Android without Google 4: App Replacements
There’s probably no need to replace them all – especially if you’re not planning to install a Custom ROM. After all, they’re there, and at least some of them are pretty good, including having no “real issues” e.g. concerning your privacy. Others might cover topics you’re not interested in altogether – another reason why you need no replacements for those.
But it cannot hurt to know about some alternatives, which might even better fit your needs. This could be particularly of interest to those amongst you playing with the thought to really go all the way and get a Custom ROM onto their device, and fully get rid of the GApps package: what should they install instead?
To begin with I have to admit, I never used all of the Google apps that came shipped with my devices. For example, I’m not interested in using Google+, Facebook, and the likes. Also, I only created a Gmail account as that was the only way to get the “Android Market” (as it was called back then, today “Google Play Store”) running – and that’s all what runs on that account: purchase receipts, and the one or other notification Google sends out. So while I can bring in personal experience for some of the apps I will name below, I cannot do so for all of them – and for some of them I cannot even be sure having found the “right replacements” (forgive me, please )
Still I hope I’ve got the basics covered. If you miss some apps: I didn’t check all Google Apps, but just those which I thought coming pre-installed with several devices. I still may have missed the one or other, so this article does not claim to be “complete”.
Android without Google:
- 1: Introduction
- 2: ownCloud
- 3: Getting rid of unwanted bloatware
- 4: App Replacements
- 5: Free your Droid!
- 5a: microG (update to NOGAPPS in part 5)
- 6: Self-Experiment (still running)
- 7: Where do I get my apps now?
- 8: Shiftphones – the most easy way to reach your goal!
Started before this series, but clearly belonging here:
Index of this article
- Productivity Apps
Mail, Browser, Calendar, Maps, Translate, Search, Google Drive, Google Docs, Newsstand / Currents, Car Home
- MultiMedia Apps
Gallery / Photos, Camera, Youtube, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Books
- Google Play Store and Services
There are plenty of E-Mail apps available to chose from (see IzzyOnDroids Email Apps Listing for a selection). The candidate I want to recommend is K-9 Mail: not only is it available free of charge, it’s also Open Source. Supporting a wide range of providers (including Gmail via IMAP if you insist), and enabling you to configure your own, this makes it a pretty good solution.
For most people, the features K-9 Mail is offering will already suffice for their daily mail jobs. If that’s not the case, you can find several extensions in the app list I‘ve just mentioned – e.g. the K-9 Mail DashClock Extension, or the AGP app for mail encryption from the app list on Encryption of Files and Folders – both again free and Open Source, and not bound to Google Play (you can find all three of them also on F-Droid and Aptoide).
To not leave it with one example: there’s also Aqua Mail available for free at Google Play and Aptoide, with an additional paid version at Google Play, and Maildroid is also well-known and widely used. Both are well rated and providing good features as well as a nice, user-friendly interface. For those often using Exchange, it might be worth taking a look at Nine.
On most recent devices, Chrome Browser comes pre-installed. With almost 30 MB package size not really a lightweight app. But it ships with some really convenient features, such as synchronizing your bookmarks and more with your desktop browser (if that’s called by the same name). So in this category, let’s look for two variants: browsers also offering that, and browsers being a little more lightweight while offering more privacy.
Let’s start with a “free and Open Source” example again, which offers the just mentioned features and also is already widely known from the desktops of all major operating systems: Firefox Browser. It even matches the package size of Chrome, with it’s 30 MB download. Well rated, feature loaden, available on our three “major app stores”, and coming with the additional plus of enabling you to use ”Firefox OS apps” on Android, I’d say it can completely replace Chrome. And of course, you can extend Firefox with addons, as you might be used to already from the desktop.
My next candidate is less widely known: with about 10 MB being “medium-sized”, Javelin Browser features a private mode (as afore-mentioned browsers do, by the way) – but it also comes with a built-in ad-blocker and built-in proxy services (the latter requiring an in-app subscription). For those focusing a little more on privacy, there’s the 7 MB Javelin Incognito Browser as additional option. Both ship for free from Google Play.
Another recommendable light-weight browser would be Lightning Web Browser or its counter-part Lightning Web Browser +: Weighting just 2 megabytes, its open-source, fast, respects your privacy – and in its plus version, even ships with an ad blocker.
