How to Use an Android Phone As a GPS Tracker

By | March 10, 2022

GPS is great for recovering your device when it’s lost or stolen and navigating while driving with Google Maps. And that’s especially good because the GPS works even when disconnected from the internet. Just download your map beforehand!

But what about using an Android phone as a GPS tracker? It may not be the most reliable option, and it does have some minor drawbacks, but it can get the job done if you’re desperate. Here’s how to turn your Android phone into a GPS tracker.

Notes: These instructions are based on a Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 8.0 Oreo, but the steps should be relatively the same for most Android devices.

Tracking With Native Android Features

Most Android devices released in 2014 or later have a built-in feature called Find My Device (formerly Find My Device). This service constantly returns the location of your device to Google’s servers so that Google knows where your device is. You can then use Google’s web interface to see where your device is at any given time. You need a Google account to use this feature.

How to Enable Find My Device on Android

  • Navigate to your device Settings.
  • Tap on Lock screen and security.
  • Tap on more security settings. (This step may not be necessary depending on your particular device and Android version.)
  • Tap the Device admin app. (This step may be called Device Administrator depending on your particular device and Android version.)
  • Tap Find My Device.
  • Tap Activate.

Notes: To enable this service, you must allow four permissions: 1) the ability to erase all data, 2) the ability to change the screen unlock password, 3) the ability to lock the screen, and 4) the ability to turn off functions on the lock screen.

The nice thing about Find My Device is that it’s not just a tracker it lets you control your device remotely in the above mentioned way. Learn more in our overview of Find My Device.

How to Use Find My Device on Android

Once enabled, all you have to do is launch a web browser, navigate to the Find My Device dashboard, and sign in to your Google account (the same is tied to your device).

Once you’re logged in, select the device you want to find, click the Find button for that device, and it will show you its last known location and how long it was last seen. This is pretty accurate in my experience, but I live in an urban environment; can be turned off up to 20 meters in areas with poor GPS visibility.

Tracking With Third Party Android Apps

If you don’t like Find My Device for any reason, you can always use one of the many third-party alternatives available on the Google Play Store. The app is easy to install and you don’t need to do anything other than create an account to use it.

There are two that we recommend:

Lookout: Lookout is a complete security solution where device tracking is just one of its many features. Having said that, it might be too bloated if device tracking is the only feature you’re interested in. But if your current device doesn’t have a good antivirus app, you might as well use this and kill two birds with one stone.

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Prey: In practical use, Prey is very similar to Find My Device. One big advantage is availability on several other platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPhone, so you can track ALL of your devices from anywhere.

Once your device is set as trackable, whether using Find My Device or a third-party app, there’s only one thing you need to do: attach the device to the person or object you want to track. Obviously, this is much easier said than done.

Want to know how to track a car with a cell phone?

The easiest and most effective option is to use a magnetic car mount. Most two-piece devices come with a magnetic insert (which you place in your device case) and a magnetic base (which you attach to whatever you want to attach). With good models, the magnetic force should be strong enough for your phone to “clamp” to the base and stay there securely.

The WizGear Universal Stick-On Magnetic Car Mount is easy, convenient, and affordable. This is a stick-on model that uses adhesive, and contains 10 magnets for maximum magnetic strength.

If you don’t trust adhesives, you might consider the WizGear Universal Suction Cup Magnetic Car Mount. It’s a lot less flashy than the stick-on variant, but the suction cups are strong and probably worth the trade-off.

Don’t have a phone case? You can use an adhesive metal plate, such as Pop-Tech’s Universal Adhesive Metal Mounts. They attach right to the back of your device and allow you to use the magnetic mount as usual.

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