[Android] Best free anti-theft (device tracker/phone finder) app

Scared of losing your device, either to theft or personal negligence? While there is no way to ensure 100% chance of recovery of your lost Android device, there are apps out there that will help you in either getting your device back or, if you can’t get it back, protecting your private data on the device. This article look at the best free anti-theft apps (also referred to as phone finder or device tracker apps) available on Android Market Google Play Store.

Please realize none of the apps listed below guarantee the recovery of your device or safeguard of your data when your device is lost or stolen. However, the apps below assist you in recovering your device and/or protecting your data by wiping. Don’t think just because you have an anti-theft app installed that your device is 100% safe.

[Note: If you use a task killer, be sure to add the anti-theft app you download to the ignore list to avoid issues.]

This article is part of our Best Free Android Apps repository. Drop by to learn more about the best free apps across a variety of categories!

Table of Contents

Best Free Anti-Theft App

App Name: Avast Anti-Theft

Note: Avast Anti-Theft can only be downloaded from within avast! Mobile Security. Once you download avast! Mobile Security and use it to download Avast Anti-Theft, you can uninstall avast! Mobile Security and still keep Avast Anti-Theft, if you wish.

Developer: AVAST Software

Download Size: 2.3 MB

Version Reviewed: v1.0.1892

Requires: Android 2.1 and up

Pros

  • Allows users to remotely control devices via SMS:
    • Locate (GPS)
    • Lock
    • Wipe (internal storage and SD card)
    • Trigger an alarm (even when device is on silent or vibrate)
    • Display a message on screen
    • Make phone call a phone number
    • Forward or CC incoming SMSes to a phone number
    • Send call notifications to a phone number
    • Reboot device
    • Launch an app
    • …And more
  • Has a SIM-card-change notifier, which, when it detects a new SIM, forwards the number of the new SIM and location of the phone; and can optionally automatically
    • Lock the device
    • Sound an alarm
    • Deny phone settings access
    • Prevent USB debugging
    • Force data connection to stay on
    • Send an SMS notification when the battery of the device is low
  • Has the ability to “disguise” itself, hiding under a custom user-defined name when protection is off and hiding itself from the app tray when protection is on (“Stealth Mode”).
  • Can prevent deletion of itself via hard/factory reset (root required).
  • Extremely light battery usage.

Cons

  • Not available as a standalone app — users must first download avast! Mobile Security, then install Avast Anti-Theft from avast! Mobile Security. (avast! Mobile Security can be uninstalled after Avast Anti-Theft is installed, if desired.)
  • No web interface to remotely control device. (Avast plans on introducing a web interface in the near future.)
    • Note: Until Avast introduces the web interface for Avast Anti-Theft, Avast Anti-Theft should be used for phones only — not tablets.
  • No features to use cameras to remotely take photos or videos.
  • No features to use microphone to remotely record sound.
  • Shows up as “com.avast.android.antitheft” in task killers, even in stealth mode. (Killing “com.avast.android.antitheft” does not close Avast Anti-Theft [it stays active even after you kill com.avast.android.antitheft] but you can see it as a running app which defeats the purpose of stealth mode.)

Discussion

Avast Anti-Theft is a brilliant, yet free, anti-theft app. It has the four features most desired in an anti-theft app (GPS location, lock device, wipe device, and sound siren) plus extra features such as a SIM-card-change notifier, “Stealth Mode” (which hides Avast Anti-Theft from the app tray when theft protection is turned on), and self protection which prevents someone from deleting Avast Anti-Theft by doing a factory reset (root required for self protection).

Avast Anti-Theft works solely via SMS. All remote commands (locate, lock, wipe, sound alarm, etc.) are done by texting your phone using a passcode you set when setting up Avast Anti-Theft. You setup two “friend” numbers and you can decide if you want Avast Anti-Theft to accept remote commands from these friend numbers only or from any phone number (note: all SMS remote commands, regardless of if it is a friend number or any number, must have the passcode in them to work — so its not like anyone can control your device). The friend numbers are also the numbers where an SMS is sent when Avast Anti-Theft detects a new SIM card; this SMS contains the number of the new SIM and the location of the phone.

Note: Avast Anti-Theft works on CDMA phones, too, even though CDMA phones don’t have SIM cards. However, Avast does not specify how the SIM-card-change notifier fits in with CDMA phones.

All the above is done while sipping minimum battery — Avast Anti-Theft will not significantly drain your battery.

