Cell Phone Spy Apps – the Complete Guide 2021

I have created this cell phone spy apps guide to help you save two things, time and money. You’ve probably found this site whilst searching online for information about phone spy apps or monitoring software.

Good reliable information is hard to find on the subject so I have put together this guide designed for complete beginners as well as more experienced users.

Whether you are looking for information about using spyware for cell phones or need advice on where to buy it, I think I can help.

Updated For 2021

How to Use This Guide

If you are a total beginner, start at the beginning and read everything. For everyone else it is laid out so that you can scan ahead and find the information you require compiled in one place. I cover the main points in this article and for each section you can click on the blue links to go to a more detailed explanation. The links will open a new page with a more in-depth look at each subject.

I try to cover everything you will need to get started with the latest cell phone spy apps.

cell phone spy apps guide

What is a Spy App – What can it Do?

It is basically software which when installed on a cell phone (the target phone), will monitor most activities that take place through the phone. If you haven’t looked at any of these programs before I can guarantee you will be amazed just how deep this monitoring can go. The best programs have become very sophisticated and can monitor most phone use.

If you’re totally new to spy software, I recommend you check out a couple of my reviews. These should help you get a better understanding of how it all works.

Cell Phone Spy Reviews in 2021

Here I will list the spy app programs that I recommend and can stand over with no worries – all have been tested by me over several years now. I actually use these apps and update the spy app reviews regularly to include any changes and added features.

mSpy Review – Our top pick for value! The best selling spy app on the market right now and in terms of performance and reliability it is easy to see why this program is the most popular. Feature rich, no jailbreak version and affordable pricing – and it just works!

FlexiSPY Review – the most advanced, but slightly more expensive! If you need call recording features, this is the best option. Pricing changes have made it more competitive and it is still a reliable, working solution.

MobiStealth Review – Their new and improved version makes this app worth considering. May not be just as sleek as the others but it works well and is from a reputable company with a long track record.

The Best Spy Apps – a detailed comparison of my recommended Spy Apps – Reviews of the features, prices compared and ratings plus tips on how to buy the best spy apps.

XNSPY Review – The newest addition to my list of spy app reviews. This one combines some advanced features at a low price – a great value option but is it worth looking at?

There are lots of different programs available across the web but very few reliable cell phone spy apps that actually deliver on their promises. There is a good reason for this website only recommending a small number!!!

Things change in this market – some programs grow and some fall behind. I constantly monitor the products I recommend and report them when they fall short. So always check before buying!

Each software program will have its own unique set of features packaged together in different price plans. They all offer the same basic features such as monitoring text messages, e-mails, web history, call logs and GPS tracking. These features and more are usually available with the cheapest price plans.

See also our mSpy FAQ page and our Flexispy FAQ page – answering questions about these programs.

They also offer more advanced features for even more detailed monitoring. Some of these include call recording, monitoring chat services such as WhatsApp, Skype and Viber, monitoring social network use, phone surroundings recording and remotely controlling the target phone.

The top spy monitoring programs are regularly updating their more advanced features, competing with each other to offer more capabilities. Now you can also learn  how to hack Snapchat and learn about the best way to hack someone’s Instagram account – and of course how to hack Facebook – new articles added with more information.

How to Track a Cell Phone ? – we have that in detail too! Learn about different ways to track a cell phone with and without spy apps.

Other Spy App Reviews?

Due to demand and constant questions about some of the many software programs out there I have some reviews of products. These DO NOT make my recommended list! Some because they are poor quality and some because they just do not offer any real value.

Highster Mobile Review

HoverWatch Review

iKeymonitor Review

Teensafe Review

Mobile Spy Review – no longer hidden and not recommended!

Have a look at these and compare them to my recommended list of apps – I think you will be convinced to chose a safe and reliable spy app that will work as promised and offer real value. So on with this guide – lots to talk about!

The Problem With Spy Software

What’s the problem, why do you need this guide? At first glance cell phone spy apps can be quite confusing. There is a lot of information to take in: how does it work, what phones are compatible, what can you monitor. Then you come across terms like Jailbreaking and Rooting it can quickly become confusing.

