A few weeks ago, I couldn’t find my Motorola Droid. I searched my apartment and car high and low and it was no where to be found.
I eventually remembered having it when I played volleyball the night before and drove across town to go see if they had it. Fortunately, someone had found it and turned it in to the lost and found. It was probably a good place to lose my phone as most of the people there know each other and are generally pretty honest.
Then last week I was talking to my mom and she mentioned she misplaced her Droid (I convinced her over Christmas that if she was going to get a smartphone, the Droid was her best bet – she’s a former Verizon employee and would never touch anything AT&T so the iPhone was out as an option).
She wasn’t quite as fortunate as I was. She set it on top of her car and drove off (don’t ask me why it was there in the first place). She couldn’t figure out where it fell off and she eventually had to use her smartphone insurance, pay the $89 deductible and order a new Droid.
However, that got me to thinking there must be an app to track down and find a lost Android based phone.
As it turns out, there are several.
Probably the most popular is “Where’s My Droid.” I just installed it and tested it out myself and it’s pretty sweet if you’re forgetful and misplace your phone.
You can send a special code word via SMS to your cell phone and it will turn on the ringer even if it’s on vibrate or silent. I wish I’d have had that feature on my old Razr (the flip phone, not the new Droid Razr smartphone) – I always had the ringer off and managed to misplace that thing every couple weeks it seemed.
It also has a special code word you can text (you can pick and customize these words, by the way) your phone that will activate the GPS antenna and will text you back it’s location and a link so you can get directions to your phone via Google Maps.
There’s another fun app called Instamapper that also allows for remote activation where you can watch on a map where your phone is and if it’s moving. I have both installed. (This one also allows for remote tracking without the phone user knowing it’s on – it’ll run quietly in the background once setup if you like.) This app isn’t quite as user friendly and takes a little time to get setup, but works great once it’s up and running.
Another app that’s been getting some love in the comments is Lookout Mobile Security. I’ve used it as well and can recommend that as an excellent alternative to the apps above. It’s a free app though there’s a premium version available for those who need more comprehensive security.
What If Already Lost Your Phone But Didn’t Install This App?
The app you install after you lose your Android phone.
Since a lot of people don’t necessarily plan ahead and find this page after their phone has already been lost, I’m often asked what they can do if their cell phone is already gone. In the past I’ve always had to tell them they’re out of luck. However, now there’s a new option called Plan B. It’s from the company Lookout Mobile and best of all, it’s a free app! In order for this app to work, you’ll need access to your computer and your Google (gmail) account. Since pretty much every Android phone needs a Google account to work properly, you probably already have that.
To use the app, you’ll need to use the web version of Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market) – again, the app is called Plan B. Your phone needs to be running Android 2.0 or later but these days, that’s pretty much all of us.
Once you’ve installed the app remotely, you’ll get emails in your Gmail account telling you the approximate location of the phone. While it isn’t accurate enough to tell you it’s in your couch cushion or that it’s actually sitting on your desk, it is accurate enough to let you know if you forgot it in the coffee shop or left it at home or in your car.
A special thanks to Clayton Hughes for bringing this app to my attention.
Of course, this all implies the phone is still turned on. If it’s powered off or the battery is dead, you’re SOL.
So what can you do if you’re phone’s battery is dead or the phone has been turned off or SIM card removed?
You can use an app like Wavesecure that will lock down your phone should it ever get stolen. It will contact a friend (who you can specify when you setup your account) if your phone is stolen and allows you to remotely lock down your phone so that it can’t be used until the unlock pin code is entered.
And it has one feature that makes this a killer app. Smartphones have access to a ton of your personal information (I’d much rather someone steal my wallet than phone – they can do less damage with my wallet) – that information is worth far more than the price of the phone.
However, with Wavesecure, you can remotely wipe the the data on your phone and memory card so that least your private personal data can stay safe even if your phone can’t be recovered. (Just remember to do regular backups of your phone – MyBackup Pro is what I recommend – the 30 day trial is free and $2.99 after that, but well worth the small investment – I spent that much on coffee this morning. You can also use Titanium Backup if you have your phone rooted.)
I also like to make it easy for people to get in touch with me so they can give my phone back to me.
While I know that high end smartphones like the Galaxy Nexus and HTC Vivid are certainly attractive to thieves, I give people the benefit of the doubt and just assume that I misplaced or dropped the phone and that someone found it and would be more than happy to give it back if they could get in touch with me.
One App that makes that simple is to install the “Contact Owner” app on your phone. It’s a very simple app that will display your name on the unlock screen of your phone, an alternate phone number and email address for anyone who finds your phone to contact.
I actually have my Google Voice number set as my contact number. Even when it forwards back to my cell phone, I can still see the call log and will get any text messages sent to that contact number without needing my phone to access them. Also, if they leave a voicemail, I can check it online – no phone required.
So there you have it, some apps to keep track of your phone if you’re as forgetful as I am.
Special note if Where’s My Droid Isn’t Working
Where’s my Droid is awesome but I recommend you test it out to make sure it’s working before you depend on it to help you find your lost phone. If you send the specially coded messages and don’t get any response from your phone, your text messaging app may be messing the whole thing up. If you only use the standard messaging app, skip this section as it doesn’t apply to you.
Go SMS - Open the app and click the menu button and go to settings. Then go to “receive settings” and uncheck “Disable other message notifications.” Not go to the built in messaging app, hit menu and click on settings and uncheck the “notifications” box.
Handcent - Open the app, and click the menu button on your phone and again go to settings. Click on “Application Settings,” “Default Messaging Application” and set to Disable. Again, open the built int messaging app, click menu and go to settings. Again, just uncheck the notifications checkbox and you should be all set.
Last Resort – When You’re Phone Really Is Gone
While having the ability to install apps that let you track down your phone often makes finding your phone much easier than finding a lost wallet or misplace car keys, it isn’t fool proof and a sophisticated thief can counter even your best efforts.
But that doesn’t mean you have to let the thief get a working phone free and clear.
When you’re sure you’re not going to get the phone back, it’s time to call up your carrier, report the phone as stolen, and have them flag the phone so no one else can use it. Each phone has a unique identification number called the Electronic Serial Number – ESN – for CDMA phones (like Verizon and Sprint) or International Mobile Equipment Idenity – IMEI – for GSM phones (like AT&T, T-Mobile and most International Carriers).
Your carrier can flag a phone in their system so that your stolen phone cannot be activated and used again unless you call them up and have them remove the flag – keep in mind the person whose name appears on the account must call to get it removed. While it may not help you phone get back to you, it dramatically decreases the value of the phone to a thief.
So there you have it – my recommendations if you lost your Android phone or if it was stolen. I hope that one of these apps or recommendations helps you locate your missing phone and that it ends up back in your hands safe and sound sooner than later.
Any apps that I missed? Is there an app you feel I should have mentioned? Did one of these apps help you find your lost phone? - post in the comments and let me know.