*** This post was updated on: March 2, 2020 ***
When I gave our daughter a smartphone for her 13th birthday I had NO IDEA how much anxiety it would bring me. Suddenly she would just disappear into her screen for hours at a time.
Any parent who has seen their child’s face go completely blank while staring at a phone or tablet knows exactly what I’m talking about.
But that’s not even the worst part.
QUICK VERSION: I had no idea what she was looking at, who she was chatting with, or who might find her online. But my top pick, below, allows me to see EVERYTHING that happens on her phone.
Within 10 days I decided I HAD to find a way to monitor her phone. And that led me to spy apps.
There are literally DOZENS of cell phone spy apps on the market for iPhone and Android. I’ve bought and tested more than 20 of them.
Unfortunately, many spy apps are worthless. And many of them have sneaky refund policies and won’t give you your money back even if their product never worked.
So what started as an effort to keep tabs on my daughter’s cell phone usage has turned into an effort to help people avoid getting ripped off when buying a spy app.
After 100’s of hours of testing I put together this list of the 6 best cell phone spy apps that work on the most popular phone operating systems. Some of these spyware applications even allow you to track the device’s activity with no installation of a spying app.
The apps below are excellent for parental control, or whatever else you might want to use them for.
Spyfone is my top pick because of it offers the best balance of price, features, and solid tech support.
With a dedicated support team, you’ll get quick support if something goes wrong.
The app is highly stable compared to other cell phone monitoring apps I’ve tested for both iOS and other devices. I’ve yet to have it crash on me. It even offers a keylogger without rooting the device, one of only a few to offer this feature.
This monitoring app can be installed (with or without permission) and configured in minutes, making it a good choice for those who are less tech savvy.
In terms of features it is comparable to mSpy, the former king of mobile spy apps. In addition to all of the usual features, you can also live stream the microphone and the camera (front or back) anytime you like. This allows you to see and hear everything going on around the phone whenever you like. The user dashboard is also probably the cleanest and most intuitive of any of the spy apps I’ve tested.
It’s even got a GPS tracking history feature that shows you everywhere the phone has been in the last 24 hours.
SpyFone is one of the best Android spy apps on the market. In addition, SpyFone also offers a one-time payment instead of monthly plans. Yes, it is missing some advanced features like recording calls, ambient recording, and turning on the phone’s camera, but it is still a robust package to spy on someone, and it is worth considering.
Basic customer support is available at no extra cost. You will be required to submit questions on their website, which are answered in a queue format. You CAN purchase an enhanced telephone support package about $30, and this can be extremely helpful when difficulties come up.
FlexiSPY is hands down the most powerful spy app currently on the market and our pick for the best spy app overall.
It has all the monitoring features of the other apps I’ve listed, plus a few incredibly powerful features not offered by any other mobile phone spy software out there.
This powerful spy app actually allows you to listen live to phone calls as they happen. No other app offers this functionality.
On top of that, the app itself is VERY stable, and their tech support is responsive and efficient.
Where this product REALLY shines is when you order a device with FlexiSPY preinstalled. This gives you full access from DAY 1!
The FlexiSPY app has been around since 2005 and, in that time, it has set the bar for advanced monitoring and spy capabilities. FlexiSPY has set the bar for other spy apps.
If you’re comfortable with technology and are willing to spend a bit more, FlexiSPY is the best spy app on the market. This powerful cell phone monitoring software will allow you to keep track of just about everything that happens on the target phone remotely. The FlexiSPY Extreme package has unmatched spy capabilities.
Flexispy will work on a wide variety of devices including Android and iOS phones and tablets, Nokia Symbian, and the Blackberry. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful spy apps I’ve tested, and the app installation can be handled by their support team.
Where FlexiSPY really shines is in its advanced set of features. In fact, they sound like some of the CIA or NSA hacks that you hear about in the news. You can read more about the app in my full FlexiSPY review.
mSpy is the best iPhone spy app on the market, and is a close second to FlexiSPY in terms of reliability and support. It’s geared towards monitoring the phones of your children, employees, partners, spouse, or whoever.
If you’re looking for more detailed information, you can read more in my mSpy review.
