Why Use Cell Phone Monitoring Software?
The top performers in our review are Mobile Spy, the Gold Award winner; PhoneSheriff, the Silver Award winner; and Mobistealth, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing cell phone monitoring software to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
While having your employees use company-provided cell phones can help you stay connected with them and help them do their jobs better, it can also present a variety of issues. Internet-enabled smartphones provide an unobstructed way to view all manner of inappropriate or time-wasting material – including violence, pornography and gambling – and give everyone a reason to not focus on work. Cell phone monitoring software helps you keep an eye on and protect your employees by monitoring their cell phone activity and limiting it as you see fit. It is an easy, supplemental way to help protect your employees and run your business more effectively.
Pricing & Subscription Terms: Know Your Needs
The nice thing about this kind of software is that there are plenty of options for any budget. If you don't want to shell out a ton of cash, consider one of the less costly options – such as Net Nanny – that cost about $10 per year. Cheap apps often have comparable functionality to more costly ones, though they are definitely more basic in their overall surveillance capacity. Choosing an inexpensive option initially can also help you discern whether you need to upgrade to a more costly, feature-heavy option in the long run. However, if you aren't concerned with the cost, you can easily spend hundreds of dollars per year on this kind of software. Typically, the more you spend, the more powerful or invasive surveillance options you get, such as live viewing or live microphone and camera bugging.
Before you buy, check how many devices the software license is for. Most commonly, cell phone spyware is set up for one device per license, but bulk plans for more devices are also available. Some manufacturers even offer a slight discount for bulk purchases. It's also important to consider how long you'll need to use the software for. Businesses probably want long-term coverage, rather than just a few months at a time. Look at long-term pricing and whether or not the software automatically enrolls you into a recurring subscription upon purchase, which will automatically charge you for another subscription term at the end of the current one. Recurring subscriptions are convenient, but they can easily throw off your budget if you forget to cancel them.
If you're concerned about keeping an eye on your kids' whereabouts and ensuring they don't have access to inappropriate apps or websites, cell phone parental control software can give you additional functionality and protection. Having Android or iPhone parental controls on your child's cell phone helps you stay informed of their activity and set limits on their usage. For more on tracking and limiting your employees' cell phone activities, check out our articles on cell phone monitoring software.
The Dangers of Jailbreaking or Rooting Your Cell Phone: Why We Don't Recommend It
Many cell phone monitoring software options out there require you to root your Android phone or jailbreak your iPhone. Rooting is a somewhat technical process, though it can be made easier by software, which essentially grants you super user permissions, allowing you access to modify or delete the device's source code. Jailbreaking an iPhone for spyware is a similar process, though it grants less access and permissions than rooting does because it's not open-source, which gives you deeper access into iOS than you normally would have, allowing you to install software or applications that Apple doesn't authorize.
Jailbreaking or rooting your device is generally considered a bad idea, because it opens the door for malware. Any app you download from the iTunes Store or the Google Play Store is approved in some way by those stores, and Apple's approval process is more rigorous than Google's. However, when you jailbreak or root your phone in order to download an app not found in one of those stores, it may not be approved by anyone and could be malicious. Additionally, if you give yourself root access to your phone, then you also make it easier for malicious apps to get the same access, meaning they can potentially see any data on the device or even steal it.
Aside from the potential security issues, jailbreaking or rooting your device also voids the device's warranty and prevents all future over-the-air updates for it. Because rooting a phone grants deeper access than jailbreaking and is such a technical process, it can be easily messed up if the software is out of date or if you do something wrong, leaving you with a bricked device. Bricking a phone is exactly what it sounds like, meaning it will no longer boot or perform any actions, and it simply becomes an expensive paperweight.
If your cell phone is currently rooted or jailbroken, the process is technically reversible, although reversing the process isn't always perfect. Some phones have built-in protocols that make it impossible to remove all signs that the phone has been rooted, which may still prevent the phone from receiving updates and keep the warranty voided. Because of the inherent risks that come with rooting or jailbreaking your device, we do not advocate doing this to your device and, as such, did not test any software that required us to root our Android test phones.
When Is Monitoring Legal?
Cell phone monitoring software, which essentially lets you spy on a cell phone, is typically legal to use on employees' phones only if the company provides the device being monitored and employees are made fully aware that monitoring software is being used on that device and that you can spy on their text messages and other actions. You may also need employees to sign a consent form depending on where you live. Additionally, privacy laws vary depending on your state or country, so check with an attorney or legal counsel before using the software on your employees' phones.
Cell Phone Monitoring Software: What We Evaluated, What We Found
As we tested the software, we checked to see what statistics and actions could be tracked and reported, and how easy it is to place a variety of restrictions on the monitored cell phone. We analyzed how easy it was to spy on text messages and other forms of communication. We tested to see what could be done remotely and what we could view remotely. We also noted how easy the spy software was to install on the device and use remotely.
