How to download Android apps without the Play Store, and why APKMirror is the best place to get them
This story was originally published 2020/04/22
10:18am PDTon Apr 22, 2020 and last updated 2020/05/02
6:09am PDTMay 2, 2020.
The Google Play Store is where you likely get most of the apps for your Android phones, tablets, TVs, and other supported devices. But it’s definitely not the only place you can download apps. Unlike iOS, Android gives you a lot of freedom, and that extends to the places and ways you install your apps. If you’re going off road and off the Play Store, we think APKMirror is the best place to get apps, because it’s secure and safe — we run the site, and we stand by it — and it even offers split APK App Bundles for things you usually can’t get anywhere but the Play Store, for apps like Netflix, Disney+, and other popular services.
How to download and install apps from APKMirror
(Disclosure: APK Mirror is owned and operated by Illogical Robot, LLC, which also owns and operates Android Police)
These days, Android has both “normal” APKs, and something called split APKs, or App Bundles. App Bundles save bandwidth and storage space, but they made it hard for people to share apps with one another outside the Play Store. That’s because every phone is technically running its own slightly different version of an app. But APKMirror and the APKMirror Installer app eliminate that problem.
While you can sideload most Android apps without the use of another app, with the rise of “bundling” and split APKs on the Play Store, we wanted this guide to cover all apps, not just those that still aren’t using bundles, so our unified instructions that cover both use the APKMirror Installer.
The first thing you’ll want to do is install the APKMirror Installer. You can get it from the Play Store, or you can install it from the APKMirror site — either is fine, but the Play Store is easier.
Installing the APKMirror app from the Play Store is as easy as tapping the widget or link above and tapping “Install.”
Once you’ve got the app, installing apps from APKMirror is pretty easy, and pretty much the same, whether you’re downloading an App Bundle or not — you don’t even need a separate guide for the two processes.
Go to APKMirror.com
Navigate to APKMirrror (apkmirror.com), and search for the app you’d like to install. Note that not all apps you can get from the Play Store may be available.
Find the app you’re looking for
If necessary, you can browse apps by APK names, app names, and developer names as you hunt for whatever it is you’re looking for. When you’ve found the app you want in the version you need, just tap the download icon on the right side of its listing.
If you end up sorting by app or developer, rather than APK, you’ll then need to settle on the version of the app you want — if you don’t care or don’t know, the latest non-beta version is probably fine. Scroll down to “All versions” and find the one you need, then tap the download icon to the right.
Select the right version of the app
On the App listing, scroll down to the “Download” section — also easily accessed by tapping “See available APKs and Bundles.” Here you may have more than one option available. If that’s the case, you’ll need to check the FAQ and do a bit of research to determine which version is appropriate for your phone. Tap the colorful label for the variant you’d like to download.
Although the process later should gracefully fail if you download the wrong version, you should double-check before continuing that you are looking at the right one. (Generally speaking, you can’t mess it up too badly, though. If it installs, it was compatible, though you might run into some smaller issues with things like DPI.) In general, all modern Android phones are arm64, and a nodpi version should work most of the time.
Download the app you want to install
On the next page, scroll down to the big colorful “Download APK” or “Download APK Bundle” button — whichever it is you get, that will vary based on the app. You might be asked by your browser if you’d like to save the file, and you might get a warning that the file format/extension is potentially dangerous. If you’re willing to trust APKMirror as a source, you can allow it.
Open the downloaded app in APKMirror Installer
Once you’ve downloaded the file, you need to find a way to open it. You can tap the download notification at the bottom of the screen if you’re using Chrome, for example, but you might need to tap a download notification in your status bar or navigate to where you downloaded the file with a file manager and open it manually, depending on your browser.
If prompted, open the file with APKMirror Installer. The APKMirror Installer app will load up the APK and get things ready.
Install the app in APKMirror Installer
Split App Bundles (left) give you a more verbose installation screen than normal APKs (right).
APKMirror Installer will feed you a pile of details regarding the app you’re installing if it’s an APK Bundle — your best bet is to trust the app’s judgment, though you can tweak things if you run into trouble and have to reinstall later. If you’re not installing an APK Bundle, you’ll get a simpler prompt. Whichever you get, tap “Install app” to continue.
The first time you do this, you might run into trouble. On recent versions of Android, you’ll be prompted to allow the APKMirror Installer app as a source for app installations as an easy toggle. While you shouldn’t enable this setting for just any app, it’s okay to do it for APKMirror. But it is there to protect you from apps that might install malware.
On older versions of Android (Pre-Android 8.0 Oreo — consider upgrading for your own security if your phone is this old), you’ll have to manually enable a separate setting to install apps from unknown sources. That’s usually in Settings -> Security, or you can search in the Settings app for “Install apps” or “Install unknown apps.”
Once the permission has been granted, you can go back until you’re back in the APKMirror app, which will continue the installation process, or you can start over, attempting to run/install the app you downloaded from your browser or file manager.
APKMirror will prepare the installation, then your phone will ask (again) if you’d like to install the app, with the wording varying slightly if it’s an update to an existing app or a new app for your phone entirely. Tap “Install” to continue, and you’re basically done.
Once APKMirror Installer has finished installing the app, you’ll be prompted to open it, but you should be running the version that you installed.