Take your time it is actually more straightforward than you first think.

The second problem is finding the right product from a reliable company. Unfortunately this market has been targeted by some unscrupulous companies offering software which does not work.

There are a lot of scams around and you really need to be careful what you buy. Sometimes these companies can look legitimate to the untrained eye, but they will basically take your money and run. Also beware of companies offering “free phone spy apps” – always a catch!

Another problem is finding out how to use these apps effectively and get the most from them. There aren’t many places on the web with any reliable information on how to use spy phone software, apart from the companies selling it.

cell phone spy 101
Follow the Guide

The fact is that most of the so-called review sites you’ll come across, have never even tried the software.

Any product on this site that I recommend, I have tested and in some cases have them permanently installed on my own cell phones. Not only does this help me to evaluate the various programs, but it means I can give valid help and advice on how to use them properly.

Cell phone spyware is a technical product. People do have problems with installing and using the software but most of these problems are easily avoided, when you have some real experience.

The Legal Questions Around Cell Phone Surveillance

I focus solely on legal ways to use spy software – you can read more at the legal pages at the bottom of every page. Also check out our updated Legal Notice. When people first discover these monitoring programs they wonder how they can be legal.

It is perfectly legal to sell and use phone spy software but there are certain conditions.

    1. You must own or have legal authority over the target phone.
    2. You must inform any adult user of the target phone that they are being monitored.

Obviously it will be against the laws of most countries to just spy on anyone’s cell phone. Some seriously misleading advertizing has led people to believe this is possible – and many will ignore the legal requirements.

To stay within the law you can basically use this type of software in two ways:

  • You can monitor your own children’s cell phones – without notifying them if you wish.
  • You can monitor your company cell phones but here you must inform the users that their phone may be monitored.

Anything else beyond these circumstances and you will be breaking some privacy law or other. Of course human nature is what it is and people will ignore this in many cases – but you have been warned. (That is my disclaimer!)

Think someone is spying on your phone without your knowledge? Find out how to detect spy apps in this article – lots of good advice to follow.

Hacking vs Monitoring? – I prefer the term monitoring but hacking a phone refers to essentially the same thing in most peoples minds. If you think someone has Hacked your phone illegally I have a few security articles to help :

How to Tell if Your Phone is Hacked – this is a big guide covering everything you need to know.

I have some phone specific guides as well – How to Tell If Your iPhone is Hacked and How to tell if Your Android is Hacked – use these alongside the main article for even more detail.

Will Monitoring Software Work on My Phone

People can get confused about the requirements for spy software to work and which cell phones are supported by the different companies. There are two other major points to consider:

  1. The iPhone – see my how to spy on iPhone Guide – for ANY spy software to be installed on the iPhone (any version), the phone must be Jailbroken. No exceptions – no third party software can be installed on an iPhone unless it has a Jailbreak. The same goes for any iPad you wish to monitor. For more information see What is Jailbreaking and How to Jailbreak an iPhone. It is possible to have limited monitoring without Jailbreaking, using the user Apple ID and iCloud backup. In this case, no software is installed on the target device.
  2. Rooting an Android – again there is some confusion around this one. Rooting is NOT necessary for spy software to work on an Android phone – but there are a couple of features which require Rooting to work properly. For example Rooting is required to monitor WhatsApp on most programs. Apart from a couple of advanced features Rooting is not needed.

Now let’s look at what else is required.

Cell Phone spy software will only work on Smartphones – that is phones with an internet connection.

The phone you intend to monitor MUST have some access to the internet. It is best if it has an active data plan but it can work with reduced features using a Wi-Fi connection at home.

Data logs – all reporting – is sent from the target phone via a web connection. No internet connection means no monitoring. So your ten year old Nokia brick will be safe from spy software!

The second thing you need is a phone which is supported by the software program you plan to use.

I go into lots more detail in my article about Phone Compatibility for spy apps.

This type of software will work in ANY country with any service provider – wherever you can get an internet connection.

The most important thing is to make sure the spy software supports the target phone Operating System. If this sounds strange to you – go check out that article!

