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How to install an Android app you can’t find in the Play Store

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And do it safely

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Most of the time, the Google Play Store is all you need to find and download apps on Android. Unlike iOS, though, Android gives you the option to install apps from other places. And every now and then, that level of freedom can come in handy.

Say, for instance, you’re looking for an app that isn’t available in your country. Or maybe you’re longing to try a newly announced update to an app that hasn’t yet rolled out to you. You might even want to find an older version of an app, if a recent update is proving to be problematic.

Here’s how to get started.

Downloaders beware

First, a quick word of warning: generally speaking, it’s best to limit your app downloading activity to the Play Store as much as possible. Contrary to popular belief, Android does actually scan apps downloaded from third-party sources (and has since 2013), but the layers of protection are inherently less thorough outside of the Play Store’s virtual walls. Consequently, your odds of encountering something shady are significantly higher whenever you venture out into the wild.

So use third-party sources only as needed — and only when you’re confident you’re downloading from somewhere that’s trustworthy.

Got it? Good. Let’s do this.

Finding and downloading your app

  • Open in your phone’s browser. Numerous unofficial Android app markets exist, but this one is operated by the same people who run the Android Police blog. It verifies all apps to make sure they’re legitimate, unmodified files signed by the appropriate parties, and it publishes only credible apps from known Android developers. Outside of the Play Store, this is as reputable as it gets.
  • Browse through the site’s collection or use the search box at the top to find and select the app you want.
  • If an app has multiple versions available, you’ll see them listed by version number and release date. Tap the version you want, then tap the file name (under the “Download” header) and tap the red “Download APK” button on the bottom of the next page.
  • Your phone will warn you about the risks of installing unknown apps and prompt you to authorize the download. Tap the “OK” button to proceed.

Installing your app

  • Look in your notification panel for the confirmation that the download is complete. Tap the notification to begin installation.
  • Your phone will prompt you to allow unknown apps to be installed — either at a system-wide level, if you’re using an older version of Android, or for your browser only, if you’re using Android 8.0 (Oreo) or higher. Tap the “Settings” link in that box and then activate the toggle on the screen that comes up.
  • Hit the Back button, and you’ll see a prompt asking you to confirm that you want to install the app — either new or as an update, if you already have the app in place. Tap “Install.”
  • Once the installation completes, you’ll see a confirmation screen. You can open your app from that screen or by finding its icon in your app drawer.

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