If you run into any problems during this process, APKMirror Installer will let you know, spitting a large warning if the app installation fails for any reason. So if you accidentally select an x86 APK when your phone is arm64 (like 99% of all recent phones), it probably won’t work.
You can even install the Play Store if you want to
Using your new tricks, you can even finagle the Play Store itself onto your device, if you like. All you need are four apps (though you might need different versions depending on how old your phone is, or what version of Android it is running). It also may not work on all devices, and especially old or unusual devices might require tracking down specific versions of the right APKs. This guide is non-exhaustive.
Without opening any of these until you reboot at the end, install the following apps in this order:
- Google Account Manager
- Google Services Framework — You’ll need the right version to match your Android OS version, so check in your phone’s Settings app to find your Android version (Usually Settings -> About hone, or Settings -> About phone -> Software information) and download the latest services framework that matches (i.e., Google Services Framework 7.1.2 if you are running Android Nougat 7.1.2).
- Google Play Services
- Google Play Store
Once all four have been installed (again, without opening them), reboot and you should have the ability to use the Play Store. If you get a notification that Play Services is out of date, don’t worry. If you can sign in, everything should eventually automatically update to the latest compatible version.
If you run into trouble, most issues can either be fixed by one of the following escalating steps:
- Rebooting the device
- Clearing app data for the Play Store and launching it again
- go to the “Apps” or “Apps & Notifications” section of Settings, find Play Store, tap it, select “Force Stop,” and then go to “Storage,” and select “Clear data” or “Clear storage.”
- Clearing app data for Google Play Services and rebooting
- go to the “Apps” or “Apps & Notifications” section of Settings, find Google Play Services, tap it, go to “Storage,” and select “Clear data” or “Clear storage.”
- Uninstalling all four apps, rebooting, reinstalling all four apps in the order described above, and rebooting again.
- Lastly, you can try resetting your device as a last-ditch effort, if you are sure you’re using the right versions of the right APKs and doing things in the right order.
Not all devices will ultimately work sideloading the Play Store, and you may experience subsequent issues or odd behaviors when it comes to some apps or the device as a result, but it is an option.
Why install apps outside the Play Store?
There are plenty of reasons to look for apps outside of Google’s store. Odds are if you’re here, you already have at least one, but there are some reasons you might not be aware of.
For one, Google sometimes removes apps from its venue based on content, functionality, or as a matter of censorship to comply with local laws. Sometimes apps are kicked to the curb for perfectly legitimate and valid reasons, like containing malware or violating user privacy, but that isn’t always the case. For better or worse, Android gives you the freedom (and associated responsibility) to get your apps anywhere you like.
Another good reason to download apps from APKMirror is simply that they aren’t even present on the Play Store to begin with. For example, the popular Lawnchair 2 alpha wasn’t available on the Play Store before its formal release. Apps on the Play Store can also be geographically restricted/censored, and users in some countries don’t have access to them. Other times, apps that are distributed on the Play Store roll out updates progressively, so when it comes to playing with the latest cutting-edge features that you read about, the only version you can get might not have them — we’re all beholden to the slow Play Store roll-out.
Lastly, sometimes updates aren’t always for the better, and APKMirror can provide a way to roll back to previous versions of an app in the event you run into an issue.
Whatever your motivation (and there are plenty), if you’ve resolved to get an app elsewhere, you can probably get it at APKMirror. And, it’s also the safest choice.
You can trust APKMirror
There are four primary reasons you can trust APKMirror as a source for Android apps:
1. We run it, and we stand by it
While Google might be responsible for the ads you see at APKMirror, we’ve done our best to make a good quality, easily navigated repository of Android applications. It might take you a minute to learn to navigate things like the different APK versions based on hardware platform or “DPI,” but it’s generally straightforward to get what you need.
2. Apps are signed by developers and safe to use
The apps that you download from APKMirror are unmolested and securely signed by their developers. We make sure that all APK cryptographic signatures are verified to match the originals (either previous updates or versions distributed on the Play Store), and we match new applications to known signatures from developers. In the event we can’t verify an app’s signature, APKMirror won’t have it. We also block publicly disclosed test/dev/debug signing keys, since they can’t always be trusted.
For the non-technically minded, that all means we’re as sure as we can be that the apps we’re distributing are safe.
3. No pirated or “cracked” apps
Three, there is absolutely zero pirated content on APKMirror. While you might be able to get around geographic restrictions or censorship, APKMirror doesn’t provide “cracked” or pirated versions of apps (though we do host some modified apps, like Google apps tweaked to work with more devices).
Android Police and APKMirror are here to help developers, not make their lives harder or take away their ability to earn a living. Connecting with our previous point regarding safety and security, many apps modified to provide paid or premium features for free also have malware or spyware hiding inside them, which you don’t want.
4. Don’t just take our word for it
Lastly, even if you disagree with these arguments on the premise that we have a vested interest in promoting our own services, other impartial sources also trust APKMirror.
For more information, check out the full FAQ which can also answer other questions, like if apps downloaded from APKMirror can still be updated by the Play Store (yes), what different “arm”/DPI builds mean, or how to troubleshoot some simple errors, should you run into them.
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