How to track a phone by GPS

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

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It has 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 has left their phone on a Target shelf or Starbucks counter, right?

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

Fortunately, both Apple and Google have GPS software for iPhones Y 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 iPhone, iPad, and even Apple Watch. Just make sure you’ve enabled the feature before searching for it.

To do this, go to your iPhone settings > tap your name, then tap Find My > turn on Location Sharing > tap Find My iPhone.

Screenshot of a phone showing the Find My iPhone settings

Go to locations, Find My, and then enable iPhone tracking.

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

When the unfortunate moment comes and your iPhone goes missing, you can call the Find My app through another Apple device, such as an iPad or MacBook, to track the location of the phone. Just open the Find My app and tap on the “Devices” tab.

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

Also: How to find and remove spyware from your phone

If you want to find someone else’s phone, hopefully that person will have to share their location with you in their settings. If you’ve been given 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 Apple iPad 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 in to your iCloud account on any other internet-enabled device.

Once you’re 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 the devices associated with your Apple ID and not those of your 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 have listed two methods below: one that can be used for all Android devices and an additional service that is specific to Samsung.

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

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

Also: How to share your location on Android

If you’re worried your phone has been stolen, Google Find My Device even allows you to wipe the data so no one steals 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 in the “Biometrics and security” settings menu is activated.

When you need to find your Samsung phone, sign in to the Find My Mobile Service using 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 let you track your phones and those of your loved ones.

Google Family Link is a free parental control app that works for Android and Apple devices, with tools to set up and regulate electronic habits between family members’ devices. Most importantly, once you download the app from the Google play either Apple App StoreYou can easily share locations with the “tap to share” feature.

iSharing, despite the Apple-esque branding, is another free GPS app that works for tracking Apple and Android phones. I recommend using this app if you want to track your family members’ phones in real time or get alerts when their devices arrive and leave a destination.

Life360 is perhaps the most popular third-party tracking app. With the free version, you can manage iOS and Android users in your “circle” with live tracking and two days 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.

Frequently asked questions

Can I track a phone for free?

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

How can 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 into your Google account on both devices. If you’re looking for someone else’s Android phone, they need to share their location with you through Google Maps or a third-party app.

What is the best GPS tracker for phones?

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

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