With its compact size and ultra-affordable price, the Fire TV Stick is one of the best Amazon devices you can buy.
It comes with a small store of apps and games, but you can add more too. The Fire Stick runs Android, so in theory you can sideload almost any Android app, just as you can on your phone or tablet.
This means you can run Kodi, a web browser, a podcast player, or a VPN on your Fire Stick. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best ways to add apps to your Fire Stick.
Set Up Your Fire TV Stick for Sideloading
First things first: before you start, make sure you’ve read our introduction to the Amazon Fire Stick. Then, you’ll need to change a couple of settings on your Fire TV Stick.
Power on your Stick and navigate your way to Settings > My Fire TV > Developer options. Set the options for ADB debugging and Apps from Unknown Sources to ON.
Press the Back button on your remote and select Device > About > Network. You’ll see the IP Address of your Fire Stick listed in the right-hand column. Make a note of this for later.
Sideload Apps Using an Android Phone
The quickest way to install apps onto a Fire Stick is with an Android phone or tablet. Apps2Fire, a free app from the Play Store, simplifies the process down to just a few taps.
Crucially, it also enables you to install apps from the Play Store itself, instead of having to track down APK files from the obscure corners of the web.
Download: Apps2Fire (Free)
Install Apps via Apps2Fire
Install Apps2Fire on your phone. While you’re at it, install all the apps you want to transfer to your Fire Stick, if you don’t already have them on your phone.
In Apps2Fire, go to the Setup tab and enter the IP address you noted from your Fire Stick, then tap Save. The app will now connect to the Stick. You might be prompted to accept an incoming connection on your Fire Stick. If so, tap OK.
Swipe across to Local Apps. What you’ll see here is a list of all the apps installed on your phone. You can copy any of these across. Find the app you want to put on your Fire Stick, tap on it, then select Install.
The app will begin uploading wirelessly. It may take a few minutes, especially if it’s a large app. Keep your phone awake until it’s done.
Once the upload reaches 100 percent, there will be a delay of another few seconds while the app automatically installs. When it’s finished, you’ll be alerted both on your phone and your TV.
Back on your Fire Stick, hold the Home button and select Apps. You should now see your newly-installed app listed here. Just click it to launch.
Sideload Apps Without an Android Phone
If you don’t have an Android phone on hand, you can still sideload apps to your Fire Stick using the ADB sideload command through the Android software development kit. The process is still wireless, but it’s more difficult. Fortunately, you don’t need to root your Fire Stick to do it.
It requires use of the command line, and you also have to source the APK files (the Android apps) from somewhere other than the Play Store.
Download the SDK Platform Tools from the Android developer website. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and includes the all-important ADB tool. Check out our full guide to setting up and using ADB for an introduction.
Once you’ve downloaded it, launch the Command Prompt on Windows, or Terminal on a Mac or Linux machine. You need to change the root directory to point to the folder where the ADB tool is stored.
Do this by typing cd [path to platform-tools folder].
Now type adb connect [IP address], where the IP address is the one you noted from the your Fire Stick.
On macOS and Linux, the commands need to be preceded by “./” without the quotation marks. For example, you would type “./adb connect 22.214.171.124” without the quotation marks. You should now see a message confirming that it is connected.
To install an app, type adb install [path to android app.apk]. You should see a message saying the app is being uploaded, followed by a message of success. You can now launch the app on your Fire Stick.
How to Uninstall Sideloaded Apps
There are two ways to delete apps on your Fire Stick.
If you’ve used the Apps2Fire method, then you can manage your installed apps there. Just tap on one and select Uninstall from the dialog box that opens.
Alternatively, you can uninstall apps on the Fire TV Stick itself. Hold down the Home button to see the Apps icon, then select it to view all your installed apps. Highlight the one you want to remove, hit the Menu button on your remote, then select Uninstall.
Best Apps to Use With Your Fire TV Stick
So now you know how to sideload apps onto your Fire Stick. But which apps are worth installing?
Not every app works. Those that rely on Google’s Play Services framework won’t, and more advanced games will hit the hardware limits of the Fire Stick. Also, apps designed to run exclusively in portrait mode don’t look so good on a TV.
Often it’s a case of trial and error to find what works and what doesn’t. Some apps require a mouse to be properly usable. In this case, the paid app Mouse Toggle for Fire TV can add the feature to your remote.
For staters, we recommend:
- Private internet Access, one of the best VPN services. MakeUseOf readers can use this special offer to save on a PIA subscription.
- Podcast Addict, for listening to podcasts.
- IMDb, the web’s most popular movie site.
- Outlook, for Microsoft and other email.
- Sync Pro for Reddit, one of the best Reddit clients.
Want even more? We’ve picked out some essential apps to install on your Fire Stick. From VLC and Kodi, to news and radio, there’s something here for everyone.