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How to factory reset your Android phone without unlocking it

Did you forget your Android PIN, pattern, or password? If you can't unlock your Android device, there's a way to get in, but you'll need to do a factory reset. Here's how.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
Pixel unlock pad.
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 in the PIN, it wouldn't unlock.

Something had gone wrong, and I needed to access the phone to review it. Fortunately, I'd been down this alley before and knew what to do.

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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, which means you don't have to worry about remembering all of those login credentials, as the app can autofill usernames and passwords.

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

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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. Unfortunately, Google removed this option.

Now, your only recourse if you forget the PIN/pattern/password is to do a factory reset. If you can't unlock your phone to get to the factory reset options in Settings, don't panic. I'm going to show you what to do.

How to factory reset your phone without unlocking it

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.

1. Shut down the phone

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.

2. Start the phone

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, you have to use the Power/Volume Up combo.

3. Select Recovery mode

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

4. Wipe the phone

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.

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At this point, your phone should 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 that your phone will most likely perform much better than before you were locked out because the system and app caches have been cleared.

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