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Monday, February 6, 2023

How to Troubleshoot Someone Else’s Phone Remotely

It's a problem you may be familiar with, especially if you're the designated “tech support” contact for your family, office, or group of friends: Someone gets in touch wanting help with a problem on their phone, but you're not actually with them to take a look.

Troubleshooting issues over an audio call or via text message is typically an exercise in frustration. Just trying to work out exactly what is (and isn't) happening on screen is a challenge in itself, and that's before you even get to the stage of thinking about what the underlying causes might be.

The answer is to get the person you're helping to share their device's screen with you. Not only can you see for yourself what's happening, you can also try and fix the problem yourself remotely, over the web.

You've actually got more options in terms of apps and approaches than you might think, but one app in particular does the job very well and for free: TeamViewer QuickSupport. If you need something else as well as, or instead of, this, we've also mentioned some alternative strategies you can consider.

It almost goes without saying, but exercise caution when using these tools—you don't want to grant full access to your smartphone to anyone you don't trust, even if you can cut the connection at any time.

TeamViewer QuickSupport

TeamViewer QuickSupport is by no means the only piece of software that lets you view and control a smartphone screen remotely, but it's one of the best that we've come across. It's easy to make sense of, it's free for noncommercial use, and you can download it for both Android and iOS devices.

The person you're helping needs to have the QuickSupport app installed, so you might need to give them a hand with this first. For the person doing the fixing (which is you), you need the full version of TeamViewer Remote Control for Android, iOS, or desktop, or you need to head to a web browser and type https://start.teamviewer.com into the address bar.

Whoever needs help with their phone simply needs to launch TeamViewer QuickSupport, then pass on the nine-digit ID number that is displayed on screen to the troubleshooter. This can be done through a phone call or a text message, for example. (Tap the Send my ID button and a few options will appear, including copying the ID to the clipboard or sending it through a messaging app.)

Once the all-important ID code has been entered, TeamViewer asks for permission to connect from the person with the QuickSupport app, then attempts to establish the link. As soon as that's done, you'll be able to see and control the other smartphone, so you can start trying to work out what's going wrong and why.

For the person you're connected with, the whole process might seem a bit unnerving—it'll feel as though a ghost is operating their phone—but you'll be able to operate the device as if it were in front of you. The TeamViewer app will also show you details about the device (such as how much RAM and internal storage is being used), and both parties can stay in touch with a built-in chat feature. The connection can be cut from either end.

Alternative Options

Remote access or screen-sharing (or both together) are available in a variety of apps. FaceTime supports screen sharing now, for example, on the very latest versions of Apple's mobile and desktop software: If the person you're helping starts a FaceTime call from the iPhone they're having problems with, they can tap the Share Content button (a figure by a screen) and then Share My Screen.

Vysor is another app that allows someone else to access a phone and see what's happening on it, though at the time of writing it's only available on Android, and you need to be a paying subscriber to take full advantage of the feature. Prices start at $2.50 per month, but you can try out the screen mirroring basics for free.

AnyDesk is very similar to TeamViewer in that it's simple to set up and use, and works across Android, iOS, and desktop programs. Again, all you need to do to establish a connection to someone else's phone is to share the code displayed on screen. It's a professional-level product though, and you'll need to pay $10 a month (or more) to use it (a free trial is available if you want to give it a go before paying).

If all you need is screen-sharing rather than remote access, this is built into a lot of video calling tools now, including Zoom. As part of a Zoom video call, you can share your screen by tapping Share (Android) or Share Content (iOS) and then Screen—you and everyone else on the call will be able to see the device screen, and its owner can then take you through what the problem is step by step.

For something a bit more makeshift, remember there are a host of other video calling apps out there: You and the other party can always meet via a video call and you can try to ascertain what's going on with their phone through their webcam (although they will need another device to make the video call).

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