How to find a lost phone, whether it’s Android, iPhone, or any other kind

Tom Grundy/Shutterstock

So you’ve lost your phone. We’ve all been there. It was just in your pocket a minute ago — and now it’s gone, lost to the phone fairies, forgotten between the seats of your couch, or misplaced somewhere during your busy day. Maybe it’s just in your other coat, or maybe it’s already in the hands of someone who found it on the sidewalk. Either way, all you want to do is get it back.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to get a hold of your missing phone. If it’s a smartphone (or even a tablet) running iOS, Android, or even Windows Phone, chances are good it already has the software needed to hunt it down — or there’s an app you can install to track your phone. Here’s our guide on how to find a lost phone or a similar device.

Have you ever wondered what happens to a smartphone after it’s stolen? Read how this filmmaker spied on a thief to find out.

Smartphones

If your lost phone happens to be a smartphone, all three of the major smartphone platform providers (Apple, Google, and Microsoft) include phone retrieval technology in their smartphones. Usually, the way these apps work is through the account associated with your device. For Android devices this is your Google account, for iPhones, this is your iCloud account, and for Windows Phones this is your Microsoft account. All three allow you to remotely lock and wipe your phone, make it ring, and set up special messages to alert whoever finds it.

Of course, these features are only as good as your phone’s battery. If your smartphone dies, it’s about as easy to find as your wallet or anything else you might misplace.

We also recommend caution when communicating with anyone who has found your smartphone. Be careful to avoid giving away any personal information, such as your home address, until you know you’re dealing with someone you can trust. Stick with sending phone numbers or email addresses to communicate how the good Samaritan can return your phone. Here’s how each of the three operating systems work.

How to find a lost Android phone

Android not only offers Google’s proprietary service for finding and managing your device remotely but also a number of third-party apps designed for finding your smartphone. The easiest to use is Find My Device, which is built directly into your Android smartphone through Google Play Services — it can also be used in a browser or downloaded from the Google Play Store. Most devices running Android 2.3 or later should be able to use this feature.

Using the feature is as easy as searching  “Where is my phone” in Google, which will prompt the service to start looking for your smartphone. We’ve previously written about Find My Device and its ability to call you, set up a new password, and make your phone ring from afar, along with the variety of other functions it uses for notification purposes. While you can configure Find My Device ahead of time, the service should be available in the event you lose or misplace your phone. It will use Wi-Fi or GPS to help you hunt down your device.

To verify your Android smartphone has the Find My Device feature turned on, go to Settings > Google (or Google services) > Security and make sure Remotely locate this device is turned on in the Find My Device section.

If you can’t find your smartphone, you can always wipe it to prevent sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands. Your device will need an internet connection, however, and enough juice to communicate with you. In Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google also introduced Factory Reset Protection (FRP). It’s designed to prevent would-be thieves from being able to steal your phone, wipe it, and then use it or sell it. If you factory reset a phone with FRP enabled and try to set it up as a new device, you’ll be prompted to enter the username and password for the last Google account that was registered on the device, and if you can’t, the phone will remain locked.

There are also third-party apps that you can install to help you find your phone. Cerberus Anti-theft is a great app that offers remote access and control, allowing you to obtain more information regarding the whereabouts of your phone. It provides a number of additional features, such as more granular control on how you track your device, screenshots of what your device is doing, photos from the camera to possibly catch the would-be thief, and other, more detailed notifications that Find My Device doesn’t offer. If your device is rooted, there are even more features available to prevent someone from resetting or turning off your device until you can recover it.

Another option for select Samsung smartphones is the Find My Mobile service. It can be used to locate a missing phone, lock it down, or wipe it completely. You’ll need a Samsung account, though, and the Remote Controls options enabled on your phone. To check and see if Find My Mobile is available for your smartphone, go to Settings > Lock screen & Security. If you see Find My Mobile in the menu, you can use the service; enable the Remote Controls options via Settings > Security > Find My Mobile > Remote controls.

