We previously detailed our experiences setting up a phone with LineageOS as an alternative to the popular versions of Android that come bundled with most phones by default. We also set it up with some apps, primarily through the open-source repository F-Droid.
The Aurora Store is an alternative to F-Droid, enabling you to install apps and keep them up to date. Unlike F-Droid, the Aurora Store is not limited to open-source apps and includes apps like WhatsApp and Twitter. Aurora lets you install any app hosted in the Google Play Store, even when you do not have the Google Play Store installed on your phone. This means you can download apps anonymously without logging in to your Google account, and may even be able to install apps only intended to be installed outside your region.
The Aurora Store is an attractive alternative to Google Play, but note that if you are very security-conscious or rely on your phone for sensitive work, it may be better to avoid installing the Aurora Store or any of the apps that come through it.
Installing the Aurora Store on your phone
Although Aurora is a software repository itself and an alternative to F-Droid, we can also use F-Droid to install it and keep it up to date. When setting up the Aurora Store, we can decide to use it anonymously or with a Google account. Note that, as the Aurora Store contravenes the terms of service of the Google Play Store, you do run the risk of your Google account being terminated.
For paid apps already purchased through our Google account, however, we might not have an option other than to log in. Luckily you won’t have to log in for all apps, you can choose to only log in to download apps you purchased, and to download free apps anonymously.
Installing apps through the Aurora Store
Installing apps through the Aurora Store is similar to using Google Play or F-Droid. At the first download, we will have to give the Aurora Store permission to install apps on our phone.
As our phone does not have Google Play services enabled, some apps might not function, or might not function properly. For instance you’ll receive a warning when installing the messaging app Signal, although the app is working for us fine so far.
Risks of the Aurora Store
As the Aurora Store acts as a “man-in-the-middle” for all software downloaded through it, there is the possibility that apps could be modified by the Aurora Store. This is a general risk that exists with all app stores, including Google Play. When we download software from repositories, we rely on the integrity of these repositories. Ideally there would be some independent verification such as electronic signatures, but such a mechanism is not easily verifiable on Android in its current form.
Overall, having the Aurora Store as an option to obtain closed-source apps—rather than bugging a smartphone with Google Play services—may feel like an appropriate tradeoff to many.