Android doesn’t come with a “find my Android” feature, so there’s no official way to track your phone if you lose it. You should prepare your phone for loss by setting up such a tracking app — but what if you didn’t?
Update: Android Lost can no longer be activated remotely. We recommend using Google’s Find My Device feature, which is built into Android.
Your first instinct may be to download Lookout’s Plan B, which has been the go-to app for this purpose. However, Plan B only runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and lower, so modern Android phones will require a new solution. If you are still running 2.3 or lower, you should definitely check it out, but everybody else can keep reading.
How It Works
Most lost-phone-tracking Android apps must be set up ahead of time. However, there’s a reason Plan B works (if you have a Gingerbread device, at least). That’s because Android allows you to remotely install apps — click the Install button on the Google Play website and the app will be remotely downloaded to your device, assuming it’s turned on, connected to the Internet, and configured to use the same Google account. If the app can set itself up, you should be able to remotely locate your phone.
While Plan B doesn’t work, Android Lost does. To set up this app, you can interact with the app on your device — or you can send a special SMS message to your device. Assuming you have access to someone else’s cell phone, you can push the Android Lost app to your lost phone, send an SMS message, and then it will be linked to your Google account. You can then log in with your Google account on the Android Lost site and locate your phone.
Using Android Lost
First, install the app. Open the AndroidLost page on Google Play. Click the Install button and remotely install the app to your lost phone.
Next, you’ll need to activate Android Lost. Since you don’t have your phone, you’ll need to send an SMS message to your phone for this to work. Use another phone and send a text message with the following content to your lost phone:
Your phone’s Google account should now be registered with Android Lost, assuming it’s powered on and has a connection. You can now open the Android Lost website, click the Sign In link, and log in with the Google account you use on your Android phone.
Access the Controls page after logging in with your Google account, and you’ll be able to track and control your phone remotely. You may have to wait a little while before your phone becomes registered. In addition to requesting the phone’s location, you can also activate a loud alarm that will make the phone’s screen flash — particularly useful if you think you’ve misplaced the phone somewhere nearby and need to track it down.
After your phone sends its location back, you can view it and click a link to open it on an interactive Google Maps page.
You may have to wait a little while for the phone to become registered. If you have pushed the app and sent the SMS message and the phone never becomes registered, it’s possible that it’s powered off, has no signal, or — worse — that someone has wiped the phone and you won’t be able to track it because it’s no longer linked to your Google account.
If you’ve lost your phone and never set up a tracking app ahead of time, Android Lost is the best you can do at the moment.
Other apps can send your phone’s location in the background (so you can view it even if your phone has been off), remotely wipe your phone, or install themselves deep into your phone’s storage so they can persist across wipes (this requires root access). However, you’ll have to set up such apps ahead of time.
Image Credit: NASA