Update: This article was originally published in 2011 at Mobiputing.com, and some of these websites and app stores are no longer around (or no longer very good). If you want to see a more recent list of recommended alternatives to the Play Store, check out our updated list of Play Store alternatives.
The original article continues below if you want to see what the state of the Play Store and third-party alternatives was in the early days.
There are a few hundred thousand apps available for download from Google’s official Android Market. But not every Android device can access the Market, and not every app is available from Google’s app superstore.
Gameloft, for instance, has a reputation for releasing highly polished (if not exactly original) games without always going through the Android Market. Other developers, such as Grooveshark, have been booted from the Market but continue to offer apps for Android users, because unlike iOS, Windows Phone 7, and some other mobile platforms, Android allows users to install apps that aren’t downloaded from the official Market.
Here are 18 places to find free and paid apps without Google’s help. The list is arranged alphabetically, but not all of these app stores are created equal. Look for the asterisk next to the name to find Mobiputing’s favorites.
Note that Appbrain, Cyrket, AndroLib and other third party App directories are not included in this list. Those all require you to download apps through the Android Market. The following app stores are all designed to let you download and install apps directly. I’ve also left out a handful of app stores that are exclusive to a specific wireless carrier or a line of phones or tablets.
The Amazon Appstore is probably the highest profile alternative to the Google Android Market. Amazon has a well-organized app store which you can navigate on the web or using a mobile app. Once you install the app on your device you can also make purchases or add free apps to your cart using a web browser and simply open the app on your mobile device to view a list of apps available for download.
Apps you purchase on one device will also be available for download as soon as you login on a second Android device. So if you have a phone and tablet the Amazon Appstore makes it easy to keep your favorite apps installed on all of your devices. In fact, Amazon’s system for doing this seems to work better in my experience than the official Android Market.
One of the best reasons to try out the Amazon Appstore even if you’re happy with Google’s offering is that every single day Amazon offers a free app of the day. The company takes a paid app and promotes it with a 1-day giveaway, typically offering savings between $0.99 and $4.99. Amazon has also managed to get a few limited exclusives. For instance the premium version of the popular Angry Birds Rio game debuted in the Appstore a few weeks before it was available from the Android Market.
Soon to be replaced with a new marketplace called So.cio featuring apps, games, eBooks, and music, AndAppStore currently offers a simple but effective app for locating and downloading apps on your Android device.
Apps are sorted by category with a number of sub-categories under each. For instance, under the Travel section you’ll find Guides, Navigation, and Timetables.
Where available you can see user ratings next to app titles and on download pages.
Unfortunately AndAppStore’s user interface is very basic. You won’t even find screenshots.
Not only does AndroidPIT offer a web-based app you can use to download and purchase apps, but the company maintains an app news blog and a page with the latest “test reports,” or app reviews.
There’s also a user forum a wiki, and a list of developers. At last check there were over 2500 developers registered with AndroidPIT. All told, AndroidPIT is worth checking out not only for the app store, but also for the latest news and reviews about apps.
There’s also a mobile app with test reports, blog updates, and the latest from the forums. But the mobile app doesn’t include the full app directory and if you want to download an app you read about in the news section, the AndroidPIT app will dump you out to the Google Android Market.
AndroidPIT also has an App of the Week program offering up to 50 percent off of promoted apps.
The key thing setting Appitalism’s web-based app store apart from the crowd is the fact that community takes a social approach and allows user ratings and other social tools to determine which apps to highlight. OK, that might not really be much of a differentiatior. Most app stores have “hot apps” sections.
Anyway, you can also find a number of apps which are not available in the Android Market.
Appoke is a social app store, allowing you to see which apps your friends are using to find new apps you might like. You can also send app recommendations to your friends.
There’s also a mobile app which you can use to find new apps and keep up with your friends on your mobile device.
The application selection isn’t comprehensive. Currently there are only about 3300 apps available from Appoke. But the social features of the platform make this app store stand out.
The Aproov store specializes in free apps, but you’ll need to register for an account before you can download anything from the Aproov web site.
The web site is a little on the barebones side, but the selection is quite good. You can find a large number of free apps which are available in the Android Market as well as some apps which aren’t, such as the free psx4droid lite PlayStation emulator.
This is a sort of DIY Android Market replacement. Anyone can set up a repository for distributing apps, and users can add as many repositories as they like. The upshot is that developers can make their apps available to clients without relying on emailed links or FTP sites. The down side is that there’s nothing stopping users from setting up (or accessing) repositories with illegally shared copies of paid apps.
Bazaar/Aptoide isn’t intrinsically shady, but it can be used for shady purposes, much like BitTorrent or other peer to peer technologies. Still, with the right repositories loaded, Bazaar offers one of the simplest ways to find a huge amount of apps that you can install without the Android market. The easiest way to find repositories to add to the mobile app is to search the Bazaar web site.
