I like to fool around with many of my electronic devices to learn about them and my Android powered smartphones are always victims of my curiosity. Upon entering the smartphone world, i soon found myself installing custom ROMs, tweaking various things and looking for apps to replace the functionality of all of the Google apps which i remove (i hate Google for a number of reasons).
Since neither the Google Play Store nor the Google Services Framework exist on my devices, i began looking for alternative repositories and quickly discovered F-Droid which is a great resource for (mostly) free, open source, ad-free Android apps that are compiled from source by the F-Droid team. Compiling from source is important because it guarantees that the compiled app contains nothing more than what is in the source code.
Before you get started installing apps from F-Droid you will need to enable the installation of apps from unknown sources if you haven’t already done so. I’m sure this will be seen as a major no-no to many uneducated Android users, but keep in mind that F-Droid is a very different app repository in which they compile all of the apps themselves directly from the published source code. Furthermore, the Google Play Store is not a safe repository, neither from a privacy nor a malware perspective.
- Thousands of Infected Android Apps Found on Google Play Store (May, 2018) | Softpedia News
- 85 Infected Android Apps Stealing Social Network Passwords Found on Play Store (Dec., 2017) | Softpedia News
- Banking Malware Bypasses Google Filters, Infects Thousands of Android Devices (Dec., 2017) | Softpedia News
- Three more Android malware families invade Google Play Store (Nov., 2017) | SC Media
- Malicious Minecraft apps in Google Play enslave your device to a botnet (Oct., 2017) | ZDNet
- Beware, Google Play Store gets caught distributing malware (Aug., 2017) | Mashable
- Beware! Over 800 Android Apps on Google Play Store Contain ‘Xavier’ Malware (Jun., 2017) | The Hacker News
- Android warning – Apps on Google Play store infect millions of phones (May, 2017) | Express.co.uk
- Hundreds of malicious apps are showing up on the Google Play Store, disguised as legitimate applications (Oct., 2016) | Norton
- Report: Malware-infected Android apps spike in the Google Play store (Feb., 2014) | PCWorld
If you still have concerns about using the F-Droid app repository, i suggest reading Android Markets: How safe are alternative sources?.
F-Droid does not require you to create an account to access their repository and once the F-Droid client app is installed, which makes it super easy to browse their repo, it will notify you when an update is available for any app which was installed using it. The selection of apps isn’t exactly massive at the moment but it is quite adequate for most people i would think, and it is constantly expanding. They also have an active community forum where members can suggest new apps. Other places to look for apps are GitHub, XDA Developers, AndroidCentral and the Google developers websites.
Following are some of my favorite apps for Android devices. Keep in mind that if you download these apps without using the F-Droid client, you may not be made aware of updates. It is therefore recommended to install the F-Droid client app first and install your apps using it.
The F-Droid client app provides easy device access to the F-Droid repositories for open source Android apps. Unless you want to install the compiled apk files directly which i don’t recommend because you will not be informed of updates, you will need the F-Droid client app. You can download the F-Droid app at F-Droid.
AdAway is a compact and effective ad blocker which uses less resources than AdBlock+ because it leverages the hosts file. Because it writes to the host file, root privileges are required. Updating the host file can be done manually or automatically. Here is AdAway on F-Droid.
AFWall+ provides a GUI to easily manipulate the Linux iptables firewall, so in essence, you could call it a firewall for Android. AFWall+ comes packaged with the iptables and BusyBox binaries and it requires root privileges to run. Here is AFWall+ on F-Droid. Note that there is a donate version which unlocks a few extra features. If you don’t wish to get the donate key at the Google Play Store, contact the AFWall+ developer to see what options he may offer.
Amaze is a very nice file manager with an intuitive and attractive interface. It includes an FTP server which allows you to browse your devices file system over your wireless network. Root privileges will be required if you want to browse the entire file system. If you need something more powerful, try Ghost Commander below. Here is Amaze on F-Droid.
Bubble is a simple and handy app for leveling things and measuring angles in a few different ways. It is old and unmaintained, but it’s the best app i could find on F-Droid and it works well enough. Here is Bubble on F-Droid.
Calendar is part of a suite of open source apps by Simple Mobile Tools. Calendar provides what you would expect from a typical calendar app and does so in a visually pleasing way. There are plenty of settings to customize the interface to your liking. Here is Simple Calendar on F-Droid.
Call Recorder simply records both incoming and outgoing calls, but it offers many options for doing so. I would prefer an option to record calls via a simple choice when a call is placed or received, or is in progress, but Call Recorder doesn’t offer that (it may not be possible). The developer tells us that most phones will not support call recording, so don’t blame Call Recorder if it bombs. I would also venture a guess that it may not work on devices that are running an OEM version of Android. In my case i’m running LineageOS and Call Recorder works perfectly with my device. Here is Call Recorder on F-Droid.
