Lost your smartphone? See which apps work best to find it - FOX Carolina 21

Lost your smartphone? See which apps work best to find it

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The Find My iPhone app is available on iPhones. (File/FOX Carolina) The Find My iPhone app is available on iPhones. (File/FOX Carolina)
GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Smartphones have become such a part of our lives that losing them, or having them stolen, could be disastrous.

Many companies have designed "find your phone" apps for Android and iPhones. They use GPS to locate the phone and often have a way to message the phone if whoever finds it is nice enough to reply.

But how reliable is the tracking?

En route to a beach vacation from Spartanburg, Beth Crews realized she didn't have her phone. She did remember she had downloaded the locator app, Find my iPhone. Using a computer, she found her phone on a map a couple miles from where she last saw it.

Crews said the next day she tried to find it again, and the program mapped it in another location in Spartanburg. When she got back in town, Crews said she went to the house where the app showed her phone, and it was nowhere to be found.

She wrote up a police report for a missing phone, but came to find that it had fallen out of her purse and had been sitting in her trunk in her parked car in downtown Spartanburg the whole time. It was a mile and a half from where the app said it was.

Crews said she wouldn't trust the apps again.

"It had me in the right city... right-ish neighborhood, but not with enough precision to depend on," Crews said.

FOX Carolina tested out some apps ourselves for the iPhone and Android. We tried Find my iPhone and Gadget Trak for an iPhone and Where's My Droid?, Find My Phone and Android Lost for an Android.

We sent a photographer out with both phones and mapped his location from the station.

When a text message was sent from a different phone, the Find my Phone app responded, but took at least 15 minutes to find the photographer's location, and by then he'd moved on.

Where's My Droid is supposed to trigger the GPS and alert the phone when it's texted key words that you choose before the phone is lost.

On the computer, its GPS did pinpoint the photographer across the street from the North Gate Soda Shop on North Main Street in Greenville. That's where he was, but it didn't send any sort of alarm to the phone.

Android Lost is an app that is downloaded after the phone has been lost. It lets the user control it remotely. The GPS on its website showed the correct spot, but its text feature didn't alert the phone.

For the iPhone, Gadget Trak sends regular email updates. The 10-minute interval was what we had originally set up, and for another dollar there's also an option of camera shots. With that, as it updates the location, it takes a picture, which could help determine who took it if it was stolen.

The updates only come for what was originally signed up for - in this case, 10-minute intervals. Those were not very helpful because the phone was continuously moving. The tracking also zaps the phone's battery.

Find My iPhone, the same app that mapped Beth Crews' non-moving phone wrong, proved to be the most simple to use and easiest to get real-time mapping.

The phone received an alert, not just a text message, that beeps whether or not the phone is on silent. That would be helpful if a phone is just misplaced in the car or at home.

All of the apps only work if the phone is on and if whoever has it doesn't remove the app.

They each located the phones using Google maps, but some were easier to use than others.

Here's a list of the apps that were easiest to use to the ones with the most bells and whistles.

  • Find My iPhone was the most simple. It mapped and allowed you to message the phone.
  • Find My Phone for Android was simple to download and sent email updates immediately about where the phone was. It is supposed to ring loudly, but we didn't see that happen. It also keeps track of the battery status.
  • Android Lost can be downloaded after a phone is lost. It lets users control the phone remotely, sending text messages. It can even allow the user to erase the SD card, make the phone speak text messages aloud and take pictures of where it is. These did not work as we tried it.
  • Where's My Droid needs command prompt words entered before the phone is lost. That can get complicated when trying to find its location or message it. It did not work when we tried it.
  • Gadget Trak had the most bells and whistles, and it cost $3.99 versus 99 cents or free. It sends emailed location updates and extra features can be purchased, like the photo snapping. There are many secure aspects, including password protection, which makes it harder to disengage if it's not your phone.

After calling Apple to see what they had to say about Crews' lost phone situation concerning when the Find My iPhone app mapped her phone at different locations, their support said they had never heard of issues like that reported to their support sites.

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