You’re having a night out. With dinner down the hatch, you’re walking down the street with your sweetheart to the next destination. You reach into your pocket to pull out your phone, when that feeling hits the pit of your stomach: your phone is missing. Did you leave it at the restaurant? Or maybe at home? Did someone steal it? Your mind races. You have no idea.
Apple users have “Find My iPhone”, but is there a “Find My Android” function for Google folks? Fortunately, there is: previously called Android Device Manager, Google’s “Find My Device” is now wrapped up nice and neat under the Google Play Protect umbrella. With this tool, you can track your phone so you can hopefully get it back.
There’s a good chance you’ve stumbled across this article after having lost your phone, so instead of telling you what you should’ve done before losing it, let’s get right to it: you want to know what to do right now.
The good news is that you can quickly find your missing phone with Google’s Find My Device, even if you don’t have the app installed on the lost handset. You can do this in one of three ways:
From a computer: Grab your computer, connect to the internet, open Chrome, and make sure you’re logged in to your Google account (seriously, this part is crucial). Type “Where is my phone” in Chrome’s address bar. This will do a search, and Google will automatically load a mini Find My Device window inside of the search results. The odds are it will ask you to sign in again so it can find your phone, so go ahead and click the Sign In box. This will bring up the Find My Device site and immediately start tracking your device.
From an Android Phone: If you don’t have your computer handy, there’s another solution: the Find My Device app. If you have a second Android phone or tablet with you, grab that bad boy and give the app a quick install. It’ll let you log in with a quick tap if you’re on your own phone, but it also offers the option of a guest login if you’re using someone else’s phone. That’s cool.
From a non-Android phone: If you don’t have an Android phone, you can go to www.google.com/android/find in a browser on any phone and log in.
Once you’ve accessed Find My Device through any of these methods, you can use the list at the top to find the one that’s missing.
It’ll start tracking, and should find it within a few seconds. It’ll provide the time it was located, connected network, and the location on the map (not shown here). This will give you a damn good idea of where your phone is.
There are a series of options just below the device location: Play Sound, Lock, and Erase. The first option makes sense if you just need to find your phone at home—it will play your ringtone at full volume for five minutes—the latter two options are crucial for cases when your phone is really gone.
To make sure your personal data is safe and secure, you can use the “lock” button to quickly enable a lock screen password if you didn’t have one enabled before. Once the password is set, you can also put a recovery message on the locks screen—something like “Thanks for finding my phone! Please call the number below.” (Then put a number in the box below.)
This should, in theory, lock the device up behind the password you entered. The message will display in big letters at the top of the screen, with a large “Call Owner” button just below. If an honest person found your phone, hopefully they’ll call you. If a thief snatched it, hopefully they’ll know you’re aware that the phone is missing and get freaked out. I wouldn’t count on that, though.
Fun story: I once used this feature when my daughter’s phone was stolen to make the thief know the phone had been tracked and think the police were on their way. Since it was another child who stole the phone, she panicked and immediately called the number on the lock screen to return the phone that she “found.” It was great. You can read the whole story here. But I digress.
If all hope is lost, you can completely wipe the device with the “erase” command. This will completely factory reset the device, wiping all of your personal data, pictures, music, and all other stored files. It will also try to wipe the SD card if your device has one, but there’s a possibility (depending on Android version and manufacturer) that it may not be able to, so keep that in mind. Once the phone has been wiped, Android Device Manager will no longer work, so this is basically you saying goodbye to your phone—this is the point of no return.
The only snag you may run into during this process is if you have Two-Factor Authentication enabled on your Google account, which will require you to input a six-digit code before getting access to your account. The problem is that this usually relies on either an app (like Google Authenticator) or a text message to get you this code, and if your phone is missing…well, you see where this is going.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep some backup two-factor authenticaion codes handy. Google provides these when you set up two-factor authentication in the first place, so print them out and keep them somewhere safe—don’t wait until it’s too late! These codes could mean the difference between getting your phone back (or at least keeping prying eyes away from your personal data) and never seeing it again.
Once you’re logged in, Find My Device will work the same way as discussed above. Do your thing. Good luck.
Like everything else, Find My Device isn’t without its limitations. For example, if your phone is stolen and you don’t have a protected lock screen (shame on you!) and the thief has already performed a factory reset, you’re out of luck. The phone is no longer associated with your Google Account at that point, so Google has no way of tracking it. Bummer.
If the phone happens to die before you can track it, or the thief turns it off, all hope isn’t totally lost—Find My Device will try to provide the last verified location. This will at least give you an idea of where you could’ve lost it. You can also hope that whoever finds it will put it on charge for you—then you’ll be able to track it again. Or maybe they’ll just call you. That’d be neat too.
But hopefully, if you can get to Find My Device fast enough, you’ll be able to track your phone—and if you’re really lucky, even get it back.