As great as Android devices are, almost all of them are fragile in the place you need most, the screen. Even with a great case, your screen can crack, break, and sometimes stop working just because it feels like it. In some cases, you can replace the screen, but that’s not always easy, and can worsen the problem if you aren’t careful.
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What if you just want to unlock your phone to transfer files or other data? Well if your touch screen is cracked, dead, or generally unresponsive; that’s not going to work. Depending on your settings, transferring files isn’t possible while your phone is locked, but what if you could unlock it without the touch screen? It takes some time, but it’s well worth it.
Note: Many of these solutions require you to have an app already installed or debugging turned on prior to the screen not working. If you do not have this done already, you might not have success with some or all of these solutions.
Method 1: Using your TV as a Second Screen with OTG and HDMI
This is the most expensive option on this list, but that’s only because all of the others ones are free. This technique will work no matter what type of problem your screen is having. From cracked screens, to dead ones, or even ones missing entirely; this will get the job done. You’ll need a few different items for this to work, so I’ll list them below:
- An Android phone or tablet with OTG (USB On-The-Go) support
- An Android device that supports micro HDMI, or MHL to HDMI. Most Android devices will have the second if they don’t have the first.
- An OTG USB cable
- An HDMI cable, and an MHL to HDMI adapter if your device doesn’t directly support HDMI
- A TV or supported monitor to act as a second screen
- A USB mouse, almost any mouse, will with work with OTG
This process is made much easier if your device supports HDMI or micro HDMI, but if it doesn’t, you’ll need to buy an adapter and OTG cable combination ( If you buy the combination you don’t need the standalone cable). The combination cable doesn’t make it any harder on you, but it is more expensive.
If your device has a micro HDMI port, skip to Step 4. If you don’t have any of the supplies required, at most you’re looking at spending $25-35, but all of the supplies will be a good investment.
Let’s assume that for now, your device needs an HDMI adapter for this to work, so you now have a converter in your possession, and you’re ready to use it.
It might be a bulky looking thing, but it’s an extremely handy device that you’ll get plenty of mileage from if you dive more into OTG functionality. For now, plug the adapter into the appropriate port on your device. You don’t need any additional cables for this part, so just plug it right in and get ready for some magic.
With the adapter plugged in, plug in your USB mouse into the adapter’s USB port. Once you’ve done that, your mouse will be ready for use as long as the device is powered on. If you still need help setting up the mouse, here’s a guide on how to use them with Android.
Next, if you’re using the adapter, plug one end of the HDMI into the adapter, and then the other into a TV or monitor. Once that’s done, switch on the TV or monitor, switch it to the appropriate channel if you’re using a TV, and you’ll see your lock screen on the big screen.
Now you can use your mouse just like you would on a PC to unlock your phone without trouble.
Let’s rewind a bit to the start, and assume your device does have a micro HDMI port. In this case, you don’t need the combination adapter, but you will need a micro HDMI to HDMI cable.
There’s no special technique here, just plug both ends into their appropriate ports on your Android device, and your TV or monitor. When connected and on the appropriate channel, you’ll see your lock screen displaying on the second screen.
While you don’t need the combination adapter (even if I really recommend getting one anyway) you do still need an OTG cable for your USB mouse.
For this, just plug the smaller end into your device, and then your USB mouse into the other port. If your device is OTG compatible, you’ll be able to use your mouse just like on a computer in almost no time.
Now you can unlock your lock screen and transfer or access any files you still need without a hitch.
Method 2: Unlocking with ADB (Android Debug Bridge)
This process is a little complicated for those not familiar with ADB, so I highly recommend you familiarize yourself if you want to give this a shot. This requires the use of the command prompt if you’ve never used ADB before, and a certain level of comfort with issuing short commands.
I’ll outline each command step by step, so make sure to follow each one exactly so nothing goes wrong.
Since we’re using ADB, USB Debugging needs to be enabled for this method to work as intended. If USB Debugging is not enabled, this method will be unsuccessful.
Now that you’re a little more familiar with ADB, download Android Studio here, to get the SDK tools you need for Android Debug Bridge.
The link above is for Windows machines, but if you select Download Options just below the Windows download, there are options for Mac and Linux machines.
It’s possible you already have the appropriate drivers for your Android device, but if you don’t, you’ll need to get them from your manufacturer’s website.
For example, I’m using a Motorola device, so I can view their support page for drivers here, and then download the appropriate ones for my operating system. This works the same way for any manufacturer, and they’re usually the top result in a search engine sweep.
If you’ve followed the steps in your ADB article, you should have a folder named Platform Tools. This is the folder that contains a lot of import files for ADB and is where you want to open up your command prompt.
If you can’t reach this folder, you can also open your command prompt from anywhere, and then enter this command exactly as shown:
If you know where your Platform Tools folder is, open it up, then:
- Hit Shift + Right-click to open a menu
- Select Open command window here
This will do just what it says, and leave you ready to input commands.
