When it comes to mobile apps, the best things in life aren't always free. Apps and games listed as free to download on the various app stores often offer a bare-bones experience that require you to open your wallet in order to progress or use more features.
These 'freemium' games featuring in-app purchases have often been a cause for concern among parents, who have to foot the bill when a child inadvertently buys expensive in-game currency, or continually have to say no to the constant requests for more coins.
Meanwhile, many games and apps offer an upfront fee for their premium content, which most people actually prefer. However, for Android device owners, there's a way to way to avoid paying at all, and it's totally legal.
The Amazon Underground service offers 'Actually Free' apps that won't seek money for in-app purchases, while also offering free access to premium games you'd have to pay for in the Google Play Store.
Action game Sonic Dash, for example, offers all of the in-app purchases, upgrades and updates free of charge, while puzzle app Cut The Rope snips the upfront fee.
Amazon still pays the developers for the content, but hopes to make the money back when you buy other things and eventually start to swerve Google as your main content store.
So here's how you can save a fortune on Android apps and fret less about whether the kids are blowing the holiday budget on in-app purchases.
Step 1: Allow unknown sources
One of the ways Android protects itself from harmful software is to encourage you only to download through its 'known sources,' like its own Play store.
To override this you'll need to open Settings, hit Security and turn on the ability to install software from Unknown Sources. This doesn't mean you should go crazy with other platforms, but it's safe to do so from Amazon.
Once you've installed the Underground app and any apps you want to download from there, we advise you to change this setting back to safeguard the security of your phone.
Step 2: Download Amazon Underground on to your device
As it's a competitor to Google, this app isn't offered through the Play Store. However, the open nature of Android means Google doesn't try too hard to stop you getting around it.
Once you've enabled unknown sources (see Step 1, above), head to Amazon.co.uk/Underground and select Download Amazon Underground. You'll need to accept the .apk file (as pictured) and once the app has downloaded you need to tap to complete the install from the pull-down notifications menu (also pictured). Be sure to switch off unknown sources once you've finished this.
Tip 3: Explore an ocean of free apps
The Amazon Underground app should now appear in your app drawer alongside the rest of your collection. When opening for the first time you may be asked to sign in to your Amazon account first (you can skip for now, if you like).
The layout is very similar to the regular Amazon shopping app, so it won't be too difficult to find your way around. When you first open the app, you'll see ‘All Apps & Games’ and ‘Underground Apps’ tabs, so click the latter
Open the menu in the top left corner and select Underground Apps. A pop-up box will give you the option to install a shortcut on your homescreen that takes you straight to Underground Apps.
Tip 4: Identify the 'Actually Free' apps
This is the simple part; it's all of them. You can identify them by the sash in the top corner of the thumbnail that says 'Actually Free'.
Tip 5: Download the app or game
Once you've identified your free app, the process of downloading and installing an app is very similar to what we're used to on Google Play.
Tapping download will download the file, but you'll need to agree to install the app when prompted.
Tip 6: Start playing the game
If you downloaded Sonic Rush, for example, you'll get a 1,000 Gold Rings and 50 Red Star Rings bonus every day you login. These would be costly in-app purchases if you downloaded the game from Google Play. So, you see, they are Actually Free.
Tip 7: Download some more apps
Amazon says there's thousands of pounds’ worth of free content available at any given time, so go ahead, start downloading, and always check Amazon Underground before you buy an app from Google Play.