How To Unlock Your Android Phone [September 2020]

We’ve all been there. You accidentally enter the wrong password into your phone too many times and suddenly, you’re locked out of the device for good. With photos of our friends and family, our entire music collection, and our contacts library saved on our devices, one can’t just be expected to hard reset the phone if something goes wrong with the passcode on the device.

If you’re curious about how phone unlocks work, whether trying to get into your locked device or just trying to make sure you don’t accidentally lock yourself out, you’ve come to the right guide. This is how to unlock your Android phone.

This article covers how to get through the security lockout on your phone if the phone has been locked or turned off. If you’re looking for ways to unlock your Android phone to use it on other carriers, check out our guide to checking if your phone is unlocked here! If you’re wondering how to check the locked status of a phone, see our guide to that here.

Forgotten Passcodes

Your phone throws a message that you’ve input the wrong screen lock code in too many times. Whether it’s a glitch, you forgot your passcode, or something else, you have to get back into your phone because it’s such an important part of your daily life.

Try Variations on Your Passcode

Are you entirely sure you aren’t misremembering your password? The first piece of advice we would give you is to ensure your passcode isn’t being mixed up, or that you aren’t forgetting a key piece of your passcode that happens to come at the end of the phrase. Plenty of us often forget about little tweaks to passwords we’ve added in order to ensure that our devices are as secure as possible. Here are some tips to making sure you’re remembering every piece of your passcode:

  • Capital letters: If you’re using a passcode phrase, you might’ve forgotten to add in any capital letters to your text. Make sure you remember to place the capital letters correctly as well; we’ve all forgotten the correct word or letter to capitalize in passcodes like this.
  • Numbers: Sometimes you forget about the number you added on your passcode a couple of days ago. If your passphrase spells out “WaterInJuly382,” you’ll want to make sure you remember to enter the “382” part of the password. Don’t be surprised if you accidentally forget to add the numbers. It happens to the best of us.
  • Special characters: Just like the capital letters, sometimes we add special characters into our passcodes to make them as complex as possible, only to forget the characters just hours later. Think back to determine whether you added an exclamation point, a dollar sign, or any other special character to your code in order to protect your data. It might make the difference between a lost passcode and saving your data.

Find My Mobile (Samsung Devices Only)

Samsung’s own Find My Mobile tool features an additional feature not offered by Google’s own Find My Device tool. Find My Mobile is similar to Find My Device or Find My iPhone on iOS, but developed by Samsung specifically for their devices.

Find My Mobile can locate your phone using GPS, make the device sound an alarm, and can even backup your data remotely using the web app offered by Samsung. More importantly, however, is the app’s ability to unlock your device from your computer even if you’ve forgotten the passcode.

There’s a catch: if you haven’t set up your Samsung Account on your Galaxy S-device, this will not work. Like most of Samsung’s tools, you need a Samsung account to log into the site and to unlock your device. Assuming you have set up your Samsung account—and haven’t forgotten the password to that account—you should be able to unlock your device using the Find My Mobile web app here. All you need to do is sign in with your Samsung account, select the option to remotely unlock your device, and you’ll be all set to go.

It’s important to note that unlocking your device remotely does clear the biometric data off your device, so any fingerprints or iris scans you have saved on your device will have to be added back to your phone – a small price to pay for saving your device’s data in the long run.

As we mentioned, Google has a similar utility for all Android phones called “Find My Device,” which only features the option to lock your device, not unlock it. If you’ve forgotten your passcode, all Find My Device will do is locate the device by GPS, re-lock the screen, and erase data; it won’t unlock the screen from the cloud.

Last Resort: Resetting Your Device

Unfortunately, thanks to the security enhancements added to Android 5.0 and above, most modern devices that aren’t made by Samsung will have to be reset in order to bypass the password. Yes, this means you’ll need to set your phone up again from scratch, re-downloading apps, music, and any other content you have saved on your mobile device.

Because you can’t access the settings menu to factory reset your phone, you’ll need to either use the hardware buttons on your phone to trigger a reset or use Google’s Find My Device page in a web browser to reset the phone. Here’s how to do each step:

If you’re using Google’s Find My Device page, load the URL here, sign in to your Gmail account, and make sure your phone is selected. On the right side of the display, you’ll see a Google Maps layout with a display showing the current location of your phone.

On the left side of the display, you’ll see a tab with three options: Play Sound, Lock, and Erase. Hit the Erase option to automatically trigger a device reset. Remember that your phone has to be powered on and connected to the internet for this method to work.

