How to Take Screenshots on Android

There’s many a reason for you to want to take a screen capture on Android. Maybe you’re a developer wanting to take publicity screenshots of your app? Or maybe you’re wanting to become a writer for a site like this but have no idea how to source images for your post? Well, let me explain.

Unfortunately, screenshot taking is not as easy as on alternative platforms. It involves the Android SDK and USB debugging. So find that cable and get started!

Step One: Install the Android SDK

The utility to take screenshots is called the Dalvik Debug Monitor. This is part of Android’s software development kit and downloadable via the official site.

Firstly, make sure you have the Java Development Kit installed (a requirement of the Android SDK). This is a free download available from Oracle’s Java site. Scroll down to “Java SE Development Bundles” and download “JDK x Update xx with Java x.x SDK”. It’s important you choose the update with the SDK and none other.

You’ll need to install the SDK and its various required libraries, including the Android tools, which we’ll be working with today. This will take a little time so feel free to grab a cup of tea or whatever beverage you prefer.

After that’s installed, head to Android Developer’s site and download an SDK installer. We’ll be using Windows in this example, but the SDK is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Installing the SDK on Windows.

Step Two: Enable USB Debugging

In order for the SDK to communicate with your Android device, you’ll need to enable USD debugging. To do so, go to Settings > Applications > Development and tick “USB debugging”. If you want, you can also tell the device to stay awake whilst plugged in which can avoid your device going offline. They’re the only options you need to worry about right now.

Enabling USB debugging on Android.

Step Three: Launch the Debug Monitor

Next, you need to locate and launch the debug monitor. Navigate to Program Files > Android > android-sdk-windows > Tools and launch the file named “ddms”. If an error about a missing “adb” file appears, go up one level and copy the contents of program-tools into tools.

Step Four: Load your Handset

The Android SDK debug monitor.

All the devices connected will show up in the left hand panel. Double-click on the device you want to take the screenshot from. Make sure it is “online” (USB debugging turned on, on a live device).

If you have trouble determining which of the devices is the one you wish to capture, either look at the name (if it’s helpful) or filter them by the denoted firmware version. When you figure it out, you might want to take note of the name or firmware version for later reference.

Then go to Device > Screen Capture or press Ctrl + S.

Step Five: Take your Screenshot!

The screen capture utility.

Now you should see your device’s screen. This is a static image so you will need to hit “Refresh” to update the captured image. You can also choose to rotate the image if it’s not in the correct orientation.

Then opt to save it as a PNG image, or to copy it to your clipboard. Keep refreshing to take as many screenshots as you want and then hit “Done” when you’re finished. After that, feel free to close the debug monitor.

When a screenshot is saved, it’s saved in whatever screen resolution your device runs at (so will probably appear larger on the screen then it does in your hand) and is given a default title of “device”.

Alternatives

If you don’t feel like using the Android SDK, there is a range of apps available if you want to take the route of rooting. The £2.51 Screenshot It app is one solution, another being ShootMe or PicMe, which can grab screenshots via a remote web browser.

These apps require you to undergo the process of rooting, which is a similar process to jailbreaking on iPhones. This allows you to gain “root” access to the device’s operating system. As Android’s marketplace is a lot more open, even though this is technically an “unauthorized” practice, there are still many apps available to do such a task in the marketplace. Just search for something like “screenshot”.

I’ve heard reports that some phones can take a screenshot even without being rooted, using either a feature that came with the phone, or an app like the ones above. If yours is one, please let us know its model in the comments!

That concludes our how to on taking a screenshot on Android. And you never know, if you end up developing for the platform, you’ve already got the SDK installed!