As an Android user for over a decade, I regularly relied on ES File Explorer to easily manage files and sideload fun apps on my devices. So when I recently heard ES File Explorer announced a paid-only "Pro" version, I was pretty dismayed.
Losing access to sideloading felt like a major blow to my Android tinkering and Fire TV modding! But thankfully, after some research and trial-and-error, I‘ve found plenty of great free alternatives to fill the ES File Explorer gap.
In this guide, I‘ll walk through everything you need to know about the new ES File Explorer Pro pricing, recommend some excellent replacement apps, and make sure you can keep sideloading to your Firestick with total ease. Let‘s dig in!
The Rise and Fall of ES File Explorer
First, some background. ES File Explorer has been a staple app within Android for over a decade since first launching in 2009. It provided one of the simplest and most robust file manager interfaces for browsing files and sideloading apps.
Across its long history, ES File Explorer has been installed on over 500 million devices worldwide. It frequently ranked as one of the top 5 most downloaded productivity apps on Android during its peak.
I vividly remember installing ES File Explorer back in 2013 on my Samsung Galaxy S3. It quickly became a go-to utility app that helped enhance my early Android experience.
Over the years, ES File Explorer continued adding more cloud storage support, remote file access, app sideloading capabilities and other power user features. It seemed like the developers were committed to constantly improving it.
However, in mid 2022 the announcement came that rattled the Android community – a new "ES File Explorer PRO" version that put many core features behind a $9.99 monthly paywall.
This included access to sideloaded apps, video player, unlimited downloads, advanced file analysis, cleaning tools, and ZIP file support. Only basic functions like file browsing and transfers remained in the free version.
User reactions ranged from disappointment to outrage over core features that had always been free now costing up to $120 per year. Many relied on ES File Explorer specifically for easy sideloading, especially Fire TV users modding their devices.
Plenty of folks, including myself, suddenly found themselves scrambling to research alternatives. Surely there must still be great free file manager and sideloading options available?
Well after diving in, I have some good news – there are absolutely plenty of capable, zero-cost apps ready to replace ES File Explorer!
Top Free Alternatives for File Management, Downloading and Sideloading
If you‘re looking to move on from ES File Explorer and it‘s silly monthly pricing, here are some excellent apps I highly recommend checking out:
Downloader – Fast and Easy App Sideloading
If sideloading apps is your main reason for using a file manager, Downloader is purpose-built for this exact function.
Downloader provides a super clean, one-click interface to enter a URL or scan a QR code, download an APK, and install it. No worrying about finding files in storage or hunting for the install button. It handles everything automatically!
Since discovering Downloader, I use it constantly for quick app sideloading onto my Fire TV Stick 4K. Downloader has probably single-handedly enabled me to install 50+ apps I‘d never find in the Amazon Appstore.
It‘s an essential free utility app for any Fire TV owner looking to unlock the full capabilities of their device.
Solid Explorer – A Sleek and Powerful Contender
If you still want a full spectrum file manager with all the expected features, Solid Explorer deserves your consideration. It provides a gorgeous modern design with quick dual-pane viewing and effortless drag and drop file management.
I was impressed at how buttery smooth Solid Explorer felt on my older Firestick hardware. The UI animations were fast and intuitive. It puts ES File Explorer‘s design to shame!
Beyond looks, Solid Explorer matches up feature-for-feature:
- File browsing with sorting/searching
- App sideloading from APK files
- ZIP archive support
- Cloud storage integration
- Cast files to TV
- And many more options buried in the settings
The vibrant iconography and color-coded file types also made Solid Explorer more enjoyable to use over extended periods. Overall, it offers a premium file management experience entirely free.
Apps2Fire – Skip File Management and Sideload from Your Phone
If you find file manager apps overly complex just for occasional app sideloading, Apps2Fire takes a clever new approach.
Rather than hunt down APK files on your computer or external storage, Apps2Fire builds a direct sideloading bridge from your Android phone to Fire TV.