Connect your Android device to your ADB enabled machine with an appropriate data cable. Ensure that your device is powered on before connecting, and that you machine recognizes the device.
If your Android device isn’t recognized, it’s possible you don’t have the proper drivers installed. If this is the case, please refer back to Step 2 and then proceed.
In your command prompt, enter the command:
Once you have the command ready, hit enter and this will return numbers related to your Android device. If no device is detected, you won’t see any numbers, and will just get the option to put in more commands.
This just acts as a check to see if you have configured ADB correctly and can proceed with this technique.
Next, if your Android device is locked with a PIN, input the following commands into the command prompt. Where you see an (xxxx) input your actual PIN there:
adb shell input text xxxx
shell input keyevent 66
This will unlock your Android device if it was using a PIN lock, but for a pattern lock, the commands are a little more complicated:
update system set value=0 where name='lock_pattern_autolock';
update system set value=0 where name='lockscreen.lockedoutpermanently';
In most cases, this will reset the pattern lock, but if it doesn’t, enter this last command:
adb shell rm /data/system/gesture.key
In both cases now, your Android device will be unlocked and ready to transfer files and data.
Method 3: Using Google Remote Unlock (Android Device Manager)
Android Device Manager is a great online tool for when you can’t get to your phone or tablet physically, but still need to access it. In this case, it can be used to remotely unlock your device with no need to use the touch screen. Even if your screen is completely blank, this will still work if ADM functions are enabled.
Once inside of ADM, if you have a device linked, you should see it in the top left corner. It may take a few moments for Google to find your device, but don’t worry, this is normal.
The button in the center, Lock, is what you want, even if that seems like the exact opposite of what you want to press. This function also resets your password, which will help you unlock your screen long enough to transfer over any files you need.
Method 4: Vysor
Vysor is a piece of software that will work similarly to the first technique I mentioned above, but won’t require a HDMI cable. In fact, it won’t need a TV either, you just need to download Vysor, have a data cable ready, and a PC to plug your Android device into.
Warning: Older phones and tablets may have a difficult time using Vysor properly.
The first step, besides taking a look at Vysor’s website, is to download the software. Vysor is particularly easy to use over Google Chrome, so if you aren’t using that web browser for this, I suggest you switch to it for just a few moments.
Using a data cable, connect your Android device (while powered on) to your PC. You do not need ADB functionality for Vysor to detect your device, but without it you need to manually sync your connection.
You can do this by going to the Find Devices section in Vysor’s application.
Once your device is found, a new window will open that shows your Android screen as long as your device is connected. You can control everything with your PC and unlock it in as little as a few seconds.
Method 5: A Factory Reset
As much as I hate to say it, one way to get rid of touch screen bugs is to factory reset your device. This won’t work if your touch screen is completely dead, but just might fix the problem if a software issue is what’s causing your headache.
Do not attempt this if your touch screen is damaged beyond repair, only if your touch screen is bugged to the point of unresponsiveness.
We’re going to perform a factory reset over ADB, so please refer to our guide if you aren’t familiar with Android Debugging Bridge.
This is another ADB method, so USB Debugging needs to be enabled for everything to go as planned. If you’ve confirmed that USB Debugging isn’t enabled, please use a different method.
Let’s quickly confirm that you’ve set up ADB correctly. In your Platform Tools folder:
- Hit Shift + Right Click anywhere on screen in the folder
- Select Open command window here from the new menu
Make sure your Android device is connected to your PC via an appropriate data cable, and powered on. Then In the command window you’ve just opened, enter the command:
If ADB is set up correctly, you’ll see a number representing your connected device. If it isn’t correctly configured, you won’t see anything but a prompt to enter another command. If you’re unsure why you aren’t seeing the numbers, please refer to the guide again and retrace your steps.
These commands can differ depending on the recovery used, and even your current version of Android. There are at least two that I know of that will work on most devices, but use these commands at your own risk, as they could brick your phone instead of wiping it.
In your command window, enter the commands:
adb reboot bootloader
If these commands do not clear your phone of all data, close the current command window and then open a new one. Now try these commands instead:
This will definitely unlock your device, but will also get rid of any data you have stored as a last resort.
By far, I think the easiest way to unlock an Android device with a faulty touch screen is through OTG. USB OTG can be used for a multitude of different tasks and subjects, one of my favorite being expandable storage. If OTG isn’t your thing, there are still other ways to unlock your device again for free, touch screen or no touch screen.
Unfortunately, both ADB methods need USB Debugging enabled, and with a dead screen, that’s a tough order if you had it turned off. If you needed a better reason to own an OTG USB cable; I can’t think of a better one.
If you still can’t get to your files, or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below to get an answer!
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