Spy App Reviews – My 1st Summary To Date
It has been about FIVE months now, and it is time for "spy app reviews — my summary to date" to summarize what I have done, what I have tested, and what phones have changed since the first post. Since the first day, I have written and published 75 updates. Today is October 13, 2015, and this is SUMMARY PART 1.
I started this journey on May 26th, 2015, with lots of plans and goals. I chose a few parental apps and various other software including firewalls and blacklists in an effort to monitor my kids cell phones. That is when I figured out that "parental apps" were not the way to go; these apps weren't going to give me the information (like URLs visited) or "warm and fuzzy feeling" that I was trying to obtain. I needed a spy app to monitor my kid's phones.
So I scoured the web and put together a list of spy apps as well as their prices, and the other "names" that the apps are sold as. Some of the apps are so bad, they need to spread the risk among a number of brand names so that negative posts get spread out among them all.
In searching, I also found Cerberus Anti-Theft Software that I thought would make a great spy app. Had I read the TOS, I would have realized that if you used it for that purpose, your account will get blocked/restricted. And that is what happened to me.
However, I still installed Cerberus on every new phone I purchased and still think it is a great service, especially for tracking with GPS. Had it not been for Cerberus, there would have been many times where I didn't know where my "target phones" were located.
Of course, as I discuss later, tracking by mobile cell tower ID and by WIFI is less battery intensive, and usually gives a reasonable location (enough to show you they have entered another city — but not to be able to actually find them).
But I am very careful now not to do so much that my new accounts will get blocked! I also discovered that installing Cerberus as a system app prevents the app from being deleted during a "factory reset".
Cerberus also tells you via email when it hasn't communicated with your target device. Some of the spy apps don't tell you if the phone has EVER communicated with the control panel, so this is a great feature!
I also found Google Location History Reporting, a free service, that once activated, tracks the phone's location without any interaction on your part. I can't say how it works in the US, but in the Philippines, it doesn't work well at all. For example, on one chosen day in October, Google reported ONE location update on the map; where cerberus reported 15 location updates! It is free, it is there, you can always check it as a backup and hope that it has data.
Besides the location history function, I also found the "Google Device Manager" and how it can find your device for you. The only problem was that it NOTIFIES the phone that you have tracked it, telling potential thieves and naughty kids that they were being tracked at that moment.
On to Spy Apps.
THETRUTHSPY: The first one I installed was "TheTruthSpy" which is really "Ispyoo" is a different costume. I installed it on three phones, from different manufacturers, two of which were rooted phones. The package I purchased included the use of the app on 3 phones which was what interested me as I was learning and testing.
I didn't realize until I began this experimentation that the spy app developers had not written their programs with NON-branded phones or dual-sim phones in mind — because these apps all had problems functioning on dual-sim phones.
My first words describing TTS was "junk" among other expletives. After every install, it would stop working within a few weeks, and would require you to uninstall and re-install (and then reinstall again later) — something that is not often possible when you are attempting to discreetly monitor target phones.
And then two weeks later, I had to re-install it again because it stopped updating the control panel. I also found that most features did not work as advertised. But wait, here was my next session uninstalling and re-installing!
The spy apps sales page tries to make you feel that this is ok, since you can "install the spy app in five minutes or less". I found that to be a total misrepresentation along with the other COMPLETE LIE … "you don't need physical access to install a spy app".
I first installed it on a Samsung S4 that was not rooted. Only a few items worked. Then I removed TTS and rooted the phone. Then ambient voice recording or "room bug" worked really well. And TheTruthSpy is one of the few spy apps who include the "room bug" and "call recordings" in their package.
Working with the recorded audio files was challenging. To edit and obtain only the part of the recording I needed, took a fair amount of effort.
But nothing about TTS will excite you. One morning, I logged into the control panel and found that TheTruthSpy had removed facebook monitoring. And their website began advertising new features that DID NOT EXIST! I was furious and felt like it was a REAL SCAM.
And then like magic, Facebook monitoring begins to work again after a few weeks! And over 4,000 messages were waiting for me to review. My excitement didn't last long, as shortly thereafter, my control panel was erased. ALL messages, logs, call details, were gone.
Although you will NEVER receive a reply from TTS support, the first question of any support would be "did you update to the latest version"? That is ok with computer software, but not so easy for phones that are not in your possession all the time (ie: target phones).
And TheTruthSpy released three new versions in TWO WEEKS! In other words, they continued to discover bugs and kept putting out fixed versions. And each version requires manual installation — there is no automatic update (although FLEXISPY does provide remote update!).
My luck ran out. When it works, I'm impressed. But The Truth Spy AGAIN stopped working in a rooted brand name Samsung phone. I'm back to square one. If you can't count on an app working in a Samsung phone, what can you count on??