Security: Protect & Monitor Discreetly
As a cautious employer, you certainly have the option to monitor your employees' activity while they're on the clock, even when they're using company cell phones. Premium cell phone monitoring options can potentially let you view the screens of devices you are monitoring live, so you can see pictures, texts, chat, emails and internet searches as they happen or with a small delay.
A few of the bolder options can even tap into the monitored device's microphone to let you listen to whatever sounds it can pick up – which includes recording phone calls – or it can use the device's camera to take pictures of whatever it can see. Most software also offers less intensive and more standard services, such as viewing browser or communication history, tracking locations via GPS, remotely locking the phone, restricting activity, or even remotely wiping the device and backing up important data
Tracking & Reporting: Full Access & Easy to Use
The best cell phone monitoring software makes it easy to keep track of any details you deem important by offering an intuitive interface and simple, clear-cut reports. Most programs let you customize when you receive reports, ranging from a simple monthly report to by-the-hour detailed reports full of bar graphs, lists of frequent contacts, browser history, newly downloaded apps, chat and text history, calendar events, pictures taken, or even keystrokes. It just depends on what your surveillance needs are as an employer.
Some of the software options on our lineup run invisibly on the target device, while others are visible no matter what. However, some have persistent cookies or show up under the applications list, which may make it easy for tech-savvy employees to discover.
Alerts & Restrictions: Lock, Block & Notify
Certain monitoring programs have functionality beyond merely spying on cell phone activity. Some let you flag or block certain apps, websites and contacts. This feature helps you protect your employees from talking to undesirable people or viewing inappropriate content, and it keeps them from using the device for reasons that aren't work-related. You can even restrict web searches or set up a notification that will alert you if inappropriate things are discussed via text or chat.
Another helpful feature is geo-fencing technology, which serves multiple purposes. Primarily, it geographically limits where cell phones can be used for purposes beyond emergency calls or other designated uses. It also helps you know where your employees have used the phone and encourages the user to be responsible. This is especially helpful for companies with employee drivers, as you can lock down the phone to only work where you assign it to.
Certain spy software will let you view deleted material – such as texts, emails, chats, media and browser history – and this even includes web activity viewed on an incognito window, along with how often your employee accessed it on a given cell phone. Most programs also alert you if anyone tries to tamper with or remove the software, or if they've removed the SIM card.
Setting a time limit on when the phone can be used is one of the most beneficial features for employees, as it helps them stay focused on the task at hand and not distract themselves. You can set a window of time for app and browser use and easily adjust it whenever needed. Some software will even allow you to remotely unlock the phone for 30 minutes of open access if the user requests it.
Compatibility: Make Sure It Works on Your Device
Though the most common cell phones and carriers are supported by these software programs, not all are. It's important that you double-check what brand and model the cell phone you want to monitor is so you don't waste money on incompatible software. The developers of this software typically have extensive lists of compatible devices, sometimes even with pictures, on their websites.
Those on our lineup all work on Android and most on iPhones, but less of them are available for Windows or BlackBerry devices. Most North American carriers – such as T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and Virgin Mobile – are compatible with the software as well, as are a few European carriers, such as Orange and Oxygen.
You will need to have physical access to the devices you want to monitor in order to install the software, as none of them can be installed remotely. You'll also want to check how much space is required for the software to be installed on the device you wish to monitor and if it has enough space to begin with; smaller sizes are better.
Help & Support: It Should Be Easy to Talk About
Because of the complex nature of spy software, and because it is detail-oriented and feature-heavy, it can be a little daunting to figure out how to use it. Good software developers provide you with an artillery of resources to help you get the answers you need. You should be able to reach the company directly, through live chat, phone, email or online form. Some also provide you with indirect assistance options, such as user forums, where you can talk with other software users, or tutorials and FAQs sections on their websites.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the software in our comparison through retail purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. The results of our evaluations were not provided to software manufacturers in advance of publication.
Cell Phone Monitoring Software: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Three cell phone monitoring software applications – Mobile Spy, PhoneSheriff and Mobistealth – rose above the rest in our comparison, mostly because of their capacity to track and report a wide variety of details, provide alerts, set restrictions and support a wide variety of devices and cell phone carriers. These are the factors we weighed as the most important in our rankings. Mobile Spy offers extremely extensive surveillance and reporting, and it gives you ample capacity to set limits and create alerts. PhoneSheriff also gives you excellent monitoring options, while helping you save a bit of money. Mobistealth is easy to use without taking up much space on the target device.
Cell phone monitoring software is a helpful option for keeping an eye on how your employees use company-provided cell phones. Within our lineup, you can find the right balance of tracking, reporting and alerts no matter your budget.