Now, if you don’t have access to the phone and can’t use Find My Device to restore the phone over the web, you’ll need to rely on the second method. To manually erase the device and reset the phone, you’ll need to use the hardware buttons to load into your device’s recovery system.

The key reset method is performed a little differently on every phone, so your best option is to search for your phone model on Google with the keywords “boot into recovery.” Some devices, like Samsung’s lineup of phones, are fairly easy to boot into recovery with; you turn off the phone and press and hold a specific button combination to boot into recovery.

Other phones, like Google’s Pixel 2 XL, are much more finicky, requiring you to press and hold on one key and press and release another at the right time in order to boot into recovery. There are so many various methods for each Android phone, it’s basically a requirement to search for the correct method for your phone to do this.

  1. Once you’ve booted into recovery mode, use your device’s volume up and volume down buttons to scroll through the list until you reach “Wipe Data/Factory Reset.”
  2. Use the power button to select this option, then confirm your selection on the next display.

Your phone will begin to reset; make sure the phone is charged enough to ensure it can last at least 30 minutes without dying. Once your phone has rebooted back to the menu screen, you can set up your device by logging back into the Google account you use for your phone. It is important you use the same Google account you used on your phone prior to resetting.

Android has a built-in security protocol known as Factory Reset Protection or “activation lock” that requires a recently-reset phone to have the same Google account as previously used on the device in order to prevent a thief from immediately using the stolen phone. If you don’t have the password for your Google account, you can reset it, but that may mean you won’t be able to log into your phone for 24 hours after the reset.

Backup + Factory Reset

Probably the best combination of things to do does require you to plan ahead and set up a backup of your phone’s data to the Google Cloud. This way, even if you have to reset the phone for whatever reason, a reasonably current set of your phone’s data will be available, intact, and ready to get your phone back into action. I will walk you through how to set this up. You will need a Google account for this.

To set up backup, follow these steps.

  1. Go to Settings on your phone.
  2. Select System->Backup.
  3. Select Google backup.
  4. Select “Backup Now”

Your phone will now copy the critical data to your Google account.

Restoring from backup is simple. After you reset your phone and attach your Google account to the phone again, it will automatically restore your data from backup. Running a backup takes only a few minutes on a WiFi connection, or even less if you keep your phone regularly backed up – get into the habit of setting off a backup every night when you go to bed and you will always have a near-real-time backup of your phone.

(Want to backup more than just your phone? You can with one of these speedy 4-TB portable hard drives from Toshiba. You can back up all the computers in your household, and still have room for a thousand movies.)

Unlocking Your Phone with Speed

If you aren’t having trouble getting into your phone, but you want to make sure your phone is secure while simultaneously unlocking your phone with some serious speed in order to make your day easier, we have some advice. There are plenty of options for unlocking your device, and they all help to make unlocking your phone easier and to prevent a situation where you forget the code for your phone.

Smart Lock

Smart Lock is one of our favorite tools on Android that is unavailable on other platforms. It makes it easy to make sure your phone is always secure, while simultaneously working to stay out of your way when you want access to your device.

Note: Smartlock only works for four hours. If your phone is idle for more than four hours you will need to unlock it manually.

Smart Lock offers Android users several ways to unlock their phones when they’re using it while keeping it locked when it’s not near them. To turn on smart lock, you’ll need to open up your settings menu on your Android device and head into the Security submenu. Under “Device Security,” you’ll find an option for Smart Lock. Type in your passcode or password to enter Smart Lock, and you’ll be greeted with (as of writing) three unique options for unlocking your phone. Let’s break each of these down:

  • On-body detection: This setting allows you to unlock your device once before disabling the lock for as long as the phone is in your hand or on your person. Using your smartphone’s array of sensors, the device tracks when your device is in use, so you can turn the display off but keep the phone unlocked while it’s in your hand. When your phone realizes that it’s been set down, your phone will automatically re-lock, requiring a password. This isn’t the most secure method Smart Lock offers, but it is pretty cool.
  • Trusted places: The trusted places feature works to use the GPS in your phone to detect that you’re in a secure location of your choosing and automatically keeps your phone unlocked for you. As soon as you leave your location, your phone relocks, keeping things safe and secure for you and your device.
  • Trusted devices: This might be the best of the five Smart Lock options because it’s ideal for keeping your devices safe when you’re nearby and keeping your phone locked when you’ve left. This option allows you to keep your phone unlocked while paired with your gadgets. Smartwatches and fitness trackers are ideal for this, but it also helps you keep your phone unlocked when driving in your Bluetooth-equipped car, when running with Bluetooth headphones, or when paired with a set of Bluetooth speakers.