Other privacy-focused and not-that-heavy candidates include Privacy Browser and Orweb: Private Web Browser (free and Open Source), both are available on Google Play and F-Droid, the latter even on all our three markets. And if that’s still not enough for you, you can find more alternatives in the corresponding app-list here on the site.
Even without the Google Apps, there should be a “stock calendar” pre-installed. Nevertheless, as that’s not the most convenient app anyhow, let’s name some alternatives:
Business Calendar (see screenshot to the right) is what I use on my main device (its paid version, to be more precise). While supporting Androids built-in calendar (and alarms), it also can work completely independent from that. Usage is pretty convenient. Not only can you select which of your calendars should be shown, events are given the color of the calendar they are stored in, to make them easy to identify. Moreover, the built-in alarm system is much better than Androids default: whenever an alarm comes up, you can decide to snooze it for an interval you select. And no more missed alarms! While the Android calendar only fires them up once (and then lets them stay in the notification area until you “accidentally” discover them when you didn’t hear the alarm sound for any reason), with Business Calendar you can define in which intervals and for how long the sound should be repeated until dismissed. Freely scale the time frame shown (see the slider on the bottom of the screenshot), integration with their Business Tasks app, and more make it a very good choice. Only disadvantage as I see it: the ad-free "Pro" version is only available at the Playstore (the free version additionally on Aptoide). So let’s check for more alternatives.
First coming to my mind is aCalendar, available for free without ads on Play and Aptoide, with an advanced paid version on Play: buying this is doing something good additionally, as it Helps protecting the endangered Mountain Tapir. Tapir Apps is a key corporate sponsor of World Land Trust – we donate 10% of our earnings for rainforest conservation. (quoted from the app description). While based on the Android calendar engine, it’s independent from all Google services. As the dev responded on my question (fast response, so support seems to be great!), there’s even integration for CalDAV-Sync for calendar and tasks (with the next version it seems), and for calendars in general with all CalDAV apps (e.g. DavDroid), so it perfectly fits into our ownCloud scenario from part 2 of this series.
Also worth mentioning is Cal Calendar Google/Exchange (available for free on Google Play, featuring tasks integration with Any.do Task List & To-do List, but seemingly depending on Google Services1). More alternatives can be found in the list of calendar apps here on the site.
With OpenStreetMap being the best known and open source alternative, our obvious first candidate is OsmAnd Maps & Navigation. I couldn’t find any notes on its license, but there’s a free and a paid version available on Google Play – and unfortunately none in the official repositories of either F-Droid or Aptoide. Neither can I say whether and how much it depends on any of the Google Services for e.g. obtaining the current location (same to be said for the other candidates). Still, the feature list of this app is impressive: it works online and offline (maps can be pre-cached), offers turn-by-turn voice guidance, automatic re-routing when you’ve “left the track”, search, POIs, and more – for drivers as well as for pedestrians and bicyclers. Map coverage is also great, and you even can contribute to it right from within the app.
Second, there’s MapQuest: Maps, GPS & Traffic available for free on Google Play and Aptoide – promising e.g. “stress-free navigation […] voice navigation, route you around accidents, and even help you find cheap gas”. Bookmarks, layers, POIs, advanced search, and more are listed along its app description.
Polaris Navigation GPS can be installed for free from Google Play and Aptoide. It does not focus on streets alone: Imagine... What would it be like to be able to navigate any wilderness, waterway or city with only your phone and a view of the sky? What it would be like to create navigation destinations without the need of an internet connection and find them using only an arrow or offline maps.2 As the name suggests, it’s a full-fledged navigation solution, but also fine for any outdoor activities. You can record tracks and waypoints, select from multiple map sources (e.g. Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, MapQuest), and it offers turn-by-turn voice directions. A Great Navi GPS for Hiking, Boating, Fishing, Hunting, Geocaching, Camping, Sailing, Mountain Biking or wherever your outdoor activities take you!, according to the apps description.
