Ask LH: Can I Buy Android Apps Without An Android Phone?

Dear Lifehacker, My mobile phone contract expires in a few months and I'm planning on upgrading to a phone running Android. I was wondering if there is any way to take advantage of the Android app deals you post without already having an Android phone. I'm wondering if there is any way around the "There are no Android phones associated with this account" problem on the Android Market? Thanks, Anticipating Android

Dear AA,

This is a tricky one. As you note, if you don't have an Android handset associated with your account, the Android Market (or, as we now apparently have to call it, Google Play) doesn't let you buy or download apps. I can't think of a really easy way around this (if readers know different, please advise), but there are a couple of out-there suggestions.

Use someone else's phone. Google keeps track of every device you've ever used with your account, whether or not it is currently active. My own account lists dozens of phones that I have tested, even though I have performed a factory restore on most of them and then returned them to the manufacturer. What this means in practice is that if you can persuade a friend with an Android device to let you set up your account on their temporarily (before wiping the device and then putting their details back in), you'll have an option. You'll need a generous-minded friend, especially if they've done a lot of customisation, but it's a possibility.

Buy a cheap prepaid handset. As we've mentioned before, one of the advantages of Android is that there are very cheap handsets out there. You can easily get a device for under $100 before your contract expires. You'd have to save an awful lot on apps to make that a worthwhile move, but if you're happy to pass that handset on to a friend or relative once you do shift, it's a possible strategy.

That said, I'd just wait. App deals constantly appear and recur; you might miss some now, but there'll always be other options. And since a huge proportion of the Android app space is free apps anyway, you'll have plenty of app choices without needing to break the bank.

Cheers Lifehacker

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.


    Paying $100 just to get some cheap apps seems a little excessive doesn't it? You'll not save anywhere near that much even if you purchased all the apps on sale.

    Does the Android emulators allow you to hook them up to a google account? What about the VM images of Android?

    Sony's upcoming Android Walkman would be one way to get Android apps without those pesky phone calls. Or, you know, a tablet.

    The problem with buying a cheap device or using someone else's phone is that a lot of the apps are marked as "Not compatible with this phone" so you can't download them on the cheaper phones (like my Nexus One) anyway.

    So a lot of the HD games I wanted to buy during the 10 billion sale I couldn't buy on my Nexus One, even though I plan to get an S3 when it comes out.

    How about using the android emulator in the sdk? I haven't tried, but maybe you could register an instance of that?

      The emulator doesn't include closed source Google Apps, such as the Market (or, er, "play") which is needed to register an account, so this won't work. There may be some hackish methods to get the Market onto the emulator, but I haven't looked into that.

    First, a cheap droid phone might not be good enough for the app you want to buy.
    There is a reuirement that the phone has to be compatible as well, which might be tricky with a newer game.

    Second, on my phone it is fairly easy to add a second or third google account. i don't understandy why this could be useful, but in this case it's useful.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now