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Are there safe alternatives to Google Play on Android?

androidIf you have an Android mobile phone, you’ll want apps. From abacuses to zoology textbooks, there are over a million applications available for your smartphone, guaranteeing that at least a few of them will cater to your interests. However, just like on a computer, installing new software to your phone can cause security issues. So where can you get safe apps?

Unlike the iPhone, Android smartphones allow users to download applications from a variety of sources. The default source is the Google Play store, but you can also download apps directly from websites or through alternative app stores, some of which are made by respectable companies like Amazon, Samsung and internet giant Opera.

The Google Play Store

The official Google Play store is generally considered the safest way for Android users to download apps to their smartphone. Studies have shown that Google’s shop is as good as the iPhone’s at preventing malicious software from reaching your devices.

The Google Play store comes pre-installed on all Android-certified phones, and has the widest selection of all the stores. Most people won’t – and shouldn’t – need to use another store for downloading apps.

The Alternative App Stores

There are two types of alternative app store: those made by big, well-known companies, and smaller stores that are hoping to provide a better service for Android users.

The Big 4 alternative app stores are:

Amazon App Store
Opera Mobile Store
Samsung Apps Mobile
LG Smart World

All of these are generally considered “safe”, because the companies behind them have a lot to lose if they allow malware into their stores. If you can’t find the app you want on Google’s store, trying one of these stores is the safest alternative.

Amazon’s is the biggest alternative to Google’s, available in more than 200 countries. It also regularly offers premium apps for free, meaning you can safely get great deals.

The big independent Android app stores are SlideMe Market, GetJar, 1Mobile, Mobango. There haven’t been many complaints about these stores, but equally, they’re a lot smaller than the likes of Amazon and Google, which means they have less established reputations.

Are they as safe as the others? It seems so. We’d recommend trying them after you’ve exhausted the other options, however, as they almost certainly can’t match the security resources of Google and Amazon to deal with renegade apps.

Direct from websites

Some apps are only available as direct downloads from websites. No-one is checking these files, so you have to be sure that whoever is providing the app is trustworthy. For example, games distribution company Humble Bundle ask users to download its app directly from their website. If the company were malicious, they could hide malware in these files and directly infect your phone.

It’s generally considered a bad idea to download an app directly from the web (which is why it is blocked on Android phones by default). However, if you fully trust the company you’re downloading from, and their file isn’t on one of the major app stores, then this is the only way to do it.

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