The Best and Worst Apps for Finding A Lost or Stolen Android Phone

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Android Security Icon

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

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.

Prey

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.

Prey Security app for Android

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?

Where's My Droid, Android Security App

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.

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  • Kijudai Aygin

    Hello
    Thank you for this nice post!
    But you forgot Cerberus-App.
    It’s the best app for me. tried several time and it forget very good.

  • http://profiles.google.com/skylancer187 Matthew Nelson

    Not a complete list of useful Security Apps. Try updating this with some more recent and successful apps such as Cerburus, Kaspersky, Norton, Webroot and McAfee.

    Cerburus has been extremely useful for me across all Android versions and provides even more with rooted devices.

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    Appreciate the suggestions Matt, but I have to point out that most of the apps you mentioned focus on protecting the phone while the user is using it.

    This article is specific to protecting your phone when you can’t even find it. Cerburus is definitely one I missed on the list. Will try it out this weekend and see if it’s worth adding.

    Thanks again for the suggestions Matt!

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    Another commenter mentioned this app also. Going to check i tout this weekend and see if it’s worth adding.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  • JA2BK

    I think one of the easiest protections is to passcode lock or pattern lock your phone. If nothing else, makes it hard for someone to get to your info. They have to wipe your phone. Only issue is if you have a memory card as that stuff will still be something they can access. For that reason, I’m actually now seeing an advantage to phones without memory card slots.

  • http://www.clippingpathspecialist.com/clipping-path.html Deep Etching

    Cerberus-App is really a good application and i am recommending this also.

  • http://www.facebookfever.com/ Govind Choudhary

    Hey Corvida,
    Thanks a lot for sharing these Awesome Droid Apps.I’m gonna check them right now :)

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    You’re welcome :)

  • http://www.bijutoha.wordpress.com/ Md.Bakhtiar Uddin

    Thanks for your good information

  • Adrian Abonce

    The latest Samsung devices come with an application called ‘Samsung Dive’ pre-installed. (Unfortunately, most US carriers are blocking this application in order to sell their customers their own versions). You should try to take a look and let us know if you can make it work.

  • http://twitter.com/rey_als Reyals

    Your partner left her *iPhone* in a taxi….i think you mean *android device*?

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    Corrected and thanks for the heads up!

  • http://shegeeks.net/ Corvida Raven

    OMG so I have Samsung Dive is on my Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, but not on my Note 2. Maybe there’s a ROM I can flash that has it, but unfortunately it wasn’t pre-installed and adding my samsung account doesn’t change anything.

  • http://www.buraq-technologies.com/ ambreen11

    I appreciate your working on this subject and bookmarked it.Some of us are so dependent on our Android devices that our breathing
    gets weird just from thinking about losing them. If you lost your
    Android phone, it can be a real big problem. Because with the phone you
    lost all your important files, emails, contacts and more. So it’s a
    good idea to think ahead and plan for misplacing your Android device.

  • http://twitter.com/whatsamatternow Terri Marsh

    Thanks for the article one of the best written on the web!! No joke you rock!!! Nice to see women in the field!!!

  • loveleeyoungae

    Searching for “Android Lost vs Wheres My Droid” in order to find if there was new recommendation for this type of apps, and found your post. I’m quite surprised that you dont know about android lost. Thanks to the app, I could find my robbed phone (yes, 5 guys threatend me with knives) because it can be *remotely* installed and *remotely* activated. The app only has text and their website is awfully ugly, but that made me more surprised for its ability. Hope that help you improve your post.

  • S.N.

    What’s the point of Cerberus if you’ve already lost your phone? There’s no place on their website to even sign up. You have to already have installed and enabled this app prior to losing your phone right?Lookout seems to be the same.. Thanks for the article. Unfortunately Plan B doesn’t seem to work for me either bc I have or rather had :-( a Samsung Galaxy S3..

  • Stev L

    You could try to only keep non-personal data on the memory card (e.g. music, games)

  • JA2BK

    Interestingly enough, I recently did just that with my Android. Moved everything to the phone memory. Music will be all that can be found on the card.

  • Carly Brown

    plan b won`t work for me either… my phone i left at my daughter`s gymnastics class inside my purse… the next day i went to look for the bag and phone and i was only given the bag back i know somebody in the place stole it, but i find no point in searching for it, because the thief probably already changed the chip …

  • arandomperson7

    It’s called being prepared. You don’t get car insurance after an accident, you get it months/years ahead of time just in case, same thing with one of these apps.

  • riba

    My phone was stolen. I had 2 google accounts on it. I changed password of main one and let the other account be. I was also googleing what to do. I went to my other account on youtube and saw in history that someone was watching videos. So I remotely installed Android Lost and some other app from Andorid Lost (that registers Android lost on phone) from google play. After few minutes I had full control over my phone (location, SMS, phone number, etc)… so if phone is stolen and not wiped you have good chance… on my new phone I will flash Cerebrus app so if phone is stolen and reset to factory or changed IMEI I will also have full access to my phone…