Want to try new features in Android apps before anyone else? Here's how to find, download and use beta apps on your phone

If you like to be at the cutting edge of technology and want to get your hands on apps for your Android phone before anyone else, here is how to find them and install them. It’s great fun!

What is a beta app?

Developing software is a difficult process that takes a long time, a lot of effort, and often whole teams of people. Unless you have tried it, you probably won’t appreciate how hard it can be.

After weeks and frequently months of work, an app might seem ready for public release, but one question remains, does it have obscure bugs in that might cause problems when the app gets into the hands of the public?

For this reason, apps are often released to a small number of people as a beta. This is basically a test version of the app that is designed to find any bugs and also to get people’s reaction to it.

Where to get beta apps

You may not have realised it, but there are beta versions of apps in the Google Play Store. You can download and install these betas and so get access to new features before the rest of the public.

One way to find beta apps in the store is to simply search for ‘beta’. It's obvious when you know how! Quite a few apps are listed. I cannot give a definitive list of beta apps because sooner or later apps are publicly released and lose their beta status. Also new beta apps are added to the store, so it is a constantly changing list.

 Find beta apps in the Google Play Store Facebook beta in the Google Play Store

Beta apps to try

Sometimes beta apps completely replace the standard app and you can have one or the other. In certain cases though, such as web browsers, it is possible to have both the standard app and the beta. This is not always the case and sometimes you have to uninstall the standard app and install the beta.

Some apps are permanently betas and this is because they are under constant development. Chrome for example, is updated every couple of months and there is always a beta version you can try. This enables you to see new features before other people.

There is another version of Chrome (three in total) that is even more beta, in fact, it is more like an alpha and it is called Chrome Canary. Its full title is actually Chrome Canary (Unstable) and there is a ‘WARNING: EXPERIMENTAL’ message on the Google Play Store page. This is where Google tries out new features and it can be exciting to see new stuff, but you may find it sometimes crashes.

 Chrome Canary in the Google Play store SwiftKey beta in the Google Play Store

Chrome betas install as separate apps, so you can choose to run the standard Chrome, the beta or Canary version. The beta and Canary versions update like regular apps too.

There is a Firefox for Android beta for those that want an alternative browser on their Android phone. Maybe you are an Opera fan and if so, there is a beta version in the store you might like.

SwiftKey is a popular alternative keyboard that has some some people prefer. To see new and unreleased features, customisations and themes, get SwiftKey beta. It does not replace the standard app and instead, it installs as a separate keyboard and can be selected in the usual way. This enables you to switch between the standard and beta whenever you want.

The Facebook app updates every couple of weeks and the company rarely says what is new. You are left to discover this for yourself. Get the Facebook (Beta) app and you will see new features before everyone else.

Beta problems

If you install lots of beta apps on your phone, you are filling it with experimental software that may have bugs in! This might make it slightly less stable, so be aware that there is a price to pay for being at the forefront of app development.

Beware of dodgy apps. Some apps look like they are betas, but are not from the the official developer. For example, Beta Update for Whatsapp just checks for new versions of WhatsApp and it is not a WhatsApp beta from WhatsApp Inc.