In the Android world, one app store is king—the Google Play Store. This is the “official” place to download apps and games. However, there are a few alternatives. F-Droid is one of the most interesting options out there.
Just like getting Windows applications, you can get Android apps from a variety of sources. In fact, you don’t really even need an app store at all. The Play Store just makes it a lot easier and safer to install apps. F-Droid aims to do the same thing, but for very different reasons.
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All About That FOSS
F-Droid is a repository for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Android apps. It’s completely non-commercial, which is why it’s not technically an app “store.” You can donate to developers, but none of the apps or games cost anything.
What makes open-source software different is its code is freely available for anyone to use. It’s essentially like solving a math equation and showing your work. Everyone can see what you did and use it themselves.
It’s important to note that there’s a big difference between FOSS apps and apps that are simply free. The majority of open-source software is monetarily free, but that’s not actually what the “free” in Free and Open Source Software means.
Free in this context refers to freedom. FOSS developers generally are concerned about the ethics and morals of using and distributing software. That’s why F-Droid is the app store of choice on privacy-focused Android ROMs like GrapheneOS.
Not Dependent on Google
The big difference between F-Droid and the Play Store is the lack of Google. That probably seems obvious, but it’s more than you might realize. It’s not just that you don’t have to use a Google-owned app store, the apps from F-Droid work well on devices without Google Play Services.
This is why F-Droid is commonly the app store of choice on custom ROMs such as LineageOS and GrapheneOS. They don’t come with Google Play Services pre-installed, and many apps rely on GPS to function properly. If you’re trying to have more privacy and a security-enhanced smartphone experience, F-Droid allows you to do that.
Basically, if you want to use Android without all of the privacy trade-offs that come with Google products, F-Droid is the app store for you. While it’s certainly possible to download FOSS apps from around the web, F-Droid makes it much easier to find them.
Installing F-Droid is like sideloading any other Android app. Head over to the F-Droid website on your Android device and tap the “Download F-Droid” button to download the APK and install it.
The F-Droid app is set up like most other app stores. There’s a “Latest” tab for new apps, a “Categories” tab to browse by genre, “Nearby” lets you send apps to nearby devices, and “Updates” shows your apps that have updates available. There is also search functionality.
You’ll notice that some apps are labeled with “Anti-Features.” These are features that may not be particularly welcomed for privacy-conscious users. They can include things like ads, in-app purchases, location tracking, source code no longer being available, and more.
To install an app, simply visit the app’s page and tap “Install.”
After it finishes downloading, an Android system pop-up will ask you to confirm by tapping “Install.”
That’s all there is to it. The selection of apps is much smaller in F-Droid than the Play Store, around 3,000 compared to around 3 million, but that’s to be expected. If you’re looking to de-Google your life a bit, or you just want to try some apps that have better ethics, F-Droid is a great place to go.