As great of a tablet as the Kindle Fire is (especially in the newest HDX incarnation), there’s what most consider a pretty unbearable flaw: you can’t access the Google Play store to get at apps outside the Apps for Android Amazon store. Read on as we show you how to circumvent that with sideloading (no rooting or warranty voiding required).
Why Do I Want to Do This?
Currently, Amazon’s Kindle Fire platform exists in a walled-garden of sorts. Amazon has the Apps for Android store to provide apps for the Kindle Fire lineup, but the Apps for Android store does not have the same reach and variety as Google Play. As a result, you’ll often find yourself looking for something and not finding it (and not just obscure apps either, but big name apps like the Android version of Google’s Chrome browser).
You can do some serious modification and install Google Play on your Kindle Fire, but it’s messy, it requires rooting, and it (however technically) can void your Amazon warranty. Instead, you can enjoy apps on your device by sideloading them–downloading them from a trusted source and manually installing them or extracting them from another of your Android devices and installing them that way. We’ll walk you through both techniques.
We’ll be using a Kindle Fire HDX for the tutorial. Although individual settings may be in different locations on earlier Kindle Fires, the technique still works on all Kindle Fire tablets (you’ll just need to poke around in the settings menu for a moment or two).
Note: There is one primary downside to sideloading applications outside the management of an appstore application (be that application Google Play or Amazon’s Apps for Android). You lose automatic updates. This isn’t a big deal for games or infrequently updated applications, but if you’re sideloading a security-oriented application that should be kept up to date, we’d urge you to keep an eye on the application and make sure you’re sideloading the updates when appropriate.
Preparing Your Kindle Fire
Before we start sideloading apps, we need to prepare the Kindle Fire to accept them, as well as set up a file manager and directory to make working with the sideloaded apps simple.
First, swipe down the top navigation bar and click on Settings. In the Settings menu look for the Applications menu:
Within the applications menu, located at the top, you’ll find the Unknown Sources toggle:
Toggle the setting to On. This setting needs to remain in the On state for as long as you’re sideloading apps. We recommend turning it off when you are not actively sideloading apps to increase security and prevent the accidental installation of unknown or malicious software.
After you’ve toggled Unknown Sources on, open up the Apps for Android application and search for ES File Explorer:
There’s nothing unique about ES File Explorer other than it’s well supported, easy to use, and free: we simply need a file explorer to make our lives easier. Install the application.
Next, we need to create a folder in the root of the Kindle’s internal storage. We can do so either by running ES File Explorer and tapping the New button at the bottom to create a new folder, or by mounting the Kindle to our computers via the USB sync cable and creating the folder with our operating system’s file explorer. Either way, you should create a folder /Sideloaded Apps/ in the root, like so:
This folder is going to serve as our parking space for incoming APK files (the Android equivalent of installation files).
Installing Android Apps You’ve DownloadedLet’s say you have an APK file for something you can’t locate in the Apps for Android store. A perfect example of this would be SnapPea, the Desktop-to-Android manager that allows you to manage your installed apps via your desktop computer. You can’t find SnapPea in the Apps for Android store, but you can download the APK directly from SnapPea at this link.
While we’re using the SnapPea app, you can use any APK you’ve downloaded from a trusted source. All you need to do is copy that APK file to the /Sideloaded Apps/ folder and then launch ES Explorer on your Kindle Fire:
Navigate to /Sideloaded Apps/ and you’ll see your APK file. Click on it and it will launch into a typically Android installation process:
You’ll be shown what the app can access and modify, etc. and will be prompted at the bottom of the screen to finish the application after reviewing the permissions. After doing so the app will install and you can click open.
That’s it! Your app is now installed on your Kindle Fire and you didn’t need to rely on Amazon’s appstore.
Installing Apps from the Google Play Store
Installing apps you downloaded or already have on hand is great and all, you might be saying, but what if you don’t have any apps on hand and just want to install apps from the Google Play store or apps you already have on another Android device? Don’t worry, we have you covered.Installing applications from the Google Play Store requires an extra step which can either be completed from the web or from one of your existing Android devices (specifically one, like your smartphone, that has access to the Google Play Store, and not another Kindle device).
The first technique relies on using a third-party tool for Google Chrome to download the APK files from the Google Play store’s web interface. We detail how to use the APK Downloader to siphon apps right out of the store in this guide.
If you’re put off by the extra steps in the APK Downloader guide (like having to find a Google Play ID from a donor device), you can also take an easier route and simply lift the apps right off your existing device. That’s precisely what we did when we needed a benchmark application that wasn’t available in the Apps for Android store but was available in the Google Play store (and was, in fact, installed on our primary Android device).
To take advantage of this technique, install App Backup & Restore on your device. Once installed, simply run the App Backup and check off all the apps you want to backup on your device for transfer to your Kindle Fire. Press the Backup button at the bottom.
The APK files will be stored in the directory specified by App Backup (in our case, /storage/sdcard0/App_Backup_Restore/, check the application’s settings to see what your storage directory is). Once you’ve backed them up, you simply need to mount your device on your computer.
Whether you downloaded them with the Google Play web store trick or you copied them with App Backup, you now have the APK file and can simply copy it to the /Sideloaded Apps/ folder on your Kindle Fire. Repeat the process we outlined in the first part of the guide to install the APK file and you’re in business. Here’s Google Chrome installed on our Kindle Fire HDX:
Aside from the not-quite-Retina-quality display icon, the browser is indistinguishable from another other native app and works just as well on our Kindle HDX as it does on all our other Android devices. Success!
With a little patience and a work around or two up your sleeve, you can easily get the apps you want on your Kindle Fire, whether or not Amazon ever gets around to putting them in the Apps for Android store.