How to recover deleted files from an Android SD card

Christian de Looper
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Recover files from Android sd card

One of the best things about many Android phones has always been that you can use SD cards, or usually Micro SD cards, to expand on the storage in your phone. This allows you to install more apps, store more videos and songs, and so on. 

But, as with any files, it’s entirely possible to accidentally delete photos, music files, and video files. If that happens, you might assume that you’re out of luck — but there are ways to recover deleted files on an Android device. Here’s everything you need to know about SD card data recovery for Android.

Why is it possible to recover deleted files on Android

Did you know that when you delete files on your phone or computer, they’re not really deleted at all? On an Android phone, when you delete a file, Android marks the space that it was taking up as empty. In other words, it acts as if it has space free. And, when it needs that space, it will write over that file. But in the meantime, before it writes over that file with a new file, the old files is still there, even if it doesn’t show up as being available within Android.

Because of that, there are a few ways to increase your chances of being able to recover a deleted file. No matter when you find out you deleted a file you need, you should stop using your phone as much as possible as soon as you discover that your files have been lost. Don’t install any new apps, don’t take any more photos, and don’t download any files — as it’s possible that those files will be written over the old file that you lost.

A good way to make sure that you don’t accidentally download files in the background is to put your phone on airplane mode. That way, your phone won’t automatically download images and emails sent to you. Or, if you can stand not using your phone right now, you could completely turn your device off — that way not even the Android operating system is writing over your old files.

Where to look first for lost Android files

Once you have stopped using your phone and ensured that i’s no longer writing files to your SD card, there are a few things to check before resorting to more intense data recovery techniques. Perhaps the first thing to do is to check if the file you deleted has been placed in any kind of recycle bin. How you do so will widely vary depending on the app you use, but, for example, in the Google Photos app you can find deleted items, tap Library at the bottom, then tap the Trash folder. You can then hold down on the photo and tap the “Restore” button.

Library in Google Photos

 

Again, however, for other specific apps, you will need to look up if there is a trash or deleted items folder. 

There are other situations in which you may have lost files too, and how you approach the situation may vary depending on what has happened. For example, if you have lost files due to a virus attack, you should immediately turn off your device and skip straight to the data recovery tool below. The same is true of any device failure, or situation in which you can’t turn on your phone, like if you damaged it. 

It’s also worth checking messaging apps, if you have sent the lost files to friends or family, or they have sent them to you. For example in WhatsApp, you can see files that you have sent and received by opening the app, tapping on the name of the contact you sent it or received it from, tapping their name again at the top of the screen, and tapping the “Media, Links, and Docs” button.

Last but not least, at times, you may find that a file has been corrupted. You’ll know this, for example, if you can’t properly open a photo, video, or file. In this case, you may need to turn to a file restoration service, like MP4Repair.  

If you are having issues around your SD card not working properly, or accidental deletion of files, you may still be able to recover files using the methods below. 

How to recover data from Android SD card

If it turns out you need to turn to another data recovery method, you may need to look at third-party tools. There are a few data recovery tools out there, and you can download them straight from the Google Play Store. One such tool is called DiskDigger, and there are a few different versions of it. The free version can recover photos and images — however for other files, you’ll need to pay $2.99 for DiskDigger Pro

In using DiskDigger, there are a few different modes. If your phone isn’t rooted (it’s not rooted unless you specifically rooted it), then the app can perform a basic scan. If it is rooted, it can perform a much deeper scan. You’ll then be able to manage the space taken up by recovered files. 

Disk Digger data recovery

Recover deleted files by directly connecting SD card

If you can’t find the deleted files you’re looking for from a tool like DiskDigger, then you may need to turn to another tool, like Disk Drill. Disk Drill is a data recovery tool that can scan SD cards and other types of storage, search for lost or deleted files, and save them to your computer. From there, you can search through those files and save them back to your phone, or keep them on your computer.

There are a few ways to connect your phone’s storage to your computer to be used with Disk Drill. Either you could take the SD card out of your phone, and connect it to your computer using a card reader, or you could connect your actual phone to your computer. Taking your SD card out is by far the easiest method, so we’ll start with instructions for that. 