The F-Droid repository is a place to find free and open source apps for Android. Not only are all the apps in the directory open souce, but you can find multiple versions of most apps in case you want to use something other than the latest release.
The user interface is pretty bare-bones. Apps aren’t sorted by category, for instance. You just get a nice long alphabetical list. But you can use the search function to locate the apps you’re looking for.
F-Droid doesn’t have a very extensive list of applications. But if you’re interested in free and open source apps, F-Droid is one of the best places to find mobile apps for Android.
The folks at GetJar have one of the most attractive, informative apps for discovering and downloading mobile applications. What’s surprising is that GetJar runs as a web app. There’s nothing to install on your phone. Just visit GetJar.com in your mobile browser to get started.
The company offers 75,000 mobile apps for Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and iPhone. A lot of the apps are also available from the Android Market, but GetJar maintains its own download counter and ratings system.
I tend to think of Handmark as a company which creates mobile software… but the company also acts as a distributor of mobile apps. You can find hunreds of apps at the Handmark web site. Just enter your name and phone number and the company will email you a download link
Each app on the Handmark web site features a description, screenshot, and user reviews — although to be honest, very few reviews are actually available because I don’t think that many people treat the site as a source for apps.
The folks at Handster provide a white label app store for wireless carriers, smartphone makers and others, but you can also visit Handster yourself to find and download apps.
The company offers directories of Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Java, Blackberry, and even iPhone apps — although the iPhone store just provides links to the iTunes App Store in lieu of direct downloads.
The Insyde Market’s claim to fame is that the app store supports Android netbooks as well as smartphones. But the web-based user interface is slow to load and many of the apps appear to be in Chinese, so if you’re an English speaker looking for big name apps you’ve heard of, this might not be the best option.
Insyde Market lists paid and free apps.
Update: Mobihand has gone out of business.
This app store is run by MobiHand, a company known for selling apps and accessories for BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and other platforms for years.
Every day OnlyAndroid offers a deep discount on a single Android app. It’s not quite as good as Amazon’s free app of the day, but you can often snag apps for half price from the OnlyAndroid store.
MobiHand doesn’t offer a mobile version of the store. Instead you can navigate the OnlyAndroid web site to find and purchase apps to install on your phone or tablet.
The developers behind OpenAppMkt take a very different approach to app discovery than most others. The app store provides a directory of HTML5-based web apps which run in your web browser, but which behave much like native apps.
For instance, there are web-based music players or web versions of apps that are also available for download such as Google Voice.
OpenAppMkt offers a list of featured apps as well as top free and paid apps. The nice thing about these apps is that they support most modern devices with HTML5 friendly browsers, so you can share apps with your friends whether they use Android or iOS. The apps also don’t use much disk space.
On the other hand, many of the apps in the OpenAppMkt directory are useless if you lose your internet connection.
OpenAppMkt offers a native app that you can use to discover apps on your phone, as well as a web-based user interface you can use to find apps in a desktop web browser.
While Phoload may have one of the least attractive user interfaces of any app store in this list, the site does allow you to find and download apk installer files for Android apps using a desktop or mobile browser.
The site offers both Android and Symbian apps in a handful of categories. There’s also a search box. You can also filter for apps that will work on your phone by entering your device model.
Phoload only offers free apps.
A few years ago PocketGear was the big name in mobile apps. Before Apple’s App Store or Google’s Android Market hit the scene, PocketGear offered a one-stop shop for thousands of Windows Mobile, Palm, BlackBerry, and Symbian apps.
The Android section of the web site is well organized offers nice selection of free and paid apps. But the user interface looks kind of dated and you won’t find nearly as many user reviews and comments at PocketGear as you would from the official Android Market.
This is one of the oldest alternative marketplaces for Android apps. The company was founded in 2008 with the goal of making Android apps available in regions and on devices that aren’t normally supported.
You can find apps by browsing or searching the SlideME web site or you can install the SlideME Android Marketplace app on your phone or tablet. The number of apps available from SlideME pales in comparison to the Android Market, but there are still thousands of free and paid apps available for download, which means SlideME has one of the larger alternative marketplaces.
Apps are arrange by categories such as Fun & Games, E-Books, Entertainment, and Utilities. You can find user ratings, screenshots, the requested permissions, and OS version compatibility before downloading an app.
YAAM stands for Yet Another Android Market, because the developers have a sense of humor. But they also have an idea that really does make YAAM different from most other repositories of Android apps — developers get to keep 100% of the revenue from sales, minus PayPall fees.
YAAM is also an open source market. The selection of apps isn’t all that extensive. There are a few hundred apps available at the moment. But the app is easy to navigate with tools for searching or sorting by category and filtering by paid or free apps.