That said, no app is perfect and Avast Anti-Theft is no exception. The biggest drawback to Avast Anti-Theft is, without a doubt, the fact that it comes coupled with avast! Mobile Security. In other words, you cannot download Avast Anti-Theft directly from Play Store. Rather, you need to download avast! Mobile Security (which is free) and then install Avast Anti-Theft from within avast! Mobile Security. (Installing Avast Anti-Theft from within avast! Mobile Security is very easy — you are taken through a step-by-step guide that helps you do it, but note you must have sideloading enabled.) After you have installed Avast Anti-Theft, you can uninstall avast! Mobile Security if you don’t want avast! Mobile Security and still keep Avast Anti-Theft since Avast Anti-Theft is a separate app than avast! Mobile Security.

The other major drawback to Avast Anti-Theft is the lack of a web interface for remotely controlling devices. As mentioned above, Avast Anti-Theft currently only works through SMS commands; there is no website you can use to control your device once lost — you must send text messages to control your device. As such, Avast Anti-Theft currently is for phones only — you should not use Avast Anti-Theft on tablets, especially ones that don’t have a dialer (you need the dialer to open Avast Anti-Theft when it is in stealth mode). However, tablet users have no fear — Avast plans on introducing a web interface to Avast Anti-Theft in the near future and will even have a tablet specific version of the app. (If you need an anti-theft app with a web interface or one that works on tablets right now, check out Android Lost.)

With the two above-mentioned drawbacks, you must be asking yourself why Avast Anti-Theft is being crowned the Best Free Anti-Theft App. After all, if Avast Anti-Theft doesn’t have a web interface then that means a) it doesn’t protect tablets and b) if the thief potentially removes your SIM card and only uses your phone as a WiFi device, then Avast can’t help you recover it. There are two main reasons why Avast Anti-Theft is being crowed king. First of all, anti-theft apps are intended to help recover devices from the opportunistic thief (such as swiping your phone at a party). Any professional thief stealing phones will know how to remove all anti-theft apps; and trust me no matter what an app developer claims, there is a way to remove any and all anti-theft apps — you just need to know how. An ordinary thief is unlikely to pull out your SIM card and use the phone as a WiFi only device, so that vulnerability isn’t within the scope of what anti-theft apps are intended for. Plus once Avast Anti-Theft has a web interface this concern is moot. The more important reason why Avast Anti-Theft is #1 is trust.

By their very nature, anti-theft apps need a lot of app permissions such as send SMS, make calls, read SMS, intercepting outgoing calls, contacts data, etc. — the type of app permissions any security conscience ‘droid user will not want to give, in case the app or app developer is rogue. So when an app asks for so many permissions, the app needs to be from a trustworthy source. Now I’m not ragging on small/unknown app developers; after all, everyone starts off small. However, if I am going to give an app so much access to my Android device (which I have very personal information on), the app needs to be from a company I know and trust. Avast is a company we all know and trust. The trust in Avast far outweighs any drawbacks Avast Anti-Theft has.

Overall, the extensive features list combined with the Avast reputation makes Avast Anti-Theft the best free anti-theft app.

Runner Up

App Name: Android Lost

Developer: Thesis Borg

Download Size: 129 KB

Version Reviewed: v2.20

Requires: Android 2.2 and up

Discussion

Android Lost is another excellent anti-theft app for Android. With Android Lost users can remotely locate (GPS), lock, and/or wipe their devices; take pictures from front or back camera; record audio from microphone; send an e-mail when SIM is changed; remotely sound an alarm; and much, much more. And, to top it off, Android Lost works via SMS and has a web interface, so you are safe to use it on tablets. Essentially, Android Lost has all the features of Avast Anti-Theft plus what Avast Anti-Theft is lacking.

Really the only issue with Android Lost is it is by a developer no one has really heard of. For the less paranoid, this isn’t an issue. However, for the more paranoid (e.g. Ashraf — that’s me), giving an app created by an unknown literally full access to our Android devices (Android Lost requests many sensitive app permissions plus you must login to your Google account) is a huge concern. That is not to say Thesis Borg is a bad person. He (or she) describes Android Lost as a “hobby” project and sounds like a nice person. But, really, are you willing to put your trust in an app based off what a person sounds like… on the Internet? I’m not and that is why Avast Anti-Theft ranks above Android Lost. I know that is bias against small/new developers, but that is just how it is. (Note: I am not saying Android Lost is a malicious app or Thesis Borg is a malicious developer. I’m just saying… what if?)

That being said, if you don’t want to or cannot use Avast Anti-Theft, Android Lost is a terrific second option.

Honorable Mention 1

App Name: Prey Anti-Theft

Developer: Fork Ltd.

