Losing your smartphone is one of the most frightening experiences in the modern age. You have your contact information, your personal information, your personal pictures, and possibly even financial data on there. It’s a treasure trove for thieves and other malcontents. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to recover your phone.
We can’t stress enough that the best method of protection is prevention. Having a system in place really helps this situation, although you may be a bit late if you’re searching for this after losing your phone. However, there are some ways that you can find it even without preventative measures. Here are the best find my phone apps and other methods too.
The best find my phone apps for Android
Family Locator by Life360
Family Locator by Life360 does exactly what the app name says it does. It allows you to create a collective with your family and friends, and then you can keep track of where they are via their smartphone. As you can imagine, it helps recover smartphones if someone loses them. The upside is that you can control who can find you or your phone. The downside is that this app is a people locator, not a device locator. Thus, it doesn’t have some popular find my phone apps features like device locking or wiping. Still, it’s a good, simple option, especially for parents.
Find My Device by Google
Find My Phone is Google’s native find your phone app. It does all of the basic stuff. It can locate your phone within a certain distance. The app also lets you ring your phone, wipe your phone. and even show a message. That way, whoever has it can see that you’re looking for it. The app is great because you can make a good attempt to find the phone. Worst case, you can wipe it if you can’t. Those are the two big abilities for apps that find your phone. It’s also completely free, with no in-app purchases or advertising. Updates in late 2018 added indoor map support for places like malls, stadiums, and airports for easier locating in areas like that.
Price: Free / $5-$43 per year
Cerberus has long been the name people think of when it comes to find my phone apps. It has a diverse set of features that includes locking and resetting your phone, sounding alarms, displaying messages on the screen, and it even has access to the front-facing camera so you can take a picture of the thief. You can also hide Cerberus from the app drawer so people don’t suspect that it’s there, remote shell into your device, use it with Wear OS, and record audio from the mic. There is a free trial. After that, you can buy a single license for $5 per year and up to ten devices for $43 per year. Unfortunately, this app isn’t available in Google Play anymore because of Google’s draconian permission policies, so you have to download straight from Cerberus.
See also: The best spy apps for Android
Prey is an app that’s been around for a while that many people trust. Its entire purpose is to help you find your phone if it goes missing. However, it is also more lightweight than something like Cerberus. It has basic features like finding your phone, locking your device, and setting off an alarm. You’ll also be able to take pictures to see where your device may be and gather network information to see where your device has been. It seems to work for most people, and that’s what really matters. It’s not all that different from Google’s Find My Phone and may function well as a backup to that. It’s also completely free.
Find my phone apps from carriers
Most major carriers (at least in the US) have find my phone apps that you can use. Generally, the services cost money that gets added to your bill every month. However, in exchange, the carriers will help you find your phone. We can confirm that the three major US carriers (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile) have services like these. They cost a varying amount of money. However, if you called a customer service rep (like we did), pretty much all of them recommend Google’s Find My Phone anyway. What makes these decent options is that you’ll be able to call your carrier, and they’ll actually be able to help.
Bonus: Manufacturer solutions
Price: Free (usually)
Some manufacturers, including HTC, Apple, and Samsung, have find my phone features built into their OEM skins. Generally, you have to sign up for an account through the company. You can then use that account to find your phone. The services are usually free, and the phone will usually prompt you to set these accounts up when you first turn on your phone. However, you can do it at almost any time. We know many people don’t like OEM customizations, but this is one of those features that’s nice to have, even if you dislike them. There isn’t a list of what phones have this feature. We recommend digging around your Settings to look into it. Worst case, you can always fall back on Google’s Find My Device app. We know for sure that Samsung devices have an above-average Find My Phone function built-in to your Samsung account.
Other find my phone methods
Okay, so your phone has been stolen, and you didn’t have any of these apps installed and set up. That’s not good news. However, there are still a few additional things that you can do to try to get your device back.
Seriously, try Google’s Find My Device
This should be the first thing anybody with a Google-enabled Android phone does. Unlike most, the Find My Phone app is built directly into Google’s Android. That means those with an Amazon Fire phone or some other non-Google device won’t have this option. Unless we missed something (or if your OEM disabled it for some reason), Find My Phone should be enabled by default for most people. Thus, as long as your location is enabled, Google should be able to find your phone. Even if you don’t have location enabled, Find My Phone can ring, lock, and wipe your phone for you.
Click here to visit the Find My Phone website to try to track down your phone. You’ll need to be logged into the same Google account on the computer as you are on your phone. You can also click here to learn more about Find My Phone.
