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How to download and test Android apps before they're released

Like living on the bleeding edge when it comes to testing apps on your Android device? Read this.

Through the new Early Access section, you can install apps and games that are still in development and not quite ready for a full public release. It's a useful workaround if can't wait for an app to be available, or you just like helping developers improve their final product.

But be warned: you are going to experience bugs, crashes and an all around inconsistent experience during the app's early access period. That's the purpose, though -- your job is to report issues and help app developers make better apps.

Some apps already available in the program are personal savings app Digit and shopping app Operator are offering Early Access to the Android version of their respective apps. Lego is also testing a forthcoming game called Go Build.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

How to download Early Access apps

Open the Play Store on your Android device and make sure the Apps & Games tab is selected. Scroll the green category buttons to the left until you find the Early Access button. Alternatively, you might see an Early Access graphic that's rotating through the promo carousel you can tap on to get to the Early Access section.

Here you will find a list of unreleased beta apps and games. Tap on either category to browse through the listings, read more about the app or game, and install. As you will notice, each app listing carries a warning to remind to you the app may not work: "This app is in development. It may be unstable."

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

You won't have the option to review the app (not really fair to review an unfinished product, right?), but you can send feedback about issues and bugs you encounter using the app's Play store listing.

Google notes in this support document, early access programs are limited in the number of users. And because you took part in an app's early access program the developer may leave your account in the beta program once the app officially launches. If at any point you'd like to change that, you can leave the beta program from the app's Play Store listing.