If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for great new apps for your Android TV or TV box. But you’re probably tired of hearing about the same few apps mentioned over and over again.
Everybody knows to install Netflix and YouTube. I’m looking for something different, aren’t you?
So for this article, I dug up some of my favorite apps for Android TV and TV box that you don’t hear too much about.
Each of these apps is something that I install on my own Android TV devices. A few of them are the winners of head-to-head comparison tests I’ve done. In those cases, I’ll link to the full comparison article if you want some more information.
You won’t see Netflix, YouTube, Kodi, Plex or Spotify on this list. These are great apps, but we’ve heard about them enough already.
Whether you want to browse the internet on your TV or make sure you’ve got the fastest WiFi connection for streaming, there’s an app here for every situation.
Best Web Browser: Puffin TV
You’re probably not going to be browsing the web on your Android TV too often, but you still want a browser that’s fast and easy to use, right?
When I downloaded FireFox and Chrome on my NVIDIA Shield TV, I was really disappointed how they looked on the big screen. They were almost impossible to navigate and I almost gave up.
I recently did a test of every web browser that’s available on Android TV. In that test, I looked at browsers that you could download through various app stores and some you’d need to sideload.
Puffin TV won easily. In the end, it wasn’t even close.
Web browsers need two things to work well on a TV screen: a good interface and a lot of speed.
I love Puffin TV’s layout. The main menu takes up the left side of the screen. There are only a few options and they’re all easy to see from across the room. Once you click on an option, the menu disappears and your web page fills the entire screen.
All of your menu options, including back, refresh, zoom and even adding bookmarks are just a click away. However, I really like that they’re not wasting space when you don’t need them.
Let’s talk about the performance.
I’d heard it was fast, but I didn’t expect it to be this fast. Puffin TV easily won every speed test – twice as fast as most of the other browsers!
Speed is one thing, but what’s most important to me is Because it was designed specifically for Android TV’s, it’s super-easy to use. it was easy to use on a television.
My one complaint about Puffin TV actually has more to do with Google than them. In order to keep the app on the Google Play Store, Puffin had to remove the ability to download files from their browser.
That means you won’t be able to download APK’s directly from Puffin. Don’t worry though. The next app on the list will take care of that.
Best Way to Download APK’s: Downloader
As I mentioned, the one drawback to Puffin TV is that you can’t directly download APK files to your Android TV device anymore. (thanks Google)
That’s where Downloader comes in.
Downloader was originally developed for the Amazon Fire TV, but since Fire OS is based on an older version of Android, it’ll work on all of your Android devices as well.
The Downloader app has one simple job to do, and it does it very well. Point it at an APK file, and it downloads it on your device. Then it even gives you the option of installing it without having to go to a file manager.
Over the years, the developers have added a few new features including Google Search and even an integrated web browser, complete with favorites.
They added Google Search in 2020, which is a great time-saver. Before, you’d need to type in the complete URL for the APK file you wanted to download, which led to a lot of errors and frustration.
Now, it’s a simple search, in most cases.
The integrated web browser isn’t full-featured by any means. So don’t expect to be navigating around the web for the fun of it. Still, it’s a great way to browse through your favorite APK repository to see what’s new.
If you want to read more about the Downloader app, I’ve written a complete user’s guide, complete with how to download and install it.
Best Media Player: VLC
You’ve probably been using VLC Media Player for years. It’s a completely free, no-frills media player that will play almost any audio or video file right out of the box.
If you’re like me, you probably haven’t given it more than a passing glance lately. Even though it’s my default video player, there were a lot of things that VLC could do that I wasn’t aware of.
Let’s start with the obvious. VLC is hands-down the best free media player there is. It’ll play all of the most popular audio and video file formats (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, MKV, WebM, WMV, MP3, etc.). There are also codec files that you can download for free that will let it play even more types of media files.
But it also gives you the essential features of a media center as well. You can browse for video or audio files, whether they’re stored on your Android TV device, on external storage, or on a shared folder elsewhere on your network.
It even automatically found my Plex server and let me play the files directly.!
I’ve been using VLC for over a decade because it’s simple to use. It does exactly what I need it to do without adding a lot of ‘fluff’ features that just get in the way.
In short…it’s exactly what I want from my media player.
Android TV Remote \ NVIDIA Shield Remote
If you’ve ever lost your remote control in your couch or had the batteries die in the middle of a movie, a remote control app may be the solution.
No matter what Android TV device you have, there’s an official remote control app for it. Google created the official Android TV Remote Control app that will work on any device running the official Android TV operating system.
It’s a fairly basic app that allows you to navigate the screen using a D-pad emulator (shown below) or you can switch to a touchpad emulator.
The official NVIDIA Shield TV Remote Control app takes things a step further. You navigate around the app by swiping around your phone’s screen like a touchpad. However, you can also directly launch apps or games on your Shield TV by clicking on the icons, as seen above.
You can also do voice searches, change the volume and restart your device directly from your smartphone. There’s even an app for Apple iPhones too.
