Saturday, November 10, 2012

Finding a "Find My Phone" application for Android

Unfortunately, there are too many out there.  As usual.  (The market is so crowded, it's amazing anybody can find anything worthwhile.)

I only found about six:
  • Android Lost Free
  • Wheres My Droid
  • Plan B
  • SeekDroid
  • Lookout Mobile Security
  • Prey
  • Cerberus
I had to take quite a bit of time to compare them.  Some are free, but require monthly subscriptions in order to operate.  Some are PC-oriented.  Some - oddly - do not provide proper pricing information on their own web sites.  Some are just free period but don't support some of the nice-to-have features.

I could have possibly saved myself some considerable time by looking at this review from Android Police.  It has a handy - though not easy to read or modify - chart that shows a feature-by-feature showdown between many phone finder apps.  The "best" ones, arguably, are those on the left-hand side of the chart.

Anyway, I found the chart after I had already plowed work into doing the comparisons for myself.  But it did confirm what I found:  Android Lost Free is a clear winner for me.

Here's why:
  • App is free (you can donate)
  • More importantly, there are no subscriptions required
  • SMS and web UI support

Has nearly every feature you can imagine:
  • Force ring/alarm
  • Report GPS location, with a map
  • Send popup messages to phone
  • Send popup message to phone, then take a picture when user presses "OK" (sneaky)
  • Reports call logs
  • Remotely read latest SMS messages
  • Remote enable GPS and WiFi (when allowed by OS)
  • Remote lock
  • Remote erase
  • Notify on SIM change
  • SMS whitelist
  • SMS PIN code
  • Hides application from app drawer
  • Records from phone microphone
  • Take pictures using cameras
  • Browse and download files and content of phone remotely

You need a Gmail account to use it, but everyone with an Android should have (or, at least, can have) a Gmail account.  It looks like you can make it work without Gmail, though, if you must - IMHO it would be worth the trouble.

Things it does NOT have:

  • It does not have a passcode in the app because all the features are set up from  There is an SMS PIN code so random people cannot control your phone via SMS.
  • It does not support uninstall prevention.  INHO, this is a good thing, as people (users, devs) have gotten themselves into trouble trying this.  A few people have reported that they end up with a hidden, non-running application that they can't uninstall.  I prefer to use a lesser-known hidden application and trust that 99.9% of the people out there won't think about or know how to go about deleting a phone finder app.
  • Does not support multiple devices.  Try Prey.
  • Is supposed to allow you to forward calls remotely from your lost devices.  I could not find this option on the web site UI, so perhaps this feature doesn't exist.

The website is nice and clean, and easy to use.  Setup was also very easy, with the app taking care of registrations and all that crap for you.  (There are backup manual options on the site in case the process fails for any reason.)  The list of SIM commands is right there on the website, no need for a separate help site.

Note that the first time I tested the app, it took several minutes for everything to link up at Google's back-end and for things to start working.  Thus, the first commands I sent had a 5-7 minute delay, which was something of a concern.  After the initial sorting out, the commands took only ~1 second to get relayed to the phone, making the service quite responsive.

You can easily uninstall the app if you don't like it, and it's free.  Maybe give it a try.  I like it so far.  Hopefully I'll never need it!

It also occurs this would be great for my wife's phone.  Besides not calling her only to find out that she left her phone upstairs (again), this lets me find out where she is without bothering her when she's driving.  It was something I was going to do with Tasker, and maybe this will save me the trouble.

It would only work via SMS, though, unless I logged in to her Gmail account - it's not a "share my location" app by default.  So depending on how you want to use it, this may or may not do the trick for that particular function.

[Update]:  As of early 2015, Androidlost has worked well for me.  It is still limited as noted above, an initial inquiry can take several minutes, and it often reports back two or three times on one inquiry.  But it did locate lost devices as it was supposed to.

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