When you find yourself in times of trouble, it can seem impossible to unlock Android phones without a password or pattern lock.
Android devices are normally protected by one of three methods of identification, known as the three Ps.
Users can set a password, a PIN or a pattern – usually involving tapping the screen, or shaking the device in a pre-ordained direction.
It’s intended to prevent other people tampering with the handset, from petty thieves to inebriated companions on a night out.
But what happens if you don’t mind your Ps, and the device becomes permanently locked?
If your phone has fingerprint recognition capabilities installed and activated, you can usually bypass entry codes with a fingerprint.
Otherwise, being able to unlock an Android phone might require a less conventional approach…
Unlock Android phone with an OS of 4.4 or older
Early versions of Android had fairly unsophisticated security, which is easy to bypass if your device has managed to resist upgrades in the intervening years.
After five unsuccessful attempts to unlock older versions of Android, you’re invited to enter a security question or wait 30 seconds for another attempt.
A discreet box also appears at the bottom of the screen, reading ‘Forgot pattern?’
Selecting this option allows you to enter your Google account details directly into the device, before resetting your unlock pattern.
Unlock Android phone with an OS older than 5.0
Some devices may still be running versions of Android older than 5.0. The most recent of these was Android KitKat, superseded by Lollipop (version 5.0) in late 2014.
Unlocking these OS versions starts by powering off the device.
Once it’s off, hold down the Volume Down, Back and Lock key. The device will restart in Factory Mode, from where it can be tested and rebooted.
There are also ZIP files available online, which replace lock screen data with null fields when installed onto the phone.
However, this is very dangerous and shouldn’t be attempted unless you’re certain the ZIP file doesn’t contain malware.
Unlock a phone with Android version 5.0 to 7.11
You’re now into more complex territory, where being able to remember your Google account details is hugely important.
If you know your email address and password, you can unlock pre-Oreo Android devices as follows:
- Go to the Find My Device webpage.
- Enter your Google account details.
- Press the Lock button on your device and choose Find My Device.
- Press the Lock button again, and you’ll be prompted to enter a new password.
- Confirm the password and press the Lock button, before waiting a few minutes for the device to reset.
Samsung devices have a similar scheme, called Find My Mobile, which can also be used to unlock devices where the password or PIN has been forgotten.
Again, you need to have previously registered a Samsung account linked to your number.
Factory reset to unlock Android
A factory reset is the nuclear option when it comes accessing a device.
While it does unlock the phone, it’ll also wipe any contents not stored on the SIM card – including contacts, music, downloads and game data.
It’s only recommended as an absolute last resort – and it’s also a salutary reminder of the importance of regularly backing up contacts and valuable information.
The process varies by device, and Android phones less than three years old require your Google account password to proceed.
- Power the device off.
- Hold down the Power and Volume Down buttons, to activate the Android bootloader menu. It’s the equivalent of starting your Windows PC in Safe Mode.
- Select Recovery Mode using the Volume Down key, and press the Power button to confirm.
- Hold the Power button down and press the Volume Up button to enter ‘recovery mode’.
- Select the ‘Wipe data/factory reset’ option. The device will erase itself.
- Selecting Reboot System Now will bring you back to the unlocked home screen.
Fail to prepare…
If you’re reading this pre-emptively, you might wish to take preventative action to avoid needing any of the above scenarios.
For instance, Android Smart Lock may be used to unlock a device when it’s connected to a particular WiFi network.
Study your device’s instruction manual for manufacturer-specific recommendations about recovering or resetting lost login data.