22
Aug
hi-124-14

PhoneLocator is the latest entry in the Mobile Security App Shootout, coming to Android users from the developers at RVO. Another loss/theft-focused app, PhoneLocator has most of the normal features that we've seen before, but with a slight twist in functionality that may make or break the app for some users.

At A Glance

The app comes at a very low one-time payment of €1.99 (or about $2.84) and installs very quickly. The twist I mentioned earlier is that PhoneLocator has no online interface and therefore relies on your email address or a second phone number to relay information and receive commands. The fact that it relies on SMS commands can be comforting, because it means that no data connection is required to control your phone remotely.

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Because of PhoneLocator's SMS reliance, tablet support is a no go. This also means that the user needs a keyword to trigger each remote command. The app automatically programs a word for each command, but the user can edit them at any time. I would recommend changing the keywords to something esoteric, because ostensibly any phone can send the commands to your device. Additionally the user can add a phone number to the app, causing PhoneLocator to send information to said phone number.

Features

The first feature PhoneLocator offers is location. Sending an SMS with the locator keyword causes a quick SMS response to the phone that sent the request, as well as an email to your inbox. The SMS and email are definitely sophisticated, containing information all the way down to speed, battery level, and altitude. On rooted devices, PhoneLocator has the ability to auto-enable GPS if it is turned off.

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Next up is the "nearby" feature. This feature's keyword will trigger a full-volume alarm, the likes of which we've seen in just about every other security app so far, so there's not much to talk about here, except the fact that PhoneLocator allows the ringer to be protected by a password, which can provide some frustration for your phone's captor. If your phone is simply lost, PhoneLocator can be set to display its owner information, including name, email address, and anything else you'd like to add.

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PhoneLocator also enables the user to lock the screen using a PIN code, in a similar fashion to previous apps, allowing letters, numbers and some characters. Unfortunately the lock function is one of the places where the app seemed glitchy and unstable, causing my phone to behave oddly. When the command reached my phone, the screen turned off, and upon turning it back on, nothing appeared but my task bar and wallpaper. Instinctively sliding my finger across the screen to unlock, I felt the typical haptic feedback, but again nothing was there. Upon performing a battery pull however, I was greeted with the lock screen and keyboard. PhoneLocator also allows for locking under many other circumstances, including when an unauthorized SIM card is inserted.

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Also among PhoneLocator's host of features is the option to remotely wipe via SMS. However, this feature only works if the user has selected to wipe data under the security tab of the app. There is also an option to have a data wipe occur after a series of unsuccessful unlock attempts.

One feature that I found very impressive was the call log function. Upon sending the command, a report is returned containing a list of recent calls, but more impressive is that the report also contains the location from which each call was made.

Finally, the user can choose to hide the app from the app tray (reboot required) and the app can be revealed again by sending the reveal keyword via SMS.

Final Thoughts

Overall PhoneLocator is a robust competitor to other security apps on the market. It's helped by its SMS-based controls and plentiful password protection (almost everything can be password-enabled). That isn't to say that PhoneLocator is without its flaws however. Below are some of the general positives and negatives anyone looking for mobile security should consider before purchasing.

Pros

  • Price - A one-time payment of around $2.86 isn't bad for all the features that PhoneLocator offers.
  • Completely SMS-based - No need to worry about data connection or lack thereof- your phone can always be remotely controlled via SMS.
  • Ease of Use - The app and its features are incredibly easy to use, and the reports it relays are comprehensive and include all the information you'd need, and more.

Cons

  • Glitchy - May be device-specific, but I encountered several instances in which screen transitions within the app hung or my lock screen would not appear.
  • No Real Support for Multiple Devices - This comes with the SMS-reliance. Since the app is self-contained on the device, it's impossible to connect other devices to one account.
  • No Tablet Support - Tablets can't receive SMS commands, making it impossible to control one remotely.
  • No Root Presence - Since PhoneLocator isn't designed to take advantage of root privileges, it won't survive a full wipe.
  • There Could Be More - Since PhoneLocator deftly executes all the features it includes, I can't help but expect more features from it. One huge feature I'd like to see is the ability to password protect SMS commands (a la Cerberus).

If your first priority in phone security is to make sure your phone is controllable even without a data connection, PhoneLocator is an elegant solution. If that isn't among your top concerns, PhoneLocator still functions brilliantly, and does all the basics very well. Personally I think receiving SMS and email reports and controlling my phone via SMS is the simplest way to do things, but I also appreciate a good online interface to have all the information together in front of me. Either way for the price of $2.86 the app is worth trying out.

Liam Spradlin
Liam loves Android, design, user experience, and travel. He doesn't love ill-proportioned letter forms, advertisements made entirely of stock photography, and writing biographical snippets.

