How to Use an Android Phone as a GPS Tracker Device
GPS is great for recovering your device when lost or stolen and navigating while driving with Google Maps. And it’s especially nifty because GPS works even when disconnected from the internet. Just download your maps ahead of time!
But how about using an Android phone as a GPS tracker? It may not be the most reliable option, and it does come with some not-so-insignificant drawbacks, but it can get the job done if you’re desperate. Here’s how to turn your Android phone into a GPS tracker.
Tracking With Native Android Features
Most Android devices released in 2014 or later have a built-in feature called Find My Device (formerly called Find My Android). This service constantly pings your device’s location back to Google’s servers so that Google knows where your phone is. You can then use Google’s web interface to see where your device is at any given time. You’ll need a Google account to use this feature.
How to Enable Find My Device on Android
- Navigate to your device’s Settings.
- Tap on Passwords and security.
- Select Privacy.
- Tap on Find My Device.
- Toggle on the feature on the next page.
Precise steps on your phone might differ, but the steps should be relatively similar for most Android devices. If you can’t figure out where Find My Device is located on your device, open the Settings app and use the search bar at the top for a hassle-free experience. The nice thing about Find My Device is that it’s not just a tracker—it lets you control the device from afar.
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 one associated with your device).
Once you’re logged in, select the device you want to locate (if you have multiple), and Find My Device will show its last known location, how long ago it was last spotted, if it’s connected to the internet, and the battery level.
It’s fairly accurate, especially if you live in an urban environment; it can be off by up to 20 meters in areas with poor GPS visibility. Plus, GPS can be inaccurate when inside buildings.
Tracking With Third-Party Android Apps
If you don’t like Find My Device for whatever reason, you can always resort to one of the many third-party alternatives available on the Google Play Store. These apps are easy to install, and you don’t really have to do anything beyond creating an account to use them.
There are two that we recommend: Life360 and Prey. Most tracking apps are marketed as anti-theft and anti-loss security apps for Android, and they’re certainly useful for those purposes, but you can use them for straight-up tracking if you so wish.
1. Life360: Find Family & Friends
Life360 is a go-to app if you want to keep tabs on your family members by using their devices. But despite its main functionality, you can use the app to track your phone using GPS in case it gets lost.
It helps parents more since they can be able to track where their kids are from the comfort of their homes. The only downside is the app doesn’t provide Find My Device features like wiping or locking a lost device.
Download: Life360 (Free, subscription available)
In practical use, Prey is very similar to Find My Device. Its big advantage is that it is available across multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPhone, so you can track all of your devices from anywhere. Prey has been around for a while, which gives it bonus points relative to the plethora of lesser-known tracking apps available on the Google Play Store.
Download: Prey (Free, in-app purchases available)
Make Your Android Device Mountable for Tracking
Once your device is set up as trackable, whether using Find My Device or a third-party app, there’s only one thing left to do: attach the device to the person or object that 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 kits come with a magnetic insert (that you place inside your device case) and a magnetic base (that you attach to whatever you want to mount). With a good model, the magnetic force should be strong enough for your phone to “snap” onto the base and stay there securely.
The WixGear Universal Stick-On Magnetic Car Mount is easy, convenient, and affordable. It’s a stick-on model that uses an adhesive and contains ten magnets for maximum magnetic strength.
If you don’t trust adhesives, you might consider the WixGear Universal Suction Cup Magnetic Car Mount. It’s a lot more conspicuous than the stick-on variant, but the suction cup is strong and may be worth the trade-off.
Don’t have a phone case? You can use adhesive metal plates instead, such as these Pop-Tech Universal Adhesive Metal Mounts. They stick right onto the back of your device and let you use magnetic mounts as usual.
Nothing Beats a Dedicated GPS Tracker
While your Android device can work as a tracker in a pinch, don’t expect it to pass for a serious tracking device. There are three main drawbacks that you should be aware of, and if any of these drawbacks prove problematic for you, then you should consider using a dedicated tracker instead:
- Battery Life: Your smartphone has a lot of software running in the background at all times, such as system-level services and third-party apps, and all of that processing drains battery life. A dedicated GPS tracker only needs to process GPS tracking, resulting in much longer battery life per charge.
- Signal Quality: GPS trackers aren’t perfect, but their signals are far superior to smartphone signals. As such, not only are dedicated GPS trackers more accurate, but they can keep tracking even in areas where smartphones would normally cut out.
- Risks and Costs: Are you willing to lose your Android device? Suppose you mounted it to the undercarriage of a car, and it fell off in the middle of a highway? Dedicated GPS trackers are easier to mount and more robust, and even if they’re lost or damaged, they’re cheaper to replace.
In other words, don’t convert your Android phone to a GPS tracker unless you have no other options. For an alternative that’s more accurate and reliable, consider trying something like the Spytec Portable GPS Tracker.
Your Android Phone Has Lots of Applications
Your Android phone is more powerful than you think. You can use it as a camera for snapping photos and videos, a communication device to keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues, and a GPS tracker, among other uses.
Your phone can be so many things; the only requirement is to know how to tap into its wide features. Hopefully, you can now use your device as a GPS tracker by following the instructions above.