This post was updated in January 2015.
Believe it or not, a lot of people, especially newcomers to Android, don’t know how to install apps on their devices. While everyone is, or soon becomes, aware of the Google Play Store and finds out how simple it is to search and download apps directly from the store, most people don’t know that they can easily sideload apps to their devices from their computers without needing a Google account.
There can be several reasons behind sideloading and it is generally something only power users do, when they want to install apps that are not available on the Play Store. In this guide, I will stick to one simple way to install apps directly on your device.
#1. Connect your Android device to your Computer
Assuming you have downloaded the APK (Android Package) file for the app you want to install, you will need to transfer it to your device’s memory (if you have not downloaded it on the device itself). In order to copy the file from your computer to your device, connect your device to your computer using the USB cable that comes with it.
#2. Browse device memory
Once connected, your Windows computer should automatically install the related device drivers, after which you will be able to see your phone listed in ‘My Computer’. Now you can browse the contents of your device like any other folder on your computer.
#3. Copy APK files to your device
It is recommended that you make a folder on your computer and name it ‘Sideload Apks’ or something similar so that you can easily find it later on your device. Copy or move all the downloaded APK files to that folder and then copy that folder to your device’s memory. If your device has an external memory card inserted, you will see both internal and external memory and can copy the Sideload folder in either.
#4. Safely disconnect your device
After copying the APK files you will need to safely disconnect your device. Don’t just pull the wire out of your computer, because that can lead to memory corruption at times. The safest way is to eject or remove the device using the ‘Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media’ option from the Windows notification area.
#5. Enable installation from Unknown sources
Before you can go on to install the copied APK files on your device, you will need to enable installation from unknown sources through the settings menu. Go to your device’s settings page and look for an option called ‘Security’. In the security settings, you should be able to locate a check box titled ‘Unknown sources’. Once you enable this, you will receive a warning message (which is important) – read it and tap on OK to proceed (as long as you trust the app you are installing, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about).
#6. Run a file explorer app on your device
Some manufacturers provide file explorer apps pre-installed, and they can be used to browse the device’s memory. However, it is always a good idea to download a better third-party app which has more features and can be useful for other purposes. One such free app that I recommend is ZArchiver by Ant-ON, which you can download from the Play Store (link below). This app will not only let you browse your device’s memory but also help you create and read compressed files (zip, rar etc).
You might also be interested in: 17 Android App Store Alternatives to Google Play Store
#7. Install the copied APK files
Run the file explorer app of your choice and navigate to the folder with the APK files you copied from your computer. Now you simply need to run these files to start the installation.
If you are using ZArchiver, simply tap on an APK file and choose ‘Open’ from the menu. From here onwards, you just have to tap the ‘Install’ button and read the on-screen app details and permissions overview to see whether you are installing the correct app. After successful installation you will be able to run the app from your App drawer.
Download ZArchiver File Manager
That’s it folks. Follow these steps and you will have installed Android apps on your phone or tablet without a Google Account or Play Store access. The process is simple and you only need the APK files for the apps you want to install. Please note however that all sideloaded apps carry potentially greater risk due to chances that they may be tampered with.