenient as it might be to back up everything via a home or office PC, you might be away from home for a while. Waiting until you get home to do a backup puts your newer data at too great a risk.
For this reason, it’s worth investigating methods of backing up directly from your devices. A word of warning is appropriate, though. You’ll most commonly use this method to back up totally new files, such as photographs you’ve taken since you were last at home. However, if you edit documents that you also work on at home, and back up from home, you need to ensure that you back up only the most recent version.
Some backup methods can handle conflicting changes to a document (Dropbox saves an additional copy of the file, for example), but others will overwrite the file.
A laptop is easy enough to deal with, as you’ll use much the same methods to back up its data as you would with your home PC, and the same is true of most tablets – provided that you’re prepared to carry a USB external drive, and that the tablet has a USB port.
Other safeguards include online backup services, such as Dropbox, Carbonite or SugarSync, which are useful when you’re in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot. Apps are available for iOS and Android, and there are desktop versions for Windows and OS X. It’s usually possible to log in through the service’s web interface on other devices, too.
In addition to these PC-centric solutions, there are services aimed at Apple and Android devices. Apple’s iCloud provides manual and automatic backup for iPad and iPhone.
It’s free with up to 5GB of storage and can be used to back up photos, device settings, app data, messages and ringtones. You also get unlimited storage space for material purchased from the iTunes Store, App Store or iBookstore.
Also offering 5GB for free is Google Drive, which is compatible with Windows, OS X, Android and iOS.
Two types of device require specific mention. Digital cameras can’t directly connect to the internet, making it difficult to copy their files to a removable drive without a PC. Although their storage cards are usually removable, it’s likely that this will be inside your device when it’s lost or stolen.
Some backup devices are designed specifically for cameras, and could be a solution for serious photographers. These are standalone storage devices with memory card slots that allow you to make a copy of your photos. The 160GB Ex-Pro Photo Bank costs £110 from Amazon, for example.
Finally, we come to e-readers. If you own a Kindle, there’s no real need to back up your data as you can re-download any e-books you’ve previously bought from Amazon. For other e-readers, be sure to purchase your e-books from a website that allows you to re-download books, should you accidentally delete one, or your device is lost or stolen before you’ve had a chance to back it up.
Cases and bags
One of the most obvious ways toprotect your gear from accidental damage is to put it in a case or bag. Some of these accessories could even reduce the likelihood of theft.
While it’s tempting to carry your laptop in a fancy, branded case, a senior police officer told us that he always carried his in a scruffy supermarket carrier bag, since nobody would think it contained anything valuable.
If you hanker after something a bit more stylish, a rucksack is much more difficult for a thief to pull off your back than to snatch a conventional case from your hand. Laptop-specific rucksacks start at around £15. The V7 Professional Laptop Backpack from Box, for example, looks inconspicuous and can carry laptops with screens up to 17in.
In defence against accidental damage, the degree of protection you choose depends on the hostility of the environment in which you intend to use your gear, and how much you value your equipment.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re likely to trash unprotected gear only if you engage in extreme sports or work on a building site or similar.
Anyone can get caught in a heavy downpour, and something as simple as braking heavily in a car could result in kit on the back seat being thrown on to the floor. Beaches are particularly risky environments for delicate electronics, due to sand and salt water getting into tiny holes and damaging sensitive electronic equipment.
Some kit is designed to withstand these sorts of conditions. You can buy rugged phones, cameras, laptops and more, but there’s usually a premium to pay. When buying rugged gear, look for a drop-test figure and an IP-rating in the spec.
The drop-test figure is self-explanatory, but comparisons aren’t always easy to make. It’s not immediately obvious whether the ability to withstand a drop of 1m on to concrete means the device is tougher than if it could handle a 2m drop on to plywood. IP stands for ingress protection, and is a two digit number of which the first figure (0-6) relates to the ingress of solid objects or particles, such as sand and dust, while the second figure (0-8), which is the most important for general equipment, refers to protection from water. See Wikipedia for more.
If you can’t justify the cost of rugged gear, invest in a rugged case. A range of such cases, which is popular with outdoor enthusiasts and professionals who need to use gear in extreme environments, is the Pelicase (available from waterproof-cases.co.uk).
The range comprises cases that are made of hard plastic, are tough and waterproof, and have foam inserts to prevent the gear inside rattling around. These range in size from micro cases large enough for a phone or iPod (£18) to laptop cases (£128) and larger.
Pelicases might provide the ultimate in protection but, with the exception of some of the micro cases that have a headphone socket, they are generally used just for carrying your gear; the kit remains at risk when you take it out to use it.
In essence extremely tough plastic bags, Aquapacs provide a high level of waterproofing. In many cases, you can continue to use your device while it’s inside the enclosure – even if it has a touchscreen. Some have optically ‘pure’ windows, through which you can take a photo, but they don’t provide the same protection as a Pelicase against being dropped or driven over. Prices range from £16 for a smartphone enclosure to £45 for a tablet case.
Tech21 offers a range of tailormade cases from £20 for various portable devices. Made from a shock-absorbent polymer called D3O, they offer a tight fit and impact protection. While they’re not nearly as tough as Pelicases, and without the waterproofing of Aquapacs (although Tech21 has a Submariner range), these products are stylish and needn’t be removed prior to use.
Griffin, too, has a super-tough Survivor range of cases for iPod, iPhone and iPad. These start at £16 from Amazon.
Next page: Insurance and anti-theft tips