If you have an NVIDIA Shield TV, the official remote control app is a ‘must-have.’ But even if you don’t, you can still get the basic functionality with the official Google app.
Best WiFi Analyzer: NetSpot for Android
Here’s another app that doesn’t run on your Android TV, but makes it work a lot better.
Our wireless networks are getting more and more crowded every day. I recently did an audit and found that there were over thirty devices connected to my home network.
All of those devices are sending and receiving wireless signals that could slow down my Android TV’s wireless speed.
It gets worse. From the desk in my home where I’m writing this, I can see nine different wireless networks that I could connect to. Imagine how many devices are connecting to those as well.
That’s where a wireless analyzer like NetSpot for Android comes in.
I used to be a big fan of WiFi Analyzer by Farproc. It was simple and great for home users. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since 2018 and it appears that the developer has moved on.
NetSpot is an Android port of their popular Windows\Mac application. It’s geared more towards ‘prosumer’ customers, but still has a few great features for beginners as well.
What I like best is graphs that show how much traffic is on each wireless channel.
For example, in the image above on the right, you can see a lot of network congestion on WiFi channels 1-6 as well as channels 10 & 11. By contrast, channels 8 and 9 are wide open. You could make a quick change and increase your network speed based on this.
NetSpot also has useful tools like a built in speed tester and network strength analyzer. It’s a great suite of tools that you can use to keep your network running as fast as possible.
Best Alternative App Store: Aptoide TV
One of the biggest complaints about Android TV is that there just aren’t a lot of apps available in the Google Play Store. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great apps available. You just need to know where to look.
Aptoide TV is an alternative app store for both stock Android and Android TV devices. With over 750,000 different apps to choose from, if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the Google Play Store, it’ll be on Aptoide TV.
You will need to to go through a few extra steps to sideload the app on your Android TV device, but it’s well worth it. When you’re ready to install Aptoide TV, I have an article that takes you through the process step-by-step.
Once installed, Aptoide TV is extremely intuitive to use. The main menu, which runs along the left-hand side, has a section for featured apps that you can Discover, as well as different categories of apps to browse through.
Aptoide TV is always one of the first apps I install on every new Android TV device because a lot of my favorite apps you can only find here. If you’re getting tired of seeing the same apps on the Google Play Store, give Aptoide a try. You’ll be glad you did.
Best File Transfer App: Send Files To TV
I love apps that do one thing and do it very well. The Send Files To TV app is by far the easiest way to send files from your smartphone, PC or Mac to your Android TV.
Send Files to TV needs to be installed on both the sending device and the receiving device. They also need to be on the same network. Beyond that, you can transfer any file type and any size.
All you need to do is start Send Files To TV on the sending device and navigate to the app you want to send. Once you select it, hop over to the receiving device and open the app there as well. Once you click Receive, the transfer should begin.
That’s all there is to it. If you don’t want to install a specific app to download APK’s on your Android TV, you can always download them on another device and use this app to send them to your TV.
You’ll still need a file explorer to install it, which is where our next app comes in.
Best File Manager: X-plore File Manager
To be honest, there are a few really good file managers for Android TV. FX File Explorer and Solid Explorer File Manager are both solid choices (pun intended), but my vote goes to X-plore File Manager.
I recently did a comparison review of seven file managers available on both the Google Play Store and Aptoide TV. It’s got a ton of detail and screenshots for each app, so I highly recommend you check it out.
I’ll link to it below so you can go there after you finish this article. We’ll touch on a few of X-plore’s highlights here though.
As you can see from the image above, X-plore has a split-screen layout. You can navigate to a folder on each side of the screen and copy\move files quickly between them.
X-plore is the easiest way I’ve found to transfer files between external storage and cloud storage. For example, SD cards, external hard drives and USB flash drives, as well as network attached storage drives (NAS).
In fact, I was really impressed how easy it was to add the NAS hard drive on my Windows network.
ES-File Explorer was removed from the Google Play Store for violating their terms & conditions,. So now’s a great time to look at upgrading your Android TV file explorer. Check out my massive review for more details.
Best VPN for Android TV: IPVanish
If you’ve been following this site or my old one (see my About page for details), you’ll probably have heard me singing the praises of NordVPN.
NordVPN used to be my favorite VPN service until they were hacked in 2018. Getting hacked is bad enough, but what turned me off NordVPN was their response to it. They kept it secret for months until it leaked to the public.
I cancelled NordVPN right away and started looking for another VPN service.
After a lot of research and talking to several experts, eventually, I found IPVanish.
No VPN service is perfect. I always say if a government agency really wants to see what you’re doing online, they’re going to be able to.
The best VPN is just going to make it harder for hackers, thieves and companies wanting to sell your data to get it.
IPVanish makes it really easy for new users to connect to a VPN in just one click. They’ve also got a lot of features and options that experienced users can really customize their experience to get more security.
I highly recommend you check out my review of the IPVanish app for Android TV. It goes into a lot of detail about every setting and even offers my suggestions so you can get set up and running quickly.