Android is an open source Operating System. This means that developers can use it and abuse it as they see fit for their own ends. There are therefore many devices out there which use custom Operating Systems based on modified versions of Android.
These modifications may be fairly minor, for example custom Android ROMS such LineageOS which mainly just remove Google services from phones on privacy grounds. Or they can be complete reskins of the Android interface, such as those Amazon uses on its Fire tablets and Fire TV devices.
What most of these modifications have in common is that they do not provide access to the Google Play Store, and therefore the regular way to download and install VPN apps. While devices such as Amazon’s Fire range of products allow you to install some VPN apps from its own app store instead, no such store has the full catalog of apps available to Google Play Store users.
One solution is to install the Google Play Store on your device. If it’s an Android device at heart this is always possible, although this approach may completely void the point of the device in the first place (such as with a LineageOS phone). Instructions for installing the Google Play Store are also very device-specific, so we will not include them here.
Fortunately, Android apps can be “sideloaded” onto any device which uses an Operating System based on Android. This does, of course, include VPN apps.
Note that to use any Android VPN app you will need to sign-up for an account with the VPN service which supplies it. A list of recommended VPN services which offer great Android apps is available here.
Sideloading VPN apps
Android apps are distributed using standalone Android Package (APK) files. Most VPN providers will be happy to provide you with a link to an APK of their app, or you can use the Yalp Store app to extract APKs directly from the Google Play Store (Yalp Store is itself available as an APK download).
Allow unknown apps
To install an APK outside of the Play Store requires enabling the installation of apps from unknown sources on your device. The specifics on how to do this vary by device, but the following examples are typical.
Devices running an OS based on Android 7 (Nougat) or lower
Go to Settings -> Security -> Device administration -> Unknown sources, and toggle “Allow installation of apps from sources other than the Play Store.”
As we say, details will vary a little by device, but the process is always very similar.
The Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet, for example, uses Fire OS 5.6 which is based on Android 5.1. On this device, simply go to Settings -> Security & Privacy -> and enable “Apps from Unknown Sources.”
Devices running an OS based on Android 8 (Oreo) or higher
(This includes LineageOS).
More recent versions of Android require that you authorize each unknown source when installing apps outside the Play Store. It is sufficient, however, to just authorize the app installing the APK, rather than each APK source itself.
So if you open the APK after downloading it in Firefox, then you just need to Allow Firefox as a source. And to install previously downloaded or transferred apps using a file manager, you need only to Allow your file manager as a source.
To do this, go to Settings -> Apps and Notifications -> Special Access -> Install other apps (or just search for “install unknown apps” in Settings). Scroll down until you find your “source” app (usually your browser or file manager), select it, and toggle “Allow from this source.”
On an Amazon Fire Stick or Fire TV
FireOS on an Amazon TV or Fire Stick looks disconcertingly different from the “regular” phone-based Android interface. Scratch the surface, though, and it really is just Android…
Go to Settings -> My Fire TV (My Fire TV may be labeled Device or System on older interfaces) -> Developer Options, and turn ON Apps from Unknown Sources.
Installing the VPN APK
Once you have allowed apps from unknown sources, you need the get APK file for the VPN app of your choice onto your device.
The simplest way to do this is to download the file directly to your device using a browser, and then open it with the browser. Note that the Firefox and silk browsers for Fire TV not allow downloads, but the Downloader app (just search for it on your Fire TV device) includes a browser which does.
Alternatively, you can transfer APK files to your device via USB cable, OTG USB stick, or micoSD card, and then open them using a file manager app of your choice. If you obtain the VPN app AKP from Yalp Store then the app will open it for you.
When an APK is opened, by default the Android installer kicks in and offers to install it.
If you are given a choice of apps to open the file with then choose the Android Package installer (or whatever ever the equivalent is on your device).
Make sure that you are happy with any permissions requested (we love the fact that ExpressVPN, above, requires none), then all you need do is select “Install” to the job is done!
Android 8+ gives users fine-grained control over installed app permissions, so if your OS is based on a recent version of Android then it’s always worth going to Settings -> [recently installed app] -> Permissions to check that all is as it should be.
You can disable any permissions that seem unnecessary and/or you don’t like the sound of. If this breaks the app then you can choose to either re-enable the permissions or uninstall the app.
Run the app
It’s then just a matter of opening the app, signing-into your account (some apps allow you to sign-up for a new account in-app), choosing a server, and hitting the connect button.