We all do it. The tap-tap-panic thing. You’re walking down the street on your way home after a long week, thinking how great it is you won’t have to come back until Monday, and suddenly, it hits you. You tap your front pockets, you tap your back pockets, and you panic—you left your phone back at the office.
Whether it’s that or the fact you forgot to pack your digital camera for your latest vacation (something your partner surely won’t let you forget), know that we’ve all been victims of our fast-paced lives. But this is exactly where technology can help.
Today, phones and laptops come with built-in tracking options, so you can use your Google, Apple, or Microsoft account to quickly locate a device before leaving home. And for gadgets with no integrated GPS, such as your digital camera or Nintendo Switch, Bluetooth tags can alert you before you walk out the door without them.
Track your smartphone
With our phones multitasking as jukeboxes, navigators, organizers, cameras, and more, you might think it’d be impossible to not know where your stuff is at all times—but it does happen.
For such occasions—and to help you deal with the cardiac arrest that follows—use your phone’s built-in tracking system. You can find this on Android by opening up Settings, tapping Security, and then Find My Device. This option will allow you to turn tracking on or off and locate other devices linked to your Google account.
To actually see where your phone is, you have three options: You can go to Find My Device on the web, open the Find My Device app on a different Android device—like a tablet—or type “find my device” in the Google Chrome navigation bar while logged into your Google account. The platform will show you a map with your device’s location, but if you need a more specific reference, you can always make it ring, even if it’s in silent mode. You can find Android tablets and Wear OS watches this way as well.
There are other options available depending on the manufacturer and model of your Android phone. Samsung, for example, offers its own Find My Mobile service alongside Google’s Find My Device app. To activate it, go to Settings, tap on Biometrics and security, and then hit Find My Mobile.
Over on iOS, there’s a similar feature called Find My iPhone. From Settings, tap your name at the top, then iCloud, and Find My iPhone to turn location tracking on.
To see where your iPhone is at any time, and make it ring (even if it’s muted) when you’re about to head out, use the Find My iPhone app on another iOS device or go to Find My iPhone in a web browser. These tips work for iPads and Apple Watches as well.
Track your laptop
Sure, laptops are a little harder to lose than smartphones, but it is definitely not unheard of. If you left your MacBook somewhere but are not really sure where, Find My iPhone can help locate it.
Despite its name, this service covers any Apple computer, and with the launch of macOS Catalina and iOS13 in September 2019, the platform will be renamed “Find My” to reflect this. If you go to Find My iPhone on the web, you’ll see all the Apple devices registered under your account—including MacBooks and Macs—and you’ll be able to get them to play a sound to locate them.
To make sure the feature is enabled on macOS, open the Apple menu, then System Preferences, and choose iCloud. There, make sure the Find My Mac box is checked so you can locate your Mac and sound an alert if it’s gotten lost under a pile of clothes or went down the back of the sofa.
In macOS Catalina and iOS13, the process will be similar, but you’ll have Find My apps on both iOS and macOS for enabling tracking and finding out where your devices are. You’ll still be able to access the service via iCloud, too.
Microsoft offers something similar with a service called Find My Device. From the Windows 10 Settings pane, go to Update & Security, and then to Find my device. Make sure the tracking option is turned on if you want to be able to hunt down your Windows laptop in the future.
To locate a device, go to your Microsoft account page on the web, click on a device, then on Find my device, and it’ll show up on a map. Unfortunately, you can’t get your device to make sounds to help you find it, but you can at least check whether it’s at home or some place else so you won’t waste hours searching for it.
Track any device
The options built into Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS can prove useful for working out exactly where a device is, and for getting it to ring when you need to pack it up. But if your device is off or out of juice, these methods won’t work. Needless to say, they’re also not options for gadgets with no built-in GPS.
In cases like these, you can still keep tabs on where your belongings are by attaching Bluetooth trackers to your gadgets. These work for phones, laptops, cameras, and anything else you can stick them to.
These trackers pair with your phone and stay in constant communication with it, so as soon as your phone goes out of a certain range (like when you step out the front door), an alarm will sound. If you don’t want to leave home or the office without your iPad, for example, these trackers are ideal.
Tile tags (starting at $26 on Amazon) are one example. Each model offers different sizes, weights, and detection ranges up to 300 feet (90 meters), so you can pick the right one for each gadget you want to track.
You can also get the Tile app to ping if you leave home without a particular gadget, though this is a Tile Premium ($3 a month) feature.
TrackR Pixels ($34.49 on Amazon for a pack of five) are similar. They only have a range of 100 feet (30 meters), but they’re smaller and cheaper than their Tile competitors. Also, you don’t need to pay a subscription fee to get alerts if you leave the house without a particular gadget in tow.
SpotyPal ($27 on Amazon), is another alternative, and it works the same way as Tile and TrackR tags. It offers a range of 230 feet (70 meters), but is a little chunkier than the TrackR or Tile options.