Last example in this category: Locus Map is available as free version at Google Play and Aptoide, a paid version can be obtained at Google Play as well – which is what I use. The dev cares for privacy, so if you want to navigate to any of your contacts, you either have to enter the address manually – or you will need to install the Locus - addon Contacts to access your contact lists. Unfortunately, at least the paid version is bound to Googles services (license check), so Im not sure whether it would work “completely without”. The app offers online and offline maps from a wide range of sources, including vector maps and even enabling you to “create” your own. Not only can you import your own tracks and points: the KMZ3 format is fully supported, so you can have them available offline with images and more. This enabled me to create my own travel guides in advance of journeys, marking interesting POIs and including core information such as opening times and highlights. Like Polaris above, Locus is targeted at urban and offroad use. You can pretty freely chose which map areas to download in which resolutions, balancing storage use and coverage. It allows you to search for addresses, coordinates, and POIs – including Google Places and Wikipedia. The app is pretty good for Geocaching and track recording, but also features Voice navigation and voice guide. Highly customizable, export/import features, supported by a load of addons (e.g. the Locus - addon AR, which comes pretty handy with my mentioned self-created travel guides), and a lot more; please forgive me that I cannot list up all here.
For those of you who still didn’t find their match: head over to the list of Navigation apps.
Most similar apps are just “alternative frontends” to the Google Translate API (and other Google APIs, especially when it comes to Voice Input), which doesn’t leave much choice. A “real replacement” was not known to me until now when, researching for this article, I stumbled upon Translator + Dictionary: according to its dev it was written especially as replacement since he was not satisfied with the quality of Google Translate, so this should definitely be worth a look.
I’m not using services like that frequently on-the-fly. But I do when reading books. That might be to look up a term I don’t understand (or think I might have a different, wrong understanding for) – but also when proof-reading my own books, to check for synonyms. Which reader app I use for this you’ll find out later, but it works smoothly with the app I wish to recommend here: ColorDict Dictionary Wikipedia blends in as an overlay when I highlight a word to have it looked up. But it also can be used as a stand-alone app, if needed. From within the app you can download dictionaries for offline use, and it connects to online services (like Wikipedia) as well.
One more app worth mentioning in this context is Dictionary Linguee. While I’ve not used the app yet, I’m a big fan of their web service, which I use via the search box in Firefox on my desktop. What makes it so special is it does not only offer translations for the words you give it, but also displays a bi-lingual text along – where you can see how the word was used in the original language, and what a corresponding translation looks like. This context is pretty helpful for picking the best match from a list of possibilities.
For other potential candidates, please take a look at the app listings for References and Translations.
I’ve never used that one, so I cannot tell for sure. One thing to keep in mind: the more these apps shall find, the more permissions they have to request (e.g. accessing your contacts, calendars, etc., plus the Internet) – which might be a concern towards your privacy. Still, let me name some potential candidates – and leave the decision to you whether to use any of them, a different one (you can find some more in the Search app list), the pre-installed app, or none at all:
[imgrights:https://i.imgur.com/sYWffuAm.png|https://i.imgur.com/sYWffuA.png|110px|Quick Search|Quick Search] Quick Search is available for free at Google Play. It claims to be the best search app on the Market, and covers searching your contacts, browser bookmarks/history, messages, installed apps, and music collection. It can also search the Internet and, like the pre-installed Google Search, allows you to facilitate other installed apps like IMDB, Yelp, or Memos. You can even have it “search from the clipboard”: according to the apps description, whenever you copy text to it, a popup should appear in the bottom of your screen, which you just have to tap then.
Next, there is vtap Quick Search – again free to install from Google Play. Claiming to be the only personalized Universal Search app that searches on the phone and the network, it indeed goes beyond what Quick Search offers: “search as you type” starts populating the results list before you’re done, which might save you from typing too much. Like Quick Search, it covers searching your contacts, apps, media, search history, and the Internet – for the latter including maps, POIs, Wikipedia, and Wiktionary. I however couldn’t see whether it utilizes other installed apps the way Quick Search does, so it might come short on that. In the screenshots, results look a bit Google-Now-ish
Then we have Quixey: App & Device Search, calling itself the search bar for apps. Free at Google Play, you can use it to launch your installed apps, or even find new apps by describing what you want to do. You can also search your contacts, texts and calendar and more – whatever the “more” is meant to be, neither the apps description nor its website reveal. Up to you to find out, if you wish.
