Updated March 2021
So, you have decided to cut the cable cord and move to streaming. You have invested in the latest Android TV box because you’ve been told you can get all the same great content at a fraction of the cost. But where is it all?
A TV box generally comes as a “blank slate” piece of hardware, and it is up to you to populate it with the content you want.
There are many ways to do this, but by far the easiest and safest is to download some of the amazing apps made specifically for Android TV. You can download them directly to your Android TV box from the Google Play Store.
Of course, there are literally millions of apps in the Google PlayStore, so how do you know which ones are best? Worry not, I have come up with a list of the essential must-have apps for Android TV in 2021.
I’ve included apps that will unlock the best streaming content (including free and paid-for premium content) but also apps that provide essential services such as VPN and malware protection.
Long story short, with these apps, never again will you say:
“All these channels and there’s nothing on TV.”
Best Android TV Box Apps
(plans start at $8.99 per month)
Netflix is the 800-pound gorilla in streaming video. There are over 200 million subscribers in 190 countries. Seriously, is there anyone who hasn’t at least heard of Netflix?
What started out as a DVD rental service has moved to embrace streaming media. For around $9 per month (or $11 for HD), you have access to thousands of movies and TV shows. If you’ve got a device they’ve certified for 4K, you can access their growing library of 4K/UHD content for $18 per month. The library varies depending on where you live, of course.
But if you’re looking for the most content that people actually want to watch and original content like The Queen’s Gambit, Bridgerton, and The Haunting of Bly Manor, then Netflix is an easy choice to start off this list.
Amazon Prime Video
($119 per year or $9.90 per month)
Would you believe that Amazon Prime Video actually has more subscribers in the U.S. than Netflix does?
It’s true. Amazon actually has almost 20 million more subscribers in the U.S. than Netflix. I’m not saying you should ditch your Netflix subscription and go full Prime on me. But, these two best streaming services complement each other well. Amazon has great original content like Homecoming, The Boys, and Sneaky Pete, as well as over 40,000 movies and TV shows.
The Amazon Prime subscription costs $119 for the entire year, which works out to be about $9.90 per month. But you also get commercial-free music streaming and free two-day shipping on any Amazon Prime items.
Plans start at $5.99 per month for Hulu and $64.99 per month plus Live TV.
Continuing our countdown of the must-have premium TV services, don’t forget about Hulu.
They are a much smaller operation, with only about 4 million subscribers, but they have some of the best streaming content available.
They have great original content such as The Handmaid’s Tale and The Great, as well as a very good back catalog selection, including popular shows such as Firefly, Parks and Recreation, and Fargo. Overall, there are about 1,650 shows and 2,500 movies.
But one of the best things about Hulu is that you can extend your subscription to get live TV access. This includes all of the major cable channels such as Disney, ESPN, and other sports channels, FX, and more. You also get local channels including NBC, FOX, CBS, and ABC. You can also pay extra for premium channels such as HBO.
Basically, Hulu can be a one-stop-shop for most of your viewing needs.
(Plans start at $30 per month)
Live TV: It’s usually the first casualty for a cord-cutter, but there is a solution. Oddly enough, it comes from one of the big satellite companies: Dish Network. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but a satellite company is trying to kill off cable TV.
The thing is, I think they’ve gotten it right this time. What I like about Sling TV is that the same service will let you stream television to any device, even if you’re not at home.
As long as your IP address is on any network in the U.S., you can access Sling TV. If you’re outside the U.S., this may be a good time to get a VPN for Android boxes.
For plans starting at $30 a month, Sling TV gives you access to some of the biggest networks like ESPN, Disney Channel, CNN, USA, and SyFy.
Some areas also throw in access to local stations of NBC and FOX. Sling TV is available on all of your major streaming devices, like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, Xbox, and Android TV, as well as on your Android and Apple devices.
Get A Free 7-Day Trial At Sling.com
If you’re one of those people who get your news from someplace other than Facebook, then you should look at Haystack TV.
Haystack TV will show streaming news feeds from stations around the U.S. and the world, according to your individual preferences. If you don’t ever want to hear anything else about Kanye West, then you can simply mute him on your news feed. Personally, I wouldn’t blame you at all. But, if he ever did anything major and important that affected the world as a whole, then
Haystack TV is smart enough to override your preference and show you that news anyway. But, for this example, I think you’re pretty safe with your “Kanye Ban.”
The idea behind Haystack TV is that you can quickly digest the major news stories from several different perspectives, without having to sit through an entire broadcast of the “talking heads.”
