Few items we own are as precious as our phone, and losing it can be a dreadful experience (unless you decide to turn it into an opportunity to make a weird and voyeuristic film). If you need to find out how to track a phone, you’ve come to the right place. It’ll be easier if you’re trying to track a smartphone, but there are ways to locate older phones as well, so don’t give up hope if you’re still rocking a first-gen Motorola Razr — we’ve still got your back.
If you’ve got a smartphone, consider installing the apps listed below. There are several app choices available for your phone, but also remember to set up any included phone-locating software that comes with your device. That includes Apple’s Find My iPhone, Google’s Find My Device, and Samsung’s Find My Mobile. If you’re looking for more choices, try out the following apps.
Prey is free to use for up to three devices, there are paid plans for more, and the service can be used for both computers and phones. After signing up, simply sync your devices with it, sit back, and relax. When your phone goes missing, all you have to do is find a computer, log into your account, and start tracking. Prey runs discreetly in the background and won’t track your phone’s location until you tell it to, so there is no need to worry about your privacy while the phone is in your possession. We recommend this for any Android or iOS device, as well as any Mac, Windows, or Linux PC. Recent updates improved network configurations, enabled TouchID and Face ID on iOS, and extended functionality to Chromebooks. The Camouflage feature has been removed from Android.
Avast Antivirus & Security
One of the big boys in the antivirus industry, Avast’s name should be familiar to many PC users. The app is more of a complete package, offering virus scanning and protection, backup options, and power saving — as well as anti-theft options. You can remotely lock or wipe your smartphone, listen remotely, or take a “Theftie” of the rascals themselves. You can also activate stealth mode on your device so the thief doesn’t know Avast is protecting your phone. Avast provides SIM card change notifications and locking, too, and the company offers similar services for Android, Mac, and PC. Avast is offering an all-in-one package for device protection from viruses and thieves as a paid premium service.
Lookout combines security, tracking, and antivirus or malware protection. There are several interesting features, such as the ability to record a phone’s last location right before the battery dies, the chance to back up contact data before a remote erase, and the option to snap a photo of any would-be thief and email it to yourself along with location data. Lookout provides Safe Wi-Fi and System Advisor features to protect against Wi-Fi attacks and to check your device to make sure the operating system is working properly.
Even if you don’t own a smartphone, you can still track your handset. In that case, we recommend using a GPS tracking service. There are a few options out there, but AccuTracking is a good choice that works well.
The service uses GPS to track the location of your phone — and lucky for you, it works with a wide variety of feature phones. As long as your phone is GPS-enabled, AccuTracking should do the trick. Most modern cell phones employ GPS, so as long as your phone isn’t headed to the museum due to age, the service should work fine. When the day comes that you can’t locate your phone, just log in to AccuTracking’s Web interface from any internet-connected computer and — so long as your phone isn’t dead — it will immediately show you its location. The service features four plans costing $13, $16, $21, and $26 per month which update every 120, 60, 30, and 15 seconds, respectively. It’s a pay-as-you-go deal with no contract and a free trial.
Tracking your phone after you lose it
If you didn’t manage to install a device recovery app on your phone before you lost it, don’t worry. There are still some easy ways to get it back.
Find My Device
Android users can employ Find My Device. Because it’s a Google service, it links with your Google account and can locate any device associated with it. There are also options for locking your device, resetting your PIN remotely, and erasing stored data. You can even add a recovery message or phone number to the lock screen to boost your chances of getting it back, or prompt your device to play a sound in the event it may be nearby. Updated versions include support for indoor use to help you find your device in airports, malls, or other large buildings.
Find My iPhone
If you own an iPhone you can use the Find My iPhone app. This feature has been a part of iOS since version 5, so no download is necessary. It works with iCloud — so you can easily access it through a browser or another iOS device — and the location of your missing device will show on a map, along with the option to show where it has recently been. You can remotely lock the phone, display an emergency message, or erase stored data if the phone has been lost forever.
Non-smartphone users are a bit out of luck in this case. If you didn’t register your phone with AccuTracking or a similar service beforehand, you don’t have many options other than calling your service provider and hoping they can help. Most providers do offer GPS location services for a reasonable fee, so if your phone is GPS-enabled, finding it is sometimes just a matter of activating the GPS chip.
Tracking someone else’s phone with their permission
Before going down this route, don’t forget that there’s always the option of calling and asking where someone is, but then again, there’s a chance that the person in question doesn’t pick up or is terrible at giving directions. So, if you can’t always reach or trust the person you’re trying to locate, here’s what we recommend.
Those with smartphones can use a number of different location-sharing apps to let you know where they are. Facebook and Twitter both have location-aware check-in features, and Swarm has some pretty robust location-sharing features as well. However, we have a few more favorites for you to check out.
If you want to keeps tabs on a friend or family member, there’s a good chance you already have the tools to do so, because Google Maps allows you to share your location in real time. Simply open Google Maps and tap the hamburger menu at the top left, then choose Location sharing and you can choose to share your location with people via the person icon with the plus sign at the top right. You can choose to share your location for a limited period of time or until you turn the function off. Anyone you share your location with will see your icon on the map when they open Google Maps. Google is constantly tweaking and improving this service and it has become a great resource over time.
Find My Friends
One of our favorite apps for keeping track of people’s whereabouts is Find My Friends. It’s available for iOS and Android. Although the two apps aren’t from the same developer (Apple makes the iOS version, which is also supported on the Apple Watch), they offer roughly the same service. The apps allow you to track multiple people at the same time, which is useful when you’re trying to meet up with a big group. Find My Friends for Android also works with iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and feature phones. The app uses cell phone signal triangulation to find people and makes location sharing easy. Send a non-smart phone user a text invite, and when they reply “yes,” their icon appears on the app’s map.
iMessage and Google Hangouts
If you and your companions use iPhones, you can use iMessage to share your location. Google’s Hangouts app has a similar feature and is available on both Android and iOS. The app even watches for phrases like “Where are you?” and will then automatically suggest sharing your location. The app is also great for chatting and video calling.
Several major networks also offer phone tracking services and apps, paired with a multitude of family safety and location services and features. AT&T offers its Secure Family, Sprint has Safe&Sound, Verizon provides Smart Family, and T-Mobile has the FamilyWhere app. All come with a free trial, but you will have to pay a subscription to continue using them.
Tracking someone else’s phone without their permission
It’s always best to be upfront about tracking somebody and respect their right to privacy, but if you absolutely must track a phone without the owner’s consent or knowledge — perhaps an always-in-trouble teen, here are a few tips on how to do it.
Tracking a smartphone user
This is a relatively simple task. If they’re below a certain age, then they’ll likely be using your Google or Apple account, so you can log into the Find My Device or Find My iPhone services and see the phone’s location on a map. You might also consider using Find My Friends. If those options don’t work, then you’ll have to install a tracking app on the person’s phone. There are dozens of apps out there that will get the job done. If you do install an app and don’t want them to notice, then remove the app icon from the home screen and hide it in a folder. It’s not exactly CIA level spying, but it may just do this simple job if such a thing is really necessary.
Tracking a non-smartphone user
This is a bit more complex since there aren’t as many options. If the phone is GPS-enabled — most are — just install our favorite AccuTracking app on it. Follow all the necessary steps to set up the account and make sure that it works. Once again, you need to hide the app icon in a folder if you don’t want the person to notice it.
Since you’re already looking for protection for your mobile device, check out our roundups of the best Android security apps and the best iPhone security apps.