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9/11/2013
04:23 PM
Aoife M. McEvoy
Aoife M. McEvoy
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Lost Smartphone? 6 Free Tracking Apps

You've misplaced your smartphone, again -- or worse, it's been stolen. One of these handy iPhone or Android apps can help you locate it fast.




It's one thing if your phone is simply misplaced with the ringer turned off. But when your phone is lost or stolen, things get a lot more complicated.

Fortunately, there's a whole category of apps that can help you find your missing phone. If your phone is just out of sight -- having slipped into the lost world between the sofa cushions, for instance -- these apps force it to emit an audible sound to alert you to its hiding spot.

But for phones that have disappeared or been stolen, these apps attempt to identify the phone's location via GPS, and some give you remote control options as well. Just keep in mind that some apps that require GPS to be on all the time will gobble your phone's battery, which could be a problem if it's already running low on juice.

First off, we were curious about what the venerable LoJack offers for smartphone protection. Right now, unfortunately, the company's theft-recovery technology is available only for the Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 Active and Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 -- and the yearly subscription costs $29.99.

But if you own an iPhone, you probably know about Find My iPhone, Apple's own app that's baked into iOS. The app lets you use another iOS device to track down the missing iPhone when you're logged in with your Apple ID. Find My iPhone will make the phone beep, for example, or display a message and lock the device. If necessary, Find My iPhone also lets you wipe your data. Find My iPad works in a similar fashion.

If your phone goes AWOL before you've had a chance to install a recovery app, you can try Plan B or AndroidLost as last-ditch efforts to find it.

So if your phone's in your pocket or purse as you read this, now's a good time to install an app or two in case your phone goes missing or gets pinched in the future. It's a bit like having jumper cables in your car; you never know when you'll need them.

Read on for details about six phone rescuers for your smartphone.


Late to the phone-finder game, Google released Android Device Manager in August. Like Apple's Find My iPhone, Google's locator works great when your phone is lurking somewhere in your home or office. If you just can't find the little devil, and you can't call it from another phone because the ringer's off, just sign into your Google account from another device and click the tool's link. The location of your phone or tablet will display on a map and you can instruct Android Device Manager to ring your phone; it will override vibrate or silent mode with maximum ringtone volume.

If you think your phone is in the wrong hands, Android Device Manager lets you erase all the data on your device. To do this, however, you must enable the option in the app's Settings ahead of time.

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You gain access to many features with Lookout Security & Antivirus, a free app for Android and iOS users. Using a browser on another device, you can locate your missing phone on a map, trigger a loud scream from it, and send messages or call the missing device. If the phone's battery is on its last legs, Lookout will save the phone's last known location. The app also monitors your OS updates, checks for malware, keeps tabs on Wi-Fi security, and provides automatic backups for your contact lists. The Android app will ping you on email with a photo and the location of anybody who attempts to get past your lock screen and uses an incorrect password three times.

Lookout for iPhone works on iPhones and iPads and requires iOS 5.0 or later. For Android users, as of this writing the company no longer offers new versions of Lookout for Android 2.1. For $2.99 a month (or $29.99 a year), the premium package lets you use more sophisticated privacy protection, remotely lock down your phone and wipe its data. Finally, a free version also is available for Kindle owners.

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No pre-installation is needed with AndroidLost, a free app that you can push to your missing phone through Google Play. Through AndroidLost.com, logging into your Google account gives you administrative rights, and you can activate the app remotely. Start by sending an SMS to your phone with the text "androidlost register". Once you're connected to your phone you can begin the process of hunting down -- and controlling -- it. The developer has posted a list of available SMS commands you can use. You can have a message pop up listing your email address, for instance, so that the honest fellow who found your phone can make contact. AndroidLost also lets you view your phone's location on a map, forward calls, view your call log, emit an alarm and browse content from your phone.

You can also lock down your phone, erase data, and take photos of your phone's surroundings using its back-facing camera and the front-facing camera (Android 2.3 only). Using text-to-speech, you can set the phone to speak a message out loud. You can remotely activate and deactivate GPS so you don't tax the battery. AndroidLost works on Android 2.2 or later.

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No matter what kinds of hardware you carry around, the free, open-source Prey has a tracking-with-security tool for you. Along with apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android, Prey's maker, Fork Ltd., also covers laptops running Mac OS, Windows and Linux (Ubuntu and other distributions). Your Prey account lets you register up to three devices.

Unlike AndroidLost, Prey requires installation before a loss happens. If you lose your device, log into your account and highlight the gadget as missing. Prey goes to work and sends you reports, using Wi-Fi and GPS to display the location of your phone on a map. Prey lets you get photos from your phone's cameras, customize messages to appear on screen, initiate an alarm and receive alerts if there's a SIM card change.

The iOS app works with version 4.3 or newer. The Android version requires version 2.2 or later. Prey also comes in various paid versions -- Prey Pro -- starting at $5 a month. The paid versions offer more advanced protection and report customization and coverage for more devices.

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Where's My Droid is a bit of a misnomer, as this app works with all Android smartphones, not just Motorola's Droid. You can borrow someone else's phone to send text messages or log into the Web-based account, called Commander, to control the app on your phone. The free version lets you text your own unique phrases to your phone to cause a loud noise or turn on GPS to retrieve the best location it can pinpoint. Along with a passcode feature, Where's My Droid also offers a black-and-white list option: On the white list, you can add the cell numbers of contacts -- close friends and family members, for instance -- whose phones you might need to borrow for text messaging. If you believe your phone is in the hands of a crook, you'll probably appreciate the stealth mode: The app intercepts your custom phrase when it arrives as an SMS, in the hopes that the thief won't notice that the hunt is on.

The $3.99 version provides landline activation, remote lockdown, SD card and device wipe, camera controls and a custom found button. Where's My Droid requires Android version 2.2 or later. A "lite" version, also free, strips out some features, such as the passcode, and works on phones running older versions of Android, starting with version 1.6.

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Like AndroidLost, Plan B by Lookout is a last-resort effort if your phone is nowhere to be found and you did not have Lookout Security & Antivirus or a similar app installed. Start the process by visiting the Plan B desktop version or Plan B via Google Play to remotely install the app on your missing phone. As long as a data connection is active and Plan B installs successfully, you'll receive an email to your Gmail account indicating that the app is searching for your phone. If it locates your phone, you'll get a subsequent email plotting its whereabouts on a Google map. After that, you must wait for refined location details. As an alternative, borrow a pal's phone and text "locate" to your AWOL phone to restart the tracking routine. Plan B works only on Android versions 2.0 through 2.3.

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