Drop, crack, d’oh! The epiphany of my broken Android phone

Man, I had one hell of a streak.

All these years – about 7,967 since I started using and writing about Android – and somehow, quite miraculously, I had never broken a phone.

Impressive I know. But don’t be in awe just yet, my drop-dreading citizen: my streak of impeccably protecting Android phones has officially come to an abrupt end.

Well, technically I didn’t fall my phone, mind you. And I didn’t technically break it myself either. But it was definitely broken. And it happened under my watch.

While I wouldn’t recommend this experience to anyone, it was a stark reminder to me that even the most obsessively cautious animals among us who appreciate Android will sooner or later slip and find themselves in an unfortunate situation like this. (For some Android phone owners — hi, honey! — these kinds of butterfinger glitches seem to happen with almost shocking frequency.)

And more than anything, it forced me to think of some wise steps we should take Everyone Remember to keep our information safe when our precious android companions crash and crash.

Backstory of my broken android phone

First things first, it’s worth noting that these steps are mostly relevant if your phone either won’t turn on or can’t be used in a normal way – but is technically still running.

That’s exactly what happened to me. Long story short, a 45-pound dumbbell rolled off the (supposedly) flat bench I placed it on during a workout and rolled To the right on my poor Pixel 6. Seriously, what are the odds?!

Amazingly, the phone didn’t break. In fact, one had to look very closely to notice even the outward signs of damage. But as I quickly discovered, the screen would no longer turn on – not at all. And aside from letting my nice stream of obscure ’80s power ballads continue to entertain my pierced ears, that meant the phone was mostly useless.

Luckily my original Google Store purchase insurance was still active and I was able to get a replacement unit within a few days. But that also meant I had to send the broken old phone back as part of the process.

And that, in turn, meant that all of my personal and work-related information could have gotten into the hands of others – since I had no way of getting into the phone and performing a standard factory reset.

So here’s what I did – and what I would strongly recommend doing yourself if/when you find yourself in a similar situation. It’s a three-step process that protects your data and Your Sanity When Your Phone Can’t Interact With:

Step 1: Force a factory reset

Little-Known Fact: While you can’t swipe and tap your way through your phone’s onscreen menus, you can can reset that thing anyway and delete all your accounts and data. It’s just up to you to realize it’s possible and then remember how to do it.

However, it’s pretty simple: just type find my phone into the Chrome address bar on any computer where you’re signed in to the same Google account that’s connected to your phone. This will bring up the official Google Find My Device tool.

From there, it’s just a few clicks to select the damaged device, locate it, and then use the “Restore” option to permanently erase every last scrap of information from the thing and reset it remotely.

Well if your phone was Completely dead, of course that wouldn’t work. But as long as it’s still on and running — even if you can’t actually access it — this is a great way to get all of your information out of it before sticking it in someone else’s grubby paws.

Step 2: Confirm the unlinking of your Google account

Even after resetting your phone, it’s worth taking a few more seconds to go to the Your Devices section of the Google Account website. There you can make sure that the phone does not have a persistent connection any Google account you were connected to.

Just look for the phone’s name on this page and when you see it, click on it and then on the “Sign out” option on the screen that comes up next.

If you had more than one Google Account associated with the device – as you know, a personal account and a work account – sign in to each account separately on this Google Accounts website and repeat the process.

Step 3: Sign out of Messages

If you’re using Google’s Android Messages app, this last step is one of the most important and one of the most easily overlooked.

As you may know, Messages relies on a next-generation messaging standard called RCS to power its next-generation “chat” feature. This gives you state-of-the-art messaging features like encryption, typing indicators, and read message notifications when you’re chatting with someone who also uses the service (or uses another RCS-compatible app).

That’s generally a good thing – isn’t it? Of course right. But the existence of this standard adds an extra wrinkle to our broken Android phone mystery: when you stop using one Android device and switch to another, your messaging account can often stay linked to the one old device – and that means that (a) any messages sent to you through that system will still arrive on that phone, and (b) you’re likely to run into problems if you try to log into Messages on a new device Log in to the “chat” system.

Again, the solution is simple, as long as you know about it: just go to this official Google Messages help page in the browser of any phone or computer you’re logged in to. Scroll down, and you’ll find a form where you can enter your phone number to remotely deactivate and log out of all connected devices.

The system will send you an SMS to confirm the deregistration. As long as your broken Android phone is technically on and running, you should be able to see it and copy the code by opening the regular Messages web app on your computer.

And with that, your busted old clunker should be completely clean of all ties and sensitive information – and you can safely ship it back to the manufacturer, take it to a repair shop, or do whatever you see fit.

Now you know. And now you can get on with your next broken Android phone with no extra worries — and focus on booting your new one instead next record-breaking streak of damage-free joy.

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