It was frustrating, but I finally got my $50 Fire Tablet to do what I always wanted. (Getting this cool Zagg Android Keyboard helped immensely in terms of motivation; once the Fire appeared more like a tiny laptop I immediately felt a need to help it more in becoming productive.)
Now, for $50 Fire tablet users, the biggest change you can make if your Fire tablet hasn’t hit Fire OS 126.96.36.199 or whatever update it was a month ago is to root it and/or replace it with CyanogenMod (now LineageOS). But a year in, the most I had done was install the Google Play Store so I could download apps, and now my Google Apps wanted a fight with me.
There were a couple of options before me as Google Play demanded a secondary email address and password that no longer existed, locking me out of my Google services on my carefully modded little tablet.
- Bow to them, restore the deleted email address, swear my allegiance, apologize to Google and never violate their wishes again.
- Factory reset (without boot authority thanks to the Fire update) and hope that I could sideload Google Play Services again, with the possibility that I wouldn’t have to worry about the secondary email address a second time around.
- Throw my Fire tablet out the window and buy a cheap Android tablet. (This violates a long-held and ancient family rule of tech: never throw away working tech if you can still repurpose it.)
So obviously, I went with Option #2. And so the factory reset took place, and I scowled at the tablet as I tried to figure out what exactly I did with the Google services that would require me to suffer this. After all, all of my apps came from the Google Play Store, right?
WRONG. The Google Play Store isn’t the source of the apps. It’s basically a store of apps. Like any good Linux distro, the Google Play Store is nothing more than a large repository. And a very controlling repository that makes sure that if you don’t have its services, you aren’t getting the .apk files (that is, your app files.)
With this in mind, I began to wonder if there was already an installer in the Amazon App Store or online I could use instead... and there was. So now that I had the App Installer, all I needed was to download some apps, right? For some reason, everyone said “sideload” the apps. And sideloading (downloading files to your computer and copying them via USB cable) was too much work.
Enter an alternate browser. Of course, I wanted to start with the Brave browser, but no luck there. So I had to try to download with the Silk Browser, which seems to be problematic for downloading .apk’s (Amazon says that this is for user safety, and I have no reason to doubt them, but I am not a typical safe user.) So it just happens that there is this one browser which has its .apk right on its website without advertising. (It starts with something that rhymes with “ire” and ends with an animal that rhymes with “ox”.) And lo and behold, as soon as I got it, downloading .apk files from alternate repositories was a snap.
All this left me deficient from was Google Hangouts, which left only one person I really talk to on it. So I called him on the phone, and he basically agreed that maybe going back to email wasn’t such a horrible idea after all, since he wasn’t a Messenger fan. (I made sure not to install the bloatware that is the Facebook app.)
Outside of some oddities (Zoho Docs works fine but opens up asking for Google Play services for some reason) I now have a Fire tablet that has the world of apps open to it, and is outside the Google ecosystem. With the keyboard where it is and all the services I want working just fine, I have to say: not bad for $50.