Get Haystack TV At The Google PlayStore
Admit it, you just heard the ESPN theme in your head. 🙂
If you like sports –and who doesn’t –then you’re probably checked out the highlights on SportsCenter or ESPN.com at least once a day. The WatchESPN app can let you access short video content and highlights on your mobile device or HD TV, as well as the live scores ticker along the bottom of the screen.
If you’re still a cable TV subscriber, then you can access live content from every ESPN network here as well. Even if you’re a cord-cutter, you may still be able to access live content using your login from your internet provider, although this is less likely.
Special bonus: If you’re already a subscriber to Sling TV (see above), you can get full access to WatchESPN using your Sling login.
Download The Watch ESPN App From The Google PlayStore
($6.99 / month or $69.99 / year)
BritBox gives you access to a massive streaming collection of British TV and films from BBC and ITV, all for the cost of a super-fancy latte and all in one fuss-free place.
In case you’d like to try BritBox before you invest, you can enjoy a free 7-day trial to see whether you like the app and the content. If you’re an Amazon subscriber, you can check out the free trial there.
Before you sign up, check with the service to see if it is compatible with your TV box. It works well with actual Android TV boxes, but it isn’t compatible with similar devices like the NVIDIA shield, Mi Box, and Razer Forge TV.
(Free and paid versions)
Whether you’re a gamer who wants to watch live gameplay or you’d like to watch IRL or Esports broadcasts via Android TV, Twitch is one of the best apps for the job.
While Twitch is a free service that supports itself by inserting ads into the livestreams, Amazon Prime and Prime Video subscribers can get instant access to Twitch Prime, which offers ad-free viewing on one channel of your choice, expanded chat capabilities, and some free games. You have to keep the channel you chose for 30 days, after which you can switch to a different ad-free channel if you’d like.
If you want a completely ad-free experience (with the exception of content added by channel hosts), then you can subscribe at rates starting from $4.99 per month. Since some Twitch broadcasters add extras for paid subscribers, you’ll probably have more fun with this app if you opt into a paid version.
In case you don’t mind front-page takeovers, but you’d rather enjoy ad-free viewing all across Twitch, you’ll want to look into Twitch Turbo, which is $8.99 per month.
(Free and paid options, starting from $9.99/month)
Get access to old favorites and the newest indie music with the Android TV Spotify app. You’ll need a Spotify account to get started – either the free version or your premium paid subscription.
Once you’ve downloaded the app to your TV box, you’ll be ready to listen.
Every subscriber has access to streaming music and podcasts, and those with paid subscriptions can also access the live radio stations. There are no time limits on either version, so you can enjoy all the music you want.
It’s worth noting that, like many free streaming services, Spotify supports itself with advertising. If you can’t stand the idea of ads, go with the premium version, which is $9.99/month for individuals and $14.99/month for a family plan with six separate accounts.
ES File Explorer
You’re going to need some sort of file manager for your Android TV box, and ES File Explorer is by far the best.
ES File Explorer will let you connect your cloud storage accounts, like DropBox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive on Box.net directly to your Android TV box so you can browse their content and share files seamlessly between devices. You can also use it as a task killer and app manager too.
This is always the very first app for Android TV box that I install on my new devices. I consider it a “must-have” for users of any experience level.
Over 300 million people have downloaded the app. They might be onto something …
Are you happy with your Wi-Fi signal strength? Are your shows and movies buffering fast enough that your viewing is never interrupted?
If not, it may not be your router’s fault. If you live in an apartment, your router may be competing with your neighbor’s router.
As “the Internet of Things” becomes more popular, the number of devices that are throwing out Wi-Fi signals is growing exponentially, and in 2020, it is estimated that there were already 50 billion connected devices in the world.
WiFi Analyzer is a powerfully simple app that helps you optimize your router’s Wi-Fi connection.
In my apartment, I found a tide of 15 different Wi-Fi signals that were competing for the same space. Several of them were overlapping each other. With this app, I was able to quickly figure out which router channel had the least interferences and made that change on my router.
In less than five minutes, I was able to improve my internet signal, not just on my TV box but on every device in my home.
(Free version/$14.99 per month for 10 devices)
When my work PC starts a virus scan, it slows my system to a crawl and takes forever to complete.
I want my Android virus protection app to do its job and stay out of my way. That’s what makes BitDefender my go-to internet security program, not only for my Android TV box but for my PC and smartphone as well.
There are two main versions of BitDefender: The free BitDefender Antivirus app, which covers one device, and BitDefender Total Security, which is a premium program that covers 10 devices and provides more security features like On Install Scanning, Privacy Adviser, and alerts for malware and phishing attacks.
