According to the U.S. Attorney General's Office, roughly 113 smartphones are lost or stolen every minute. But no matter how your phone went missing, there's nothing worse than knowing you'll never see it again. That's where Absolute Software's LoJack for Mobile Devices comes in. Best known for helping police recover stolen vehicles and laptops, this $29-a-year service helps users recover their lost or stolen smartphones. So, how well does it work?
Absolute Software's LoJack app comes preinstalled on Samsung's Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 Active, Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 and, according to Absolute, future flagship Samsung devices, directly from Samsung's factory. You won't be able to see the software, though, as it's installed in the devices' firmware and remains dormant until you download the LoJack for Mobile Devices app and activate it. The benefit of having the software installed at the firmware level is that if your phone is stolen and the thief uninstalls the app, it will automatically reinstall itself. The same thing holds true if the thief performs a factory restore. The downside is that the service can't be used with any other smartphone or tablet yet.
To activate LoJack for Mobile Devices, you first must purchase a $29.99 yearly subscription through the Absolute Software website. You'll then need to download the LoJack for Mobile Devices app from Absolute's website. Then, enable your smartphone's GPS, check the box next to Unknown Sources in the Security settings menu and install the app.
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The LoJack for Mobile Devices Android app isn't much to look at. On the home screen, you can review basic stats about the software, including the last time it performed a check-in with Absolute Software's servers. You can also perform a test call-in to ensure that LoJack is properly tracking your phone's whereabouts, access the Absolute Customer Center and check the app's Agent Log.
Lookout's mobile app, on the other hand, lets you back up your photos, contacts and call history; perform malware scans; and locate other missing devices.
Of course, if your phone goes missing, the app's interface will be of little use. Absolute's Web-based Customer Center dashboard, accessible through any Web browser, lets you remotely access your phone in order to lock, track and delete any information on the device.
The interface is rather straightforward. When you first log in to the Customer Center, you're shown a list of all of the devices you have protected by LoJack. Select the device you want to interact with, and you'll be brought to the main dashboard. From here, you can remotely locate your device, lock it, or delete all content or specific file types. You can also report your phone or tablet as stolen.
At the very top of the screen are links to access your other LoJack-equipped devices; software settings for changing your pin, contact information and login information; and checking your subscription status.
Locating Your Device
The Locate tab provides a detailed map of your device's exact location. Don't have GPS active on your phone? It doesn't matter. When you report your device as stolen, Absolute Software will be able to geolocate it using its IP address. The feature is surprisingly accurate, as it pinpointed our device to the exact building.
Unfortunately, you can't manually update the map to provide you with your device's location whenever you want. Instead, it will update the phone's location manually based on a 24-hour call-in interval. If you lose your phone, this can be a serious problem, as it could be quite a while before your device updates its location via LoJack. With such services as Lookout Mobile Security, you can locate your device at any time. However, unlike with LoJack, your phone's GPS has to be active for Lookout to find it.
When you report your device stolen with LoJack, the company decreases your handset's call-in interval to provide investigators with a better idea of where your device is located.
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Of course, if your phone's battery dies, there is no way to locate it, since the handset can't send its location information. If it's merely turned off, however, you can locate your LoJack-enabled handset or tablet whenever the thief powers it on.
Reporting Your Device as Stolen
Should a thief steal your smartphone or other device, you should first file a report with your local police department. Then, navigate to the Recover tab in LoJack's Customer Center dashboard, and enter the information included in your police report, including the department name and file number.
You can then describe the circumstances of the theft and click the Request Recovery button at the bottom of the screen. From there, Absolute Software and LoJack's agents will begin working to find your smartphone and report the suspected criminal to the police. According to the company, Absolute Software's agents include former detectives and investigators with solid law-enforcement contacts.
When a device is reported as stolen, Absolute will load it with a packet of information it calls forensic tools, which help guide authorities to your device's location. After submitting a recover request, you'll receive regular updates regarding the investigation's status. Absolute offers a glossary of terms that helps users better understand the progress of the investigation.
Locking Your Device
If your phone goes missing, locking it remotely is rather easy. From the Customer Center dashboard, simply click the Lock tab, enter your device's pin (which you can set up in the dashboard settings) and click Lock. You can also create a message that will appear on your phone or tablet's home screen.
If your device is lost, you can set an email address at which someone who finds your handset can contact you. Similarly, if your phone or tablet was stolen, you can set the message as a warning indicating that you will call the police if the device isn't returned.
To unlock the phone, you must enter your LoJack pin into the Lock screen tab in the browser dashboard. You will then receive a message containing an 8-digit pin for your smartphone's lock screen. Enter that pin into your device's lock screen, and it will unlock.
Our only problem with this method is that the app doesn't automatically turn off the lock-screen pin function on your smartphone after you enter the pin. Instead, you have to pull up your phone's lock-screen settings and manually deactivate the lock-screen pin. To do that, however, you'll have to re-enter that 8-digit pin LoJack sent you. If you don't disable the lock screen, you'll have to continuously enter the 8-digit pin each time you pick up your phone.
Wiping Your Data
If you're worried about a thief accessing personal information on your smartphone, LoJack also lets you remotely wipe your device. Other services, such as Lookout Mobile Security Premium, offer a similar functionality, but LoJack's is far more granular.
For example, you can choose to delete only your messages, contacts or phone logs. If you want to clean out the whole phone, you can delete your nonremovable storage. Have a microSD card in your handset? You can delete that, too. If you want to make sure your smartphone is completely free of any personal data, you can factory reset the device.
When you choose to delete data from your device, you'll have to submit a request to Absolute Software. When the request is sent, you'll receive a status update indicating that the app is scheduled to delete your data and that Absolute's Monitoring Center is waiting for your handset to check in via the Internet to send the request to your phone.
When a wipe begins, you'll get a message stating that it has started. When all of your data has been cleared, you'll get another update letting you know that the operation has been completed. If the wipe is interrupted for any reason, you'll receive a message telling you that your request has failed.
While both LoJack and Lookout can delete your data, Lookout can actually back it up, too. That way, if your device is stolen and you have to wipe it, you won't lose all of your data.
Absolute Software's LoJack for Mobile Devices is a solid service that works as advertised. For $29.99 a year, you get a completely nonremovable piece of firmware that can locate your device, remotely lock or wipe it, and help the police find your phone or tablet.
Lookout Mobile Security Premium ($29.99/year) is available for most Android devices, and offers backup and malware protection, but can be defeated if your smartphone is factory reset. While it offers fewer features, LoJack for Mobile Devices is a surefire way to ensure your phone's security. We just wish it were available on more devices.