There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of apps in the Google Play Store or Amazon Appstore. Whether it’s the latest release from a major developer or the first title from an upstart indie outfit, there’s tons to choose from in those two trusted outlets.

Occasionally, though, you may run into an app that’s not available through those official download methods. Perhaps it’s due to geographical restrictions. Or, maybe it’s because the developer wants to manage things a little different. Whatever the case, sometimes you have to go about installing in an alternative manner. Called “sideloading”, it’s more or less a direct way for you to directly install an app.

Risks of Sideloading

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If you are cautious, there’s not a ton of risk to your device if you go about sideloading. This doesn’t mean you can install anything you want without fear of malware or spyware; it means you can arm yourself against those types of threats.

There are always going to be risks associated with mobile tech. And, while handset makers and carriers might want for you to stay confined to the default stores, there’s nothing wrong with coloring outside of the lines every so often. Just be careful. Read forums, ask around, and do some homework. If it seems entirely suspect, then stay away.

Get yourself a good anti-virus application from the Google Play Store or Amazon Appstore. Google does an incredible job of weeding through APKs offered through its storefront and can even take retroactive measures to remove things from your device, helping mitigate harm.

Malware and spyware may not have the same immediate or damaging effect as a virus, but it will certainly diminish or slow your experience down. Moreover, it can lead to having your information sold or used in nefarious ways.

Benefits of Sideloading

Why would someone want to install an app that’s not offered in the more official channels? There are plenty of reasons, including early look beta testing or circumventing geographical restrictions. Another common reason is that you might be interested in an app or game that has mature content and is not offered through Google or Amazon.

Last, but not least, is the ability to get a feel for an app before it is available in the Google Play Store. Sometimes it can take a few days before an app update is rolled out to all devices. For some users, this is a long time to wait to take advantage of the new features or enhanced UI.

Not all devices come with the Google Play Store. Some tablets, like the Amazon Fire series, don’t have access to the Google storefront. So, if what you are looking to install is not available in the Amazon Appstore, then you’ll need to sideload. Note that your steps will differ slightly for sideloading on one of those devices.

How to Sideload with Confidence

For the following information, we are going to assume that you are running at least Android 4.0 or newer on your device.

Step 1

Open the main Settings app on your phone and navigate to Security. For some phones you may need to go through an additional screen or menu, but security is what we’re looking for here.

Step 2

Toggle or enable the setting for “Unknown Sources“. As you might see in a popup or below the setting, this is what lets your phone install apps from outside of the Google Play Store. In some devices you can have it alert or remind you before installing individual apps. Additionally, it’s also possible that you can have your phone “verify” an app before installing it, meaning it can be run through an anti-virus tool.

Step 3

Let’s find an APK file and install it. While it’s easy to do a search and find APKs online, don’t go blindly trusting any result that shows up. Again, error on the side of judgment.

A popular website for finding major releases, APKMirror, has been around for a few years now and has grown to be quite popular. Moreover, you can visit it from a mobile device and download the file direct to your handset.

Once you click and download your file, you’ll just need to navigate to where it is located and click on it. Android phones will treat it like an executable file and go about installing. You might get a notification prompting you that you’re installing from an unknown source; you’ll have the option to proceed or cancel.

If you are installing directly from an Android phone or tablet, you can likely head straight to Downloads and find the file. If someone has emailed you the APK file, you can probably install it direct from the email client. Again, be careful. Know and trust the sender as well as the file.