How to GPS track a phone

A woman using a GPS tracking service on her cellphone.

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It’s happened to the best of us, that brief moment of panic when our phone is not in sight — nor in our pockets. I know I can’t be the only one who’s left their phone on a Target shelf or Starbucks counter, right?

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

Luckily, both Apple and Google have GPS software for iPhones and Androids that makes finding a device easy. 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 GPS track your iPhone

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 be sure you’ve enabled the feature before you go searching for it. 

To do so, 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 My, and then enable iPhone tracking. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

When the unfortunate time comes and your iPhone goes missing, you can dial into the Find My app through another Apple device — like an iPad or MacBook — to track the phone’s location. Simply open up the Find My app and tap into 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 onto the Find My network) as well as the address and directions to get to it.

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 track their iPhone, you’ll also see it in your Find My network 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 My app, you can also track your phone by signing into your iCloud account on any other internet-supported device. 

After you’ve signed 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 that of friends and family.

How to GPS track your Android phone 

Similar to Apple’s Find My, Google’s Find My Device is the key to finding an Android smartphone. I’ve listed below two methods: 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 so by swiping down the quick panel and toggling the location icon or going into Settings > Location > and then turning it on from there.

Next, make sure that you’re logged into 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 permit 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 ring noise for five minutes to help with locating it.

Also: How to share your location on Android

If you’re worried that your phone has been stolen, Google Find My Device even lets you wipe the data so that nobody 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 that the “Find My Mobile” option under the “Biometrics and Security” settings menu is turned on.

When you need to find your Samsung phone, log into the Find My Mobile service using your Samsung account credentials, and if your device can be located, it’ll show up on the map. 

Alternative tracking apps for iOS and Android

Aside from Apple and Google’s own GPS-tracking services, here are a few apps that let you track your’s and your loved ones’ phones.

Google Family Link is a free parental controls app that works for Android and Apple devices, with tools to set and regulate electronic habits among family members’ devices. Most importantly, once you download 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-esque branding, is another free GPS app that works for tracking both Apple and Android phones. I’d recommend using this app if you want to track your family members’ phones in real-time or receive alerts when their devices arrive and leave from a destination.

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

FAQ

Can I track a phone for free? 

Yes, both Apple and Android phones have built-in “Find My” services that let you track phones that have been linked to your cloud account. There are also free apps that allow you to track other people’s devices, given they’ve permitted you to first. 

How do I track an Android phone? 

To find our own Android phone, Google’s Find My Devices is the best option. Just be sure your location-sharing settings are toggled on and you’re logged into your Google account on both devices. If you’re looking for someone else’s Android phone, they have to be sharing their location with you via Google Maps or a third-party app. 

What’s the best GPS tracker for phones?

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

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