Draw is part of a suite of open source apps by Simple Mobile Tools. Draw is a bare-bones app that lets you draw stuff. I find it useful when i have a spur of the moment design idea in mind and no paper. Here is Draw on F-Droid.
Forecastie is a simple weather forecast app that works off-line and pulls weather information from OpenWeatherMap. It provides a fairly detailed forecast in text form for the current day, as well as an extended forecast. Forecastie does not display a radar weather map, so if you want that functionality you might try wX below. Here is Forecastie on F-Droid.
Ghost Commander is a powerful, feature packed and polished file manager for Android, however you will need root access to take full advantage of. It can be extended even further with plugins. If you don’t need all the functionality that Ghost Commander provides, try Amaze above. Here is Ghost Commander on F-Droid.
KeePassDroid is a great little password manager for storing all your passwords, log-on credentials or even text snippets. It is compatible with the KeePass Password Safe database files. Here is KeePassDroid on F-Droid.
Music Player is yet another open source app from Simple Mobile Tools. It has all the basic functionality you’d expect, including the ability to manage playlists. Like all of the Simple Mobile Tools apps, Music Player has a clean and pleasing interface that is easy to use. Here is Music Player on F-Droid.
Offline Calendar is a companion for your calendar app that allows your calendar to work offline without having to rely upon a third party to store your personal data. Your calendar data is stored only on your device, so no syncing is possible. Here is Offline Calendar on F-Droid.
Omni Notes is a wonderful app for creating different kinds of notes, including checklists, text and image notes. I use this app a lot for managing to-do lists. One nice feature this app has that several others lack is the ability to re-order checklist items which is great if you want to sort stuff by priority. Here is Omni Notes on F-Droid.
Open Camera is a powerful camera app for those that don’t like the default app. It supports front and rear cameras, image and video stabilization, manual controls, many different resolutions, auto-focus and much more. Here is Open camera on F-Droid.
OS Monitor is a handy app which allows you to monitor various aspects of the Android OS including network connections and running processes, as well as viewing the system logs which can be exported in a few different formats. Here is OS Monitor on F-Droid.
OsmAnd is a very powerful map and navigation application similar to Google Maps, however it uses Open Street Maps by default instead of the proprietary Google Maps, though it is capable of using many other maps from many other sources. OsmAnd has a ton of features and configuration options and it can be extended even further with plug-ins, so expect to fool around with it for a bit in order to make efficient use of it. Its features include GPS voice guided navigation, favorites, GPS status, POI display, adding audio and video clips to locations and much more. It also works off-line so you don’t need a data connection to use it. There is both a free and donate version of OsmAnd and it appears that the version currently published on F-Droid is the fully functioning version. Here is OsmAnd on F-Droid.
Sensor Readout can access many of your devices sensors, some of which you may not know it had, and output the raw data in a scalable graph form. It’s an interesting little app that may not have much purpose for most people, but i think the acceleration data could be useful to those who want to minimize vibration in machines such as a multi-rotor aircraft. Here is Sensor Readout on F-Droid.
Units is a very powerful calculator and unit conversion app for converting from one unit of measure to another, such as from inches to centimeters. If it’s too much for you, try Unit Converter Ultimate below. Here is Units on F-Droid.
Unit Converter Ultimate is another nice conversion app with lots of predefined conversion formats. It has a more intuitive interface than Units and lacks a calculator, yet is still quite capable. Here is Unit Converter Ultimate on F-Droid.
wX may be the most comprehensive weather app available anywhere for the Android platform. Not for the faint of heart, there are so many screens, widgets and options it’s overwhelming. Although wX is obviously oriented toward serious weather geeks, i like it because it has the capability to display several kinds of animated radar maps and it doesn’t spy on you. The developer seems like a nice guy too. Unfortunately this app is not available on F-Droid, so you can either grab it from the developers Google Drive page, which means you’ll have to side-load it to install it and then check for updates manually, or you can get it from the Google Play Store using the Yalp Store app (see below). If you grab it from the developers site, you will find the latest compiled version (apk) in the SourceCode-x.x folder. If you use wX, please pester the developer to get it published on F-Droid. His email address can be found from the ‘About’ link within the app.
Yalp Store is a Google Play Store alternative that can list, download, install and update apps from the Play Store without having to create a Play Store account. Some of the things i like about Yalp Store is that you can filter the Play Store apps by whether or not they are free or contain ads and it can list their dependencies as well. Note that some apps depend on having the Google Services Framework (GSF) installed, so if you don’t have that installed you may find that an app that depend on it may not work properly. You should probably only use this if, like me, you do not have the Play Store (GAPPS) installed and the app you want is not available on F-Droid and you realize the privacy and security risks of downloading apps from the Play Store. Here is Yalp Store on F-Droid.