The last “All-in-One” search app I’ll mention here is Conjure - Search & Launch – which is available only as paid version at Google Play (even bound to the latter via license check). So what makes me mention it then at all here? Certainly, its impressive feature list: find and launch apps, find contacts by name or number (and directly call/message them), web search, and calendar search are things we’ve already seen. Conjure additionally allows those using “natural language” – and adds a bunch of other options on top, like adjusting volume, toggle WiFi (and Bluetooth and more), text-to-speech, and even Tasker integration.
Not covering “local search” at all, but I still felt I should mention it here as it promises to contribute to our privacy: Disconnect Search (available for free at Google Play) offers privacy web search with Google, Bing, Yahoo, blekko, or DuckDuckGo, by anonymizing your IP address, browser cookies, and other personal info. At least sounds interesting.
We already dealt with cloud-storage in Android without Google 2: ownCloud, so you might wish to take a “look back” for more details. Apart from that, what alternatives to name? Dropbox? Come on, not really – at least not for “private data” we are concerned about. Box I heard mentioned here and there, but I cannot say much about it. You might have guessed already: I’m not using “the cloud” (better known as: someone else’s computer), so I’m not good at recommending tools for that Wuala was praised for privacy a while ago, but for quite a while I’ve not read anything about them (might be a good sign, though).
For “private sync”, you might wish to take a look at BitTorrent and Seafile. Both come free, the latter is even Open Source. And of course there’s a list for more candidates here at IzzyOnDroid: Synchronizing Files and Folders.
Looking for a replacement here, an important criterium is what you’re after: office suite in general, or does it need to be on “someone else’s computer”? Again, our ownCloud installation can cover parts of it when it comes to text documents. The app list for Office Suites and Text Editors has some more candidates, for both variants:
For “working in the cloud”, there’s e.g. Zoho Docs with a similarity in its name. It’s using its own cloud (the “Zoho Cloud”) for storage, and supports texts and sheets – though I’m not sure what file formats those are using. It also allows to view presentations and PDFs, amongst other things. The full load of MS Office formats in connection with cloud storage is offered by Kingsoft Office for free: you can chose “your favorite cloud drive” from the services of Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive and WebDAV – with the latter making it possible to be used together with ownCloud. Similarly Polaris Office.
If you additionally want support for OpenDocument formats, there are the apps from SoftMaker: TextMaker, PlanMaker, and Presentations come for 4 resp. 5 Euro each, and thus are not cheap – but they’ve got good ratings, being full-fledged office apps with on-the-fly spell-checking, PDF export, and a load of other features. Supported clouds include Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, and OneDrive here.
Newsstand / Currents
While they might be fine to find things you didn’t think about before, I’m no friend of pre-defined “bubbles”, but rather define my own. Hence I favor RSS Readers, where I can bring in my own sources. Of course I’m open to them recommending me some, if they match my interests
[imgrights:http://i.imgur.com/o0p8gp0m.jpg|https://i.imgur.com/o0p8gp0.jpg|110px|ownCloud News Reader|ownCloud News Reader] Building on the previous articles of this series, with our ownCloud up and running, this means we should definitely take a look at the ownCloud News Reader: being free and open source, it’s available at Google Play as well as at F-Droid – the latter perfectly matching our “free of Google” goal. As the name suggests, it plays together with the ownCloud News app. Its feature list includes support for Youtube playlists, Podcasts, and offline reading (including image caching). I didn’t find any hint on some “Read it later” service – but that might not be necessary due to the ownCloud integration, where it should be easy to find your “starred articles” (aka “favorites”). The app comes with a dark and a light theme, to meet your preferences. A widget is included as well. If you’re going to use it with your ownCloud installation, it might be useful to have the Cron tasks switched from their default Ajax to real ones for always up-to-date feeds, as some notes point out.
Taptu is a pretty popular RSS Reader, freely available at Google Play and Aptoide. It supports to save articles to read them later using Instapaper, Pocket or Taptu’s bookmarks. You can sync your streams across devices, platforms, and your browser at taptu.com. There’s also something called “Taptu Magic” in the app, having it learn what you like and tailor your streams to your interests (if you like such). Taptu ships with a number of widgets (including scrollable ones), offers a variety of featured topical streams, and also lets you add new feeds via its search feature. Sharing to different social networks is built-in as well.
