I started writing this review after my partner left her Galaxy Note 2 in a taxi. No security apps were pre-installed to protect her phone and, unlike iOS, Android offers no security options out of the box. Not the kind of odds we wanted to be working with.
Though we were able to retrieve her phone in the end, you’ll be surprised by what helped and the apps that didn’t.
Plan B was the first app I tried to use to find my partner’s phone. Taking advantage of Android over the air (OTA) option for downloading apps, Plan B claims to be able to remotely activate features to help you locate your phone. Unfortunately, not a single feature worked on our android phones running Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) and JellyBean (JB). That immediately made this app useless, but those with Android phones running Gingerbread or Froyo may have better luck.
I almost skipped trying out Prey after reading the latest reviews from users. Despite the 4.1 out of 5 average rating, there are a lot of recent recommendations from people to not use Prey. A litany of reviews, even good ones, point out how buggy Prey is and some people couldn’t uninstall the app from their phone. Still, I took a chance and downloaded it.
When I tried to create an account (registration required), I encountered the following error:
Can’t add this device to your prey account. Please check again the email and password provided.
There’s no way to skip this step so Prey was another useless app. Seems like there might be a continued trend of security apps for Android not supporting newer phones. Moving along…
Wheres my Droid?
Wheres My Droid takes ICS and JB phones back to the Gingerbread days with an old (read: ugly), but simple interface. Features include setting up target words to activate your phone’s ringer and GPS via SMS.
Once you connect your phone to Commander, a web interface, you’ll be able to use these features from the web. This processes is repeatable for protecting multiple phones.
You can send several commands to control your phone from Commander available on WheresMyDroid.com. Commands include:
- Ring phone
- Get phone stations (battery power, SIM number, phone number, device ID)
- Get GPS coordinates of your device
- Access Google Maps link to locate your device.
The ring command sent from Command or via SMS worked on the first try, but getting GPS coordinates on phones running JellyBean failed. Phones running anything below Jellybean worked fine as long as GPS is on
Upgrading to the Pro version will unlock several features including taking pictures using the front or back camera, locking and unlocking your phone, and wiping the SD card or entire phone.
LookOut Security and Antivirus
My pick of the bunch used to be LookOut Security and Antivirus. It one of the most beautiful security apps for Android. Besides finding your phone, this app can also perform daily backups and protect your phone from malware. Some of these features come at a price, but you can also try the full app out for 14-days – no credit card required.
There are two wats to locate your phone via LookOut.com: get the GPS coordinates or make your phone scream. If your phone’s about to die, signal flare will save the phone’s location one last time before the battery gives out. There are no SMS options for using LookOut, but their mobile website works just as good from any device.
GPS accuracy was off on our first try, but a quick refresh resolved this. The “scream” option activates the sound of police sirens, gradually get louder even if the phone’s volume is turned off. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to stop the sound by unlocking the phone and hitting the “stop screaming” button. This option should automatically lock the device too.
If you want to do other things like lock or wipe your phone or backup your data, you’ll have to cough up a premium of $29.99 a year or $2.99 a month. The Pro package includes safe browsing and identifying apps that access your location and private data.
Hard to believe LookOut was created by the same people that made Plan B.
Cerberus Anti Theft
Cerberus comes highly recommended by the android community (check the comments on this post). For a one-time fee of less than $4 – you can also try it free for a week – you get a great security app and peace of mind. After a quick sign-up process, Cerberus immediately lets you configure remote access to your phone and set alerts if an unauthorized sim card ever enters your phone.
A Google Map of your phone’s location and list of actions you can take to protect your phone are available from the Cerberus web dashboard: Cerberusapp.com. Keep in mind, GPS must be enabled for Cerberus to work and you can’t turn GPS on remotely.
The web dashboard list of actions is extensive and impressive:
- Start or stop tracking your phone
- Lock or unlock the phone
- Get device info
- Start an alarm (even in Silent mode)
- Get calls and SMS logs
- Record audio
- Take a picture or screenshot
- Wipe the device and SD
- … and more
I had issues getting the device lock command to work with a lockscreen customization app. Once I disabled WidgetLocker, the feature worked without fail. Taking a picture from the front camera worked beautifully, didn’t leave any clue of a picture being taken and pics were immediately sent to my email. Audio recordings also worked flawlessly and can be set to be recorded for up to 5-minutes (300 seconds). These recordings can be downloaded and audio quality doesn’t disappoint.
Aside from the conflicts with lockscreen customization apps, Cerberus is a keeper! As soon as my trial expires, I’m paying for the licensing fee. For less than $4, Cerberus offers some of the most comprehensive mobile security available for Android devices. The interface is nice and simple and everything is easy to use right from the start. Other than the option to enable GPS remotely, Cerberus has everything I need to find a lost phone.
Technology Versus Humanity
In the end, none of these apps were of help for getting my partner’s phone back. Instead, a good old fashion telephone call to the taxi service and a little kindness did the trick. Using a receipt with the taxi’s medallion number on it, we were able to track down the taxi driver and he offered to return her phone the next day. When she offered a reward for returning her phone, the taxi driver politely declined.
If you find yourself without protection for your Android phone and you’re worried about your data, be sure to change all of your passwords. Check the settings area of accounts to disallow apps you used on your stolen phone. In Google Play, you can delete apps from your phone in one click. Just head to your apps page and select the trash icon. Remember that most of these solutions will require service, an internet connection, and power in order to help you.