Before we start, there’s something you should know. This list is about locating a smartphone. It’s not about tracking every single movement, or intercepting calls, or reading texts. If you want that, then you really need to look elsewhere.
Here, we’re going to look at the best apps for finding a lost phone or simply for knowing where your kids are. Some have more features than others, such as locking or wiping a device, or sending a message to the screen. Whatever your needs, there’s an app available to fit them.
Android and iOS phones already have built in apps to help you find them. They are easily accessed from any computer or smartphone by logging in to your Google or iCloud account. When logged in, you can locate any device assigned to your account. You can also ring the device, lock it or even erase it completely.
So why, if the official apps can do these things and are already installed, do we need alternatives? Well, as efficient as the official apps are, 3rd party apps can either make things simpler for you, or add features which might make all the difference.
These apps range from very simple to very in depth. As with all apps, some are free, some are not, some have in-app purchase options.
Probably the simplest app in our list, Family Locator has still come a long way from very simple beginnings. The app tracks any phone which has the app, and which is part of a group on the host phone. You can see at-a-glance locations for all members of the group. You do need an account for each phone, but it’s a one-time thing to sign in.
Although the free app works perfectly well, you can add features such as Driver Reports, and Crash Detection and Emergency which will notify Life360 (the app owners) to contact you and send help if needed. All in all, Family Locator is one of the best apps of this kind available. There are ads, but they’re not too intrusive, so it’s definitely worth a try.
For a long time, Cerberus has been the go-to app for locating a lost phone. It doesn’t have the market lead it once did, but is still a very solid choice. The advantage Cerberus has over most apps is that it is a complete anti-theft service. As well as the usual track/lock/wipe, you can send commands to Cerberus using SMS to activate tasks. The app will notify you if the SIM is changed, it can take photos or video and even record audio, all without the knowledge of the person who has the phone.
You can also set up tasks, or macros, which trigger on certain events. In short, Cerberus can do just about anything to help you recover your lost or stolen phone. The app is free to use for 7 days, but then requires an annual subscription. This is only around $5, and is well worth the money.
Prey is similar to Cerberus, except it’s a whole lot easier to get to grips with. It isn’t quite as extensive as Cerberus in what it can do, but it is very user-friendly. A useful feature is an alarm to let you know if your phone moves out of a set control zone. With the free version, you get 20 reports, 1 control zone and can register up to 3 devices. If you want more, subscriptions start at $5/month.
If your needs are modest, the free app may be all you need.
Find my friends is a pretty simple app. It has the ability to track a device in real time, but can also broadcast your own location if you need help quickly. A nice feature is that police station, fire department and hospital locations are all shown on the map by default. This will allow the user to know the closest place to get help, if they need it.
For $5/month, you also get roadside assistance. If that’s not important, and you just want to track your kids, the free version will be plenty. Simple, yes, but also a very effective app.
Glympse is a little bit different to the other apps in this list. Instead of tracking a lost phone remotely, it requires a track to be started on the host device. This makes it very useful if you heading somewhere, and the people at your destination want to know how far away you are without calling or texting. You can share the track with anybody, and only those people can see your location.
You can also request a track from someone to start monitoring their location. All tracks expire automatically, and no app is needed on the receiving end, just the device initiating the track. Simple and very effective.
There are hundreds of apps available for Android, but only a handful for iOS. It may be because people trust Apple’s own tracking app which, although fairly basic, does work well. If you want a full-featured anti-theft app on your iPhone, then Prey is one of your few options. It’s a relief, then, that it’s so good. Family Locator is excellent for more basic use on either platform. But, if you want the whole tracking shebang, and are using Android, Cerberus is worth every cent of the $5 annual payment.