How to GPS track a phone

How to GPS track a phone

A woman using a GPS tracking service on her cell phone.

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It’s happened to the best of us, that brief moment of panic when our phone is out of sight — not even in our pockets. I know I can’t be the only one who left their phone on a Target shelf or Starbucks counter, right?

Also: The best GPS trackers for kids with real-time location tracking

Fortunately, both Apple and Google have GPS software for iPhones and Androids that make it easy to find a device. Here’s how you can set up and use the platforms’ respective location tracking services to retrace your steps and hopefully find that lost phone. Also, read on for some alternative third-party apps that are just as effective and available for both operating systems.

How to track your iPhone with GPS

If you have an iPhone, here’s how to find and track your device using Apple’s built-in “Find My” GPS tool.

Apple’s Find My GPS tracker makes it easy to find all your Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and even Apple Watch. Just make sure you have the feature enabled before you go looking for it.

To do this, go to your iPhone’s settings > tap your name and then Find My > turn on location sharing > and turn on Find My iPhone.

Screenshot of a phone showing Find My iPhone settings

Go to Locations, Find Me, then turn on iPhone Tracking.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

When the unfortunate time comes and your iPhone goes missing, you can call into the Find Me app through another Apple device – such as an iPad or MacBook – to track the phone’s location. Simply open the Find Me app and tap on the “Devices” tab.

From there, the app will display your iPhone’s exact location on a map (along with any other Apple device you’ve registered to the Find Me network) as well as the address and directions to get there.

Also: How to find and remove spyware from your phone

If you want to find someone else’s phone — hopefully out of care, that person will have to share their location with you in their settings. If they’ve given you permission to locate their iPhone, you’ll also see it in your Find My Networks app under the “People” tab.

Screenshot of Find My iPhone on an iPad Apple device

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

If you don’t have another Apple device to access the Find Me app, you can also track your phone by signing in to your iCloud account on any other Internet-enabled device.

After signing in, select “All Devices,” and if your phone can be located, you’ll see its location on the map.

Note that with this method you can only see devices associated with your Apple ID and not those of friends and family.

How to track your Android phone with GPS

Similar to Apple’s Find My, Google’s Find My Device is the key to finding an Android smartphone. I’ve listed two methods below: one that can be used for all Android devices and a bonus service that’s specific to Samsung.

Google’s Find my Device software first requires you to turn on location tracking in the settings. You can do this by swiping down the quick panel and toggling the location icon or going to Settings > Location > and then turning it on from there.

Then make sure you’re signed in to your Google account on both your phone and the device you’ll be using to search for it.

Visit the Google Find My Device website and allow access to your device’s location. As long as you’re signed in on both devices and have service (Wi-Fi or data), you’ll be able to see where your phone is on the map and play a crossword for five minutes to help locate it.

Also: How to Share Your Location on Android

If you’re worried about your phone being stolen, Google Find My Device even lets you wipe the data so no one steals any information.

Screenshot of Google Find My results in New York City.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

If you have a Samsung device, you can also opt for Samsung’s Find My Mobile GPS tracking service. On your Samsung phone, make sure the “Find My Mobile” option is turned on under the “Biometrics and Security” settings menu.

When you need to find your Samsung phone, sign in to the Find My Phone service with your Samsung account credentials, and if your device can be located, it will appear on the map.

Alternative tracking apps for iOS and Android

Aside from Apple and Google’s own GPS tracking services, here are some apps that can help you track your and your loved ones’ phones.

Google Family Link is a free parental control app that works for Android and Apple devices, with tools to set and regulate electronic habits among family members’ devices. Most importantly, once you’ve downloaded the app from the Google Play or Apple App Store, you can easily share locations using the “tap to share” feature.

iSharing, despite the Apple-like branding, is another free GPS app that works to track both Apple and Android phones. I would recommend using this app if you want to track your family members’ phones in real-time or receive alerts when their devices arrive and depart from a destination.

Life360 is perhaps the most popular third-party tracking app. The free version lets you manage both iOS and Android users in your “circle” with both live tracking and two days of location history data. The app can also show how fast someone is driving in your circle and use crash detection when needed. If you’re a concerned parent and want more than just location data, Life360 is a great option.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I track a phone for free?

Yes, both Apple and Android phones have built-in “Find Me” services that let you locate phones connected to your cloud account. There are also free apps that allow you to track other people’s devices, as long as they let you in first.

How do I track an Android phone?

To find our own Android phone, Google’s Find My Devices is the best option. Just make sure your location sharing settings are turned on and you’re signed in to your Google Account on both devices. If you’re looking for someone else’s Android phone, they must share their location with you via Google Maps or a third-party app.

What is the best GPS tracker for phones?

Apple and Android’s built-in “Find Me” services are great, basic options. For functionality beyond location tracking, I’d recommend Life360 or Google Family Link.

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