Android Device Manager review

Finally, Google provides a baked-in way to track down a lost or stolen phone and give you some control over your data no matter where you are.
Photo of Android Device Manager

When most people think about Android security, they’re probably worried about malware infesting their devices, but loss and theft are by far the biggest threats to phones or tablets. Google’s new Android Device Manager (free) keeps you in control of your Android—wherever it is—with a simple way to track and remotely erase your devices. It’s very much a baseline security service with no bells or whistles, but is absolutely necessary for every Android user.

Find My Android
As with most anti-theft services, you access Google’s through the device manager website The straightforward interface consists of a Google Maps map and inset window displaying one device at a time. From here you can select any of your registered Android devices, change the device names, refresh the location information, remotely wipe your device, and activate an alarm. You can also send a shortcut to your device to set up Device Administrator access in order to enable a remote wipe.

The location information was accurate—usually within 20 meters—with best results on my Samsung Galaxy S III  with GPS, cellular data, and Wi-Fi active. I was impressed by how quickly my devices responded to commands sent from the web, though that’s par for the course with third-party security apps as well. A full device wipe swiftly triggered a factory reset on my phone.

As far as performance goes, my only disappointment was that the alarm sounded almost pleasant. The remote command will top out your volume, even if the device was muted, but I could easily see not being able to hear it.

For all of these features to work, Device Manager require some presence on your Android in the form of the newly created Google Settings app. Google’s love of duplicating settings menus is in full force across both the app and the Device Manager website. You can, for instance, rename your device from two different Web pages, and drilling through the location options on your phone’s Google Settings app leads to a bewildering number of pages. Google has said that they will be launching a stand-alone Android Device Manager app soon that will let you track a stolen phone from another Android device.

Few Features and Frustrations
Most Android security apps go further than Device Manager, letting you send messages to the lost device, lock it (with varying degrees of security) and receive images from the wayward Android. Some of the more advanced suites will even let you issue these commands via special SMS messages, giving you complete control of a lost phone even when it lacks an Internet connection. Even Apple’s Find My iPhone service includes remote messaging.

The Device Manager alarm certainly doesn’t have the thief-repelling thrust of  avast! Mobile Security & Antivirus, our Editors’ Choice for free Android security suites, which loudly proclaims that “this device has been lost or stolen.” Lookout Mobile Security Premium also bests Google with a “signal flare” that records the device’s last known position before the battery dies.

Also, I had some trouble getting all my devices set up on Device Manager despite it being baked into to Google and Android. The S III appeared right off the bat, though getting it back on the map after performing a factory reset required quite a bit of fiddling. From the start, my Nexus 7  tablet did not appear in Device Manager, but appeared after I deleted and then re-added my Google account. Android users should definitely take some time to fiddle with this service instead of just assuming that it will work when they need it.

Absolutely Necessary
Device Manager is clearly the first iteration of a larger project, and in future versions, I would very much like to see messaging and remote lock added to the service. It gives you more options to recover and secure your] devices, and might give third-party security app developers the kick in the pants they apparently need to start making lockscreens that are 100 percent secure.

I would also like Android to make Device Manager configuration part of the set-up procedure for every Android device. People need to be presented with these options every time they add a new Google account; they shouldn’t have to go looking for them.

Also, I would not recommend that users rely solely on Device Manager. Rather, I would say that users should use both Device Manager and an Android security suite together for maximum protection. Third-party Android anti-theft apps will continue to function even if you log out of your Google account or de-register your device on Google, and they generally have more features.

Despite my complaints and frustrations, Google Device Manager is critical for every Android user. While it might not do everything under the sun, it is a completely free first line of defense for Android devices. 

Finally, Google provides a baked-in way to track down a lost or stolen phone and give you some control over your data no matter where you are.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc