Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV stick technically runs Android…but you wouldn’t know it from looking. Amazon has a wall of content for its set-top box, and doesn’t want Google (with its own competing platform) to crash the party. But even though the Fire TV only has official access to Amazon’s Appstore, you can install other apps too.
Most Android apps are made for phones, and lack the necessary API calls and design to work with a TV remote interface. There are a few exceptions, most of which are already available for either Android TV or Fire TV. Simple games, like 2048, tend to be playable on the TV as well. Don’t be surprised if you see visual bugs or crashes from apps that don’t officially support the Fire TV platform, though.
First: Enable Third-Party Apps in Settings
In order to install apps from outside Amazon’s Appstore—a process known as “sideloading”—you’ll need to enable a setting first. Go to the Fire TV home page, then navigate all the way to the Settings tab on the far right. Highlight “Device,” then “Developer Options.”
Highlight “Apps from Unknown Sources,” then press the center button. Select “Turn on” on the warning screen. That’s it—you’re ready to install apps from outside the Amazon Appstore.
Now you’ll just have to find the apps you want, in the form of APK installers. You have a few options for doing so: you can load them from your Android phone, browse the web from your Fire TV, or load them from a cloud storage service like Dropbox.
Option One: Load Apps From Your Android Phone
The fastest and simplest way to get an app over to your Fire TV, without having to use third-party apps or any tedious TV remote typing, is to use an Android phone (if you have one). The Apps2Fire app on the Play Store allows you to transfer any app that’s already installed on your phone over to the set-top box. So download the app, then make sure that your phone is on the same Wi-Fi network as your Fire TV device. You’ll also need to make sure that “ADB Debugging” is enabled in the Settings > Device > Developer Options screen on the Fire TV.
Open the app on your phone, then tap the three-dot button in the upper-right corner and select “Setup.” In this screen, tap “Network.” Wait for the scan to complete, and you’ll see all the devices connected to your local network, identified by their IP address and device name.
In my case, the device labelled “amazon-c630d5b29” is obviously my Fire TV. If you can’t tell which one is the right device, use the Fire TV remote to navigate to Settings > Device > About > Network. The IP address is in the display on the right. Tap the correct device, then select “local apps” from the tabs at the top of the screen.
From this list, you can tap any of the apps on your phone, then “Install,” and it will be sent over the network to your Fire TV. You don’t even need to do anything on the TV, it will install itself in the background and appear on your home screen automatically.
Option Two: Download Apps From the Web on Your Fire TV
If you don’t have an Android phone, you can download apps manually to your Fire TV from thwe b. Go back through the Settings menu until you get to the Fire TV home page. Then, using either the Search tool on the far left or the Alexa voice search button on your remote, search for “Downloader.” Highlight the result below to get to the app page on the Amazon Appstore.
This little app exists for one reason: to download other apps. It’s a barebones browser that will let you navigate to any site on the web and download APK files, then automatically open the installer window. Navigation is either direct to a download address from the home page, or with the browser on the side menu. You can use the remote to move the cursor and the on-screen keyboard to type web URLs or search terms.
You can find Android APKs anywhere, but be wary of sites you don’t know, We recommend using APK Mirror. It’s a highly trustworthy source that only accepts verified apps that have been scanned for modifications, and only hosts freely-available stuff, so there’s no piracy involved. (Full Disclosure: I used to work for the owner of APK Mirror.)
Once you’ve selected a file, the Downloader app will automatically begin the installation process. Highlight and select “Install” to start, then “Done” to finish. Your app will appear on the home page and under “Apps.”
Option Three: Download on Your Computer, and Load from Cloud Storage
However, what if you’ve already got the APK files you want to install? (Or what if you’d rather browse from your computer than your Fire TV?) In that case, you can download the APK files on your PC, then throw them on your favorite cloud storage client, like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. Then switch back to your Fire TV unit and use the Search menu or the Alexa voice button to search for “ES File Explorer.”
Highlight ES File Explorer in the results window, click it, and then download the app. When it’s open, use the directional buttons to navigate to the left-most column, then click on “Network.” Highlight “Cloud” and click it.
From here you can select your preferred cloud storage service, log in, and connect to your files.
Highlight the APK files in the folder you created above, click them, and follow the on-screen prompts to download and install them. Easy.
There are other ways to load your APKs onto a Fire TV device, but they’re a bit more involved. You can use Android’s Debug Bridge (ADB) either via a direct USB connection or Wi-Fi, or you can load up APKs on a flash drive and use a file explorer to open them directly (if you have one of the older versions of the hardware with a standard USB port). ES File Explorer even has local server and FTP connections available. But these three options should be enough to get you started, so you can get whatever apps you want right on your TV.