It happened to me once, several years ago. I had set my Android phone to unlock by using a pattern. I used it for months with no problem until the day I just up and forgot it. Complete blank. I ended up going through a phone reset process, which was more of an inconvenience than anything.
Here’s hoping you never forget your Android password or pattern or PIN, but if you do, there are ways to fix the situation.
Google takes smartphone security seriously. Regaining access to your phone isn’t as easy as it is with most online accounts where you just have to tap on “Forgot my password” and then answer a few personal questions or get a recovery email. Here’s how you can get your phone back, even if your password, PIN or pattern is lost to the wind.
When your Android fingerprint fails
My pattern-forgetfulness incident happened with a phone that didn’t have a fingerprint reader. Now, with my newer Moto phone, I usually unlock with a finger or thumb, but I use a PIN as a backup. If for some reason my fingerprint sensor has a problem, I’m just a few numbers away from unlocking my phone.
Reset a pattern with Android 4.4 or lower
Chances are good your phone is running a much more recent operating system than Android 4.4, but those of you still rocking an Android antique can use your Google account to perform a reset.
Once you’ve tried and failed to unlock with your pattern enough times, you will see a “Forgot pattern” notice. Tap on this and enter your Google account username and password. You can then reset your screen lock. As old Android devices disappear, so will this workaround.
When you’ve totally forgotten your Android PIN, password or pattern
Let’s move on to the worst-case scenario. The fingerprint reader isn’t working (or you have a phone with no reader) and you’ve forgotten your pattern, PIN or password. You’ve tried everything. You can’t get into your phone and you’re now out of attempts. This is a frustrating situation, but take a deep breath. You’re going to need to erase your phone.
You should already have Google’s Find My Device feature set up for your phone. Tap or click here to learn how. This is key to our next steps.
While erasing and resetting your Android phone sounds tense, I’ve been through it and survived just fine. If you use a Google account, most of your data should already be backed up. This makes restoring your smartphone a lot easier than you might think. Tap or click here to learn what Google backs up and how to protect other types of data.
Make sure you have your phone with you. Reset it by heading to Google’s Find My Device page in a browser. You may need to sign in. Click on Erase Device and then again on the green Erase Device button on the next screen. Follow the instructions to clear your smartphone. You will likely have to sign into your account again.
Once the phone is erased, it will be a clean slate. You will need to log into your Google Account on your phone and re-download any apps you might have had before. Be sure to set up a new PIN, password or pattern that you will be able to remember.
Some phones may also let you perform a factory reset by pushing physical buttons on the device. Check with the manufacturer for instructions on this if you choose to go this route rather than through Find My Device.
For Samsung phone owners
If you have a Samsung phone, then you may be able to unlock your device through Samsung’s Find My Mobile service and avoid having to erase it. Head to Find My Mobile, sign in and look for the “Unlock my device” option. Follow the instructions to unlock your phone remotely.
If you do end up erasing and resetting your phone, look to the bright side of the process. I took the opportunity to reevaluate my apps and ended up with a leaner, cleaner Android experience. Check out our suggestions for apps you can live without.