The basic package does not require jailbreaking and is great for those who struggle with technology. It offers the ability to monitor Whatsapp. The full version of mSpy gives you access to EVERYTHING on the phone. It is also undetectable once installed.
Of all the brands we tested, mSpy was the best spy app for iPhone, and it is also compatible with Android devices. Regardless of what type of phone your target uses, mSpy has you covered. mSpy has all of the features that you would expect, including monitoring text messages, instant messages, contacts, call logs, and pinpointing the user’s GPS location. It also has some extras you won’t find anywhere else.
This monitoring app is, far and away, the best iPhone spy app. It has both a non-jailbreak and jailbreak version, simple installation, intuitive control panel, and very competitive pricing.
While the app’s features are more limited without performing a jailbreak, the full version of the app has everything you could possibly want, including monitoring GPS location, SMS text messages, and all the popular social chat apps.
While it doesn’t offer some of the advanced features (like call intercept or call recording) of my 3rd choice, this cell phone spyware offers the most value overall.
The Highster Mobile spy app is the best phone tracker that can be installed without permission on an Android or iPhone.
It is geared toward remotely monitoring the phones of your children or your employees. Of course, how you use it is totally up to you.
Highster has many of the same features as other monitoring apps. Because Highster Mobile is easy to install and configure, it is a good choice for those who aren’t as technically savvy.
The interface and online dashboard capabilities are very similar to the other products we’re covering, but this app doesn’t have some of their advanced capabilities. You can read more about the app in our Highster Mobile review article.
Highster Mobile is one of the best budget cell phone spying apps on the market. This monitoring software has some great features though it lacks some of the more advanced capabilities. But it still has some of the most important capabilities at a much lower price. If you are on a budget, this is a great choice.
In addition, Highster Mobile also offers a ONE-TIME PAYMENT instead of monthly plans. Yes, it is missing some advanced features like recording calls, ambient recording, and turning on the camera, but it is still a robust package to spy on someone, and it is worth considering.
Basic support is available, but it is not as easy or as helpful as FlexiSPY. Customers are required to submit questions on their site, which are answered in a queue format. You CAN purchase an enhanced telephone support package about $30, and this can be extremely helpful when difficulties come up.
iKeyMonitor is an easy and user-friendly spy app that has many of the cell phone spying features of other spy apps we’ve covered. It also includes an online dashboard for reviewing data on target devices.
You will be required to root the target device to get the full services iKeyMonitor. So if you’re uncomfortable with that process, you might be better off looking at our top review. The keylogger functionality is quite powerful but requires either rooting or jailbreaking the target device.
iKeyMonitor is among the best apps for spying on an iPhone. However, it does require you to root or jailbreak (iOS) the target device for maximum access. If you’re not comfortable with this process, you’ll be better off going with one of the other companies that offer to do this for you for a small fee, or don’t require it, such as Highster Mobile. Bottom line, it offers many of the same great features as other spy apps, but at a more reasonable price.
Overall, the iKeyMonitor package is pretty solid. Installation of the app, in particular, was a bit more technically involved than other spy apps we tested, but it seemed very stable once it was installed and setup. All the spying functionality works as advertised, and the app is hidden from the user, making it completely undetectable.
From a value perspective, you’ll be paying an additional $6 per month compared to our first choice, and getting basically the same functionality. For this reason, it came in number 5 in our comparison.
One thing worth mentioning, though, is that the feature to log what they type truly does record everything that happens on the phone. So, if you’re willing to search through the logs, you won’t miss anything that’s typed on the device. For more information on this mobile spy software, go to https://ikeymonitor.com/
XNSPY is another innovative spy app for Android and iOS. Like most of the options we’ve covered so far, it gives you the ability to read someone’s text messages without their phone, track a phone without them knowing, and spy on a cell phone without installing software on it. In addition, it shows you call logs, allows social media monitoring of apps (Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp), photos and videos, GPS location, and has some impressive extras.
You can read XNSPY reviews here. While it was originally just for Android, they now have an iOS version.
The Android software is specifically designed for parents and employers to track everything happening on the target device. The dashboard will let you monitor multiple devices and allow you to switch from one to the other quickly.
