So, you've bought an Android TV device. Congratulations! But now what?
A few apps—like YouTube and Netflix—might come pre-installed. For the rest, it's up to you. For the best experience, you need a mix of videos, music, productivity, and system apps.
With that in mind, here are the essential Android TV apps you need to install right away.
1. MX Player
MX Player has long been considered one of the best video players on Android. Its qualities comfortably translate onto the larger screen.
The app can play a vast number of codecs and supports subtitle files. The interface is smooth and easy to use.
MX Player can also read both locally saved files and content from external drives, making it an excellent companion for anyone whose Android TV device has USB ports.
Download: MX Player (Free)
2. Sideload Launcher
The Google Play Store on Android TV is a slimmed-down version of the smartphone version. Some apps are not Android TV-compatible, so there aren't as many to choose from. However, the operating system is capable of running any Android app, making sideloading apps on Android TV a popular activity.
But there's an issue. Apps that you sideload will not show up on your device's home screen or list of apps. The only native way to access them is via the Settings menu. Thus, the solution is to install a third-party app. Sideload Launcher is the easiest one to use. When you open it, you'll see a list of all your sideloaded apps.
Check out our article about how to manage sideloaded apps on Android TV to learn more.
Download: Sideload Launcher (Free)
This one is a no-brainer. Netflix might come pre-installed on your device. If it doesn't, grab the app.
A Netflix subscription will give you access to thousands of TV movies and shows. It's an essential service for anyone who wants to cut the cord.
Download: Netflix (Free)
Another no-brainer. If you have an extensive personal collection of digital movies and TV shows, Plex is the best solution for casting them around all the screens and devices in your home.
In addition to its beautiful libraries, Plex can also automatically download subtitle files, metadata, movie artwork, viewer ratings, and more.
As long as you don't want to watch your content remotely, Plex is entirely free to use.
Download: Plex (Free)
Android TV devices natively support Google Cast. This means you can cast content from Android smartphones and other Google products such as the Chrome browser and Chromebooks straight to your TV screen.
Apple's AirPlay is not supported. If you have an Apple device, one of the best apps you can install is AirScreen. It will let you mirror your iPhone or iPad screen on your Android TV box.
The app also works with the Google Cast, Miracast, and DLNA protocols.
Download: AirScreen (Free)
6. X-plore File Manager
It's always useful to keep a file manager installed on your device, but if you're planning to sideload apps, it's essential.
We are blessed with a good selection of file managers for Android TV. In our roundup, we recommended X-plore File Manager, Total Commander, TvExplorer, and AnExplorer File Manager.
From a sideloading perspective, we recommend X-plore File Manager. It uses a dual-pane approach, which makes it easy to transfer an APK file from a USB stick to your device's hard drive.
Download: X-plore File Manager (Free)
7. Google Drive
If you want to access your computer's files on your Android TV device, Google Drive offers the best solution.
Unfortunately, Google Drive is not available on the Google Play Store for Android TV. You will need to sideload the app. Make sure you've got X-plore File Manager installed before you try to install the app's APK file.
Download: Google Drive (Free)
If you don't have any of your own digital content, you can argue Kodi is a better choice than Plex.
The app has an almost endless number of add-ons that can provide access to on-demand videos, live TV, weather updates, the news, productivity tools, and a whole lot more besides.
Download: Kodi (Free)
9. Wake on LAN
Wake on LAN is the only Android TV app that can wake up your computer remotely.
It's a vital feature if you do a lot of local streaming using Plex or Kodi. If the computer on which you run the Plex or Kodi server goes to sleep, the Wake on LAN app can force it to wake up so you can start streaming content again.
Download: Wake on LAN (Free)
10. Steam Link
In 2018, Steam finally launched its Android TV app, Steam Link.
The app allows you to stream your Steam games directly onto any Android device. You can finally play all your PC games on your TV without worrying about moving your computer and a fiddly HDMI cable.
