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How to find your lost Android phone

Android phone under bush
(Image credit: Android Central)

If you're here then you probably have had the panic-inducing experience of losing your Android phone. Fortunately, with today's GPS and tracking systems, it's easier than ever to figure out where your phone is as long as the proper settings have been set up beforehand. 

Just remember that time is of the essence. There are plenty of people who will want to keep that lost phone, so you'll need to act as quickly as possible to retrieve it. We'll go over how to track your phone's location, how to lock your phone remotely to keep your info safe, and also explain how to make it easier for someone to return it to you. 

How to locate your phone using Google

Google Find My Device map (Image credit: Android Central )

Most Android phones now come with Find My Device built right in. This Google service automatically tracks your phone's location, so if your phone is missing, you can hop on your laptop or a friend's phone and find where it last sent out a signal. All you have to do is type "Where is my phone" in Google Chrome while logged into your Google account to bring up the Find My Device map. A green icon appears on the map showing either the exact location or approximate area of your phone's last signal.

Depending on your location and internet connection, Find My Device might only be able to get you close to the phone rather than at an exact spot. For example, it might just be able to tell you that the phone is within a 50-mile radius. But this can still help you get close. If using Find My Device fails to give you your phone's location, it could be because the phone has a bad signal. Keep trying to see if you can get a response. 

Find My Device also tells you which phone it is connected to, how good the phone's signal is, and how much battery life is left. Once that battery depletes, you won't be able to get updated phone locations, so you'll need to act quickly. 

Secure your device and leave a contact number

(Image credit: Android Central)

Sometimes, finding the phone's location isn't enough, which is why Find My Device offers three additional features to help you find the phone and keep your info safe.

Play Sound: Clicking on this makes your phone ring non-stop for 5 minutes, even if it was on silent or vibrate when you last had it. That way, if you draw close to the lost phone's location, you'll be able to hear exactly where it is even if it's under a bush that you sat next to on a hike. Alternatively, this sound might also alert someone else in the area of your lost phone's location and could prompt them to turn it into a lost and found. 

Secure Device: Clicking on this section not only locks your phone so others can't use it, but also allows you to type a short message that will appear on your phone's screen should anyone turn it on. Space is limited so be succinct. You can also put in a phone number for someone to reach you by, whether that be the hotel you're staying at, a friend's number, or a work phone. That way someone can read your message and call the number you list without really accessing your device.

I highly recommend using the Play Sound feature after securing your device and inputting a message so that if anyone else is alerted to the phone's presence they'll see your note and can call. 

Erase Device: This is kind of like the nuclear option and should only be used if there is really sensitive data on the missing Android phone. Clicking Erase Device permanently removes all data from the phone including the Find My Device info associated with your Google account, which means you'll no longer be able to track your phone's location. If your phone is off when the Erase Device command comes through, the data will be erased once the phone turns back on.

How to locate your phone in your house using a smart speaker

Nest Audio

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

It's embarrassingly easy to lose your phone by putting it down somewhere in your house and forgetting where you left it. This can be frustrating if it's time to leave for work or some other appointment and you're frantically scrambling around your home looking for it.

If you own a Google Assistant speaker, just say to it, "OK Google find my phone," to have your Assistant turn the ringer on even if it was on silent before. Note that for this to work, your Android phone must be logged into the same Google account as your smart speaker, you must have linked your Google account and voice via the Home app, and your phone must be turned on and connected to the internet either via mobile data or Wi-Fi. You will also need to have Find My Device turned on, which you should absolutely activate for any Android phone you're using.

With Google Home's multi-user support, everyone in your home can use Google Home to find their phones if they're lost as long as they've linked their Google Accounts using Voice Match.

If all else fails, block your phone's IMEI

If your phone is stolen or found and it's then factory reset, you will not be able to rely on any apps or services to find it; a factory reset will wipe out any of the original data, accounts, or passwords that are needed to remotely find your Android phone.

Then you'll have to use the nuclear option of blocking it with its IMEI number. This identifier is found by dialing from your phone's dialer, so you'll need to know the IMEI number before your phone goes missing. Blocking the IMEI number at least makes sure that no one else will be able to register the phone on cell networks. You should contact the police as soon as possible once your phone goes missing, and furnish its IMEI number. You'll also need to do the same with your carrier or service provider, and it will be added to a blacklist.

There are services like Stolen Phone Checker in the U.S. and Device Check in Canada that let you key in an IMEI and see if that particular device has been reported as lost or stolen. There's also IMEI24, which has a global database.

As always, exercise caution when retrieving a lost or stolen phone. If you have any worries about your phone being lost or stolen, it's best to set up and test your preferred tracking system as soon as you buy it and contact the police. It can be a bit of extra front-end work to register some apps, but it will be more work trying to locate a missing phone if no safety nets are in place at all.

Prepare now, thank yourself later

Android phone with Find My Device

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

Set up two-factor authentication 

Everyone should enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on apps with sensitive info like personal info, banking info, or any app that has the ability to purchase things. Once set up, the two-step sign-in process better protects any accounts on your device from being accessed by a malicious person who might find your phone. 

Write down your IMEI and serial numbers

An important point to note here is that you should always have your phone's IMEI and serial numbers handy. You can easily find your phone's IMEI number by dialing from your phone's dialer. The IMEI number is a unique identifier that your phone uses to register to cell towers. 

You can get your phone's serial number from the settings. Go to Settings -> About phone and you should see the serial number. Having this information is particularly useful if your phone is stolen and you need to register a complaint with the police.

Set up a tracking system

The most important thing you can do is make sure your phone is set up to be found before it goes missing. Otherwise, you're basically on your own. So for those of you who are here because you're worried about your phone potentially getting lost or stolen in the future, ease your fears and set up a tracking system now before your worst-case scenario strikes. 

You'll get the best results if your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi signal, but GPS and mobile networks will still manage to pinpoint a fairly accurate location. You must also have a Google account for virtually all of the tracking services available, whether they are built-in or downloaded. If you want more tracking options than just using Google Find My Device, we've included a list of helpful apps below. 

How to locate your phone with third-party apps

While Google's built-in option is definitely your best bet, there are some third-party options you might want to consider. We've broken down the best third-party apps for finding your phone below.

Google is your best solution for finding your phone

Google's phone location tools are your best bet for getting your lost phone back — as long as you've gone through the process of setting things up ahead of time. Really, this should be something you set up on any device you care about or that will have sensitive data stored on it, especially with how easy Google has made it to locate your device should you lose it.

Of course, one of the benefits of Android is having the freedom to customize your experience as you see fit. If for whatever reason Google's offering just doesn't cut it for you, you should consider the third-party options we've highlighted above, as they include some clever features that might give you some added peace of mind if your device goes missing.

If you've lost your phone, we hope you're able to get it back quickly and safely. 

Rebecca Spear is a staff writer for Android Central who loves following the latest tech, drawing with her Wacom, and playing video games. You can find her posting about her pets, art, and video game preferences on Twitter @rrspear.