I like to fool around with 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 i 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 publicly available 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 some might see this as a major no-no, to which i would reply that, out of 27 repositories tested in a 2017 independent study, including the Google Play Store, F-Droid was the only one in which no instances of malware were found. While the number of instances of malware in the Play Store was low, understand that the privacy aspect of those apps was not considered and this is perhaps the greatest concern with Play Store apps. Also see:
- Trojanized Android App Found on Google Play with More Than 5,000 Installs | Softpedia News
- Cryptojackers Infiltrated Google Play Again (Sep., 2018) | Softpedia News
- 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
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 probably adequate for most people and it is constantly growing. 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. F-Droid @ F-Droid.
AdAway is a compact and effective ad blocker which uses less resources than AdBlock+ because it leverages the hosts file, however this requires you have root privileges. Updating the host file can be done manually or automatically. AdAway @ F-Droid.
AFWall+ provides a GUI to easily manipulate the Linux iptables firewall. AFWall+ comes packaged with the iptables and BusyBox binaries and requires root privileges to run. Note that there is a donate version which unlocks a few extra features, such as logging. 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. AFWall+ @ F-Droid.
Amaze is a really nice file manager with an intuitive and attractive interface. It includes an FTP server which allows you to browse the file system over your network. Root privileges will be required if you want to browse the entire file system. Amaze is pretty powerful, but If you need something even more powerful, try Ghost Commander below. Amaze @ F-Droid.
Bubble is a simple, handy app for leveling things and measuring angles in different ways. It is old no longer maintained and can be a bit buggy, but it’s the best app of its type i could find on F-Droid and it works well enough. Bubble @ F-Droid.
Calendar is part of a suite of open source apps by Simple Mobile Tools. Calendar works offline without having to share your data with a 3rd party. It 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. Simple Calendar @ F-Droid.
Call Recorder simply records both incoming and outgoing calls and offers several options for doing so, though an option to selectively record calls via a simple choice when a call is placed or received is not one of them unfortunately. 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. Call Recorder @ 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 and no paper. Draw @ 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. Forecastie @ 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. Ghost Commander @ F-Droid.
KeePassDroid is a great little password manager for storing all your passwords, log-on credentials or private text snippets. It is compatible with the KeePass Password Safe database files. One caveat that should be mentioned here is that the base-band OS (radio firmware) on all smartphones is proprietary and apparently has low-level access to the keyboard, so i wouldn’t suggest storing any super important passwords on any device that has a cellular modem, Android or otherwise, especially if you are a journalist or activist. KeePassDroid @ 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. Music Player @ F-Droid.
Offline Calendar is a companion for the default calendar app that allows it to work offline without having to rely upon a third party to store (spy on) your personal data, however since your calendar data is stored locally, no syncing is possible. Offline Calendar @ F-Droid.
Omni Notes is a really nice app for creating different kinds of notes, including checklists, text, image and audio notes. I use this app a lot for managing to-do lists. One nice feature it has that several others lack is the ability to re-order checklist items by drag-and-drop which is great if you want to sort stuff by priority. Omni Notes @ F-Droid.
Open Camera is a powerful, feature rich camera app for those that don’t like the default camera. It supports front and rear cameras, image stabilization, manual controls, many different resolutions, auto-focus and much more. That said, the developer cannot possibly support every feature of every camera and so it may not be a good fit for some camera hardware. Open camera @ 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 being able to view and export system logs. OS Monitor @ 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 maps from other sources. With all this power comes a ton of configuration options and it can be extended even further with plug-ins, so expect to fool around with it for a while in order to make efficient use of it. Its features include GPS voice guided navigation, GPS status, favorites, POI display, adding audio and video clips to locations and much more. It also works offline 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 featured one. OsmAnd @ 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 use for most people, but i think the acceleration data could be useful to those who want to minimize vibration in machines like a multi-rotor aircraft or just about anything else that vibrates too much. Sensor Readout @ 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 you would rather something simpler, but still comprehensive, try Unit Converter Ultimate below. Units @ F-Droid.
Unit Converter Ultimate is another nice conversion app with lots of predefined conversion formats. Though it lacks a calculator and the powerful syntax of Units, it is still quite comprehensive. Unit Converter Ultimate @ F-Droid.
wX may be the most comprehensive (and complex) weather app for Android on this side of the Milky Way. Trust me when i tell you it is not for the faint of heart as there are so many screens, widgets and options (hundreds?) it’s overwhelming. Although wX is obviously oriented toward very serious weather geeks (think meteorologists, storm chasers), i like it because it has the ability to display several kinds of animated radar maps and it doesn’t spy on you. The developer seems like a great guy too. wX @ F-Droid.
Aurora 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. From the official description, “[…] using Aurora you can download apps, update existing apps, search for apps, get details about app tracker & adware and much more. You can also Spoof your Device Information, Language and Region to get access to the apps that are not yet available or restricted in your Country or Device.“. 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. Aurora Store @ F-Droid.