Android

How to safely sideload apps on your Android device

How to safely sideload apps on your Android device

With so many choices available on the Play Store, one would think that this is a one-stop shop for every app you need. But that’s not the case as other developers have created and released apps which are not available on the Play Store.

For one reason or another, this app isn’t in the Play Store, but it’s also not in the “dangerous” category. For example, the Lawnchair launcher is available to download, but if you want a faster update you will need to download and install the APK from a site like APKMirror.

What does “sideload” Apps mean?

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If you don’t know what it means to “sideload” apps on your Android phone or tablet, it basically means you installed files on your device that aren’t from the Play Store. As we mentioned earlier, this gives you access to apps that are more “diamond in the rough”, or stand out from the crowd and developers don’t want to go through Google’s rigamarole guidelines.

When you download an app that is not found on the Play Store, you will actually be downloading the “APK”. This is a package format provided by Android for users to install applications and other media onto your Android device.

One of the prime examples of why you might want to sideload apps is for devices that don’t have access to the Play Store. The Huawei P40, which is caught in the middle of the US and China trade war, and doesn’t have access to Google Play Services. So you need to download and sideload this APK file to get your favorite apps on this device.

How to sideload Apps

In recent years, Google has implemented new ways to protect you from downloading malicious applications. You are required to manually grant access to various applications (i.e. your browser) to download files, including APKs. So before you can actually install the file, you need to grant access to whatever application was used to download the file.

There are two methods for doing this, and we’ll start with the “manual” options:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down and find the Apps & notifications section.
  3. Tap Advanced at the bottom of the page.
  4. Tap Access special apps.
  5. Near the bottom of the list, select Install unknown apps.
  6. Find and select the app you want to give access to.
  7. Toggle the Allow option from this source to the On position.

When you find an APK file that you want to download, and the app has not been granted access, you will be notified.

  1. Find the file you want to download.
  2. Tap Change permissions in the dialog box.
  3. When asked to allow the app to access your files, tap Allow.
  4. Tap Download.
  5. Once downloaded, click on the file to open it.
  6. Tap Settings from the pop-up.
  7. Toggle the Allow option from this source to the On position.
  8. Returns to the previous screen.
  9. Tap Install.

Where do you find the app, not the Play Store?

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There is a “storefront” available which has many apps available to sideload, opening up even more possibilities for your Android device. And the best part is that not all of these other apps require you to be rooted, which is another ballgame entirely.

The most important thing about all of this is to make sure that you download this application from a “trusted” source. We’ve listed some great options.

APKMirror

It is run and maintained by our colleagues at Android Police, and there are many options available. Almost every app you can think of will be found here, and it has been my go-to choice for downloading the beta version of Lawnchair Launcher.

XDA Labs

Managed by our colleagues at XDA Developers, XDA Labs is a trusted repository of applications that will only enhance your experience. It’s completely free to use, and if you donate money for the app, 100% of the funds go to the developer.

F-Droid

Our final pick is a popular service, which provides a catalog of “free and open source applications”. If you are using the F-Droid app, it will also act similarly to the Play Store, giving you notifications when the apps you have installed have been updated. It is a fan favorite as it has been around for years.

Some of our favorites.

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As we have already mentioned, there are many applications which are only available through this other source, and will not be found on the Play Store. We’ve put together a short list of our favorite options available from these third-party sources.

Grass Chair Launcher

It is based on the original AOSP Launcher, also known as Launcher3. But the benefit here is that you get all the benefits of the Pixel Launcher, along with customization options. You can use icon packs, adjust the size of your home screen, and customize almost anything you want with your launcher.

Google Camera

The Google Camera app is only available on Pixel devices. However, folks in the Android community have ported the app, making it possible to download and use the app on non-Pixel handsets. The reason is because the Google Camera app can provide a much superior HDR experience, especially for low-end devices. But it also works with flagship handsets like the Galaxy S20 line.

YouTube Vanced

This is the YouTube app you want, especially if you are not a YouTube Red subscriber. Vanced blocks all YouTube ads, gives you the ability to play videos in the background, and more. It is actively being developed, so there are new features added and bug fixes issued regularly. If you watch a ton of YouTube videos, then you need to give YouTube Vanced a try.

Letter K-9

Honestly, there is no “great” email app, regardless of whether you’re on iOS or Android. There have been a few that have approached, and that’s where K-9 Mail comes into play. After a few years where apps seem abandoned, developers have taken it all back with a fresh looking website, and a promise for continued app development.

Bromite

While mobile browsers are getting more and more sophisticated, with the ability to install extensions and add-ons, there are other drawbacks. But if you want a browser that has the speed of Chrome without all the extra fluff and focuses on privacy, Bromite is the way to go. Bromite has a minimal interface, and built-in ad blocking.

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