You’ll want to verify that the device you’re looking to monitor is compatible with the app. This can be done quickly using the compatibility wizard on their website. Once verified, installation and setup of this tracker app were both quick and easy. While this tracker app will allow you to monitor a phone without permission, that is not it’s INTENDED use.
Of course, how you use it is up to you.
The Live Control Panel is a nice add-on, but where it really excels is when you need to monitor multiple devices. It allows you to quickly switch between each device from your control panel, saving lots of time when you have lots of data to check.
By default, there is an icon on the monitored device’s screen as well as notifications that the device is being monitored, but this can be disabled if you like. You’ll certainly get better information if the target device you are spying on isn’t constantly reminded that you’re watching them.
XNSPY’s free customer support isn’t all that great. But you can find answers to just about any question on their website. And if that’s not good enough, you can contact their team.
All in all, XNSPY is a solid choice with the usual features. You can find more data and a demo of the software on their website.
I want to make your buying decision as easy as possible. So in this section, I’m highlighting the MUST HAVE features in any cell phone spy app. I’m also covering:
The top mobile spy app to spy on Android devices isn’t necessarily best for iPhone. Many packages are compatible with either one, but there are differences in the operating systems that limit capabilities and functionality.
There are a lot of good solutions to spy on cell phone data and track it’s location. The amount of real information that can be provided depends on whether or not you root the Android device, as this provides access to absolutely everything on the phone. Androids don’t have an iCloud backup spying equivalent.
Apple phones run on the iOS software platform. Smartphone spyware generally falls into two categories; those that require jailbreaking the device and those that don’t. But there is one notable exception.
The iPhone spy software we reviewed allows you to get MOST of the information without even installing any software. These spy apps require that you know the iCloud login credentials of the target device. From there, it is free to remotely access all the backups, which are regularly stored by the phone.
These offer the greatest flexibility and are also great for those that aren’t comfortable dealing with complex technology.
Regardless of what you’re trying to track, most features offered among cell phone spy software are essentially the same.
So what data CAN you track using these spyware apps?
Whether you’re planning on monitoring a child, employee, spouse, or anyone else, there are a few key features you should look for before deciding on a spying app. Here’s my list of the most important features.
One of the more important pieces of information for a concerned parent, employer, or spouse is the user’s location. All of the cell phone spy software we’ve covered allows location tracking of the target device. Some spy apps now take this capability even further by logging the location over a specific time frame.
A good cell phone location tracker app allows you to set up zones as well. When the user enters or leaves this location, you’ll be notified.
Pretty much everyone sends text messages about their personal life, business, or things they are hiding from someone else. And knowing how to monitor text messages to spy on what’s being said is a must for any tracking software. Every one of our picks has this capability. You can even read a text message without installing anything.
Some even allow you to log all texts and download them from the phone later. So even if the user deletes their messages, you’ll still have them in your control panel.
Hacking into someone’s text messages is a powerful tool to monitor who they’re talking with and what they’re saying. Some spy apps even allow you to read a text message without installing anything on their phone. Some phones require installing software, but iPhone spy software only requires that you know their iCloud login credentials.
One of the more common features of a spy phone app is the ability to see the users address book. Even a budget option will include this functionality.
The ability to see a phone’s browser history gives you insight into what someone is doing on their phone. All the spy apps in this comparison offer this feature. The internet browsing history function is a great feature for employee monitoring.
Even if you are using a Facebook Messenger hack, it’s hard to keep track of all the ways people use to communicate, especially with chatting apps. Your spouse or child could be using apps like Whatsapp, SnapChat, Tinder, LINE,Viber, Skype, or others.
Spying on conversations in social media and instant messaging apps such as Whatsapp or Tinder is a bit more involved than seeing SMS text messages or a log of calls, but we have covered several iPhone and Android spy apps that now offer this capability and even more. These provide a user-friendly and easy way to spy on chat conversations across multiple platforms. And you can spy on it all from your web account browser, in an easy to use dashboard.
These features are especially important for parents who are worried about cyberbullying. Parents can quickly login and monitor messages, posts, and activities.