Find a lost iPhone, Windows Phone, or another cell phone

How to find a lost iPhone

The best (and only) way to get your iPhone back is through Apple’s native feature, Find My iPhone. The app comes pre-installed on every iOS device and can display your missing device on a map to help you easily locate and manage it. You’ll need a computer or another iOS device with the Find My iPhone app to deploy this feature, however. Sadly, these features are only available when your phone is powered on and connected to the internet.

To use the feature, simply log into iCloud and open the Find my iPhone feature. The Apple service will locate your phone on a map and give you the option to play a sound on your device, send a message to your phone with “lost mode,” or erase its contents. All of this can be done without any additional configuration.

Find my iPhone is also able to locate your Mac, iPod, and iPad. It’s an incredibly effective tool for tracking down just about any iOS device. Don’t believe us? Check out this story about cops apprehending a criminal by using the app. This is just one of many similar stories where phone-tracking software helped save the day.

Apple also employs another form of security, known as Activation Lock, to keep your iPhone safe from theft. Like the reactivation lock for Samsung smartphones, Activation Lock requires you to enter your Apple ID and password before you can disable Find My iPhone, wipe your device, or reactivate it.

How to find a lost Windows Phone

Windows Phone owners, don’t fret. If you’ve misplaced your smartphone, you too can recover it with the help of Microsoft’s built-in service. The company has built a lost phone feature directly into Windows Phone 8.1 and later iterations thereof, allowing you to easily find the location of your phone or activate its ringer remotely. It doesn’t require additional configuration after you add your Microsoft account either, though it will only work if your device has power and is connected to the internet.

All you need to do is go to Microsoft’s devices page. There, you should see all your phones and tablets, which you can then locate through the service. You can even add devices that are not currently on the list, remotely lock your devices, and wipe devices you think might have fallen into the wrong hands.

How to find your not-so-smart cell phone

Step 1: Call your cell phone. Listen for the ring or vibration and try to locate your phone through tried-and-true human detection. If your phone is truly lost and in someone else’s hands, then they’re likely to answer if they intend to return the phone. If you don’t have access to a phone, try using wheresmycellphone.com. It will call your phone for free and allow you to leave a message or talk to whoever is on the other side.

Step 2: Retrace your steps. Do a full-fledged visual search. If you couldn’t hear a ring or vibration when you called it, don’t immediately assume that your phone is located far away — the battery could simply be dead.

Step 3: Text your phone. If you believe someone has stolen or possibly found your phone, then send a text message to your phone with your contact info and a reward offer if you choose to do so. There are many online services that allow you to send free text messages, such as txt2day.com.

Step 4: Alert your service provider. If you’ve lost hope of finding it, then call your wireless carrier and let them know your phone is lost. Ask if they offer a GPS locating service. If not, ask them to suspend service to your phone to avoid any possible fraudulent charges. Carriers have differing policies about this, but it’s always worth a try, even for a smartphone. This FCC page has a handy list of numbers.

Step 5: Register your lost phone. If you know your phone’s IMEI number or have it written down somewhere, register it with Immobilize.

Step 6: Prepare for the next time you lose your phone. Maybe you’re one of those people who’s always losing their phone. You may want to consider registering for a tracking service such as AccuTracking.

Mobile

Visual snapshots on Google Assistant provides your day at a glance

Google's artificially intelligent bot, Google Assistant, is available on smart home speakers, smart home devices, iOS and Android phones, and it can do a whole lot of work on your behalf. Here are all of its features.
Mobile

How to improve your Android privacy

If you have an Android device and you’re concerned about your privacy, then we have a few tips for you. Learn about the settings you can change to improve your Android privacy and safeguard your personal data.
Mobile

What is Android? All your questions about the operating system answered

Despite being on more than 2 billion phones, it's still possible to be unsure about parts of Android. What is stock Android, what's Oreo, and should you know about Android Go? We've got your answers.
Mobile