Try all the usual stuff
There’s a certain process that comes with losing a cell phone. Without any system or app in place, your best bet is to do the same old stuff. Call or text your phone to try to reach out to the person who might have it. Believe it or not, that does work sometimes. Sometimes reaching out and letting the other person know that you plan on taking action can scare them into returning the phone somewhere. Alternatively, you might run into a good Samaritan who will just give it back.
Send your own phone a text or phone call from someone else’s phone (a friend or family member). Whoever has your phone can still answer phone calls. Unless you have them disabled, notifications can also show up on lock screens without unlocking the phone (on devices running Lollipop or higher). Thus, there is a line of communication that you can try to take advantage of.
The world has some good people in it. Call your lost phone and see if whoever found it returns it.
Additionally, you can retrace your steps to see if you left it somewhere. Check lost and found bins or customer service desks at stores you visited. Head back over to your friend’s house to make sure it’s not stuck in the couch. Go back to where you parked to make sure it didn’t fall out of your pocket when you got out of the car. We understand you’re upset and a little frazzled, but it’s important to keep a calm head and make sure you’ve covered all the bases. It’s a lame suggestion, we know, but we’re trying to cover all of the bases here.
Report your phone lost or stolen
You should definitely report your phone lost or stolen. Doing so will deny list the ESN or IMEI of your phone, making things difficult for the thief. Most carriers won’t touch a phone with a bad ESN/IMEI number. This dramatically reduces the value of the phone. Plus, the phone will cease to operate as normal so that the thief won’t be making phone calls, texts, or surfing Facebook on your dime.
Short of leaving the country or making dramatic hardware modifications, the phone is useless; unless the thief intends on using it as a Wi-Fi-only device at home. A thief may try to activate your phone, see that they can’t, and just leave it there and walk away. It’s not something that happens often, though.
Immediately reporting the phone stolen to your carrier puts the phone on a block list and makes life hard for the thief.
The FCC also recommends reporting the theft to the police. That way, you have documentation that proves the cell phone was stolen. The cops won’t launch an investigation into a missing phone, but it’s good to have it on the record just in case. Additionally, with the ESN or IMEI number in their possession, the police would be able to return your device if they happened to find it.
Change your passwords immediately
This one goes without saying. Your phone remains logged into your Google account, Facebook, and potentially even other apps. Thankfully, most banking apps log you out after a period of time even if you didn’t force close out of the app, but those with password managers may find them to a double-edged sword in this instance. Still, it’s good practice to change the password on every account you have. That way, the thief doesn’t get access to all of your personal information. Those with Google’s two-factor authentication will effectively lock a thief out of every Google service immediately after a password reset.
It's annoying, but the proliferation of auto-fill password managers can also turn a lost phone into a key to your entire life.
You’ll also want to deauthorize your device. Here’s the link for how you can do that with your Google account. Some apps, like Spotify and Netflix, allow you to sign every device out of your account from their web version. Do this for as many services as you can. That locks up your accounts tightly. It’s not much, but it’s one less thing to worry about. Some devices, like Samsung phones, have a function that erased all of your user data when your password is entered in wrong too many times. We recommend enabling that as soon as possible if you still can.
Get a Wear OS smartwatch
Okay, so this is more of a preemptive idea. Google’s Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) connects your phone to your wrist at all times with a Bluetooth connection. The neat thing is that your watch will go nuts when you lose connection with your phone. Thus, you get updates almost immediately as soon as you walk away. Additionally, there are Find My Phone apps for Wear OS devices. They let you ring or vibrate your phone. Thus, when you lose your phone, your watch freaks out, and when you re-establish a connection, you can make your phone freak out to find it. Many can’t figure out a lot of reasons to have a smartwatch. This is one of the good ones.
Try Google Maps with trusted family or friends
Google Maps has a feature to share your location with other people. You can turn this on and leave it on for good. Of course, we only recommend this option with trusted family or friends, but it’s a decent way to find a lost phone. Follow these instructions from Google, and that’s it. Then, if your phone goes missing, the other person can use their phone to track yours. Few people would think to check Google Maps as a tracking method.
Additionally, if you let Google Maps log your location, you can check your Google Maps Timeline (link). It’ll show you where your phone has gone since it left your person. This only works if you enable it, but it’s enabled by default for most people already. This can be an excellent method for tracking down your lost or stolen phone.
If we missed any of the best find my phone apps or other find my phone methods, tell us about them in the comments. You can also click here to check out our latest Android app and game lists.
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