Snapchat is one of the most popular chat apps in the world for sending messages, photos, and videos. Unfortunately children don’t understand the dangers of this app as users photos can be captured and used against them. Users photos and data can then be used against them.
Although e-mail communication isn’t as popular among kids and teens, this is still one of the key features. Email communication is something that should be monitored closely. Any spying app you’re considering should offer the capability to monitor incoming and outgoing emails.
The ability to see a log of incoming and outgoing phone calls lets you monitor EXACTLY who they call and who calls them. Many apps will store calls in a log that you can review and download from the device whenever you like. Some of the better apps will even let you record all calls on the phone.
All of the top spy apps should be able to record phone calls. Flexispy can record live phone calls, and also makes it easy to turn on the phone’s microphone for in-room recording without the user’s knowledge. You’ll also be able to view call logs and call history. The call log feature is available in both jailbreak and non-jailbreak versions.
As parents, the ability to activate the camera of the device and record or take a photo, without the user knowing, is a powerful feature. Not apps offer these features but it’s a great way to capture the surroundings and activities happening around the phone.
A keystroke capture feature allows you to spy on anything that is typed on the phone. This includes chats, texts, emails, usernames, and passwords. Some trackers will even notify you when specific keywords are typed. This is one of the more under-utilized features as it captures EVERY keystroke that a user makes.
Some programs are designed specifically for an Android phone, while others are platform independent and will work on all types of devices. If you’re planning to spy on more than one device, you’ll want to ensure that the app you choose is compatible with all of them.
Something to consider is that Android security isn’t as stringent as iOS. Android devices can be monitored a lot more easily, regardless of the OS version.
Here are the answers to common questions people have about installing and using phone spyware.
Spy apps do work and can give parents complete access to most phone’s information including web browsing history and much more. In most cases this can be accomplished without the owner being aware of the app.
The best spy app for an Android phone is FlexiSPY. It offers a good balance between price, features, and terrific customer service. As previously mentioned, the Android operating system is easier to track and monitor.
mSpy can be installed remotely if you choose the non-jailbreak version. It offers fewer monitoring features than the standard version, as it utilizes iCloud storage to harvest data. But data like location, apps installed on the device, Whatsapp messages, and the users contacts can be monitored
Absolutely. All the tracking apps we’ve reviewed allow you to track the physical location of a target phone.
mSpy and FlexiSPY allow you to track a mobile phone, even if it is not connected to the internet by utilizing the GPS location data of the device. The app stores this info and then uploads it to your control panel to view. You can then access this from your device or computer.
After the completion of the app download and installation you can monitor someone’s smartphone activity remotely. You’ll need to find out if the phone itself is compatible with the spyware. Most spy apps require that you download the app to the device itself.
The best hidden spy apps are extremely powerful, and it’s important to understand the legalities of using them. We go into more detail in this article.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be leaving all reservations based on morality at the door. Yes, it might be shady (and in some cases illegal) to track a phone or devices you do not own. But if you ARE the owner of the phone, you can install whatever software you like on the device.
There are ways of monitoring any device without the person being aware. We talk about how to track a cell phone location without them knowing in another article.
You need physical access to the target phone to install the app and can then spy on the device remotely. There are some options available that can circumvent this requirement by allowing you to access the phone’s information via their iCloud account directly, but these only work on iOS devices. Other phones will require you to have the mobile device in hand for at least a few minutes to install the app.
When you are trying to spy on a cell phone, the information you can monitor on the phone is much greater if you can get physical access to the device.
These top spy apps are my favorites, though there are others out there that are popular as well. Hoverwatch is a very popular app with parents for keeping tabs on location, messaging, and pictures being sent. There are dozens of others apps as well but, if you want the most solid solution, my recommendation is to use one of the top spy apps reviews on this page.
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Jason is a work from home dad who has a passion for DIY projects, yard work, and SEC Football. His background is IT, but he's always fancied himself as a part-time ship welder, landscaper, and short order cook. During the week he can be found on his laptop 10 hours-a-day, but on the weekends he escapes to the local DIY Cave to play with REAL toys. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and can contact him via email.