  • Paul

    What was the name of that other locator app your mentioned in the past; one that heavily utilizes a rooted phone and integrates nicely/deeply into Android. I've always wanted to install that one. Since I'm rooted I minus well install some security software that takes deep advantage of it.

    • http://www.liamspradlin.com Liam Spradlin

      I believe the only app we've done so far that integrates with Root is Cerberus. It's still my personal favorite!

  • Norbert

    Are you asking about Theft Aware?

  • Aftab

    I have this app and I love it! Saved my phone once already! Its certainly grass-roots level, ill admit, as far as the controls go, but that also makes it reliable, especially when you may not have 3G or internet access. Thats the reason why I chose this app, that you can locate your phone as long as it has a cell connection.

  • Silimimisu

    I also use this app for sometime and I can tell you that you misunderstood some things there: the application can be installed as a system app, and the wipe command is enabled by default but the user has to enable if he wants to wipe the SD car too.
    A great app with no glitches on all my family phones, frequent updated with great functions.

  • Arffer

    When sending command SMS messages, such as for the location or call logs, does the sms come across to the phone with notifications and displaying in the sms log on the phone? In other words, does your phone's captor see evidence of what you are doing?

    • Silimimisu

      No ! This is the beauty of the app. It hides the messages received, if it senses that the messages are commands for it :)

  • Vassilis

    This app certainly has a root function! I installed it as a system app and it can't be uninstalled with a factory reset of the phone! Moreover it works perfectly on my htc wildfire and therefore i fully recommend it ;)

  • BooGie

    Seem like a nice app only the feature of crypto commands and data connection would be nice.

    Btw Android Lost just got an update
    here is the changelog:
    Recent changes:
    version 1.54
    * Speak in local language or english
    * SMS command pin
    * SMS notification message in status
    * length selection of inbox read
    * forward mails to secondary account

  • anon

    The commands are password protected: just edit them.

    For example change the locate command to:
    locatePASSWORD-GOES-HERE

  • Andrew

    I got this app since few days and I'm impressed with fast support I get.
    About root options - THERE is!
    GPS is auto enabled, plus reset to factory settings won't wipe app (if it is installed in system/app)

    I found just one glitch - tried to use option to get picture of someone who tried to login app, but this doesn't work. In fact this option is weird, cause app is already hidden and only you can access it :)

  • Silimimisu

    "Your glitch" is non existent, since the app takes a picture of the thief, when the device is locked and a wrong password is inserted, and not when you start the app and you are asked for password.
    It is written in the application description " - Take a photo
    automatically the application will take a photo with the front or back camera, when the phone is locked, and a wrong password is entered"

  • Mike

    Yo Liam, have you ever thought that b4 reviewing an app might be a good idea to have it installed and tested on more than one device? I have the app installed on each and every phone in my company. Nobody ever mentioned any glitch. That's a surprising review. It's like me, a music producer, going to review BMW's. :)
    Good job, Android Police!

    • http://www.liamspradlin.com Liam Spradlin

      Hi Mike, sorry you didn't agree with my review. Unfortunately I don't have an entire "company" of phones to test apps on, nor do I have unlimited time to do so. Still, a glitch is a glitch, and I reported on my own experience.
      I'm still not sure how your BMW comparison applies, but thanks for your feedback!

  • RonJ

    The new version allows online tracking plus many other functions on phonelocator website. Can't get better than that, really.

  • Chet

    I was going to get PL but my friend has it and cannot auto-enable the GPS when the GPS is turned off. The phone is rooted and the app is installed in the system/app folder.
    When testing the phone it won't turn on the target phones GPS (yes he has everything set up according to the instructions). If the target phones GPS is turned on then it replys with the location, but this means the phone must always have the GPS turned on, massive battery drain and the only reason I wouldn't buy this app.

  • Florian

    The auto enable GPS feature works perfectly for me an my friends.
    One of us discovered this app and we all use it as I think that it is the most complete of all. Sure it has a learning curve, but it is well documented.

    • Chet

      Florian, for your auto enable GPS to work do you have to have "Use GPS satellites" ticked in your settings. I was under the impression that you could have this un-ticked and PL would still be able to turn on the GPS, if the app was system based on a rooted phone. If we tick on the "Use GPS satellites" then yes the app will access the GPS but it states the will be increased battery usage.

      • Florian

        Just install the app as system app (description on their web site or inside the app) and the app turns ON the GPS, if it is off. Simple as that.
        Make sure that you don't use the pirated version of the app, as some feature are disabled on that versions :)

  • Jeider Damm

    What happened with this app? It's not on Play anymore, plus the creators website is offline. Something went wrong with it?

  • Fiftyshadesof Graham Watts

    ok so I have phone locator pro and during set up I got disturbed and when I returned to my phone the screen was off up on swiping the screen to enter my phone unlock pattern its prompting me a password for phone locator pro which I did not set I have 2 attempts left before phone factory resets .....help please