What to do if you forget your Android PIN, pattern, or password?

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Recently, I set up a new Android phone to review. The process went off exactly as expected and I ended up with a phone set up with the unlock PIN I typically use for review phones. After an update, the phone required the PIN for unlocking, but no matter how many times I typed the PIN, it wouldn’t unlock.

Something had gone wrong, but I had to access the phone so it could be reviewed. Fortunately, I’d been down this alley before and knew what to do. 

Also: How to turn on Private DNS Mode on Android (and why you should)

Unfortunately, my only recourse meant the phone would undergo a factory reset, which meant I’d have to set it up again. That wasn’t too much of a problem, given I hadn’t had the opportunity to do much with the device. Had the phone been months into usage, it could have been more of an issue. 

Factory restoring an Android device isn’t all that hard. This is especially true if you use a password manager for all your accounts. Using that approach means you don’t have to worry about remembering all of those login credentials and the app can autofill usernames and passwords.

The process worked and I set the phone up and reviewed it. But how did I do this reset? And what can you do to avoid having to go through this process?

Also: How to use Android’s lockdown mode (and why)

The answer is ‘not much’. Android used to have a process where you could type the wrong PIN or password multiple times and it would then send a recovery email to the associated account. However, Google removed that procedure.

Now your only recourse if you forget the PIN/Pattern/Password is to do a factory reset. But what do you do if you can’t unlock your phone to get to the factory reset options in Settings?

Don’t panic because I’m going to show you.

How to factory reset your phone without unlocking

If biometrics aren’t working because you had to reboot the phone after an update or problem, and your PIN/Pattern/Password is failing you, here’s what to do. Remember this technique will vary from phone to phone, but the process should be similar across manufacturers.

Hold your power button for a few seconds until you’re prompted with the Restart, Shutdown, and Emergency options. Make sure to tap the Shutdown option.

Press and hold the Power button and either the Volume Up or Volume Down button (this choice will vary, depending on your phone’s manufacturer). For example, a Pixel device requires the Power and Volume Down button. On Samsung Galaxy phones, it’s the Power/Volume Up combo that works.

When the menu appears, use your Volume Up/Down buttons to highlight Recovery Mode. Use the Power button to select the option.

In the next menu, use the Volume Up/Down buttons to select Wipe Data/Factory Reset and press the Power button to select. You will then be prompted to OK the wipe. Use the Volume Up/Down buttons to select Yes and then press the Power button to select.

Also: How to change your IP address with a VPN

At this point, your phone will reboot and go through factory resetting. It will take time to complete but once it’s done, you can set the phone back up using your Google account. 

The good news is your phone will most likely perform much better than before you were locked out because the system and app caches have been cleared.