Download: Steam Link (Free)
Cable TV music channels are annoying and full of ads. And the musical experience on YouTube isn't much better unless you pay for YouTube Premium.
Spotify is the answer. Other music services with a dedicated Android TV app include Pandora and Google Play Music.
Download: Spotify (Free)
12. Google Chrome
Oddly, Google Chrome does not come pre-installed on Android TV devices. There's not even an Android TV version of the app.
Despite the lack of a store version of Chrome, you don't need to sideload it. If you head to Chrome's listing in the Google Play Store on the web, your Android TV box will be listed as a compatible device.
Download: Google Chrome (Free)
The cord-cutting revolution is showing no signs of slowing down. Users have been canceling their cable subscriptions en masse and migrating to à la carte live TV services.
One of the most popular cable-cutting services is Sling. Depending on which package you buy, you can enjoy AMC, CNN, ESPN, Disney, Comedy Central, NFL Network, and many more.
Download: Sling (Free)
If you want live TV and on-demand content all in one service (and you live in the US), the best service is Hulu + Live TV. The full package (with no ads) currently costs $65/month.
Away from the content, the app itself deserves credit. After a few years of development, it's now one of the best designed Android TV apps on the entire platform.
Download: Hulu (Free)
15. Network TV Apps
Almost all the most prominent TV channels in Europe and the United States now offer some form of Android TV app. You can catch up on new series, watch some of their older classics, and, in some cases, even tune into live TV.
Networks with an Android TV app include ESPN, FOX Sports, Comedy Central, FX, MTV, HGTV, The Travel Channel, The Food Network, ABC, Disney, HBO, Showtime, and Nickelodeon. Users in the UK can install BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub.
Note: Some of the apps require you to have a cable TV subscription.
16. YouTube TV
Another popular cord-cutting service is YouTube TV. Despite only launching in 2017, it has already racked up millions of subscribers.
YouTube has agreements in place with most of the big networks. That means you can watch channels such as CNN, Discovery, BBC News, FOX, ABC, CBS, ESPN, NBA TV, TNT, VH1, and more.
Download: YouTube TV (Free)
Kids watching too much TV has been a common theme of family life since televisions themselves entered American households during the 1950s.
However, given the number of channels now available, the problem is arguably worse than ever.
TVUsage is a parental control app for Android TV that lets you set screen time restrictions and monitor kids' viewing habits.
Download: TVUsage (Free, in-app purchases available)
18. Send Files to TV
Moving files from your computer or smartphone to your Android TV device is easier said than done; there is no native, user-friendly way to make it happen.
Send Files to TV is the answer. It lets you share movies, TV shows, and other files between your other devices and your Android TV box via your local network.
Download: Send Files to TV (Free, in-app purchases available)
19. Photo Gallery and Screensaver
Android TV's native screensaver settings are extremely basic. And these days, you can't even access your Google Photos library to turn it into a screensaver slideshow.
For a more feature-rich screensaver experience (which includes Google Photos integration), check out Photo Gallery and Screensaver. You can use Google Photos, Facebook, and Flickr as sources.
Download: Photo Gallery and Screensaver (Free, in-app purchases available)
20. Haystack News
Live news has often been cited as one of the pitfalls of cord-cutting. In truth, that's no longer the case. You can find 24-hour news channels on all the live TV apps that we have mentioned here.
And even if you don't want to pay for a service, you still have options. One such option is Haystack News. It sources stories from all of the major news networks based on your preferences and viewing history.
Download: Haystack News (Free)
Android TV Is Right for Everyone
As this list shows, there are very few areas that aren't covered by an Android TV app.
In our opinion, the sheer breadth of available apps means that Android TV is right for everyone, even if you're not an Android smartphone user. There simply isn't a better cord-cutting solution on the market right now.
Want to watch free live TV on your Android TV device? Here are the best Android TV apps you can use to stream TV.