Download Size: 313 KB

Version Reviewed: v0.5

Requires: Android 1.5 and up

Discussion

Prey Anti-Theft is the mobile version of the Prey Project, an open-source project that helps users find lost computers (Windows/Mac OS X); and now lost mobile devices.

In terms of features Prey Anti-Theft is pretty simple. It allows users to remotely geo-locate (GPS/WiFi), lock, and scream devices; it has uninstall protection (which doesn’t work too well since a hard reset gets rid of the app) and send alerts to users via SMS. Prey Anti-Theft doesn’t have features like remote wipe, taking photos via camera, or recording audio.

The attraction to Prey Anti-Theft is that it is an open-source project and if you use it to keep track of your computers, then it may be convenient for you to do the same with your Android device.

Honorable Mention 2

App Name: Wheres My Droid

Developer: Alienman Tech

Download Size: 614 KB

Version Reviewed: v4.0.3

Requires: Android 2.2 and up

Discussion

Wheres My Droid is one of the pioneer anti-theft/device finder apps on Android. Indeed it can be credited for popularizing the idea of remotely locating Android devices after they have been stolen or lost. The only issue with Wheres My Droid is it has now been surpassed by the competition in regards to features. With Wheres My Droid users can remotely locate (GPS) and scream devices (either via SMS or a web interface); and it has a SIM change notifier. But that’s it. If you want more features, such as remote wipe or lock, you need to purchase Wheres My Droid Pro.

For being the pioneer anti-theft app, Wheres My Droid gets an honorable mention. If you want just the basics, then give Wheres My Droid a try.

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29 comments

  1. Frank

    well, that’s a great name charityswearbox.

    But (at least) from a users point of view your comment is SPAM and so Ashraf does have a SPAM problem.
    You could’ve mailed him in the first place instead filling junk (from the readers point of view, useless information that just takes time to read) in here…

    What I try to tell you: I wouldn’t trust the SPAM defense of folks that do SPAM themselves to avdertise their ‘expertise’.

    Yours, Frank

  2. charityswearbox.com

    Do you have a spam problem on this blog; I also am a blogger, and I was
    wondering your situation; we have developed some nice methods and
    we are looking to swap methods with others, be sure to shoot me an email if interested.

  3. Macca

    Sad to see that Comodo doesn’t get a mention.

    Like Avast, it has some missing features, but it is totally free and from a name most would recognize as being trustworthy.

    Again like Avast, you do need to install their mobile security before you can use the phone finder service, but i thought it should at least be mentioned as a viable alternative.

  4. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @longfeng: No, Cerberus is not free. The free download from Google Play is a 7-day free trial; after the 7-days you must pay 2.99€ for a lifetime license. This is from Cerberus’ Google Play page:

    Cerberus is a complete anti-theft application, the best protection you can get to recover your misplaced, lost or stolen Android device. This is a free trial for one week, then you can buy a lifetime license for a small price (2.99€) from within the application: no monthly or yearly fees, just a one-time payment.

    The only way to get Cerberus for free is via a promotion the developer of Cerberus recently ran. That was a time limited promotion that has ended.

    I don’t know if you are the developer of Cerberus or just a fan, but please don’t spread false information. People come to dotTech for accurate, unbiased information from dotTech writers and from our readers via the comments. Don’t ruin that, please.

  5. holyKal

    “Note: Avast Anti-Theft works on CDMA phones, too, even though CDMA phones don’t have SIM cards. However, Avast does not specify how the SIM-card-change notifier fits in with CDMA phones.”

    My Verizon Droid Bionic has a big SIM card. Just saying.

  6. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @PCbasics: Cerberus isn’t free…

    @Frank: Thx for the heads up!

    @longfeng: Come on developer, plz read well before you try to advertise your products. Cerberus isn’t free and this article is about best FREE antitheft app. I’m not knocking Cerberus in the least; this article just isn’t the place for it.

    @Aiman: You are welcome! Yeah Avast still lacks some features other apps have, as I mentioned in the article. In my book it is still the best because we know we have trust it.

  7. Aiman

    Cerberus definitely better than Avast, I’ve use both and I think Cerberus offers better option and control over your device plus a must have extra function to actually snap pictures on top of what Avast had. Anyway, I’ve use Cerberus via free offer from you guys not so long ago. Thanks for the heads up! :)

  8. longfeng

    @PCbasics:

    Cerberus is definitely more powerful than Avast who leeched on the main program. One classic example is its ability to take photo when wrong password is entered.

    Come on, editor, don’t stick to big boys and names just because they are good previously.

    Spy Phone Location and Remote SMS is also another good program. Pl research well before you jump to conclusion.