And then there’s Feedly available for free at Google Play and Aptoide – custom tailored for a 4" phone, a 7" tablet and a 10" tablet. It integrates with Pocket, Instapaper and Evernote. Like with Taptu, sharing to several social networks comes built-in as well. You can integrate your favorite RSS feeds, or discover new ones via “popular topics” right from within the app. From the description, it reads as if Feedly can even convert your favorite sites into “streams” when they do not have an RSS feed available. So the app description states: the content of your rss feeds, news sites and blogs are transformed into pocket-sized cards which load very fast and are easy to browse.
Not owning any car, I never played much with a Car Launcher (I rather wish for a good night stand, as I own a bed ). But of course I’ve found several, which might serve as replacements for Googles Car Home. The latter obviously not updated for years (according to the app info, the last update was in February 2011), it should be no big deal to find something more up-to-date. So lets have a look at some candidates:
Despite its not that high rating at Google Play, I‘ve heard good reports on Car Dashboard personally. It has a free and a paid version at Google Play, and its author is an active member of our Android community at Stack Exchange (one of the mods even). Next to a speedometer telling you how fast you’re going, it also warns you of speed cams ahead. The Pro version even lets you know what street you’re currently in.
Alternatively, take a look at Car Home Ultra. Here a free version is available on Play and Aptoide, a paid version exists as well. Its speedometer even speaks to you (when pressed), and it features current weather and location with the same option (speak when pressed). Other features include media control, SMS auto-responder, room for up to 30 shortcuts, location alerts, and more.
Finally our FOSS4 candidate: PurpleDock, available at Google Play and F-Droid. Nomen est omen – so yes, it’s purple. Might not be visually welcome to everyone, but take a look for yourselves
Gallery / Photos
Especially on Android 4.4 (Kitkat), where Google decided having the Photos app integrated into Google+ (and even more if you’re not using G+ at all), you might wish for an alternative gallery. But even if not, it cannot hurt looking at some alternatives – which might offer additional features to be used now and then.
The most popular app in this category surely is QuickPic, free to install from Google Play and Aptoide. True to its name, it is a quick (but not at all dirty) image viewer, even giving you basic editing functions (rotate, shrink, and crop pictures). You can access your local pictures, but also use web services like Picasa, Google Drive, Dropbox, Flickr, OneDrive, and others. Photos can be grouped by time and location, there’s slideshow functionality, animated GIFs and videos can be played, you can sort, rename, create new folders as well as move/copy pictures (with the exception of using an unmodified Kitkat, where write-access to the external SD card has been limited). It is even possible to hide your privacy photos and videos from all gallery apps, protect them with a password, or exclude specified folders for more efficient scanning. That pretty much covers everything one would expect from a gallery app.
Another interesting candidate is JustPictures!, as well available for free at Google Play and Aptoide. Like QuickPic it supports browsing your local photos as well as accessing several web services (e.g. Picasa, Flickr, Smugmug, Tumblr and Deviant Art), and even includes (batch) uploading to Picasa, Facebook, Flickr, Smugmug, Photobucket and Imgur. You can move, delete and rotate local photos, edit their tags, show their Exif information (if any). If your photos have GeoTags, you can display them on a mini-map or large map, and more.
F-Stop Media Gallery promises Lightning fast browsing experience. It comes with a free and a paid version on Google Play, offering (nested) folders, protected folders, tags, ratings, showing Metadata, and more. With its “smart folders”, you can have it auto-create albums based on tags, date, ratings, image sizes, and more. Supporting themes, you should be able to fit its look to your taste. Exclusion of folders (to get rid of e.g. album art showing up in your gallery) is supported as well as hiding media from other apps with password protection. And if you like your display showing motion, there’re slideshows and support for playing video formats.
A last candidate I want to mention is EagleEye. Available for free (without ads!) at Google Play, it groups your photos automatically by time spans, locations, and folders. Like PhotoMap (a similar app by the same dev which focuses on photos with GeoTags, but ignores all others), it has a pretty nice map view for photos featuring GeoTags, which even lets you virtually repeat your moves. If you’re a global traveller, you can yet show them on a 3D globe. Of course there’s a slideshow feature available. You can add tags or captures to your photos, add/edit/remove GeoTags via drag-and-drop (and have them saved into the image files Exif tags), and more.
