Android phone migration has gotten easier–except for Google Pay and Google Voice

Moving from my old Pixel 3a to my new Pixel 5a provided my smoothest Android phone-migration experience yet. I had much less home-screen housekeeping to do on my new device than two years ago, and one key Google app showed a particularly dramatic improvement. But then I had to deal with Google Pay and Google Voice.

Overall, Google’s instructions get across how easy process has become. Tap yes in the “Copy apps & data” button on the new phone, unlock the old phone, connect the two with a USB-C cable, tap yes in the old phone’s “Copy data to new phone?” dialog, then wait–about 21 minutes in my case.

A Pixel 5a showing the "Transfer accounts" screen in Google Authenticator sits atop a Pixel 3a showing the same screen in the same app.

Google’s Android-transfer system accurately reproduced my app-icon layout (the contrast with upgrading to iPadOS 15 did not escape my attention) and wallpaper, with the only missing item being a home-screen icon for Android Auto.

I did still have to wait for most individual apps to download off Google’s Play Store, and their new-phone user experience varied awkwardly. Some, such as Feedly, LinkedIn and FlightRadar24, didn’t need me to log back in; most demanded a new entry of usernames and passwords (made much easier by 1Password); a few required extra bouts of authentication.

One Google app pleasantly surprised me, given the sensitivity of its stored data. Google Authenticator previously required renewing each two-step verification code securing a site login as if your old phone had fallen into the ocean, an experience that Google security chief Stephan Somogyi in 2017 apologetically described to me as “a complete, total and unmitigated pain.”

But in 2021, an old phone’s Google Authenticator can generate a catchall QR Code for its saved accounts; scan it with the new phone’s copy of Authenticator, and you’ve got your one-time passcodes for those accounts ready there. Great!

And then two other Google apps showed how awkward this process can remain. Google Pay–not the mobile-payments app that debuted as Google Wallet, but the new release that shipped this spring and then required some non-trivial settings restoration–landed on the new Pixel 5a as if I had never used it before.

I had to start by typing in my cell number because this Google service relies on that for authentication instead of a Google account. As Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo explained/warned back in March, this setup resulted from Google electing to build a new Google Pay off code optimized for the Indian market, where SMS authentication apparently reigns supreme. And then I then had to add back my saved credit cards, one at a time.

The last hiccup, I hope, came with Google Voice. The oft-neglected Internet-telephony app that I use for my work number seemed to be configured properly on the new phone, but then a journalist trying to reach me for a radio interview had her call go to voicemail. Eight times in a row. The answer turned out to be that Google Voice’s account settings had my number associated with two smartphones and two copies of the same number, a level of confusion that the system evidently resolved by not patching calls through to the newest device.

But now that’s squared away, and I think I can make it through the rest of this trying year without further mobile-app troubleshooting. I hope that’s the case for everybody reading this too.

Weekly output: podcast, Google security, Tech Night Owl, TV choices, DLNA

I’d meant to write something else here this week: a post about the high distraction factor of a presidential election season. But I got distracted. (Shouldn’t I have seen that coming?)

9/7/2012: Rob’s Podcast: Comparing Notes With PCWorld’s Melissa Perenson, CEA Digital Dialogue

This was possibly the most snakebit podcast ever–after a long series of schedule conflicts, my first attempt was thwarted by bad Skype reception, the second one involved two or three false starts, and then it got held up somewhere at CEA. Anyway: In it, you can hear me talk about a variety of tech-industry issues–for instance, Windows 8’s interface, the future of the digital camera and upcoming tablets–with Melissa Perenson, a writer for PCWorld, TechHive and other sites.

9/7/2012: Gmail Two-Step Verification: Mission Possible, Discovery News

I waited until I’d spent a month with Google’s version of two-factor authentication to write about it. Verdict: a major upgrade in security that makes me feel smarter, but it increases the risk involved in losing one’s smartphone.

I didn’t realize until after I’d filed this that I had left out my usual disclosure about taking a speaking fee from Google last year. Should I have stuffed somewhere into the post?

9/8/2012: September 8, 2012 — Rob Pegoraro and Avram Piltch, Tech Night Owl Live

Gene Steinberg interviewed me and Laptop magazine’s Avram Piltch about what we saw at IFA in Berlin, tech patents, tablets and more for his Tech Night Owl podcast. (I was last on Gene’s show in January.)

9/9/2012: New depth in flat-panel fight: plasma, LCD, LED, OLED, USA Today

While I was at IFA, I shared a cab with a couple who asked if they should get a plasma or an LCD TV. The plasma-or-LCD question has been around for a while, but I realized I could use their query to address the difference between LCDs and LEDs (the subject of an earlier CEA post) and mention yet another flat-panel technology, super-thin but frighteningly expensive OLED screens. The piece also offers a tip about using “DLNA” sharing to link phones and connected TVs that may be news to many readers–I didn’t realize my TV supported this standard until a good year and a half after I’d bought it.