Most of the Spy Apps include the ability to see photos taken on the phone. Some apps randomly capture 10 photos, others grab the last 10 photos. With some apps, some photos are shown but you have no clue as to how they were chosen. I wanted a better way to view the pics my kids were taking.
GCLOUD / MEGA CLOUD STORAGE: So I installed a backup app to handle the backup of all their photos. This way, I could get on line and view the pictures at my convenience, and even if they deleted them a day or two after taking them, they should have still been backed up. I started with GCloud (NOT part of Google), which gives you a trivial 1 gig of storage space and turned out to be almost impossible to download your backed-up photos!; and worked my way into "MEGA", offering 50 gigs of space — enough storage space for kids who are snap happy. Although I found it to be easier to use, it did not backup all of the photos in other folders that other apps create.
1MOBILESPY: I purchased another spy app, 1MobileSpy, but noticed the control panel was often down, and there had been no updates of their site for 3 months. There were also no removal instructions if you decided that it wasn't for you, so I decided not to try it. I wrote the payment off as a
waste cost of this experiment and my education.
HIGHSTER MOBILE: The next app I wanted to try was Highster Mobile. It was the only software that I found that offered a ONE TIME PAYMENT and I found that interesting. I did find some real reviews of this program and they all said the same thing — the program stops working after a few weeks, just like my experience with previous programs. And in one case, some features started working again after four months of not working!
The first phone I installed Highster on was the Lenovo. Almost nothing worked. And like clockwork, Highster stopped working within a few weeks, just like dozens and dozens of people claim. And while researching, I found undocumented features that didn't exist in any manuals or help info.
The second phone I installed Highster on was a Samsung S4 not rooted. Although some features worked, the phone continued to run extremely hot with Highster installed. One of my big complaints against Highster was that it did not show the LAST DATE AND TIME that the phone connected and updated. Without that, you have no real way to determine if it is working.
Another failure of Highster is the way in which SMS texts are displayed. There is no "conversation mode" to show you which reply goes with which text, making it more difficult to follow. Highster's Control Panel was also graphically "heavier" making it load more slowly, although it was "prettier" than TheTruthSpy's panel.
Highster advertises that your "one time payment" is for a lifetime license. If you "factory reset" your phone to start over, your "lifetime license" is finished. I had enough of Highster and its false claims.
FOLLOWMEE GPS: While searching the internet, I had also found "FollowMee GPS Tracker", an application that was available for FREE, $2.99USD, or $5.99, depending on the package you wanted. I tested it, but was not impressed and uninstalled it. I had paid to upgrade to the $2.99 package, but wrote that off as part of the research. It never worked for me.
Also, I never imagined how incorrect GPS might be in showing my location! Nor did I realize how easy it was to deactivate the tracking services. Buying an older BRAND NAME phone was one way to keep tracking services working!
Regarding GPS, I found that leaving it on did use considerably more battery power versus tracking with mobile tower and WIFI only. And as an additional tracking service, I began using VIBER with location sharing turned on. With each message from my kids, I can see their location.
MSPY: I continued my search for alternatives to the spy apps I had tested, and began looking at Mspy. I thought they would be the next app I tried until I wrote to their customer service explaining my situation. I wasn't impressed with their reply (although they DID reply which is better than some of the other apps). I reviewed their "updated features" but it still wasn't enough to sway me into using their software.
FLEXISPY: Next up is FlexiSpy and a live support chat. Although the agent I "live chatted" with wasn't the smartest tool in the shed, at least it proved that FlexiSpy HAD some support for its products. So I purchased a one-year FlexiSpy subscription and began testing.
I compared FlexiSpy's control panel to The Truth Spy and to Highster Mobile. FlexiSpy makes some display mistakes, but wins hands-down because it works! Well, it DID until it stopped updating FOUR WEEKS after installation. More about that here.
I do give credit to FlexiSpy support however, as they replied to my request within 24 hours. Of course, the reply didn't help — but at least they replied.
ANDROID MONITOR: Although I haven't reviewed it yet, the next spy app to test is Android Monitor, as it looks promising, and is under $40USD per year.
That is all for PART ONE! This has been five months of learning and struggling. And I end the five months like this — only one out of three phones being monitored:
Lenovo A916 with Flexispy: Currently not working. Flexispy says "corrupted" and must be reinstalled. I can't access the phone for two months. I plan to change this phone to a Samsung.
Samsung S4 with TTS: Currently not working. Just like all the tests before, TTS stopped working for no detectable reason. I can't access the phone for two months. When I do, I will update it to the latest version (6.9+) instead of 6.6 that it is currently running.
Samsung Tab4 with TTS: Working! Well, working enough for me to call it a success. Currently running v6.9. GPS and VIBER monitoring doesn't work, but the main parts that I really wanted ARE working. And I don't plan to touch this phone for fear of messing it up!