If that’s not enough to make your choice, be welcome to take a look into the Galleries app list here at IzzyOnDroid.
Even with no Google Apps installed at all, there will be a camera app available. But that doesn’t stop us from taking a look at alternatives. And there are quite a few Camera Apps available to check. I certainly cannot introduce them all, so let me focus on a small selection again here.
Almalence is a name known to those having played with different camera apps, on the hunt for a good HDR, panorama, or night camera. A Better Camera (free and paid versions available at Google Play) integrates them all in one (they’re available separate as well). I’ve made some pretty good HDR shots with this one, which caused me to “go pro” (buying the app, not a GoPro device). Panoramas should be able to capture 360° (I didn’t try that yet; if you want to, remember to have your device in portrait mode for that, or you’ll fail like me with even a simple panorama) with a resolution up to 100 MPx. There’s group portrait and sequence shot, you can remove unwanted objects with a click, and even pre-shot photos (what? Yeah, it shoots before you press the trigger, like the cowboy named Nobody5, if you tell it so). Burst- and Expo-bracketing are there, as well as a timer, ISO-settings, and white-balance adjustment – it even has video recording and time-lapse.
Another one of my favorites is ProCapture, coming in a free version (Play and Aptoide) as well as in a paid one (Play). It features a panorama (combining up to 12 shots) and wide-shot (linking together 3 photos) mode, a “reduced noise” mode (combining two photos, reducing noise to up to 30%), and you can configure it to use your volume buttons for focus and shoot. Several guides (e.g. fibonacci and grid) help you to optimize your motives, while a real-time on-screen histogram helps you get better exposed photos. The app is quite intuitive to use, with its free version only limited in picture resolution (to a max of 3MPx) you can check out all its features before you buy. On the con side, its makers seem to decide for a relaunch every few years: the previous version named Camera Advanced disappeared from the markets a few years ago, and recently they’ve launched ProCapture 2 camera – which made some people suspect the same move again (but that app disappeared shortly thereafter). On the other hand, considering the price and comparing it to the work a dev has to do for it, I cannot really blame them: after all, if you took care for a backup, your “original app” you’ve paid for doesn’t stop working.
Finally, our FOSS candidate: OpenCamera comes with face detection, scene modes, color effects, white balance, ISO and exposure compensation. Video recording is possible (you even can adjust frame- and bitrate). Resolutions are promised for up to 4K (UHD). Timer option and burst mode are available, the shutter can be silenced, volume keys can be configured to take picture, zoom, or change exposure compensation. There’s also a choice of grids (e.g. “rule of thirds”) to guide you with your motives, and GeoTags for photos can even include compass direction.
Now we’re entering Googles “inner circle”: what to do if the entire service is run by Google? Are there really any alternatives? Well, we’ve got a list for that: Youtube & Co., here at IzzyOnDroid, where I want to pick a candidate from. GPlayer is a floating video player coming with Youtube support. It can also deal with several other sources/formats, and you can even sync played videos across devices – a different way to watch a movie with friends Different formats of subtitles are supported as well as several audio formats (e.g.
.wav). There’s a free version available at Google Play and Aptoide; a Professional edition license can be purchased in-app via Googles billing system.
Comparable to that is Viral Popup (Youtube Player): it supports ChromeCast, can connect to your YouTube account (to access to Watch Later, My Uploads, Playlists, etc.), and plays resolutions up to 720p. You can also play videos stored on your device with it, of course, and even have multiple popup-players running at the same time (or minimize them to the notification bar and have them play in the background).
If you want to replace Youtube alltogether (which I doubt, but just saying), there’s also Vimeo…
Google Play Music
Finally to the apps I personally would never use (and thus consider as “must be replaced”): Google Play Music/Movies/Books. Not for app quality (though that might contribute, I didn’t check it lately) – but rather for their concept. To me these apps feel like I’d buy a book, movie, or music at some store – and having the store owners deciding how I read/listen/watch, closing away my property from me as if it still was theirs. Because that’s what DRM ends up with: while being intended to be an abbreviation for Digital Rights Management, in reality it’s rather Digital Restrictions Management: you cannot access directly what you’ve paid for. Sometimes things even get worse when you bring in your own high-quality content – just to find out it gets replaced by restricted, low quality pendants.6 So: No, thanks, Google (and Amazon, and all you others) – keep that crap to yourselves. I’m willing to pay, but then I want to take possession of my purchase my way.
