Unshackle your Device from the Google Play Store with APKUpdater [XDA Spotlight]

Unshackle your Device from the Google Play Store with APKUpdater [XDA Spotlight]

With the Google Play Store reaching tens of billions of individual application installations over the course of its lifetime, it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid using Google’s app store.

This is especially problematic for open source enthusiasts and/or privacy conscious folks who see the Google Play Store as a shackle on their device that chains them into the Google Play Services ecosystem. A system which arguably exists only to find and collect information on you to sell to advertisers, and whose services often poll so repeatedly in the background that they result in significant battery drain. Thus, many users try to avoid using Google services as much as possible, even going so far as to avoid the nearly-ubiquitous Play Store for app downloads.

While a vast majority of applications and games exist on the Play Store, over the years alternative and legitimate means of acquiring applications have popped up. Our very own XDA Labs and Forums are two ways you can both discover new apps and stay on top of updates, but admittedly these two means contain only a fraction of available applications that are out there. Other websites such as APKMirror are a good place to keep up to date with (mostly) Google applications, but again relying on just that website means you will run into the same dilemma.

That’s where APKUpdater by XDA Junior Member rumboalla comes into play (no pun intended). Using some of the most common alternate repositories available on the web as well as a scraper for the Google Play Store, this application can help you keep all of your apps up to date. The best part is that use of this application does not require having the Google Play Store installed. Perfect for those of you who care about open source software, your privacy, or if you want to use the Play Store but your device didn’t ship with it. Whatever your reasons are for needing this kind of application, you’ll find it immensely useful given how simplistic, beautiful, and functional it is.


Free your Device from the Play Store with APKUpdater

One you load the app, it automatically finds all the apps you have installed and displays them in a list; unfortunately the list is not alphabetically sorted which is a bit of a bummer. The updates tab shows any updates that are available for your apps. You can either wait for the app to automatically search for updates based on the update frequency in the settings, or you can click the icon that looks like a clock with an arrow to force a manual update. After APKUpdater has searched for your app updates, you will see that the list on the updates tab is now populated (and still not alphabetically sorted, sadly). It should be noted that APKUpdater app doesn’t update the apps automatically for you — you are required to click on each update and download the APK and then install them one by one. This makes updating your apps a little time consuming, and while it can be argued it’s better to avoid bad and/or intrusive updates, we hope that an automatic update method is implemented in the future. Tapping on an update loads your default browser with the URL that is displayed in the update tab, which (in Chrome) automatically starts downloading the APK file to your device. Next up,  you need to find the downloaded APK (mine was located in the downloads folder, as expected) and install it manually, then rinse and repeat for each update available. The app contains some adverts, but they are very minimal and I didn’t really notice them in my day-to-day usage, yet knowing that I’m helping the developer get a little bit of money for all the hard-work they put in is a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I found a couple of things a little disconcerting when I first started using the app, though: firstly the updates page shows the app icon and version number, however the version number that is displayed is the currently installed version not the new version you will install. To find the new version number you have to read the URL. This is not ideal and workable once you know about it, but the first time I was trying to figure out how come the app was telling me to update to versions that I already had installed and thought there was an issue with either the app or the APKMirror source.

APKUpdater settings allow for changing the built-in theme, setting how often to check for updates and which sources to use. By default, APKUpdater will check on APKMirror but it can also use APKPure and the Google Play Store. The latter uses apps.evozi.com to actually download the apps from the Google Play Store so you don’t need a Google account. This has a neat side-effect which allows you to bypass the checks that Google has in place to restrict apps to a given country or device type whilst still using the Google Play Store download, which is checked for viruses and trojans.

The app is ultimately very easy to use; for example, I tested it with the Paypal app that I had installed on my phone and had APKUpdater check for updates. It duly told me that there was a new version and provided the link which it opened via Chrome (my default browser). The APK downloaded to my downloads folder which I was able to then manually find and click on the APK to install the new version of the Paypal app. I was prompted for “Unknown Sources” security to be turned on, which I did and turned it back off again after the install was complete (some ROMs allow for a one-time installation in case you think you’ll forget to turn it off)

One very useful feature I found was that APKMirror is not blocked in a well known country that has a great big wall running the length of it. This means I can keep all my apps up to date without the use of a VPN, which can sometimes be slow or unreliable and it can chew through my phone’s battery.

I also stumbled upon the White list feature that is present in the APKUpate app thanks to a helpful forum post. I couldn’t find any whitelist options in the settings or updating tabs and just started poking at the app with my finger, and I eventually found it by long-pressing the app item in the installed tab. There is no mention of whitelisting, it just makes the item appear slightly greyed out. I confirmed my suspicion, though, by whitelisting Opera Mini which had an update available, and then refreshing the updates tab I found that Opera Mini was not included in the list of updates anymore. This is a great feature, but it’s so well hidden I am not sure just how many people can find it without instructions.

To sum up, the main small issue I found with APKUpdater are:

  • Apps are not sorted in Alphabetical order — making finding a specific app to update a bit of a pain.
  • Google Play Store version is out of date. (Not a big issue since this app is designed for users without the Google Playstore — but something to note)
  • Doesn’t automatically update the apps that it finds latest versions of with one click.
  • Default is to show the experimental / beta builds of apps on your device. A useful feature for sure. but something I don’t think should be turned on by default
  • The app’s heading shows whatever page you were last in (e.g. Settings on the main page after changing the settings)

As you can see none of the issues above are major, and they are mostly minor UI issues, yet if they were fixed that would add a bit more polish to an otherwise very useful application. There are no issues with the functionality of the application though, so don’t let any of the small items I pointed out stop you from downloading it, trying it out and enjoying it.


Conclusion

Overall, APK Updater offers a useful service that needs a little more polish to become a great app. If you are in a location that blocks access to  the Google Play Store  or would like to keep Google off your phone completely, then APKUpdater is a must-have app. Otherwise, if your phone doesn’t have the Play Store on it by default (or if you removed Play Services for privacy and battery life) and you would like to keep it that way, then this app is perfect for you.

You can get APKupdater at the XDA Forum thread.


Check out APKUpdater on the XDA Forums!

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