There are a great number of app stores you could use on Android, a few of the ones listed here are even alternative methods of accessing the official Google Play Store.

Apps downloaded from the Play Store or an alternative method of accessing it may expect Google Play Services to be installed - this means using microG or the official services. Part of this expectation is for an app with a package name of com.android.vending (the package name of the Play Store) to be installed. If you do not plan on using the Play Store, please install the dummy app FakeStore. FakeStore does not provide a method of downloading apps, it just sits there so apps looking for com.android.vending don’t freak out at not finding the Play Store.

Option 2.1: The Google Play Store (microG)

If (and only if) you are using microG, you can install the official Google Play Store and use it to download and purchase apps. This is the only way to download apps you have previously purchased on Google Play directly to your phone (there is an alternate method that involves using a computer - see 2.1.1: Raccoon). Yalp Store now supports downloading paid apps and there is still Raccoon for downloading apps on your PC. The Play Store, however, is still the only app supports runtime license verification, which is used by some apps - including some Substratum themes.

Note that, if you do install the Google Play Store on a system running microG, it will still want to be installed to /system/priv-app, which gives the store by default some permissions that normal apps do not receive. The Play Store does not like to work when installed as a user app, however, and may have issues if you do so, so it is recommended for reliability’s sake to install it to priv-app. You can download a flashable zip that does just that from the download page.

For the privacy-minded:

By default, the Play Store is granted a lot of unnecessary permissions. You will want to disable these. First of all, if you are running Android 6+ or a ROM with a permissions system built in, go to the place to configure those permissions for the Google Play Store.

  • On Android 6 / 7 with the AOSP permissions system, go to Settings -> Apps -> Google Play Store (from the list) -> Permissions
The AOSP permissions view for the Google Play Store.

The AOSP permissions view for the Google Play Store.

You can safely restrict all permissions in AOSP (see screenshot), though other permissions systems may offer options that can cause the Play Store to crash. Do not restrict its internet access - why would you, if you are downloading apps?

The Google Play Store is also allowed to access which apps you use, when, and for how long. You can restrict this permission by going to Settings -> Security -> Apps with usage access (at the bottom), tap the Google Play Store, and tap the switch to disallow the permission.

The usage access screen for the Google Play Store.

The usage access screen for the Google Play Store.

Option 2.2: BlankStore (microG)

A second option that allows (some) access to the Play Store is an app by the developer of microG called BlankStore. BlankStore is to the Play Store as microG is to Google Play Services: an open-source, privacy-friendly alternative. It has, however, been marked as Legacy by the developer and is known to be unable to view or download paid apps as well as some free apps. See Yalp Store (2.3) instead.

Option 2.3: Yalp Store

Yalp Store is an app available from F-Droid that allows you to download apps from the Play Store without having the Play Store installed.

It currently only supports downloading free apps (though you can view paid-for apps). An important thing to note is that all paid apps are unable to be downloaded - this includes apps you have previously purchased. It sounds like there may be support for paid apps in a future update, however, so those who are interested may keep an eye out on that.

Yalp Store now supports downloading paid and free apps, though it cannot validate licenses at runtime.

A Google account that has previously been authenticated with Google Play is required to be able to use the app, and the author offers a helpful reminder that use of the app goes against Google’s terms of service and may result in your account being banned. Yalp Store will, by default, try to log in with its own account, though you can log out and back in with your account to access your paid apps.

Yalp Store warns about breaking Google TOS.

Yalp Store warns about breaking Google TOS.

Option 2.4: Raccoon

Raccoon by Onyxbits is a desktop application that allows you to access apps on the Play Store and download their apk files to your computer for installation on your device. It supports downloading previously purchased paid apps as well as free apps.

Note that some apps perform license validation after installation and may fail to validate if Play Services or microG are not installed.

Option 2.5: Amazon Underground

Amazon Underground is an alternative app store by Amazon that comes preinstalled on their Amazon-brand Android devices. It is not the most privacy-friendly of the app stores on this list (then again, neither is the Play Store), but in terms of selection of apps that you can trust to not be infected, this is second only to the Play Store (and all of the apps that pretend to be the Play Store). The neat thing about this app store in particular is that you can find some paid apps for free in the “Underground” portion of the store. An “Underground” app is completely free (as in beer), meaning that it does not cost any money to download the app and any and all in-app purchases are now free as well. For people going No Gapps, this is a good thing because there are two office suite apps available on Underground.

Option 2.6: F-Droid

F-Droid is an app store with a different twist: all apps in the official repositories are required to be open source and are built by F-Droid rather than by the app’s author. This is F-Droid’s way of guaranteeing that the apps you download are built from source and the author has not bundled any hidden items into the app to try to spy on you. This does mean, however, that updates may lag behind the official releases. If this happens, it is usually only for a couple of days, though on occasion the lag has been enough that the next update skipped a version. The other downside is that some apps have not been updated (by their authors) since 2010 and are still available in the repository.

If you are planning on using MicroG, the project has an official F-Droid repository that can be used to install the most up-to-date version. You currently have to manually check for updates to microG, however, as “beta” releases have the same version number as the current stable, just a different release number (e.g. the current stable is version “0.2.4” and current “beta” is “0.2.4-79-g7f13738”). All other apps on F-Droid will have their available updates listed under the F-Droid “Updates” tab.

Option 2.7: Aptoide

Aptoide is an alternative app store that is set up with the repository model, much like modern Linux distributions. Thus there is the official app “store” and “stores” belonging to various users. Be warned, however: some user “stores” offer paid apps for free. Ignoring the illegal aspect of the piracy involved, these apps are likely to be modified with some sort of malware. This goes for normally free apps as well. As with the internet in general, only download from sources you trust: I would recommend sticking to the official store (called “apps”) only and not touching any user’s store.

Option 2.8: XDA Labs

XDA Labs is a relatively new app from the developers at the XDA Developer Forums. It includes a news feed, access to the forums, and the ability to download apps, Xposed modules, and wallpapers. The apps section of XDA Labs does not have a large selection, though there are some nice apps available - many of them created by XDA users, others popular apps made by big companies like Google and Microsoft and being made available by users who don’t use the Play Store. Downloading apps does require an account with XDA, though.

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