Note: In case you’re actually missing an Apple device, head over to my guide on how to track a lost iPhone or iPad. Have you (ever) lost your Android smartphone or tablet without having a device tracking app installed? Then you should read this! This could be your chance to get your precious device back.
We created an FAQ post which covers most questions that you might have after reading this post
There are a handful of phone recovery or anti-theft apps on the Google Play Store which can be a lifesaver in case you lose your phone or, even worse, it gets stolen. But many people might only realize that there are such apps AFTER it got lost or stolen. Then, it usually is too late and you have to face the ugly truth that the phone is gone for good.
But don’t burst out in tears just yet. There’s still hope for your phone to find its way back to you! There are a few ways to remote control and track your phone even if you haven’t installed a recovery app before it vanished.
Let’s have a look at the various ways to get your Android smartphone back to its rightful owner!
Android Device Manager is a Google’s official and easy-to-use tool to track your Android phone or tablet. The best thing about it is that you don’t need to install an app to be able to track your devices. The only requirement is that your device is connected to your Google account, turned on and connected to the internet. All you need to do is visit the Android Device Manager while being logged into your Google Account. Once the site is loaded it will automatically try to track down your phone. If you habe several Android devices registered, make sure the right one is chosen in the dropdown menu.
In a recent update, Google implemented some of ADM’s features into their search results page. This means that you’re able to quickly locate any registered Android device right from the search results. By using the search phrase “where is my phone”, Google displays a little map above the search results in which it will try to find your phone. Once found, you can let it ring by clicking on “Ring” at the bottom left.
Although this makes it more convenient to find your phone quickly, it won’t offer you all the options you get with the full version of Android Device Manager.
Using ADM, you are able to track your registered Android devices, let your phone ring and wipe your phone’s data (which has to be enabled manually). Besides that, ADM doesn’t offer more options to remote control your phone. I hope that Google keeps improving it and introduces more helpful features, such as taking pictures in case it got stolen and you want to take a snapshot of the person who took it.
In case there’s no laptop around when you lose your device, you can also use someone else’s Android phone to track it. Instead of using the mobile browser, you can also use the Android Device Manager app. If you the other phone doesn’t have it, simply download it here. You can sign in using the guest mode and your Google account credentials. Now you should be able to track your lost device, let it ring or wipe its data.
Are you not able to locate your phone this way? This can happen for several reasons. The one you should hope for, is that your device is simply not connected to the internet or turned off. In that case, simply keep trying to track it until it (hopefully) connects to Google’s services again.
In case it got stolen, it’s possible that the thief has disconneced your device from your Google Account. If that happens, neither Android Device Manager nor any other tracking tool will be able to locate the device, since it’s necessary to be logged into your Google Account. This doesn’t apply to previously installed tracking apps but in this scenario there are none on the phone. However, there’s one last resort but more on that later.
UPDATE: Due to Android API updates, Android Lost can’t be activated remotely on devices running Android 3.0 or higher.
This is a more complicated way to track your phone. Basically, you need to install the tracking app ‘Android Lost’ on your phone and activate it by sending it an SMS (this can be done from any phone). How do you install something when you don’t have your phone with you? That’s very easy. You can install any app on all your registered devices directly from your browser through the Google Play website. Simply navigate to the Android Lost app and click the install button.
The remote installation process of Android Lost is very straightforward and only requires that your phone is still connected with your Google account. However, in case of theft, you have to hope that the thief doesn’t disconnect from your account.
So here’s what to do:
Install the Android Lost app remotely via Google Play in your browser and it will be installed on your phone remotely. As already mentioned, your phone still needs to be connected to your Google account. Otherwise, this won’t work.
If you are still in the possession of your smartphone or tablet then all you need to do is starting the app. But this is, obviously, probably not the case if you lost your phone. So, to register your device remotely, send an SMS with the text “androidlost register” to your phone. This SMS can be sent from any phone. This will trigger Android Lost to register itself using your Google account credentials.
If you own a tablet, SMS might not be an option. In that case, install “AndroidLost Jumpstart” before you install the actual Android Lost app. It will jump start the registration process when Android Lost is being installed.
Visit the Android Lost website and sign in using your Google account. After doing that, you should have access to all remote control features such as the following:
Note that it can take a while for the registration process to complete.
I have to say that having the possibility to install and register this tool remotely makes it very powerful in case you lose your device. Unfortunately, The only negative thing I experienced is that the notification of a new app called ‘Android Lost’ could tell a potential thief about what’s going on. Unfortunately, activating Android Lost is only possible on Android Versions older than 3.0.
Here is a success story of a dad chasing down the man who stole his daughter’s phone with the help of Android Lost.
If Android Lost is not working out for you and you’re phone is still running an older version of Android (2.0 up to 2.3) you could give Plan B from Lockout a try. Install the app directly from the Play Store (Link) to your device and, if successful, Plan B will send your device’s location to your Gmail address. It will send you a mail every 10 minutes with the current location. You can also use any other phone to send an SMS with “locate” to your phone to get the location via mail.