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2018

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.
Mobile

Android Q will likely make its way to the Essential Phone in 2019

The Essential Phone (PH-1) was one of the best-reviewed phones of 2017, and it comes from Andy Rubin, the co-creator of Android itself. It has a striking design with a bezel-less display and the price is now down to $500.
Mobile

These smartphones offer all-day battery life with plenty of juice to spare

Finding a phone with a long-lasting battery can be a daunting task these days. We've tested all the latest devices to compile a list of the eight phones with the best battery life.
Product Review

The Moto Z3 Play packs a lot of juice with its included battery mod

Motorola’s latest phone is the mid-range Moto Z3 Play. It costs $500, so why wouldn’t you just get the OnePlus 6? The answer isn’t so simple. There’s a lot to like here, and the phone comes with a battery mod that extends its life…
Mobile

Some Samsung phones aren’t alerting users of app background processes

Worried that Facebook is spying on you? Some Samsung phones aren't correctly showing some apps on the App Permission Monitor, so users won't be alerted if an app tries to access certain permissions.
Mobile

Here’s how — and why — to use Safe mode with an Android phone

When you have an issue with your phone, Safe mode can help you determine whether a third-party app is to blame. If you’re wondering how to access it, or how to turn the feature off in Android, then you have come to the right place.
Deals

Save up to $900 with the best smartphone deals for July 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We've rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $900.
Mobile

Here’s how to turn off camera shutter sound on your Android phone

That clicking shutter sound on your Android phone can get annoying if you like to take lots of pictures. Fortunately, you can disable it. We will walk you through how to turn off the camera shutter sound on your Android phone.
Photography

What is portrait mode? How tech helps smartphones capture a better you

Several years ago, portrait modes started showing up on phones and quickly became one of the most popular ways to capture selfies, profile pics, and more. But how does portrait mode work, and how much difference does it make?
Mobile

It's official: Nokia 6.1 Plus gets global release starting in Hong Kong

It's shaping up to be a big year for HMD. After announcing five phones at MWC earlier this year, the handset manufacturer is reportedly bringing another budget phone, the Nokia 6.1 Plus, to the states.
Mobile

The Essential Phone may be out of stock, but you can still buy it for $250

Amazon Prime Day is here, and one of the best deals we've found is on a phone. The Essential Phone is from the creator of Android, it's made of ceramic and titanium, has flagship specifications, and it now just costs $250. That's a steal.
Mobile

Juice up your iPhone or Android phone with the best wireless chargers

We checked out the best wireless phone chargers to make tangles and uncooperative ports a thing of the past. Whether you have an iPhone or Android, find out which wireless charging pads are worth buying, and how their features compare.
Mobile

Why Apple Watches, Fitbits, and more could soon get more expensive

Proposed $200 billion in U.S. trade tariffs on specific Chinese manufactured goods could result in significant price increases for many mobile gadgets. Products from Apple, Fitbit, Sonos, and others companies could be hit with price bumps.
Outdoors

This solar panel rolls up like a scroll when it isn’t charging your gadgets

The Soul is a charging solution that comes with a built-in 5400 mah battery and a 5-watt solar panel that rolls up like a scroll when not in use, making it one of the easiest chargers to take with you on an adventure.
Mobile

Dish and Four Seasons now support Apple's Business Chat

One of the most exciting features on iOS 11.3 is Business Chat. The feature allows you to use the Messages app to talk to businesses, instead of waiting on hold for customer service. Here's how to use it.
Mobile

Have an old 3G phone? You won’t be able to get it activated by Verizon anymore

If your phone isn't 4G LTE-compatible, don't look to Verizon to solve your problems. The mobile service provider has begun to cease activating phones that don't have this relatively modern technology available.
Cars

Uber may soon turn into your personalized mini convenience store

Taking an Uber may soon be an all-inclusive experience. The transportation giant recently partnered with Cargo, the startup that offers in-car shopping experiences to those on the move.