People forget things. It happens. While I can’t say I’ve ever forgotten the password or PIN for my phone, I totally get how it’s possible. Maybe you set the phone up and placed it down to process any and all updates it has to go through, or charge up to full capacity, and came back to a locked screen and a vague memory of the super-secure PIN you used to protect it.
At least, that appears to be Lifehacker reader Dietta’s predicament. In this week’s Tech 911 letter, she writes:
I tried to set up an Android AT&T smart phone, got side tracked (did I mention I was at pre-COVID McDonald’s with a 6 year old and this was going to be my first ever NOT-a-Rugby-Flip-Smarter-than-I-am-phone). I seem to have lost all traces of pass codes for both the phone and the new google account I set up to manage it. Where and how do I recover? Will I ever be able to use that phone?
One of the best thing about most modern smartphones is that they’re fairly difficult to break into—if you’ve taken the time to really lock them down. In fact, if someone attempts to guess their way past your password or PIN code, they’re usually stymied with a forced delay after a number of failed attempts. And once they hit a magical number of incorrect guesses, usually 10, a number of phones can automatically nuke themselves. In other words, the phone will wipe-and-reset itself under the assumption that you, the owner, couldn’t have forgotten your password that hard.
In this case, your phone is safely in your control; you just can’t get into it. To borrow a phrase from The Great British Baking Show, I have the unfortunate task of informing you that there’s no way to reset your PIN from the lock screen. You can’t enter supplemental information about yourself to authenticate as you. In fact, the best you get in these situations is a prompt for your secondary authentication method (a PIN or password) if, for example, your device’s biometrics fail to recognize that you’re you.
Again, this is a good thing, because if someone was able to get their hands on your device, all they might need is a little information about you—for example, your birthday and your primary email address—to slip past your lock screen, much as someone with a little know-how could easily reset your password to an online service by nailing your first pet’s name and the street you grew up on. Same concept.
What this means, however, is that you’re probably stuck. However: If you have a Samsung that you already associated with a Samsung ID, you can use the company’s “Find My Mobile” feature to unlock your phone via the web:
Check to see if your Android’s manufacturer has such an option. (If it’s Google, for example, then you’re out of luck; you can find your phone via its online portal, but you can’t unlock it from afar.) If it does, you’re set. If it doesn’t, your only alternative is to factory reset your devices and set it up from scratch again. Since you just set it up, and you made a brand-new Google account for it, this shouldn’t be a problem to do again—unless you really loved that gmail address.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to boot into your phone’s Recovery menu, which will require you to hold some combination of the volume and power buttons. I can’t tell you what these are, exactly, as the can vary by device and manufacturer. Do a quick web search for your phone’s model and “recovery mode,” and you’ll find the answers. Eventually, you’ll reset your phone and make it to a scary-looking screen—something that looks very, very different than the Android operating system you’re used to.
You’ll use your volume buttons to navigate to the “wipe data/factory reset” command, or whatever it’s called on your device, and confirm the selection using the power button. A few prompts later, and your device will be on the way to a factory reset. While it chugs along, you can use your free time to try and recover your Google account. If that tool doesn’t help you out, you have no other options. That’s all Google offers.
For those of you with an iPhone, the process is generally the same: You’ll have to reset your iPhone and start anew or restore it from a backup if you forget your PIN. Apple doesn’t provide a way to unlock your iPhone remotely via Find My.
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