As already mentioned, Plan B only works with devices on Android 2.0-2.3, so it won’t work with most devices. Also, the app hasn’t been updated in a while, so I cannot guarantee that it will work.
Update: Google completely overhauled the interface and user experience of its Location History tool, including giving it a new name – Your Timeline. The focus of Timeline is to help you keep track of the places you visited. Before the update, you could only see dots on a map. Now, Your Timeline actually shows you the names of the places you had been to (e.g. airports, cafes, bars …). Thanks to the better naming of your past recorded locations, finding a lost phone has become much easier. Keep reading to learn how Your Timeline can help you get your phone back.
Unlike the Android Device Manager, the Timeline feature of Google Maps doesn’t focus on tracking down a lost phone. You can use your location data for many different things such as looking up past travel routes or last night’s pub crawl tour. However, it is also a good way to locate your phone.
Here’s what you need to do. Go to the Your Timeline (former Google Maps Location History) and make sure the current day is selected in the calendar. On the left sidebar, you can see a complete timeline of that day including the names all recorded locations. On the right, you can see all the locations visualised on a map.
Other than Android Device Manager, which also uses GPS for tracking, Your Timeline only uses cell tower IDs and Wi-Fi location detection to collect location data. This means that the accuracy can vary significantly.
So, how can this tool help you if you’re phone’s battery is empty? Well, before your phone died, Google might have saved its current location. That means that you might be able to find it using the last reported position in your location history.
The advantage of Timeline is the ability to track your phone’s location frequently over a period of time. If someone stole it, you could make out often visited places, which could be the thief’s home or workplace. That might help you and the authorities to catch the person.
I recommend trying out the Android Device Manager or Android Lost first, since they’re able to use your device’s GPS and offer other useful features.
If you have a Samsung device, you might be able to find your phone using Samsung’s own tracking service ‘Find my mobile’. For this to work, you need a Samsung account and registered your device before you lost it. So try to remember if you did that.
You did? Awesome. Head over and sign in to the Find my mobile website. Check the left sidebar and make sure that your device is connected to your account. Now, all you need to do is selecting ‘Locate my device’ in the sidebar and click on the locate button. If your device is online and remote controls is enabled, you should see its approximate location. Find my mobile also allows you to do other things such as locking your device, letting it ring with a message and wiping its data.
Dropbox can be your last resort if all other approaches don’t bring you any closer to finding your phone. For this to work, however, Dropbox needs to be installed on your phone and the “Camera Upload” feature has to be activated. This way, every time your phone’s thief takes a picture, it automatically gets uploaded to your Dropbox “Camera Uploads” folder. So, if he or she takes a nice selfie you might be able to identify the thief. And if you’re lucky, you can make out the location by looking at the background of the uploaded pictures.
Should that be impossible, simply start a blog and show the world all the pictures your thief has taken. There’s one funny tumblr page sharing images of Hafid, the guy who stole the phone of the blog’s owner.
So far, that’s the only way Dropbox can help you. Dropbox doesn’t give you the IP address of mobile devices which are connected to your Dropbox account. This is only possible for Desktop PCs and laptops until now.
I hope you are reading this just out of pure interest and not because you lost your phone! But if that’s really the case, I truly hope that this article will help you track it down. Either way, I recommend installing a good tracking app BEFORE your phone vanishes. An app I recommend is Cerberus, which is available on Google Play.
Make sure to check out our FAQ post which cover most questions we received from our readers in the last months. The provided answers should help you understand what is possible and what not. Plus, it saves you valuable time that you might need to get your phone back ASAP.
We received a lot of emails, tweets and comments the last months from people that found their phone thanks to this article. Unfortunately, the majority of the readers isn’t that lucky. Either way, if you found your phone or plan to buy a replacement, you should be well prepared before something like that happens again. Below are two fundamental steps you should take to quickly track down your device should you lose it again.
1. Most important: Install a tracking app!
That’s a no-brainer. Having a tracking/anti-theft app on your phone greatly increases the chances of getting it back. There are a lot of different tracking apps but my absolute favorite is Cerberus. It offers a lot of features and is easy to set up. Some of the many options are location tracking, taking videos or pictures with both front or back camera, checking call logs, location history and wiping all data.
You can get Cerberus one week for free, after which you can purchase a lifetime license for currently 4.99€. It’s not a cheap price but but it’s money well spent.
2. Activate Android Device Manager (ADM) and Location History
Make sure that both ADM and Location History are activated. Both tools can be a great help when you lose your device. With ADM you can track your device, make it ring and erase its data. Location history shows you the last recorded locations on a map. If someone stole it, then this could help you (and local authorities) to track down the thief’s home address, for example.
To activate both services, select “Google Settings” in your app drawer. Select Security and make sure both options below “Android Device Manager” are enabled. Now, go one step back and select “Location”. Click on “Google Location History” and turn it on. Now you’re able to use ADM to track your device and Location History to see its last recorded locations.
Have you been able to get back your mobile device after it got lost? How did you get it back? Share your experience with us in the comments!
Are you interested in more Android related guides?
Have a look at our Android knowledge database.