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hOme.beardedDonkey - HOWTO Save Contacts to Online Account instead of Phone or SIM Card (Android 2.x/4.x, iPhone)
HOWTO Save Contacts to Online Account instead of Phone or SIM Card (Android 2.x/4.x, iPhone) 
It has come to my attention that a lot of people with smart phones either still save their contacts to the SIM card, or they do no move the contacts on their SIM card to their devices "account" whether it be Gmail or iTunes so that they are stored online. This page will help you to check if your contacts are being saved to your SIM card and also how to move them from your SIM to your device's online account.

Why should you save your Contacts to an online medium instead of the SIM card?


There are a number of benefits to storing your contacts in an online account
+ If you lose your phone or SIM card your contact information is still safe and available when you get a new phone or SIM
+ No hassles copying your contacts around when you replace your SIM card with a new one
+ Online storage of contacts doesn't have limited memory space like SIM cards do
+ Contacts can be shared between more than one person (my wife and I have syncronized contacts. No matter whose phone you pick up, we have the same contacts)
+ Your contact information is inaccessible without your password. If someone found your lost SIM card, they would have access to your contacts' information by using that SIM card.

How to check settings to save contacts to online account instead of SIM card


Unfortunately with Android each manufacturer like Samsung, Motorola, HTC etc. enjoy putting their own version of software together to make the Android OS "better" or unique. They usually also have a different Contacts app, which will have the options and settings laid out differently.
If the instructions below are not what is on your Android phone you might need to hunt around your Contact's options menus a bit.

I used a Samsung P1000 running Gingerbread (v2.3) for the following instructions. I think most 2.x Samsung devices would have the same contact app as this.
I used a Samsung i9000 running SlimBean 4.1 (Android 4.1) for the following instructions. SlimBean is a stock Android ROM so it is basically like the Nexus' Android version.
I asked an iPhone owner about the iPhone methods.

What version of Android do I have?

Please refer to my page What version of Android do I have?

Android 2.x

Import your existing SIM contacts to your Gmail account
Open contacts, press Menu, Import/Export, Import from SIM, select your gmail address if prompted to.
A list of the contacts on the SIM will appear.
To import individual contacts: Touch & hold a contact and select Import.
To import all contacts on the SIM: Press Menu, Import all.

Set the device to save new contacts to your Gmail address on (Samsung) Android 2.x
Open contacts, press Menu, More, Settings, Save new contacts to, and select your Gmail address.

Ensure sync is on for Android 2.x
On the home screen, press Menu, Settings, Accounts and sync
Ensure Auto-sync is ticked.
Touch your gmail address to view the account's syncing options.
Ensure Contacts is ticked.

Android 4.x

Import your existing SIM contacts to your Gmail account
Open Contacts, press Menu, Import/Export, Import from SIM card, select your gmail address if prompted to.
A list of the contact on the SIM card will appear.
To import individual contacts: Touch & hold a contact and select Import.
To import all contacts on the SIM: Press Menu, Import all.

Set the device to save new contacts to your Gmail address on (Samsung) Android 4.x
In Android 4.x the functionality to save contacts to the SIM card does not exist. By default the device will save all contacts to your gmail address and will sync to your gmail account online when it can if syncing is enabled for contacts.
You can export contacts to your SIM card if you have the need or desire.

Ensure sync is on for Android 4.x
On the home screen, press Menu, System settings, under Accounts section touch Google, touch your gmail address, in the list at appears ensure Contacts is ticked.

iPhone

I don't have an iPhone, so I can't verify the steps to take to save contacts to your iTunes account but here is what I was told by a more than capable iPhone user.

Enable iCloud for online Contacts back up
Go to Settings and find the iCloud section and ensure iCloud is enabled.
If you are setting the phone up for the first time you can enable iCloud in the initial set up.
Once iCloud is enabled, the device will back your contacts up to your iTunes account automatically when internet connection is available.

I did not get instructions to import SIM contacts to the iPhone.

Notes

Be aware that contact syncing requires an internet connection at some point to save your contacts outside of your device. You can set your device to "save to your gmail address" even without access to the internet however. The contacts will be stored on the device's internal memory and when internet connectivity becomes available the device will then synchronize the contacts on your device with the online account, backing them up online which will preserve them if you lose your device or your device fails.

You can synchronize your contacts across as many devices as you want by adding the gmail address to each device and enabling its Contacts syncing. My wife and I have one set of contacts between us and if either of us add a new contact we both get the contact in our address book.

You can also access all your contacts from any device that can access the gmail.com website. Log into Gmail, in the top left where it says "Gmail" with a little triangle next to it, click and select Contacts.

If you want your phone to remain synced at all times, background data (3G or 4G) needs to be enabled on your phone also.

References

Importing, exporting and sharing contacts (for Android 2.3)
Import, export & share contacts (for Android 4.1)

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