How can I get my data off this cell phone?
July 15, 2011 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to get data off my cell phone, which does not fully boot? How?

My Samsung SCH-i760 gave up the ghost last week. Currently, when I turn it on it will show a "Samsung" splash screen, then a "Verizon" splash screen, and then hang, rather than booting into Windows Mobile 6.1 (I know, I know) like it should. I guess the OS is b0rked somehow. I'd love to get my contacts and notes off of the phone, partly for convenience and partly because I enjoy mucking around with tech stuff.

I have the latest version of ActiveSync (the Windows Mobile Sync utility) installed. I have updated USB drivers from the Samsung website. I tried installing a trial version of Outlook in case ActiveSync will only behave if it can sync my stuff to Outlook. I have a microUSB card that fits in the phone, but I removed it when I started trying to recover data.

When I plug the phone into my (Windows XP) computer with a USB cable, I get a pop-up message about my new hardware possibly not installing correctly. ActiveSync doesn't recognize it and the ActiveSync troubleshooting utility doesn't seem to even see that the phone is connected. Under "my computer," I can see a mobile device, but clicking on it to open it yield a blank folder. I have "see hidden files and folders" enabled. I've tried doing all this with my firewalls and AV software disabled.

I installed BitPim, but a) it doesn't have my phone (or anything Windows Mobile, as far as I can tell) listed as something it works with, and "other CDMA phone" doesn't seem to be getting it to recognize my phone either.

I also have Linux (Ubuntu) on my computer, if that opens up any other possibilities. I can't remember exactly what happened when I connected the phone in Linux, but there wasn't anything I could see or copy.

Is there a way to recover my data, or does the phone's b0rked OS make that impossible?
posted by needs more cowbell to Technology (10 answers total)
Assuming it's worth some dollars to you, you could try a cellphone data recovery service. The better ones can scan your phone's EROMs for errors, possibly correct them, or simply read the contents of your user memory, and dump that to a USB stick. You'd then use a recovery utility to read the dump and recover it to file form.
posted by paulsc at 10:08 PM on July 15, 2011

It's not really worth spending $ to me (especially for someone else to do work) - it just feels like I should be able to pull the contents myself somehow with a cable and a PC.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:09 AM on July 16, 2011

"... it just feels like I should be able to pull the contents myself somehow with a cable and a PC."
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:09 AM on July 16

The problem with that approach is that your phone won't stay booted, so its hardware is unavailable for your computer to link. No linky, no ticky. No ticky, no washy. (In other words, no consumer level interface like USB is going to work, unless the devices on both ends of the interface are in low level communication, and able to pass data in both directions, across the bus, for controlled transfers). :-(

The better recovery services sometimes can open a phone, locate the EROM chips storing the data or operating system, and use a special surface mount cable to read data off the chips, then assemble this raw data into something like a contiguous dump. You could probably buy/build the special test cable, and write the software yourself, given enough time and technical expertise, but you'd spend more out of pocket for parts and tools than it would cost for an equipped data recovery service to do the job.
posted by paulsc at 7:26 AM on July 16, 2011

Just another thought: if its been awhile since you've changed your phone's battery, or if you never have, it might be worth springing for a replacement battery, charging it fully, and then trying to reboot the phone. Sometimes, weak batteries cause flaky, repeatable problems during boot up, as more and more parts of the phone's electronics are activated.
posted by paulsc at 7:34 AM on July 16, 2011

your phone won't stay booted, so its hardware is unavailable for your computer to link

I'm curious, why is this the case with phones when it's not the case with, say, a hard drive? I can throw a hard drive in a USB enclosure and pull data off it even if the OS won't boot. I think that's what's bugging me here.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:42 AM on July 16, 2011

The interface electronics in an external hard drive enclosure are pretty simple, as they only have to provide USB client (target) compatible communication. The integrated electronics on the hard drive itself provide all the disk sector logic, read/write caching, actuator control, etc. If the hard drive itself is mechanically bad (head crash), the USB enclosure electronics could still provide communications to the drive, and the drive's controller electronics might even show you SMART error messages. But you wouldn't get files off the drive, in this case, either.

Most of your phone's electronics have to be alive and well to make EROM storage look and act like a hard drive. There's no actual drive in the phone. And, a lot of phones don't actually contain even a dedicated USB client chip, they just emulate it from a general purpose interface chip, or have USB function on a multi-function chip that has to be working fully to even provide USB functions.
posted by paulsc at 1:30 PM on July 16, 2011

Thank you for the explanation!

I haven't replaced the battery since I bought the phone (used) almost two years ago, so I'll try that before giving up.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:08 AM on July 17, 2011

The i760 has a microSD/Transflash slot. Check to see if it came with one installed. you might want to pull it, mount it and try to find the data on that. If you need a reader, they're cheap and ubiquitous.

If everything else fails and you're in the mood to push your luck, Download this upgrader and try upgrading your firmware.
  • If the upgrader won't even recognize the phone, you're truly SOL short of somebody unsoldering it's internal memory (probably destroying the phone) and putting it into an flashRom reader.
  • If it does recognize the phone, it'll give you an option to stop the process before rewriting the phone. You can:
    • Stop the program and take a look into using QPST or a similar tool to get the data out of the phone, which will involve either spending a lot of money or bit-torrenting the software, or spending a lot of time tinkering with the upgrader - This might brick the phone AND destroy your data.
    • Let the upgrader finish - Which may toast the data, but has the greatest chance of getting your phone back.
    • Wrap it up and send it off to the recovery guys above, fairly confident that they'll make a full recovery, possibly for a lot less work than cutting the chip out.

posted by Orb2069 at 1:19 PM on July 17, 2011

I had a microSD card in it, but unfortunately I was only saving pictures on it, not my contacts.

Destroying/possibly bricking the phone isn't really a concern - it's old, it's not booting, I'm not sure I'd trust it even if I got it working again, and spending $ on a data recovery service isn't worth it to me anyway. I might as well have some techie fun messing with it and take a shot at getting data off.

Is QPST "Qualcomm Product Support Tools?" What is this class of software called if I want to look into other programs? I thought BitPim would do what I needed, but I gather not.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:35 PM on July 17, 2011

There aren't, as far as I know, any other tools like QPST. It's for flashing the phone's (Qualcomm) chipset firmware, developed, as far as I know by/for Qualcomm to assist field technicians in either reprogramming or debricking phones.

The reason I didn't provide a link to it or any further explanation is because you're going to have to do a lot of digging to figure out how to use this for what you want, and it might not even work. QPST is a Hole Hawg style tool, and just handing you a link and saying 'good luck' would be like tossing your phone into a blender for you.

TLDR: If this is just about the data, if there's ANY other way of recovering it, it'd probably be faster and more reliable to boot.

If it's become a technical challenge for you, this is probably the thread for you to pull.
posted by Orb2069 at 2:12 PM on July 17, 2011

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