Browsing through an app store can be frustrating. When you’re looking for a simple tool to tune your guitar or remind yourself to water your plants, the results immediately ask you for money or are completely cluttered with ads.
Now, let’s not begrudge developers for wanting to make money – most of us don’t do our jobs for charity – but the scales have tipped to the point where your phone can be actively difficult to use. This is why if you have an Android device, you can enjoy F-Droid.
This app store is an alternative to Google Play and includes only open source apps that can ask for donations, but are usually free of both ads and in-app purchases. The fact that the applications are open source also makes them generally trustworthy – anyone on earth can read through the code, making it highly likely that someone will find out if there is an obvious security vulnerability or privacy invasion.
Sideloading apps, which means installing software from sources other than Google Play, is much easier on Android than iOS, since no jailbreaking is required. And F-Droid makes it even easier by offering a curated collection of open source apps with no tracking and no ads.
How to set up F-Droid
Open your browser on your Android device and go to F-Droid.org, tap on Download F-Droid, and open the resulting file. Unless you have previously allowed your browser to install software from sources other than Google Play, you will see a warning saying that your phone is not allowed to install unknown apps. To bypass this, press Settings and then Allow from this source. Go back and your phone will ask you one more time if you want to install F-Droid – tap Install to be finished.
[Related: How to sideload Android apps, and why you would want to]
You need to go through similar steps to make F-Droid work. The first time you try to install software from it, you’ll see the same message you saw in your browser. Press Settings and then Allow from this source to give F-Droid permission to install apps. Press the back button to install the program you want.
About security on F-Droid
It is generally a good idea to be careful when loading applications on Android, as a malicious application can be destructive to your security and privacy. A team of volunteers maintains F-Droid, so you’re right to be concerned about sketchy software slipping in.
It’s certainly a valid concern, but F-Droid currently has extensive security practices and has been thoroughly investigated during multiple third-party security audits. The platform also has a strict policy of not allowing apps with tracking features, which is part of the reason why researchers at the Yale Privacy Lab have stated that F-Droid is even more secure than Google Play.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise healthy skepticism while installing apps. You should still take control of your apps’ permissions and check your Android security settings constantly, as you would with any other app. But apart from that, you can install software from F-Droid without much worry.
Our favorite apps on F-Droid
F-Droid isn’t going to replace Google Play for most people, but it’s a nice and easy option for finding free and safe apps before diving into the quagmire that is Google’s app store.
[Related: 12 essential apps for any Android phone]
If you don’t know where to start, here are some of our favorite apps out there. Tuner is a great app for tuning a guitar or any stringed instrument, while Tusky is a very good client for Mastodon. Unciv is a free version of the popular Civilization game series, stripped down graphically to work well on a phone, but with all the addictive gameplay. DNS66 makes it easy to block malware and other intrusive code, and Turmux lets you run a full Linux command line on your phone, which opens up all sorts of possibilities.
We could go on, but the best way to find something relevant to you is to just dive in.