How-to: Get free, open-source Android apps from the F-Droid app store

Even though the App Store and Google Play are the richest web stores out there, they are merely sun-like planets in a cosmos of app worlds. Both Apple and Google's platforms have their ways of looking beyond their default app stores. The iOS universe will always have Cydia and its huge catalog of aftermarket apps, games, and tweaks for jailbroken devices. On Android, the number of 3rd-party app stores is hardly measurable - especially when it comes to Chinese manufacturers and their AOSP-based ROMs, some of which lack the stock Google experience entirely, but provide their users with custom app-stores and services.

The Android equivalent to Cydia could very well be F-Droid. While its catalog of free open-source apps is a mere thousandth that of Google Play's, the alternative app store is a breeze to install on any Android device and is definitely worth the exploration. In this How-to, we'll show you how to access it on your smartphone on tablet, and sample some of the more interesting apps from each category. Let's dig in!

To get F-Droid, visit http://f-droid.org and hammer the big, blue "Download F-Droid button". It goes without saying that you will have to grant Android permissions to install 3'rd party APK's, if you haven't done so already.

Install F-Droid like you would install any other app. Then, you will find a shortcut to F-Droid on your home-screen. Open it up and enter the world of open-source!

You will immediately notice that F-Droid isn't as user-friendly and colorful as Google's app sanctuary. This doesn't mean it's going to confuse you. In fact, F-Droid is as minimalistic and clutter-free as any app styled after the "stock-Android" look. Initially, you don't have to care much about the Preferences and other options available in the menu. Simply head over to the menu that's right below the "Available, Installed, and Updates" menu. That's where the available apps are categorized into familiar sections. Let's see what we'll find into some of them.

As expected, the Development section contains lots of tools. Some of them include a GitHub client; Andlytics, which lets you monitor your Play Store app's stats without an admob account; robot controllers (Arduino, Balanduino); a Bluetooth terminal; Lil' Debi, which installs Debian Linux on your Android device. And more.

The Games section contains a big selection of titles that are rough around the edges, but have that home-brewed charm to them. Instead of tired Flappy Bird clones, you will find gems such as Gloomy Dungeons - a retro FPS that pays homage to the early 90's ID Software titles, along with ports of Quake 1, 2, and 3 (one of mobile developers' most beloved exercises). Oh, and there's Snake, along with free Nintendo emulators. Seriously, what else do we need? Threes?

The Internet category has clients for almost any e-mail and chat network in existence, lightweight browsers, RSS readers, Reddit clients, a BitTorrent manager, and the like.

The Multimedia sections features an accordion emulator for tablets! Huge win right there, because busting out an epic accordion solo in the middle of a conversation always steals the show. There are also tons of on-line and off-line music players, an ASCII camera app, a voice pitch correction app, podcast downloaders - all sorts of stuff.

The Phone & SMS category features more SMS apps than you can shake a stick at, along with AutoAnswer and AutoBlocking apps, the Sanity voice assistant, contact lists, and more.

The Security section has stuff such as firewalls, an app to disable untrusted certificates, the Orweb privacy-enhanced browser, while the System sections hosts the popular ADW.Launcher, a plethora of battery monitoring apps, file-sharing and managing apps, and Null launcher, which literally does nothing.

Do you have any F-Droid favorites or other alternative app stores you think we should cover? Chime in with your comments.

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