You can enable just one or all three of these, so don’t worry if you like the idea of Trusted Devices but don’t want to use On-Body Detection.

If Smart Lock makes you feel like you can’t properly keep your smartphone secured while enabling these settings, you don’t need to worry. Every Android smartphone with Smart Lock enabled has the ability to lock the device manually, requiring a passcode or fingerprint in order to use the device properly.

At the bottom of your lock screen is a small lock icon that allows you the choice of manually locking your phone.

Once you’ve done this, your phone will give you a small notification alerting you that your device has been manually locked and that the device will stay locked until you’re ready to manually unlock with either your fingerprint (if you’ve turned this on) or your passcode.

Manually locking your phone disables all smart locks, so even if you turn on a trusted Bluetooth device, you’ll have to either input your passcode or password or use your fingerprint to unlock the device if you have biometric security enabled.

We’ll talk more about fingerprints in the section below, and more specifically, how you can keep your biometric data from being used against you on upcoming versions of Android.

Fingerprints

Almost every Android device in 2018 has a fingerprint sensor-equipped on the body of the device, allowing you to easily access your content without having to go through the hassle of entering your passcode every time you use your phone. Fingerprints aren’t a perfect unlocking method, but they’re fast, secure, and easy to use.

If you aren’t one to use fingerprints to unlock your phone, one step you could take to ensure you never forget your passcode is set the fingerprint on your phone to unlock with a finger that isn’t your thumb or index finger.

For example, try using your pinky finger or your ring finger as a way to program a fingerprint without making it obvious.  If you’re worried about being forced to unlock your phone by law enforcement, a pressing matter that is becoming more prevalent all the time you may want to avoid the fingerprint altogether. If your device is turned off the screen unlock code is required to gain access as it overrides any fingerprint scans.

Finally, if you’re still worried about logging your fingerprints on your Android device due to security concerns, the upcoming release of Android P has a security feature built-in that allows you to quickly disable fingerprint scanning if you find yourself at risk of being forced to unlock your device.

Called “lockdown” in the settings menu, the option allows you to immediately disable both fingerprints and Smart Lock, just by using the option that appears within the power menu on the lock screen. It only disables those features for one lock, but if you’re in a situation and worried your biometric or smart lock features might be used against you, it’s a great option to feel more secure.

Notes and Reminders

If you’re the type of person who likes to use a complex password on their phone and balks at the idea of using any of the smart unlock features we highlighted above, you might want to consider using the lock screen text display as a way to leave yourself helpful notes and tips to make remembering your password that much easier.

Every Android device on the market today has support for placing a message on the lock screen, and you can display some pretty long messages. While most people use this as a way to label their phone (the example in Android is “Joe’s Android”), you can also use it to set what amounts to old password hints from Windows and other desktop operating systems.

So, for example, if you’ve set your password as the name and birthdate of your daughter (ie., “elizabeth1217”), you could set the reminder on your lock screen as “ebbirth”, for “elizabeth1217.” You’ll still have to work to remember the numbers and the correct words that match up with the other content, but it can go a long way in helping you to remember what your password is without giving it away. Again, this is totally optional, a way for users to remember their long passwords without having to deal with giving it away or writing it down.

Password Managers

This final tip is for those among us who have a reputation for forgetting passwords and passcodes. If you’re always worried about losing your password to your phone and getting locked out, you might want to try using a password manager like Lastpass or 1Password, which allows you to save all your passwords in one place with a single unlock, typically requiring a fairly long phrase in order to gain access to your passcodes. We recommend

Lastpass for password manager beginners, because it’s free and works with all your devices out of the box. We recommend writing the passcode down somewhere safe and secure in your house, then saving your phone’s password inside of Lastpass for safekeeping. It might seem like an odd choice, and certainly won’t speed up the unlocking process if you do manage to forget your password, but it’s always good to have a backup unlock method to keep your phone’s data safe.

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Device screen lock passwords are there to protect your private information from interlopers. One of the best things about Android’s screen lock features is that the phone cannot be powered down without inputting the proper access information. If your phone is ever stolen it can only be tracked if it is powered on and connected to the internet. Assuming someone has taken your phone, you can still see it active until the battery dies or they figure out to reset it.

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