How to find your lost or stolen Android smartphone with Find My Device

In 2013, Google launched the Android Device Manager service for Android smartphones and tablets. Recently, it was renamed to Find My Device. Even though this feature has received its fair share of attention in the tech press, most Android users have no idea what it is and whether it is on their smartphones. Luckily, everyone with a modern Android smartphone has it built-in, and people can use it to find their lost or stolen Android devices, straight from their Google accounts. Here's how:

What is Find My Device, previously known as Android Device Manager?

Find My Device, previously known as Android Device Manager, is a service that was developed by Google for all Android users so that they can locate their smartphones and tablets. This is useful if you have misplaced your smartphone and you can no longer find it or if it has been stolen.

For Find My Device (Android Device Manager) to work, you need it enabled on your Android device, and the device has to be connected to the internet. Luckily, Android 6 Marshmallow and Android 7 Nougat and newer, all have this feature built into the operating system. If you have an older version of Android, you can go to the Google Play store and download the Find My Device app.

What can you do using Find My Device?

Find My Device or Android Device Manager as it was known previously, helps you do the following:

  • Check when your Android devices were last online
  • See the exact geographical location of your Android devices
  • Remotely ring your Android smartphone so that you can hear it sound and buzz, and find it when you no longer remember where you have left it. Or scare the thief who stole it :)
  • Remotely lock your Android devices, if they were stolen or lost
  • Remotely wipe all the data on your Android device and reset it so that unauthorized people can't get access to it

How to get access to Find My Device

Open a web browser on any computer or device and go to this page: Google Find My Device. You need to sign in with the same Gmail address/Google account that you are using on the device that you want to find, lock or erase using Find My Device.

After you sign in, you should see a page similar to the screenshot below. By default, Find My Device (Android Device Manager) displays information about your primary smartphone.

You can also use a web browser on any computer or device and search on Google for "where is my phone". Once you confirm your identity, you can locate all your lost or stolen Android devices. In order for this to work, you need to be signed in with the same Google account you use on the device that you want to find.

How to select the Android device that you want to interact with

Many people have multiple Android devices. If you don't want to interact with your main smartphone that is automatically shown by Google's Find My Device (Android Device Manager), select the one you want to interact with by clicking or tapping on its icon from the top. There, you will see a list of other devices that are registered with your Google account.

Now you can start interacting with the selected device.

How to see exact the location of your Android smartphone or tablet

After you have selected the device that you want to find, Find My Device (Android Device Manager) automatically starts searching for it. If it doesn't find, or if you want more up-to-date information, press the refresh button highlighted below. It's on the right side of your device's name.

After some time, Find My Device shows the location of your Android smartphone or tablet on the map. Additionally, you can also see the device's battery level and, if it's connected to a WiFi network, you can see its name.

If the battery of your Android device is depleted or if it was stolen by someone who has reset it or disconnected it from the internet, Find My Device says that the location is unavailable. However, you can see when the device was last online and the app that was used to get its location. In the screenshot below, for instance, you can see that our test Android smartphone was last seen 45 minutes ago through the data transferred by the Maps app.

In this case, we hope that you have installed an antivirus or a security suite on your Android device, with anti-theft features that include localization and control through SMS commands or other means. Here's an example of what security products can do for you, in this situation: 6 things Bitdefender Mobile Security can do for you when your Android device is stolen.

How to remotely ring your Android smartphone

It may happen that you no longer remember where you have placed your Android smartphone and you can't ask someone else to ring you so that you can find it. Luckily, you can remotely ring your smartphone. In Find My Device, press the Play Sound button, and your Android device will ring at full volume for five minutes.

As long as the Android device keeps on ringing, you can see a message that says "Playing sound..." displayed on the Find My Device website.

When you find your device, press the power button on it to stop the ringing.

How to remotely lock a lost or stolen Android smartphone

If your device is in the hands of another person, it is important that you lock your smartphone. Luckily, you can do this remotely with Find My Device (Android Device Manager). You can also send a message to the person who now has your smartphone and ask him or her to call you. To do this, in Find My Device, click or tap Lock.

You can now send a recovery message to the person who has the phone and a phone number on which he or she can call you.

When you are done completing everything, press Lock and all the data is sent to your Android smartphone. The person holding your smartphone will automatically see the message that you have sent and will be given the option to call you, the owner of the smartphone. You can see an example of how it looks, in the picture below.

How to remotely wipe all the data on a lost or stolen Android device

If you have given up hope and you don't think that you will recover your lost or stolen Android device, it is important to make sure that the person that has your device doesn't get access to the data you stored on it. With Google's Find My Device (Android Device Manager) you can remotely wipe everything on your smartphone or tablet. Your apps, photos, music, files and settings will be deleted. After you remote erase everything, Find My Device will no longer work for that device, because the reset is permanent. Unfortunately, this feature doesn't remove the content on the SD card of your Android device. The person who gets access to your smartphone can unplug the SD card and use the data on it. Another important aspect to consider is that, if your Android device is currently offline and cannot be found, if you send the Erase command in Find My Device, the command is performed as soon as your Android device goes online. To remotely wipe your smartphone, click or tap Erase.

Read the information displayed and confirm that you want to go ahead with the process by pressing Erase again.

When your Android smartphone is back online, it is remotely wiped and reset to its defaults.

How to make sure that Find My Device is enabled on your Android smartphone or tablet

If you have Android 6 Marshmallow, Android 7 Nougat or newer, Find My Device should be enabled by default on your device. However, it is worth to double-check if that's true. Go to Settings and find the Personal group of settings. There, tap on Google. On some devices, you just go to "Settings -> Google."

Then, tap on Security.

Now tap on Android Device Manager (Remotely locate this device).

Here you can see the two settings that cater to the proper functioning of the Find My Device (Android Device Manager) service: "Remotely locate this device (Show device location on Android Device Manager)" and "Allow remote lock and erase (If you lose your device, you can remotely lock, or factory reset it with Android Device Manager)". Both should be turned on so that you can use all the features described earlier in this tutorial.

What if I have an old Android smartphone?

Find My Device (Android Device Manager) is not built into older versions of Android, like Android version 4 or 5. If you have a smartphone with an older version of Android, you can still use Find My Device by downloading and installing its app. Go to the Google Play Store and download the Find My Device app. Then set it as advised earlier in this guide and use its features when the need arises.

Did you use Find My Device to find, remote lock or remote wipe your Android smartphone? How did it go?

Now that you know what Find My Device is, how it works and when it's useful, try it out and let us know what you think. Is it a useful service? Did it save you when you lost your smartphone or when someone has stolen your smartphone? Share your stories (horror or otherwise), using the comments form accessible below.