Do Metal Detector Apps Really Work?

The idea of turning your smartphone into a metal detector may seem like an outrageous one, but thanks to the various metal detector apps available on the market, this crazy idea can easily become a reality! 

Metal detector apps use the magnetic field around your phone and the magnetometer inside the phone to measure other magnetic fields. The apps are not as effective as full-sized detectors, often picking up invaluable items instead of more expensive metals.  

In the rest of this article, I’ll explain how metal detector apps work and offer my recommendations for the best apps available. I’ll also discuss the pros and cons of using these apps. Let’s get started! 

How They Work 

Metal detector apps use the magnetometer in your phone to notice when a metal object changes the magnetic field surrounding your phone. However, these apps do not detect every kind of metal, just magnetic metals such as iron, steel, and nickel. 

If simply downloading an app on your phone and suddenly having a fully operational metal detector seems too good to be true, it kind of is. However, these apps are not completely useless! The apps can detect some magnetic metals, though not in the full range of a full-size metal detector and certainly not as effectively or with as much depth. 

Almost all modern smartphones have a built-in magnetometer. These magnetometers help orient your position in the world, so you can use the compass app or navigation apps, such as Google Maps. 

If you have an iPhone from the last ten years, you probably have a magnetometer. If you’re unsure or want more information about where the magnetometer is located on your phone, I recommend researching your phone’s model or looking at the owner’s manual. 

This magnetometer is possible through an internal chip with a 3-axis magnetometer, which has three separate modules aligned on the three different axes of the phone. These sensors can measure the Earth’s magnetic field and its intensity. Then, it can determine your location based on the information from your magnetic field, which is how the compass and navigation apps use the tool. 

However, the magnetometer in your phone isn’t just for navigation and knowing North. For metal detecting enthusiasts, the magnetometer is the key to turning the phone into a handheld metal detection device. 

Metal detector apps use the magnetometer in the phone to pick up on the magnetic fields of nearby metal objects. Usually, these apps can only pick up magnetic metals, including the following:

  • Iron 
  • Nickel 
  • Cobalt 
  • Some types of steel 
  • Some types of stainless steel 
  • Permalloy 
  • Alnico 

Magnetic metals have an atomic crystalline structure in which all atoms face the same direction. Most common metals do not have this structure. Here are some metals you won’t be able to detect using a metal detection app: 

  • Copper
  • Aluminum 
  • Gold 
  • Silver 
  • Titanium
  • Brass
  • Tungsten 
  • Lead   

Unfortunately, these non-metallic metals are what most metal detector enthusiasts are after. You won’t be able to find any gold or silver treasures just by using your phone.

In addition, these metal detecting apps aren’t as thorough or effective as full-size metal detectors, and they won’t be able to sense objects buried deep in the ground. 

Metal detection apps are essentially detection apps that reflect the magnetic fluctuations that the magnetometer senses on your screen so you’re aware of them and can search for the object. These apps can usually pick up on items such as nails or screws, but they rarely register more valuable items such as coins or jewelry. 

Best Metal Detector Apps 

If you’re not discouraged by the limitations of metal detector apps, and you want to give one a try, here are my recommendations for some of the best metal detection apps available: 

  • Metal Detector by Aleksandr Balyberdin. This app has been the number one metal detector app in the iPhone store for a decade. The interface is simple and intuitive, and the app is completely free. It is most sensitive near the magnetometer in your phone, so you’ll have better success if you locate the magnetometer and hold that area close to the metal item or the area you’re detecting. 
  • Metal Detector EMF by ExaMobile S.A. The metal detector EMF app detects the presence of metal nearby, and this app is designed to help you find missing metallic objects around your home. The design is easy to understand, and you can change the background color according to your preference. 
  • Metal Detector (PRO) by FML Creations. This app can detect ferromagnetic objects such as phones, keys, and computers. This app is more for entertainment and even features a “fun mode” where you can cause the alarm to go off by covering the proximity sensor. You can adjust the sensitivity level of the alarm, and the nice user interface makes it a pleasant experience. 
  • Metal Detector & Stud Finder by WeBrain. This app can accurately locate metal objects. You can choose from three different viewing options, including surface level, portrait level, and landscape level.  

With one or multiple apps on your phone, you can start looking for missing items or making discoveries without buying a full-size metal detector. 

Pros and Cons 

Now that you better understand how metal detector apps work and have a few options for the best apps available, let’s discuss the pros and cons of using them so you can determine if they are right for you. 

First, let’s talk about the advantages of using metal detection apps: 

  • They’re affordable. Most metal detector apps are free, so if purchasing a full-size metal detector isn’t in your budget right now, an app is a great way to get in your metal detecting fix without spending a penny. Some apps may have additional costs for some bonus features, but you’ll be able to use the metal detection feature for free. 
  • You don’t need to carry any extra tools. Chances are, you almost always have your phone with you already. With a metal detector app, you don’t need to carry around any additional equipment; all you need to do is have your phone with you, which you’d probably have regardless. 
  • They work in some situations. If you’re a serious metal detector who wants to find buried treasure, the metal detector apps probably aren’t for you. However, the apps are perfect if you just want to have fun and try to sense what objects are metallic in your environment! 
  • The apps are easy to use. Some apps can be extremely complicated to figure out. Luckily, many metal detector apps keep their interface simple and easy to understand, so you won’t need to struggle for hours to figure out how to use them. Many of these apps are easier to use than full-size metal detectors. 

Now let’s discuss some of the disadvantages of these apps: 

  • The apps don’t register many metals. A metal detector app won’t sense many of the metals you’re hoping to find when you metal detect, such as gold, silver, and aluminum. Therefore, if you’re only using the app, you’re bound to miss out on some treasures because of the app’s limited range. 
  • The apps don’t cover as much ground. Your phone must be close to any metallic object to sense it, so if something is buried underground or further away, you’ll miss it. Full-size metal detectors can sense metal that is much further away or hidden. 
  • Some of the apps are glitchy. These apps work relatively well, but many aren’t as streamlined as you’d like. Many users report that their metal detector apps are glitchy and stop working for no reason. 

Metal detector apps may not be the most effective tools for metal detection, but they are affordable, easy to use, and sometimes work. Because these apps are free, I’d say they’re worth every penny! 

If cost is your primary concern regarding metal detectors, I recommend getting a pinpointer or a handheld metal detector wand. These tools are often more affordable than full-size metal detectors and more effective and accurate than metal detector apps.

For more information about the value of purchasing a metal detector, I recommend reading my article on the investment value of metal detectors. You’ll learn whether you should buy one of these devices and how you can generate an income from metal detecting: Are metal detectors a good investment?


Metal detector apps work, but they may not work as well as you’d like. They aren’t able to pick up signals from non-metallic metals, and they don’t have a lot of depth or range, so you’ll only be able to get an alarm that a metallic object is nearby if you are extremely close to it. However, these apps are useful if you’re in a pinch or bored and want to try metal detecting. 

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to tips on finding and collecting precious items. Inspired by reading countless adventurer reports from the oldtimers, Alex is passionate about discovering hidden treasures and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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