How to Recover Data From a Broken Phone in 2020: Three Steps to Data Recovery

By James KonikWriter
— Last Updated:

We all know someone whose phone never seems to be fully functioning. A knock here, a drop there and God forbid you leave it in your pocket while performing the essential business of the day. If that happens to you, or you just want to help a friend in need, then you’ll need to know how to recover data from a broken phone.

If disaster happens, there are several things to try before panicking. For starters, unless you’ve left your phone in the oven or lavatory, the sim card is most likely still intact. In that case, you can remove it, stick it in a sim card reader and get the data off of it. If not, take a look at our how to recover an SD card guide for some tips.

In an ideal world, your data would be secured with online backup. That might be in the form of data stored by your phone provider or a third-party service. Data stored on the best online backup services can probably be recovered by reinstalling the applications on your next phone.

That assumes you still have the passwords, though. If you have trouble remembering all those awkward login details, take a look at our best password managers guide.

If you’ve backed up in advance, then you’re in luck as all you have to do is restore your backed up data to your phone.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do.

Step One: Restore from Backup

If you had the foresight to use a mobile backup service, you are in the clear. You can use the backup service to get the data back after getting your phone fixed or replaced.

If you haven’t done that, now might be a good time to think about getting a backup system set up. If you’re using Android, take a look at this guide on how to backup Android phones.

There are many cloud storage services available. Take a look at our best cloud storage guide for details, as well as our best online backup for mobile for tips on backing up your phone. Our first pick for this task, and for online backup in general, is IDrive, which you can learn more about in our IDrive review.

Some data might be associated with your online account. If you use a Google account on an Android, for example, your contact data and emails will be online. You should be able to get that data back using only your password.

Online backup is a good idea for this and many other reasons. In the event anything goes wrong, even a demolished phone, you can restore your data through the backup provider. If you didn’t have the foresight to backup your data, continue on to step two.

Step Two: Check the Card

If you haven’t backed up, or you’ve been snapping away since your last backup (make sure you do so with our best VPN for Snapchat), don’t panic. The data on your SD card might still be intact. Be warned that extracting and fixing your SD card is done at your own risk. There is a possibility of making things worse if you mishandle a card that is already cracked or damaged.

When the card is intact, though, there are several ways to get the data back from it. You’ll need to connect the phone to your computer or take the card out and use a card reader.

If you’re phone isn’t too damaged, you may be able to connect it to your PC via a USB cable. Once your phone is connected by USB it will often add itself as a drive, which you can browse through using your regular file system. Be careful doing that, though, as changes can break your phone.

If you can’t connect your phone with a USB, you’ll need to get a card reader. They aren’t too expensive, but make sure to buy one that is compatible with your phone’s SD card.

Online backup is the best protection, but moving files from the SD card can get you by, too. If you haven’t backed up and your SD card has corrupted files, move on to step three.

Step Three: Data Recovery

If you can’t browse your files using a card reader, you can try using data recovery software. It can often find files that your operating system thinks have been deleted, since the data is still on the card.

There are several tools for doing this, as detailed in our best data recovery software guide. If your wallet is light, you can check out our best free data recovery software, too.

Windows users might want to start with the built-in chkdsk utility. On Windows 10 you can launch it by pressing the Windows key with “R” to bring up the “run” prompt., then type “cmd” in the text box to open the command line.

Figure out what letter your SD card has been assigned by checking the Windows file explorer. If you don’t see it there, it may be too damaged, so the chances of it working aren’t great, even if you use another tool.

As long as the card has a letter, though, you can run chkdsk by typing “chkdsk /f E:” if the card letter is “E.” If not, replace it with the correct drive letter.

It is time to move on to another tool if chkdsk fails. There is a lot of dedicated recovery software and choosing the right one can be tricky. Read about our favorites in our Prosoft Engineering Data Rescue review and EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard review for Windows and CleverFiles Disk Drill review for Mac.

Our top rated data recovery tool is Stellar Data Recovery, though, so we’re going to take a look at how to use it.

Using Stellar

Stellar Data Recovery is easy to download and install. The first thing you’ll see on starting it up is the “what to recover” screen. You can choose whether to try to recover everything or look for specific document types.


The next step is to find your SD card on the select location screen. Windows may not label your device as an SD card, but you can see which are connected by USB and their size, so you should be able to figure it out. If you aren’t sure, just unplug it and see which device disappears.


Select the “deep scan” option if you want a more thorough, but slower, search. Your computer can take hours on a deep scan, especially on larger cards. Be prepared to take a break.


While scanning, Stellar displays how far along it is, as well as an estimate of the time remaining. You can also see the files it has already found.

You can browse through a list of files that are recoverable once the scan is finished. Sometimes the file names will be lost even though the files themselves are intact, so you might need to open them to see what they are.

Stellar will then try to recover as much data as possible.

Stellar costs $99 for its standard edition, which is pricey. It has a free version, but we ran into data limitations when using it. Take a look at our Stellar Data Recovery review for more details.

Final Thoughts

Your data isn’t gone just because your phone isn’t working perfectly. As we’ve seen, there are many ways to get your data back from a device that appears unusable. There are also sensible things you can do in advance to make sure any loss is easier to recover from.

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Using cloud storage and backing up your data is prudent and there is a wealth of software to help make that easier. If your phone breaks, though, it will be too late, so if you want to give yourself a head start in protecting your data, there’s no time like the present.

If you’ve recovered the data from your phone after it broke, let us know how you did it. Tell us if these tips have, or haven’t, helped you recover your data, as well. Thanks for reading.