How to use APK files to install Android apps from sources other than Google Play

The safest way to install new apps on any Android device is to use the Google Play store. However, that is not the only method to get new apps. Say you are a developer and you are building apps for Android. Before you get to launch your app in Google Play, you have to test it while it is under development. Or, maybe you are working in a company that uses its Android apps that do not need to be published on Google Play because they are not intended for public use. How do you install apps on your device, in these situations? Luckily, there is the “sideload” method. It implies getting hold of the .apk file (the file format used for Android app installers), loading it onto your smartphone or tablet, and installing it locally, without going through Google Play. In this tutorial, we teach you how to do all that:

NOTE: For this tutorial, we used a Motorola Nexus 6 smartphone running Android 7.1.1 Lollipop. The procedure is similar on all Android-powered devices, so you should be good to go even if you are running a different version of Android.

Step 1. Allow installation of apps from sources other than the Play Store

The Android operating system is protected against the installation of unauthorized apps through the sideload method using a setting found in the Settings of the device. The first thing you have to do is to allow the installation of apps using the sideload method. For that, you must open the Settings panel and switch this option to On. Here’s how to do that:

From the home screen of your device, tap on the Apps icon on the bottom, to open the apps panel.

Scroll the list of apps until you find the Settings app and tap on it to open the settings.

Once inside the Settings app, scroll down through the options until you find the Security category under the Personal section.

NOTE: On some custom Android implementations, like the one created by Xiaomi, the path you need to take is different: “Settings - >System -> Additional Settings -> Privacy.”

Amongst the various security-related settings, the option that deals with the installation of apps using the sideload method is the Unknown sources option. Tap it to turn it on.

The system needs one final confirmation from you to make sure that this is indeed what you want. Read the warning and tap on OK to continue.

With this option turned on, you are now ready to install apps via the sideload method.

Step 2. Install the APK file on your Android device

For the next part of this tutorial, we assume that you already have the .apk file of the Android app you want to install (acquired by downloading it from the internet, by building it yourself or through other means). The.apk file has to be uploaded to your device, and we also assume that this has been done in advance. You can load files on an Android device through numerous methods:

  • Connecting the Android device to your computer and browsing its file system
  • Loading them on a memory card and then inserting it into the card slot of your Android device (if the latter supports it)
  • By sending the files to the device using an app that does file sharing, like WhatsApp, Dropbox, OneDrive and so on

NOTE: We can also recommend the free apkmirror.com website if you want to download APK files directly to your Android device. The website is run by the same people who own the popular Android-related news site AndroidPolice.com. The choice is yours.

Once you have the file loaded up on the device, you need to navigate to it using an Android file manager app. You can safely use the one that is pre-installed onto your device by the manufacturer or any other file manager you prefer.

Once again, from the home screen, open the Apps drawer by tapping on the Apps icon at the bottom of the screen.

Scroll the list of apps until you find your preferred file manager or, if you do not have any, use the default one instead.

Use the filesystem to navigate to the folder where you have previously saved the.apk file of the app you want to install. In our case, the APK file we decided to use for this guide is found in the Downloads folder.

Once you find the .apk file in the folder, tap on the file to launch the installation process. You are presented with a screen that asks you whether you want to install this application, as well as the permissions it needs to run correctly. Familiarize yourself with them and when you are ready to install the app, tap on the Install button at the bottom-right corner of the screen.

Your Android device now installs the app and, depending on its size and your device’s performance, this step can take a while.

After the app finishes installing, you can either open the app directly from this screen or return to what you were doing before by using the buttons at the bottom of the screen.

Now you are done: the app is installed on your Android device, and it is available to use as you see fit!

Conclusion

You have learned how to install apps on your Android smartphone or tablet, using the sideload method. As you can see, this process can take some time, but it is not that difficult if you follow our instructions. If you have any issues or questions, don’t hesitate to ask below.