Maybe you decide that you aren’t a fan of BitDefender, but don’t let that be an excuse not to properly protect your Android TV box from viruses and malware.
Lots of the biggest names in antivirus technology offer solutions for Android TV. These include:
They all offer packages to cover all of your online devices, with specific apps designed and optimized to work with Android TV.
Read our review of the best antivirus software options for Android TV here.
I’m willing to bet you’ve heard about Kodi, but just in case you haven’t: Kodi (formerly XMBC) is an open-source media player that lets you play any of your local content on Android, Windows, or Linux devices.
The real power of Kodi is that it lets you install addons and plugins that improve its functionality.
Some of these addons are created by the official Team Kodi developers, but most are contributed by regular people, just like you and me – only with better programming skills. You can use the addons to get access to free content from CNET, the Food Network, CBC, G4, and more.
(Free or $4.99 per month or $119.99 for a lifetime subscription to Plex Pass)
If you’d prefer to have access to all of your media no matter where you are, then you’ll want to dive into Plex.
Plex is a media center that started as a Kodi variant but has since morphed into something even bigger. If you’re curious about the differences between Kodi and Plex, check out this article.
At the heart of Plex is the idea that you should be able to watch your stuff anywhere you are in the world.
But what if you’re just going to stay in your own living room? Plex makes it easy to enjoy the content on multiple devices from your TV box or PC all the way down to your smartphone and tablet, and all without needing to have separate versions of the movie at different quality levels. Plex handles the work of optimizing the file for each device.
Plex also offers a premium version with lots of extra features. Read our review of why you should upgrade to this premium version.
Learn More At Plex.tv
Mobdro searches the internet for free streaming content and delivers it to your Android TV box.
This app isn’t perfect (we’ll get to that in a minute), but it does let you watch TV shows, movies, and other content without a cable connection. It also gives you access to sports, music, games, and other streaming content.
The main menu features a simple UI with gateways to channels, news, shows, movies, sports, music, gaming, podcasts, and more. There’s even a section devoted to animals.
Now for the “cons.” Like many other free apps for Android TV, Mobdro can feel troublesome at times. It lags now and then, and it has a tendency to update on its own, which will bother you if you prefer to update manually.
Because everything you watch on Mobdro is live streaming, there isn’t an episode menu. You can get around this by pretending you’re watching old-fashioned TV and choosing a channel where you’ll be able to see what’s on.
Last but not least, different users have different experiences with this app. Some find that it works well, while others end up deleting it. Some mention that it works better with an ad blocker like Blokada. We recommend giving it a try – particularly if you want to watch TV online for free. It’s worth a shot!
Want to block all of the ads on all of your Android TV apps? Blokada is one of the best tools for the job.
If you’re not using this app, now is a great time to check it out. It’s free, open-source, and secure. It blocks annoying ads, trackers, and malware, plus it protects your privacy and helps your device work more efficiently.
Without getting too technical, here’s a little more info about how Blokada works: It creates a local VPN that efficiently blocks requests submitted to domains in its lists of blacklisted URLs. You can use the app’s menu to whitelist specific apps and domains that are automatically blacklisted, plus you can choose from different lists of URLs to block depending on the level of privacy you’d like.
While Blokada is free to use, the developers do accept donations as well as input from volunteers who help keep the project up and running.
($72 per year to cover all of your devices)
It’s a very good idea to invest in a VPN for your Android TV box. It helps to protect your identity and online security against hackers who want your Netflix password or internet providers who want to jack up your rates when they see you’re a streamer.
A VPN can also protect your identity if you do choose to access pirated content and allow you to access content that is geo-fenced. So, yes, you can watch that amazing new British comedy currently only available in the UK.
If you want more information on Android TV boxes and VPN check out our article: Why Use a VPN For Android TV Boxes.
While there are a lot of decent VPN services out there, I recommend CyberGhost VPN as our top pick. You can read our full review here.
I recommend CyberGhost VPN because it is affordable, powerful, and easy to use. It has a dedicated Android TV app you can download directly to your box and use intuitively. It won’t majorly reduce your internet speeds, so you can still stream all your favorite content without any buffering delays.
Other VPN Services
If you don’t decide to go with CyberGhost VPN, hopefully, we have convinced you that you need some kind of VPN service to protect your privacy while streaming, not to mention unblock geofenced content.
There are lots of VPN services out there that have applications designed specifically to work with Android TV. Most services will let you cover at least half a dozen of your devices with a single subscription.
As well as CyberGhost, we recommend:
These are all great services that will cover your Android TV box; it is just a matter of choosing the one that has the right features and price point for you.