Step 1. If you’re using an SD card reader, plug it into your computer, then take the SD card out of your phone, and insert it into the reader. If you’re not using an SD card reader and have an SD card slot in your computer, simply put the SD card in that slot.

Step 2. Download and install Disk Drill from the Disk Drill website. It’s available for both Windows and MacOS, and the instructions for using it are largely the same between both. 

Step 3. Open Disk Drill, and look at the list of drives and disks on the display. Your SD card should be one of the items on that list. Our card is called “Nikon D3200,” but the name of the SD card doesn’t really matter — instructions are the same.

Select SD card

Step 4. Tap the “Search for lost data” button on the bottom right of the display.

Step 5. Disk Drill will then perform a scan for lost files. his could take a few minutes, depending on the files it finds.

Scanning process in Disk Drill

Step 6. You’ll then be able to “Review found items,” or “Recover all…” If you select to “Review found items,” you’ll be able to choose the files that were found during the scan. If you don’t know where those files are, you may want to “Recover all…” After that, you’ll select a folder to save the files to.

Destanation folder

Step 7. Wait for Disk Drill to recover your files, which may take a few minutes.

Recovering process

Your files should now be saved to your computer. You can find them by heading to the folder that you saved them to, or simply tapping on the “Show results in Finder” button.

Data recovery complete

Recover deleted files by connecting phone

You can also recover lost files by connecting your phone directly to your Mac computer, though it is a little trickier to do so than if you connected your SD card to your computer. That’s because it involves rooting your phone, which is a process that allows you to get increased access to your phone’s root files. Here’s how to recover deleted files with Disk Drill by directly connecting your phone.

  1. Root your phone. The method you do so will vary depending on your phone model and software, so you’ll need to separately look up how to root your device depending on which phone you have.

2. Enable USB Debugging, which you can do by opening the Settings app, tapping “About Phone,” and then tapping on the “Build Number” section seven times in a row. Return to the Settings main screen, tap “System,” and scroll down to the bottom, and tap on the Developer Options menu. Then, turn on the USB Debugging switch. You can see screenshots above, and they may look a little different depending on your phone model and software.About Android phone

3. Connect your phone to your computer. A prompt will appear on your phone asking you to allow access. Allow the access to your device.

4. Open Disk Drill. Along the left hand side, there will be a list of devices, including “Android Devices.” Tap on that button and choose the SD card in your phone.

5. Follow the steps below from Step 4 to restore your files.

If none of this works, unfortunately, you may have lost your files forever. That said, it’s also worth trying to perform data recovery on your phone’s internal storage. While this article isn’t about that, and doing so will involve jailbreaking your device, the basic gist is that you can connect your phone to your computer and run the same software on your device. Again, however, doing so will involve jailbreaking your phone, which can have unintended consequences — but will hopefully result in you being able to access your phone.

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Preventing data loss in the future

There are a few things you can do to prevent data loss in the future, though the method will vary from app to app and file to file.

Perhaps the best way to ensure that you don’t lose photos in the future is to use Google Photos on your Android device. Google Photos automatically backs your photos up to the cloud, meaning that if you lose your device or it malfunctions, you’ll still have access.

Other apps have similar cloud storage solutions. If you use Photoshop, for example, you can automatically back up your images to your Adobe Creative Cloud. And, if you use Microsoft Office apps, you may have backed files up to Microsoft OneDrive.

Perhaps the best way to make sure you can recover your files later, however, is to make sure that full backups of your phone are enabled. To enable backups, open Settings, tap “System,” then tap “Backup” and toggle the switch to on. 

Christian de Looper
Christian de Looper was born and raised in Canberra, Australia, and now lives in California. Christian has worked with a wide variety of online technology publications, including Businessinsider, Windows Central, DigitalTrends, TechRadar, Forbes, and many more. Technology journalist, consultant, music producer, world traveler, and self-proclaimed comedian :)
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12 years experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair.