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 app store of entertainment and news apps, plus a few casual games. But you can add more too. The Fire Stick runs Android, so in theory, you can sideload almost any Android APK file, 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 sideload these apps and more.
Set Up Your Fire Stick for Sideloading
Before you can get started, you need to change a couple of settings on your Fire TV Stick.
Power on your Stick and navigate your way to Settings > Device. 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.
Download: Apps2Fire (Free)
Install Apps via Apps2Fire
Install Apps2Fire on your phone. Also, install all of 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.
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 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 ADB, a part of the Android software development kit. The process is still wireless, but it’s more difficult. 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 it includes the all-important ADB tool. Check out our full guide to setting up and using ADB.
Once you’ve downloaded it, launch the Command Prompt on Windows, or Terminal on Mac and Linux. 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 Mac and Linux, the commands need to be preceded by “./” without the quotation mark. For example, you would type “./adb connect 220.127.116.11” 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 uninstall your sideloaded apps.
If you’ve used the Apps2Fire method, then you can manage your installed apps there. Just long press on one, then 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. Here are a few to get you started.
- Kodi, for media streaming (or try the Android-specific fork, SPMC).
- Private Internet Access, one of the best VPN services.
- Firefox, for browsing on your Fire Stick.
- 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.
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.
Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is designed primarily for streaming. Its relatively low-end hardware means it isn’t a direct substitute for something like an Android TV box. If you want the full-on Android experience, consider buying one of those instead.
But by sideloading just a few select apps, you can enhance the device and what it’s capable of. It’s easy to do and risk-free, so there’s really no harm in giving it a go.
Do you use sideloaded apps on your Fire TV Stick? Which ones do you recommend? Share them with us in the comments below.