You can read our review of the best VPN services for Android TV and what to look for here.
While all the apps we have listed above can be downloaded from the Google PlayStore directly to your Android TV box, that is not true for everyone.
Depending on where you are in the world, you might have restricted access to certain of the apps available in the PlayStore.
Also, if you are using an Amazon Fire device, you can’t download from the PlayStore. Instead, you are forced to download from Amazon’s app store, which has a much more limited selection of apps available.
There are also some apps out there that you might want for your Android TV but which haven’t been approved for distribution by the app store.
So, what do you do if you want these apps? Download Aptoide to your device.
Aptoide is a third-party app store that lets you download apps that aren’t available to you via the Google PlayStore (or Amazon app store).
The downloads from the store are safe as long as you use common sense and check user reviews before installing them on your device.
You can read our complete guide to the Aptoide app store here.
What Is The Best Free TV App For Android?
There are a lot of apps out there that allow you to stream TV for free to your Android TV box. But with all free TV streaming apps, you will be limited in what content is available or you will need to compromise in terms of legality. If you want a 100% legal way of accessing the most popular TV channels, consider investing a little in a subscription service such as Sling TV.
What Is The Best App To Watch Movies On Android TV Box?
If you are looking for an app to flawlessly watch movies from your own collection, then Plex is probably the best option on the market. If you are looking for access to a library of movies, then Netflix and Amazon Prime have the biggest collections of movies legally available for streaming and are reasonably priced.
If you are looking for free access to the latest movies, there are a variety of apps out there that will help you do this. Investing in Kodi is a good place to start. This is a free media center that can be used to organize and watch content from pretty much anywhere. Many within the community have developed third-party addons that can unlock restricted content.
When streaming in this way, remember to protect your privacy with a VPN, and at least be aware of relevant piracy laws and the risks they pose.
Can You Watch Normal TV On Android TV Box?
Yes, you can watch normal TV on an Android TV box, but you will need to download and subscribe to the relevant service. Many TV channels now offer access to their content via apps that can be downloaded from the Google PlayStore.
You can probably expect channels that are normally free to watch to provide their content free of charge. Meanwhile, for premium channels, you usually need a cable subscription to access and these providers will probably charge for the majority of their channels.
If you want to get a selection of channels rather than subscribe to channels individually, then try a subscription package like Sling TV. It works much like a cable package in that you get access to a selection of channels for a single monthly free. But Sling TV is cheaper than your average cable subscription and is also flexible. You can access your Sling TV account and watch content on any of your devices, anywhere.
How Can I Use Netflix For Free?
Netflix is a premium streaming service, so they charge for access to their content to cover costs, invest in developing their original programming, and, of course, make a profit. You can get free access to Netflix for a limited period of time through free trials and other promotions that come up periodically.
You can also minimize the cost of Netflix by grouping together with friends and family to pay for a subscription and sharing passwords. Up to five people can use the same account at the same time.
Is There A Monthly Fee For Android TV?
No, there is no monthly fee for Android TV, which is a piece of hardware, a TV box, and an operating system. But Android TV boxes do not come with content already loaded – it is up to you to download applications to allow you to access your desired content, just like you do with your Android smartphone.
While there are many apps for Android TV out there that will let you access quality content for free, if you want to access premium content such as the latest movies and shows, you will probably need to subscribe to a premium streaming service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. These come with associated monthly fees that will need to be paid in order to access this content on your Android TV box.
What Free Online Movie Sites Are Safe?
There are many free sites where you can watch movies completely free and which are safe in terms of only providing legal content. Among the best are Crackle and the Internet Archive. But bear in mind you will be relatively limited in your selection of movies, as they will generally only be able to show films that are in the public domain. You won’t find any of the latest blockbusters here.
Switching from cable to a TV box is all about liberation. Rather than paying a packet for a subscription and then only watching 2% of the content available, you decide what content you want and make that available for yourself.
Yes, this means setting up an Android TV box takes a bit more work than signing up for a cable subscription. You need to decide what it is you want and then track it down.
But this process itself can be very rewarding. You will be amazed at what you can do with your Android TV box and what content you can get completely free or for a fraction of the cost of your cable subscription. There are more articles about android TV boxes here.
If you are unsure where to start, then start with my list of the best apps for Android TV boxes.
They include everything you need to protect yourself and get the best performance out of your box, plus there is more than enough content, so you will never find yourself saying “there’s nothing to watch.”
Do you have any killer Android TV box apps that I’ve missed? Tell me why you love them in the comments below!