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We live most of our lives nowadays with our smartphones by our side. They’re a constant companion at home, work, or on holiday.
They are more valuable to us than just the money we spent on them since they can hold personal information and beloved photos. That’s why losing your device can be devastating. Whether you’ve misplaced it around your house, or had it stolen, there are Android apps that can help you recover your missing phone.
Android Device Manager
If your phone ends up either lost or stolen and you never installed a tracking app, you might still have a way of finding it.
The majority of Android devices released since 2014 will come pre-installed with Google’s location tracking app: Android Device Manager.
While it may not be as feature-intensive as some of the other apps available on the Play Store, it has the major advantage of coming pre-installed. All that you need is to have location services turned on and activate Android Device Manager as a Device Administrator in the settings.
All the Android devices you have linked to your Google account will be displayed in the menu, including smartphones and tablets.
ADM gives you four actions you can perform:
- Locate: As soon as you load ADM, the service will try to locate your most recently used device. You can use the menu to change between registered devices.
- Ring: This is a great feature if you have misplaced your phone in your home or somewhere near you. This will force your phone to ring for five minutes at full volume, even if your phone is set to silent, or until you press the power button.
- Lock: Using this option will force the lockscreen to lock, even if the device is in use. You can create a new password to unlock the device, meaning that even if someone else has access to your passwords, they still wouldn’t be able to bypass the lockscreen. You can even leave a customized message that will be displayed on the lockscreen.
- Erase: Commonly known as the “nuclear” option. This will securely erase all data on your device. This should only be done as a last resort if you do not believe you will be able to retrieve your phone. As always, the best advice is to make sure you do regular backups of your phone, so if you do need to go this route, it won’t be quite as devastating.
Although most people will likely use the ADM web interface, the Android app also allows Guest sign-in, so if you are with a friend or coworker that has an Android device, you could use their phone to log yourself into the ADM service.
Also note that two-factor authentication is a great way to secure your accounts in the event of password leaks; however, it typically uses a form of identification on your phone, either as an SMS, phone call, or with an authenticator app. If you lose your phone, you won’t have access to any of these to sign-in to your Google account on other devices.
To prevent being locked out, you can find your Google Backup Codes, located in your Google Two-Step Security Settings. These are ten one-time-use codes that you can print and keep with you at all times as a fallback in case you can’t access your phone. You can then use one of these codes in place of your regular two-factor codes to login to your account.
Download for Android: Android Device Manager (Free)
For those that want more customization options and features than the out-of-box experience that ADM offers, try Prey. It’s a solid open-source alternative.
Prey’s major selling point over ADM is that it has far more precise tracking and can operate on a wide variety of devices – not just Android. This is particularly useful if you have multiple devices, or other members of your family aren’t on the same operating system as you.
Unlike the free-to-use ADM, Prey is a freemium app. Most of the features are free, and you can use them as often as you want. However, they also offer premium tiers: Personal for up to three devices at $54/year, or Home for up to ten devices at $162/year. They also have Custom plans where you can adjust the amount of devices required on the account.
The free account, which allows up to three devices, has four actions:
- Alarm. This will make the phone emit a loud (and fairly piercing) alarm tone for up to 30 seconds to help you locate your phone if you have misplaced it nearby.
- Message. This allows you to add a message on the lockscreen of your device. The standard message reads “This device is stolen property. Please contact [your email address] to arrange its safe return.” Although you can customize this if you choose.
- Camouflage. If your phone has been stolen, then you may not want the suspected thief to know that you can track their movements. Enabling Camouflage hides the Prey icon from your app drawer.
- Lock. Just as with ADM, you can use this action to force the device to lock (even when in use), and it can only be unlocked with a password you set in the Prey action panel.
If you want the ability to wipe the device, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the premium accounts.
Prey can also remotely perform these actions even if you have no active internet connection by allowing you to send SMS commands that will be seen by the app and activated. For added security, you can also add two-factor authentication to your Prey account. To prevent you being locked out in case of a missing device, they also provide you with a one-time login code.
If you do lose your phone, you have the option to set it as missing in the Prey dashboard. This activates Prey’s device reporting, and Prey will start passively gathering data from the device about its location, as well as taking pictures in the background from your device’s cameras.
Prey’s free accounts will save the last 20 reporting events at an interval of 10 or 20 minutes, and this can be extended to 100 events, at a frequency of two minutes in premium accounts.
Prey also has a geofencing feature called Control Zones, which allows you to set a location geofence so that you will be notified if any device leaves your pre-defined area. Although this is aimed more at device administrators in businesses, it is available on the free accounts, so it is open to everyone.
Download for Android: Prey (Free)
Download for iPhone and iPad: Prey (Free)
Visit: Prey on the web
Which Will You Use?
Android Device Manager is a great option for most Android users because it’s free and super easy to use. However, Prey’s additional functions, ability to work across devices on multiple operating systems, and focus towards device theft, make it a compelling competitor worth installing, even if you choose not to opt for the premium account.
Which will you choose to use? Do you have any other suggestions? Has a Find My Phone app ever saved your device? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally written by Evan Wondrasek on May 31st, 2010.