Backing up your SMS/Text messages on the Nokia N9

Update April 13th 2012, I cannot get this to function any more.. may be due to my device.
Update May 30th 2012 – I can now do this procedure again. But there’s an addendum. I’ve amended my original post.
Update April 17th 2013 – After moving to Windows 8 I no longer had any luck in getting my regular backup procedure to work. Everything but phone contents (images) and settings would fail to be backed up.
I went to Nokia Market and found an application by Mr. Tong Zang which seemed to offer the same functionality, only with export to a .csv file rather than individual message files. This has always been something I wanted to get, so I decided to give it a shot. It’s not free, but the cost is negligible for the function it offers. I installed the app and started my backup, but the application seemed to hang. After a few tries with the same result, I let it lie on my table in the “unresponsive” state, and after a few minutes there was a nice “backup complete” message. I now have a .csv file containing some 8000 messages – which is a lot nicer than individual files which this guide covers, let’s be honest.

The functionality is similar to the free tool which can be found on maemo.org – but I’ve always had issues with this command line based tool. It will also require you to activate developer mode on your phone, which SMSBackup will not. Hopefully the app will prove more stable if I export smaller batches at a time, I’ll update this post as appropriate.
April 20th 2013 – Mr. Tong Zang and I have exchanged some emails, he says he has identified the problem and will fix it as soon as possible. Still, it works, you just have to ignore all warnings and be patient.

The original backup procedure:

If you’re here, you’re likely much like me. I like to keep a record of text messages on my workstation. It’s nice to go in to nostalgia mode from time to time and revisit them.

This has never been much of an issue for me, as I’ve always had Nokia phones. However, since I got my Nokia N9 I’ve struggled to get a working backup of my text messages, but I found a workaround. It’s not as pretty as you’d might like, but it works.

First, download these applications to your desktop:

Nokia PC Suite (Yes, that old one!)
NBU Explorer (Requires MS Dot Net Framework 2. Available through MS update or the windows website.)

Go ahead and install them before proceeding.

First, you backup your MMS messages. Do this by creating a backup on your N9.
Navigate to:

  • Settings
  • Sync and backup
  • Backup

This will create a backup of your “user” data. Connect your phone to your PC in Mass Storage Mode and go in to the .backups folder. Here you’ll find an archive containing your MMS messages, photos and text content. It’s a simple .zip file so extract it to your usual SMS backup location. Be warned, however, that you will find the folder names to be very long and weird, but everything is there.

After doing this step, you’ll have noticed that you can’t see all your other messages. This is where the tried and true PC Suite enters the picture.

Reconnect your Nokia N9 and select Sync mode, PC Suite will detect it. Create a backup of your phone from within the application and save it somewhere locally.

NOTE: Since the PR 1.2 update I’ve had to keep the device screen active, to prevent it from locking, whilst doing the backup. If I didn’t do this, I kept getting a failed backup. It seems that the “Phone Specific Backup” part of the backup procedure will fail if you don’t keep the screen active. The internal backup function activates, and it will lock you out of your device (making a forced reboot necessary) if you don’t keep it active and away from the lock screen. When I did this, the backup worked as it should again.

Now you open up NBU explorer and navigate to where you placed your backup. You’ll see two folders, predefinbox and predefsent – these are your inbox and outbox. Everything is given a name based on message number and sorted by date. You will not get conversation view from this, but the object here is to safekeep your messages, not make it easy.

Right click either inbox or outbox and select export. This will let you export all your text messages from the .nbu file to a location you choose. All your texts are now stored locally in .vmg format. They can be viewed within the PC Suite application, and an application such as Notepad++ can display them as well.

Congratulations, you’ve foiled Nokia and their vile attempts at forcing N9 users to be stuck with the Link applications and only three options. Enjoy your new-found freedom!

Comment below if you’ve found a better way of accomplishing this task, if you’ve got questions or if you want to report your success!

I don’t think a step-by-step picture guide is necessary, but if it’s requested I’ll see what I can do.