How Cell Phone Spy Apps Work?

Getting this part clear in your head will help you understand why certain requirements are important for the software to work well. They say an image can tell a thousand words so take a look at the picture below.

how spy software works

The basic process is this:

  • The spy software is installed on the target cell phone (physical access is required!).
  • All monitored activity is logged and sent to the spy software company servers via a web connection.
  • You log in to an online dashboard with a unique password to view the reports – again with an internet connection from any device, anywhere in the world. Reports can be downloaded to your PC in most cases.

What About Remotely Installing Spy Software?

I love this one – I keep getting asked how you can install spy software without having access to the target phone. The answer is simple – you can’t!

The confusion comes from some software products online claiming that this is possible. Trust me on this one, they are all scamsjigsawpieces5 and will not work as they describe. You can read a great article about remote install spy software here.

If you buy one of these programs you will lose your money and have a useless product. The only way to monitor a cell phone is by physically installing spy software onto the target phone – you need to have access to the target phone for at least a few minutes.

If the phone is password protected you will also need to get past that to install the software. There are ways to bypass passwords on most devices – Google is your friend ….

Can someone spy or hack your phone by sending a text message? – have a read here, I think you’ll be surprised!

A New Spying Method – Without Having the Phone/Device

This new service has become very popular – it only works on Apple devices (iPhone and iPad etc), does not involve installing ANY Software on the target device and therefore you don’t need to Jailbreak.

It works by monitoring through iCloud backups – Apple’s free backup service. To use this service you will need to have the user’s Apple ID and password – and iCloud backups must be enabled. Remember the legal requirements still apply!

Monitoring an iPhone/iPad Without Jailbreaking

I have tested this No Jailbreak Version from mSpy and it works very well giving a very useful alternative to their main iPhone spy software. I go into more details in my main mSpy Review.

Now get this straight, it is not regular cell phone spy software – it is not installed on any phone, and is in fact a computer software program which runs on Windows (hence no Jailbreaking). It is quite limited in terms of features and shouldn’t really be compared to regular software.

If Jailbreaking the iPhone is not an option for you and you still want to keep an eye on your kid’s phone, this addon from mSpy might be worth a look. It is a good example of how this market is changing quickly with new products and new ways of monitoring – who knows where we will be in another five years!

Buying Mobile Phone Spy Software Safely

So we are moving on – you know a bit about how it all works, what it can do and the type of phones we can monitor. Now you need to find the right spy software for your needs but most importantly, you need to find one which works and won’t leave you feeling ripped off!

If you are starting from scratch, with no knowledge, this is the most difficult part – but you have this guide to help you!

The key to buying safely is to do some due diligence, this way you can avoid the scams and poor quality programs. You need to be able to evaluate the spy software company and if you are reading spy software reviews – you need to consider the review site and their motives.

I go into a lot more detail in this article – The Best Spy Apps – Buying Cell Spy Software Safely – you must read this before buying any spy software.

Choose the Best Program for Your Needs

People get obsessed about which is the best cell phone spy software. Everyone will form their own opinions on this but the important thing is to find the best one for your needs.trust words

To make that decision you need to find programs which:

  • Support your target cell phone
  • Cover your monitoring needs
  • Suit your budget

There are no shortcuts here; you need to look at the programs in a little more detail. To help I have written some in depth reviews of the best ones. Using these reviews will help you to identify which ones meet your requirements.

Recommended Spy Software Programs

This is by no means a definitive list – other programs are available. These are the cell phone spy programs that I have tried and tested and am happy to recommend.

With recent changes in the software market you only really have a few reliable options from trusted companies – mSpy, FlexiSPY and Mobistealth. No doubt some new players will enter the market – but beware of scams!

mSpy Review


FlexiSPY Review


MobiStealth Review


I have made detailed reviews of these spy phone apps going into a lot of detail – these are constantly updated to keep up with the changes.

Remember your due diligence – don’t just accept what I say, check them out for yourself!

How to Install Cell Phone Spyware

So now you have gone through the learning and evaluating process – you’ve selected the surveillance software and you just need to buy it and install it on the target phone. This part is really important as most problems will arise from the software not being installed properly.