Luckily, there are good alternatives to Google Play Music, even best of selections, and also detailed German articles on alternatives. Of course there are several app lists here at IzzyOnDroid as well, where you especially might wish to take a look at Jukeboxes and more. And of course I will mention some alternatives here.
MixZing claims to be the most advanced media player around. Available in a free version at Google Play and Aptoide, plus a paid one at Google Play, it indeed has an impressive feature-list comparable to Play Music (maybe except for “music shopping”): It offers support for Internet Radio with thousands of stations which you can browse by genre or have the app recommend to you by your taste. There’s music identification not in the sense of Shazam or Soundhound but to help you cleaning up your collection, identifying even files with invalid or no ID3 tags, cleaning their tags, and adding album art. Mood player, graphic equalizer, playlists, folder browser, genre and video browsing, and a sleep-timer are included as well. And that’s far from being all; there’s also a lockscreen widget to control the player while the device is locked, a tag editor, batch playlist editing, you can have lyrics, artist biographies and photos, stream music, and more.
A comparable feature-set can be found with N7player, which as well is available for free at Google Play and Aptoide, plus in a paid variant on Google Play. With Android 4.1 and up, there’s a 10 band graphic equalizer (5 band with Android 2.3 and up). The app has Bass Boost, treble boost, volume normalization and sound virtualization (SRS/Dolby Surround), can downmix to Mono if you need (e.g. when sharing your in-ear headset with a friend). Gapeless playback comes in handy for albums like those by Enigma. Lyrics and playlist support is available as well as a file and folder music player, sleep timer, and more. N7player maintains its own media library, and lets you play your music by albums, artists, genres, songs, folders and playlists. I shall not forget to mention the tag editor and manual/automatic album art downloading, or the support for wired and wireless headsets with customizable headset buttons. Or the lockscreen widget.
musiXmatch is the #1 Music Lyrics Player on Google Play Store and iTunes with +25 million users and the largest and most exhaustive official catalog of sync lyrics for karaoke & singing passionates – a collection of superlatives we might want to have a look at as well. MusiXMatch Music Player Lyrics comes for free at Google Play and Aptoide – so what to lose (except for some time)? The obligatory features from above include a sleep-timer, lock-screen (of course with lyrics), cover art, etc. Then there’s a FloatingLyrics™ menu, MusicID for unlimited recognition from TV and Radio, support for Android Wear, and more.
Google Play Movies & TV
Same concerns with DRM stuff as already mentioned with Play Music above, so I skip that rant here Additionally, not all features are available in all countries alike – but again, that might be the same above, as the reason is the very same: DRM…
So what alternatives to name? I’ve already mentioned GPlayer when dealing with Youtube, so for this one please see there. Let’s have a look at two others:
MX Player comes in a free (Google Play plus Aptoide) and a paid version (Google Play), offering support for a range of video and subtitle formats. It is able to “break the volume limit” (you can still “play louder” with the systems limit already reached), and the GUI is reportedly user-friendly, movies are played “judder-free” (hardware acceleration and multi-core rendering might contribute to that). If you have to stop viewing a movie for some reason, the app automatically saves a bookmark – so the next time you start it, it continues where you’ve left. There’s pinch-to-zoom plus zoom-and-pan, subtitle gestures allow you to scroll through them. Streaming from the network is possible. A “kids lock” is also available. Wherever I found the app mentioned, it was always praised: almost no video it cannot play. If there’s really a codec missing one time, it shall even directly point you to where you can obtain it.
VLC can be obtained for free at Google Play and Aptoide, and is a good choice as well. Some of you might already know it from their desktops (especially Linux users), and thus are already familiar with its features and quality. Additionally to the local audio and video files plus network streams, it can also deal with DVD ISOs directly – like its bigger companion on your computer. Multi-track audio and subtitles are supported as well as auto-rotation, aspect-ratio adjustments and gestures to control volume and brightness. Coming with a widget for audio control, audio headsets control, cover art and a complete audio media library it can also double as your music player.
