Always the tinkerer, i like to fool around with many of my electronic devices to learn about and customize them. My Android powered smartphones are always victims of my curiosity and upon entering the smartphone world, i soon found myself installing custom ROMs, making some adjustments here and there 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 i do not use Google Play at all, 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 that enabling this option will be seen as a major no-no to many 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 source code. Furthermore, the Google Play Store is not at all a safe repository from a privacy point of view since a great deal of data may be collected by using it. Nor is the Play Store free of malware, as we have seen time and time again…
- Three more Android malware families invade Google Play Store | SC Media
- Malicious Minecraft apps in Google Play enslave your device to a botnet | ZDNet
- Report: Malware-infected Android apps spike in the Google Play store | PCWorld
- Hundreds of malicious apps are showing up on the Google Play Store, disguised as legitimate applications
- Beware, Google Play Store gets caught distributing malware
- Beware! Over 800 Android Apps on Google Play Store Contain ‘Xavier’ Malware
- Android warning – Apps on Google Play store infect millions of phones | Express.co.uk
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 use their valuable service and once the F-Droid client app is installed, which makes it super easy to browse their repository, it will notify you when an update is available for any app which was installed from their repo. 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 most favorite apps for Android devices:
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. You can download AdAway at 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. You can download AFWall+ at 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 device over your 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. You can download Amaze at F-Droid.
Ghost Commander is a powerful and polished file manager for Android that offers lots of features. It can be extended even further with plugins. You will need root access to take full advantage of Ghost Commander. You can download Ghost Commander at 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. You can download KeePassDroid at 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. You can download Omni Notes at F-Droid.
Open Camera is a powerful camera app for those that don’t like the default camera app. It supports front and rear cameras, image stabilization, manual controls, many different resolutions, auto-focus and much more. You can download Open camera at F-Droid.
OS Monitor is a very cool and 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. You can download OS Monitor at F-Droid.
OsmAnd is a powerful map application similar to Google Maps, however it uses Open Street Maps instead of the proprietary Google Maps and it has a ton of features which can be extended further with plug-ins. Some of the features are GPS voice guided navigation, favorites, GPS status, POI display, adding audio and video clips to your locations and much more. It also works off-line so you do not need a data connection. There is both a free and donate version of OsmAnd and it appears it is the fully functioning version that is currently published on F-Droid. You can download OsmAnd at F-Droid.
wX may be the most comprehensive weather app available anywhere. Not for the faint of heart, there are so many screens, settings and options it’s a bit overwhelming. Although wX is 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 really nice guy too. Unfortunately this app is not available on F-Droid, so you’ll have to grab it from the developers Google Drive page which means you will need to check for updates manually. The latest compiled version (apk) is available in the SourceCode-x.x folder.