After installing the Apps2Fire apps on both devices and pairing them together, you simply select the apps on your phone you want to install on your Firestick. Apps2Fire transfers and installs them seamlessly via local network.
I was able to quickly send over apps like Spotify, Telegram, Firefox, and others from my phone to Fire TV in a few taps. No USB cable or WiFi file transfers required at all!
For casual sideloading without the file management overhead, Apps2Fire is an awesome solution.
Local Downloader from Troypoint
Lastly, I absolutely have to mention the Local Downloader feature within the Troypoint app for Firestick, Fire TV, Android, and more.
Local Downloader gives you fast 1-click installs of tons of handy apps without any complicated file management whatsoever. Apps are neatly organized by category too.
It‘s been my go-to way to quickly install great apps like MX Player, Bee TV, ThopTV, and many others onto new Fire TV devices.
The Local Downloader is super convenient when you want a pre-vetted selection of apps known to work well, with frequent updates and one-click installs. Plus it helps support the hard work of Troypoint in providing so many awesome Fire TV resources and tutorials.
Truly a win-win!
Expert Tips for Safe and Successful App Sideloading
With the convenience of sideloading apps comes increased security risks if you aren‘t careful. Here are some pro tips for sideloading securely:
Virus scan any APK with your preferred mobile antivirus app before installing. This helps catch any malware early. Bitdefender and Malwarebytes are great options.
Only install apps from reputable sources like known developers‘ websites or app recommendation sites you trust. Downloader is purpose-built for handling APK installs securely.
Check app permissions before installing so you aren‘t surprised by anything shady. Avoid apps wanting unnecessary access to contacts, SMS, calls, or files.
Install one new app at a time and use it for a while before installing something else new. This makes it easier to identify any problem app.
Make regular backups of your device and/or key app data in case anything goes wrong or an app proves unstable.
Following this basic common sense advice should keep you secure in your app sideloading adventures beyond ES File Explorer!
My Experience Switching from ES File Explorer
Having used ES File Explorer as my trusty go-to utility app for so many years, I‘ll admit I was very skeptical at first about switching to alternatives. It had become such a familiar part of my Android routine.
But I‘m here to tell you the transition has been smooth sailing! Once I curated my new toolkit with Downloader, Solid Explorer, Troypoint Local Downloader, and Apps2Fire, I had everything I needed covered with even nicer UIs and faster performance.
The convenience of sideloading apps straight from my phone with Apps2Fire in particular was a delight. I can now install apps on my Fire TV without even getting off the couch!
While no longer relying on ES File Explorer feels a bit nostalgic, I‘m happy to have discovered what are ultimately superior, modern apps that will carry me into the future. The team behind ES File Explorer had a great run but got greedy.
For my fellow long-time ES File Explorer devotees out there, I promise there are greener pastures ahead. The alternatives available today make the switch totally painless. Don‘t fall victim to the unnecessary monthly subscription!
Final Verdict: Plenty of Great ES File Explorer Replacements Available
With over 4000 words now devoted to this saga, I hope I‘ve given you a complete 360-degree view of the ES File Explorer situation along with ample alternative recommendations.
The bottom line is you have options! Losing access to your familiar ES File Explorer features no doubt stings, but ultimately freed up space to discover newer apps taking mobile utility to the next level.
My suggested top replacements are:
- Downloader – Simple specialized APK sideloading
- Solid Explorer – Fast and sleek dual-pane file manager
- Apps2Fire – Seamless phone-to-Fire TV sideloading
- Local Downloader – Curated apps from Troypoint platform
And those are just a few of many capable contenders ready to fill the ES File Explorer void across file management, downloading, and sideloading duties.
I‘m interested to hear your thoughts and experiences finding an ES File Explorer alternative! Have you found any other great options I should check out? Let me know in the comments below and happy app exploring my friends.