There’s no way to say this nicely so I’ll be just blunt: unless in rare cases in places where systems actually work, once your Android smartphone (or mostly any other smartphone for that matter. Yes, including the iPhone) is stolen, that’s the end of the road. You won’t ever find it again. I’ve been there more than once. It’s notorious in certain large cities like Nairobi where there are more phone snatchers than there are birds of the air. And it’s not just Nairobi, it happens everywhere (New York is notorious for this) and to everyone (including properly muscled up athletes who can scare off anyone with ill intent). There’s even an interesting detailed report on the same by security solutions company Lookout.
The little you can do, however, is hope that whoever steals your Android smartphone takes some time to, before deciding to switch it off, remove the SIM card or even flash it. In that case, there’s hope that you can at least track your smartphone. These 4 ways do exactly that (or something close. They can be quite handy when trying to locate your phone after it slips under the sofa’s cushions 🙂 ):
1. Find My Phone
Don’t be shocked that the new Find My Phone feature that Google has rolled out as part of celebrations to mark one year since it launched My Account, a central place where users can access all their Google account information, has a name that is closer to the iPhone’s hallowed feature. It’s because that’s what it is meant to do: to find your damn phone!
Find My Phone is buried deep under My Account but you can quickly access it using this link or in the near future, using Ok Google voice commands. It will reveal a full list of all devices associated with your Google account that have recently hit Google’s servers. By clicking on any of the devices, one is presented with several options including calling the device, wiping it completely, remotely locking and so on. Just what you would expect from a basic anti-theft (is it even that?) solution.
2. Android Device Manager
Before the June 1st, 2016 reveal of Find My Phone, Android Device Manager was the officially sanctioned means of tracking an Android smartphone or any other Android device like a tablet. To be fair to it, Find My Phone is just a convenient duplication of Android Device Manager. Convenient I say? With ADM, you need to have the application installed on the device and activated in the event your device maker did not include the functionality by default in the modified software on your device. That’s too much work and something anyone who’s not a geek is unlikely to ever do. Find My Phone seeks to make things a bit more friendly. So now you can see how the two will be just fine co-existing?
3. Third-party solutions
Here is where it actually gets interesting. I’ve met a young Kenyan with a solution that can potentially blow out any other anti-theft solution you have encountered so far. I’ll leave you in suspense because you will get to hear more about that soon.
Third-party anti-theft applications on the Google Play Store are not in shortage. They are available in plenty. One of them that I really like after using it for a few years is Cerberus. It’s pricey but for the work it is going to do, including activating the camera and taking photos when someone mistypes your unlock code or pattern, it’s worth it. It will automatically send you an email every other time the SIM card on your device is swapped for another one complete with all the information you may need like the IMSI. I particularly like the feature that allows me to set up a unique catch phrase that when sent to the line number on my device triggers an action like a remote lock, remote wipe or disturbing shrill ring.
There are a few other anti-theft solutions worth checking out including those built into security software applications from AVG and Lookout Mobile.
4. Built-in/stock solutions
Device makers have been under pressure to include kill switches on their devices in certain countries. While they are yet to really get around that, they’ve been trying. I remember trying to use Samsung’s own built-in solution as early as December 2012 to try and find a lost Samsung Galaxy Note II. As you can guess, those efforts bore no fruit. Not because I did not try or the software was terrible but because, like every other suggested solution on this list, it’s useless once one flashes the firmware or doesn’t connect to a network through which the device can communicate with any listening services.
I am currently using a Cyanogen OS smartphone and one of the things I really like is the simple interface of Cyanogen’s own phone tracking portal that, like Google’s alternatives, also lists any active devices and gives options to remotely lock, wipe etc.
Before going ahead to spend money on a third-party anti-theft solution for your Android device, make sure you have checked that your device’s maker does not have something you can use to achieve the same goal. Most will have you add trusted numbers that will get a customized text message when your SIM card is swapped. Since most solutions are useless as soon as someone tinkers with the device a bit and flashes new firmware, it’s really not advisable to spend a lot on a solution that does not guarantee much. Of course, if you’re still with me this is where I remind you of the upcoming anti-theft solution that will change all this. Stick around.
There’s a rarely used fifth means of tracking your lost/stolen Android smartphone. It involves the cops and recording statements and anxious moments of waiting. Depending on where you are in this world, this could be the undisputed number 1 solution but that’s not always the case. Unless there’s a murder involved or other factors beyond the scope of Techweez, it’s also the least effective in most scenarios.