More alternatives wanted? There’s an article on the best Android Mediaplayers as of 2/2014 over at TechSupport, and of course a list of Video-Players here at IzzyOnDroid for that.
Google Play Books
Rant above, let’s go straight for the replacements:
With no requirements towards DRM, Im using the paid version of Moon+ Reader (available at Google Play, the free version additionally at Aptoide). Great support, heavily customizable! Almost no book format it doesn’t understand – including PDF and with TTS7 support for e.g. visually impaired (or those preferring to read with their eyes closed). You can have the text auto-scrolling with adjustable speed, see your books as the author intended (with all the CSS styling stuff) or in a format optimized for your smaller screen. Highlight or annotate text (stored in an internal database where you can export from, and directly into PDF files), multiple themes to chose from adjust it to your taste. Book shelf for local books, a pre-configured (but extensible) network library (including Izzy’s Public Domain Library with more than 6.000 free books in German and almost 1.000 free English books), real page-turning effect, support for media files in EPUB3 (audio and video), dictionaries (plays nicely with afore-mentioned ColorDict Dictionary Wikipedia… Well, I could go on for a while – but probably would bore you with a long list. Just pick the free variant and see for yourself – it has some ads and lacks PDF and TTS support, but apart from that gives you the full feeling.
If you depend on books protected by Adobe DRM, Aldiko Book Reader might be an alternative for you. Free and paid versions as with Moon+, it also supports eBooks from public libraries. You can use my above mentioned network library here as well (support for the OPDS standard used with many eBook catalogs has been added finally). While features like highlight and annotate are reserved for the paid version, if you don’t need them you will be fine with the free one. Being pretty popular, support should be easy to find in case you get stuck somewhere.
Coming to our FOSS section: Cool Reader is available for free at all three of our markets (Google Play, F-Droid, and Aptoide), but the devs happily accept donations (give them some if you like the app, many working ours have been spent on it! You can do so via different donation packages on Google Play, or via Paypal and Flattr8 on F-Droid). Features are comparable with the two candidates I‘ve just introduced. They include support for online libraries (via OPDS), bookmarks, annotations, page-turning effects, dictionary support (see Moon+ Reader above), auto-scroll, and more. Coming from Russia, you can expect the
.fb2 format to be pretty well supported here – so when the app description writes about most complete FB2 format support, it’s totally believable
Last but not least another FOSS candidate from Russia: FBReader was already around for several years on our computers before Android got into its boots, so the devs should be pretty experienced when it comes to eBooks. Again we find a comparable feature-list, including OPDS support (with my libraries included again). Supported book formats are not that extensive as with Moon+ Reader, but the most common formats (epub, mobi, fb2, plain-text, html – PDF via addon) are covered. Dictionaries as with Moon+ and Cool Reader, different “themes” (the app description speaks of “custom backgrounds”), and more. Features are extensible via addons for TTS, PDF, and LitRes9.
If you want to check yourself for additional alternatives, I can recommend taking a look into my eBook Reader list – which also comes with a (not that up-to-date) feature-matrix to help you out.
Google Play Store and Services
While having to postpone the “Google (Play) Services” to the next part of this series, the “Play Store” part already has been dealt with in a previous article. The two services I can recommend here are F-Droid and Aptoide, with their respective apps F-Droid and Aptoide. For a detailed description (especially focussing on safety and privacy concerns you might have), please head over to that article. For more alternatives, there’s of course another app list available here at IzzyOnDroid: Alternative Markets.
its Changelog for v1.1.5 mentions Internal updates to handle the latest Google Play Services update ↩︎
from the apps description ↩︎
.kmzfiles are compressed versions of the KML format, allowing to include additional media such as icons and even images ↩︎
abbreviation for “Free and Open Source Software” ↩︎
ya know: Nobody shoots faster ↩︎
Moreover, you can only use a maximum of 10 devices with Play Music. If you want to switch on number 11, you first have to de-authorize one of the others – which can be done at maximum 4 times a year. ↩︎
abbreviation for Text-to-Speech – i.e. having your written text read aloud ↩︎
Flattr is a micro-donation service this site is also using, waiting for you to push the button to the left of this article ↩︎
a popular commercial Russian library ↩︎