I have a detailed guide for Installing Cell Phone Spy Software – check it out.

The simple version –

  • Choose the software wisely
  • Buy the package you require
  • You get a download link in an email
  • Download and install the software onto the target phone
  • Configure the options and settings
  • Re-boot the phone
  • Sign in to the online Dashboard to view reports

Sounds easy – and in most cases it is. You must follow any specific directions from the spy software company to the letter.

Taking your time is a good idea if it is your first attempt at using these programs.

Don’t forget to read the article!

Help With Spy App Installation?

mSpy and FlexiSPY both now offer installation services – for a small fee. They will root or jailbreak your target device and install and set up your spy app. You still need to have the target phone in your possession and have access to a PC/Laptop with internet connection.

It is a great service if you are worried about installation.

Potential Problems with Cell Phone Spy Apps

Spy software is a technical product and things can go wrong – people do have problems from time to time. If you buy a poor quality software program, the problems will never be resolved. If you stick to the recommended spy apps you will at least have some back up when things do not work as expected.

Most problems will arise from three things:

  • Selecting the wrong program or package – we go back to the importance of compatibility and is your phone supported.
  • Incorrect installation – it is easy to slip up during the installation process, especially if you are trying to hurry. Consider using their installation services if you are worried.
  • Poor Web connection – everything depends on good internet connections. If internet access is interrupted, the reporting will be interrupted.

Consider the technology at work and understand that you will have down time at some point. The best programs work hard to minimize any missed reports but if your connection lets you down you may encounter some breaks in reporting.

I continually monitor the programs which I recommend and part of my reason for a recommendation is service reliability.

Are Spy Apps Hidden?

This is a valid concern for many users who want to monitor someone’s device – they worry the other person will find the spy app on their phone. The best apps are very well hidden and are almost never found. Companies like mSpy and FlexiSPY have gone to great lengths to make sure their apps stay hidden.

How to Detect Spy Software – I have written this guide for people who are worried they might be monitored. It outlines some possible ways to tell if your phone has a spy app installed. Older and poor quality apps can easily be detected – making it more important to chose your product carefully.

Some articles claim you can use USSD codes to tell if your phone is tracked – I have a detailed article about that.

I also have a guide on How to Remove Spy Apps – check it out alongside another security article on how to remove hackers from your cell phone.

Tips for Getting Help

If you do encounter problems with your spy software it is good to know you can get some help and support from the software providers. Some are better at providing this support than others and in my opinion they could all do with some improvements in this area.

They will all help but the speed of reply can sometimes be too slow. I have found a few ways to get better support service.

If you are contacting a support line – by phone, email or live chat, be persistent. Try contacting them at different times – day and night, some support centers are in different time zones.

Try to ask clear and to the point questions – don’t just go off on a rant!

Be polite but get your points across.

Apart from sometimes being slow to respond, I have received some good help from support staff. The good companies want to provide help – they want you to keep using their software. Always bear that in mind.

Let’s hope the information in this site can help you to avoid any issues.

Help Make This Spy Guide Better!

That’s about it for now with this guide to cell phone spy software. I will keep this article updated as new programs or new monitoring features are released.spy software guide complete

This is a fast moving market and the technology is continually developing so be sure to bookmark this page and come back.

Now you can help me to make this a truly “Complete Guide” – I will have missed some things, it’s impossible to cover everything so go ahead and ask questions in the comments. There are comment sections below each article and they are totally anonymous – your email will never be printed.

The comments sections in this site have grown over the last few years providing lots of useful tips and answers to questions all about cell phone spy apps – I advise reading through them – find some gems! If you have a question that hasn’t been answered – be the first to ask.

Your questions and opinions can make this a really valuable guide – for real users.

Thanks for reading.

Susan Kennedy

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Author - Susan Kennedy

Hi there - I'm Susan Kennedy, a regular mom who has used spy apps for years now. I was fed up with spammy reviews and poor information so I started this website. I also teach how to improve your online security and stop unwanted spy apps. Reliable information from a real person!

Susan Kennedy author