Features of TestFlight
Before we get into TestFlight alternatives for Android in 2020, we'll first discuss TestFlight and what makes it such a great platform for managing beta testing. There’s two main categories of users that you’ll use TestFlight with: internal testers and external testers.
Think of internal testing as a closed beta. Internal testers are generally the members of your team—your developers, your QA resources, your marketing team, etc. You can have up to 25 internal testers, and each tester can test on up to 30 devices, in case your engineering team needs to test on multiple versions of iOS or multiple generations of iPhones. An internal tester will be able to access all beta builds to test, so you definitely want to limit this to your actual team members and not real end users.
External testers are where real end users might get involved—think of external testing as an open beta. These testers could be anyone from your Twitter followers to your friends and family. You can add external testers directly via their email or by enabling public link sharing and posting your invitation link. The key difference between these testers and the internal testers is external testers can only access the builds that you select for them to test, making it an ideal solution for putting test builds in the hands of real end users.
We get this question a lot. Until early 2018, there wasn’t an official Google Play Store solution for internal testing of apps. Android developers who are familiar with the seamless beta testing experience of TestFlight will be happy to know that Google released something called the Play Console. The Play Console is the best Android alternative for TestFlight in 2020 because of the first-party support from Google as well as the tools Play Console provides for beta testing your Android app.
Using the Play Console, you can distribute your Android app for internal testing, closed alpha testing, and open beta testing. Watch the video above to get an overview of how to manage your Android app releases in Play Console in 2020, updated for Android 11.
Internal testing on the Play Console for Android is similar to internal testing on TestFlight. You can have up to 100 internal testers that will get every build of your app to test. Again, you’ll want to limit these users to your own team members, friends, or family.
Alpha releases on the Play Console can be used for when you want a closed test with a small group of internal testers. These alpha testers must opt-in to the alpha program and be invited by the developer before they can begin testing, making alpha testing most suitable for your team members. Just like internal testers in TestFlight, alpha testers on Play Console should not be real end users but rather internal team members, friends, or family.
Beta releases on the Play Console can be used for when you want an open test with real-world users of your Android app. These end users can sign up to beta test your app straight from the Play Store. One key difference between the alpha and beta release is that the beta release requires a Google review of your app before testing can begin.
Testing on Android used to lag behind what iOS offered with TestFlight, but Android has introduced a great alternative with the addition of internal testing to the Play Console in March 2018. No matter what platform your app is on, you can enjoy first-party support for managing both internal and external testing, and we can safely say that Play Console is the best TestFlight alternative for Android in 2020.
A Note on Third-Party Solutions
There's an abundance of third-party TestFlight alternatives on Android in 2020, including TestFairy, HockeyApp, and more. However, we generally don't recommend startups and small businesses to use these third-party solutions.
We still stand by Play Console as the best alternative for TestFlight on Android in 2020 because of the first-party support. The fact that it's maintained by Google means Play Console is free to use for all Android developers and more importantly, users can discover and opt-in to beta testing directly through the Play Store app listing.
This means you don't have to ask users to download a special testing app or sign up through a web browser if you want more beta testers for your app. Simply ask your users to go to the Play Store listing for your Android app and click "Join the Beta," and seconds later they'll be testing the beta version of your app!
Check out this Android Central article for more information and some screenshots showing how easy it is to start beta testing an app.
Third-party alternatives to TestFlight are getting better, but most of them will cost you once you exceed a certain limit of testers or releases. The other major downside is users won't be able to opt-in to testing directly from the Play Store.
The process of beta testing an app using a third-party alternative such as TestFairy, HockeyApp, etc., involves signing up through a link, then receiving an email with a link or a file to download the Android app file, known as an APK. However, the process of installing an APK can be quite difficult in 2020, especially if you're on Android 11.
Google has made it increasingly difficult to install APKs from external sources (i.e. any source that isn't the official Play Store). Check out this Android Central article detailing the steps needed to install an APK. Note the stark contrast in this article from the previous article showing the one step process to beta test on the Play Store for Play Console betas.
Convincing your users to go through this complicated process to download and install the beta version of your app is a lot more difficult than just telling them to click "Join the Beta" on the Play Store. This makes Play Console a much more attractive option for beta testing your apps simply because of how easy it is for your end users to start testing your apps, hence why we recommend Play Console as the top alternative to TestFlight for Android in 2020.
Disagree with our conclusion? Find better TestFlight alternatives for Android? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!