Android is an open source operating system, but most of the apps and services aren’t available. What’s a free and open source software-loving person to do?
Well, it turns out there are a wide range of apps out there available to you. You won’t be able to do all the things you could with the Play Store, but you can still get a good amount of use out of your phone and use software that embraces material design.
Here are a dozen of the best open source Android apps to choose from, in no particular order. All are available in F-Droid, and most are also in the Play Store if you’re not concerned about using your device Google-free. (There are also plenty of exclusive Android apps available in F-Droid.)
Want to look for something online without handing over your interests to advertisers? Meet your Google replacement. DuckDuckGo is a search engine that cares about your privacy. The Android app doesn’t just look pretty, it lets you read articles inside its own internal browser, and the home page provides you with a look at current events happening across the web.
I enjoy this app so much more than I did the default Google Search app.
Listening to podcasts is a solid chunk of what I do with my phone, and fortunately, there’s a great open source option out there. AntennaPod isn’t quite as feature-rich as BeyondPod (my favorite Play Store option), but it has a modern look and gives me enough control to make sure feeds don’t auto-update over mobile data. That’s good enough for me.
Part of buying a smartphone means you don’t have to lug around a dedicated GPS unit anymore. The thing is, most of the well-known options are all proprietary. Going open source means giving up access to Google Maps, Nokia Here, Sygic, and just about any other alternative you can think of.
Well, except for one. OsmAnd~ lets you download maps from OpenStreetMaps.org and save them to your device. You can save any number you want… from the entire world… for free. Searching for addresses can be a challenge, but if you pair the app with Address to GPS, then you should be good to go.
Muzei is one of the best live wallpapers around. The app blurs the background, only bringing the image into focus when you hold down on the screen. The settings let you adjust the amount of blur, and there is something satisfying about how the end result really highlights your app icons.
By default Muzei chooses a different painting for your wallpaper every day or so, but there are many other sources available, and you’re welcome to use your own photos.
DashClock is the solution to a dull home or lock screen. Use it to read email, check the weather, and keep track of alarms out of the box. When that is no longer enough, install any number of plug-ins to view content from third-party apps like Hangouts on the front of your locked phone.
Check your WiFi network, monitor battery life, and knock yourself out.
Download: DashClock for Android (F-Droid | Google Play [No Longer Available])
6) Clip Stack
Copy. Paste. Cut. Paste. Copy. No, cut. Then paste. Paste again. Wait, no, I wanted something before that. Ugh, why did I cut? Where did I get that from?
Forget it. Open Clip Stack, browse through the history of clipboard items, and copy from there. Done.
QKSMS is one of the many alternative SMS apps for folks who consider their default text messaging app too basic. Thing is, this one happens to be open source. The app was one of the early adopters of material design, and it’s highly theme-able.
There’s a night mode, plenty of customization options, and features to speed up your texting like QK reply — letting you respond without leaving the app you’re in.
Swiftnotes is a simplistic note-taking app like Google Keep without the online component. You give notes a name, body text, and a color, as if you were creating sticky notes. That’s it.
There are no tags or notifications or other forms of added complexity. If you just want to jot things down for later, this app is one to take note of.
Download: Swiftnotes for Android (F-Droid | Google Play)
Android has a ton of to-do list apps, but most aren’t open source. Fortunately, Mirakel is a capable and beautiful option. The app is feature-rich enough to provide filters and tags, set reminders, and rank each job’s priority.
There’s also a DashClock extension to put your to-dos on your lockscreen.
Download: Mirakel for Android (F-Droid)
10) KISS Launcher
KISS Launcher takes all the distractions away from your home screen and replaces them with a single search bar that does everything. It launches apps. It dials numbers. It accesses settings. The memory requirements are low, and it does a good job of keeping it simple.
11) Material Audiobook Player
Material Audiobook Player provides a particularly pretty way to look at audiobooks on a modern Android device. It isn’t the most complete experience, but considering how visually unappealing many audiobook players are, this one feels like a breath of fresh air. Just make sure your collection of eBooks is DRM-free.
12) Amaze File Manager
Looking for a file manager? Amaze might just amaze you. It has the basics covered, and it comes with a few advanced features like samba support and root browsing. Also, it’s quite the looker.
What Are Your Favorites?
Under the surface, Android remains an open source operating system. Proprietary software may clutter the ecosystem, but there are many good options out there for people looking for good free and open source apps.
Does proprietary code make you uncomfortable? What about being dependent on cloud services? Have you spent years waiting for a viable free and open source phone or tablet? Share your thoughts with us, and if one of your favorite apps is open source, give it a shout out!