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. Whether you’re simply trying to track the location of your lost phone or you’re a secret agent who needs to gain intel on the whereabouts of a crooked diplomat, we’re here to give you the information you need to get the job done. 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.
Tracking your phone before you lose it
If you’re here just to prepare for the day that you lose your phone (which for many is inevitable), then you’re ahead of the game. 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. Head to the next section for more details. If you’re looking for more choice, try these out:
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 you sign up for the service, you simply sync your devices with it, sit back, and relax. The day that 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.
One of the big boys in the antivirus industry, Avast’s name should be familiar to a lot of 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 app for device protection from viruses and thieves — as long as you’re willing to pay for the 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. There is a free two-week trial, after which it will cost $3 per month or $30 for the year if you want the premium features.
Cerberus is a feature-rich app and one of the best anti-theft apps you can get. It’s free to try for a week, but you’ll have to pay $6 for a yearly license for one device. The app offers numerous ways to track and control your smartphone via the website, and even via SMS. You can also sound an alarm, even if your device in silent mode, and lock it with a unique code. Additional features include the ability to record audio remotely and snap photos of anyone trying to use your phone. Location history is just a plus. It also comes with Wear OS support, so alerts will be pushed to your smartwatch should the paired device go out of range.
For non-smartphones …
We recommend using a GPS tracking service. There are many different options out there, but AccuTracking is our current favorite.
It costs as little as $6 per month (less if you subscribe for a year), and 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, this service should do the trick. Most modern cell phones are, so as long as your phone isn’t headed to the museum due to age, you should be 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.
Tracking your phone after you lose it
If you didn’t have the foresight 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 use 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.
Find My iPhone
If you own an iPhone you can use the Find My iPhone application. This feature has been a part of iOS since version 5, so there is no need to download an app. It works with iCloud — so it can be accessed 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 been too. 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 though, 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, if you do it this way there’s always a chance that the person in question doesn’t pick up, doesn’t know, 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:
Smartphone-equipped friends 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 these days, 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.
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, they offer the same service. The apps allow you to track multiple people at the same time, which can be useful when you’re trying to meet up with a big group.
iMessage and Google Hangouts
If you’re an iOS user and are just trying to meet up with a friend, provided you both use iMessage then you can choose to share your location through it. 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.
Several major networks also provide phone tracking services, under the guise of friend and family locators. AT&T has its Family Map, Sprint has Guardian, Verizon provides Family Locator, and T-Mobile has the awkwardly named FamilyWhere app. All come with a free trial, but you will have to pay a subscription to continue using them.
Non-smartphone users don’t have as many options when it comes to sharing their whereabouts, but it’s definitely still possible. There used to be more free services out there, but most are now defunct, so your best bet for keeping tabs on a feature phone is AccuTracking — it works really well.
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 (i.e. if you’re a parent), here are a few tips on how to do it.
Tracking a smartphone user is relatively simple using the methods above. If they’re below a certain age, then they’ll 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 for you, then you’ll have to install a tracking app on the person’s phone. Apart from what we listed above, there are dozens of other apps out there that will get the job done. If you do install an app and don’t want them to notice, then you may want to remove the app icon from the home screen and hide it in a folder.
Tracking a non-smartphone user is a bit more difficult since there aren’t as many options. If the phone is GPS-enabled, install AccuTracking on it. Go through 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 them to notice it.
- The best text messaging apps for Android and iOS
- Best alternatives to Google’s preinstalled Android apps
- Best apps for a second phone number
- Best prepaid phones of 2019
- The best Android apps (August 2019)