Taking screengrabs on Android phones has been a tricky affair. Unless you were prepared to root your phone or go through the long-winded DDMS method (which we’ve covered below), it was pretty impossible to take screenshots as easily as you could an an iPhone - by holding the menu and tapping the power button. Until now.
A handful of the Android phones we’ve recently reviewed allow you to take screengrabs - pictures of what ever is on the phone’s screen at the time - simply by pressing the power and menu button simultaneously. Finally!
Big deal, you might think. Except that it is - it’s a really useful feature. As well as making our lives here a little easier when we’re writing up app stories, it has plenty of potential uses.
From capturing incriminating texts from friends/colleagues/ex-partners (perfect for uploading to Facebook, if you’re feeling evil) to proving that you’ve three starred each Angry Birds level (including all of Seasons and Rio), there’s loads of ways that this can be useful.
You could also use this to stitch up friends; take a screen grab of their phone’s main screen and then set it as the phone’s wallpaper from the gallery. Then watch as confusion ensues...
This ‘press and hold power and menu buttons’ method only works on a handful of phones at the moment, and only appears to work on phones running Android 2.2 Froyo or above. We’ve included a short list here of phones which we can confirm that this works on, along with ones that we've not been able to get it working on. We’ll update this list as and when we get new phones in/test others for ourselves.
Confirmed to be able to print screen with menu/home & the power button
Samsung Galaxy S2
LG Optimus 2X
LG Optimus 3D
HTC Cha Cha
Confirmed to not be able to print screen with menu/home & the power button
Samsung Google Nexus S
Samsung Galaxy Fit
HTC Google Nexus One
Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
Press and hold home and tap the power button - try it
To test whether or not your Android phone can do it, hold down on the power button and quickly tap the menu key.
If your phone has this feature enabled, you should hear the camera app’s default ‘click’ sound, or see a flash of light/message pop up on your screen, or some kind of notification message telling you you’ve taken a picture.
If this doesn’t work and your holding down the power button simply loads up the power off/airplane/silent mode options like normal then your phone probably doesn’t support this.
So far we’ve seen it working on the Samsung Galaxy S2 and both the LG Optimus 2X and Optimus 3D. HTC’s Cha Cha does it as well, but not the HTC Sensation.
We’ve heard that Samsung Galaxy S’s updated to Froyo are able to do this as well, but we’ve not been able to confirm this ourselves.
If you own a phone that’s not inclued or is on the ‘no’ list above, then read on. There are a few workarounds for this that’ll allow you to take screengrabs on your Android phone, but they require a bit of patience and technical know-how.
The Old Fashioned Way No. 1 - Download and install the No Root Screenshot It app from the Android Market
Edward Kim’s ‘No Root Screenshot It’ is a great app. As its name suggests, it’s for people who want to take screenshots on their Android phone but don’t want to root it.
It costs around £2.99, can be downloaded from the Android Market and should work with every Android phone out there, whether you’ve got 2.2+ or not. Before using NRSI, there are a few things you have to do. This process can take a while but you should only have to do it once.
1. The first thing is to install the USB drivers for your phone on your computer. This requires a bit of tinkering if you’re running a Windows PC; if you’re doing this on a Mac then it shouldn’t be a problem as you should have the drivers already.
Downloading and installing the correct drivers is the longest part of the process, but thankfully you’ll only have to do it once.
2. Once you’ve installed your drivers, you’ll be prompted to restart your phone. When it’s back on, head over to Settings > Applications > Development and check the box marked ‘USB Debugging’.
When you’ve done this, plug your Android phone in - make sure that you ignore the ‘turn on USB storage’ option that pops up - just tap the Back or the Home button.
3. Now you can download the Screenshot It Enabler desktop app - there are versions for both Windows and Mac available to download here.
Once downloaded, you’ll see the little green Android logo on your desktop. Run this program, with your Android phone still plugged in and in debug mode. Make sure you’ve got the Full Version box checked then click ‘Enable Screenshot It’. Now you should be free to start taking screenshots.
The developer notes that each time you restart your phone you’ll have to go through this procedure again; not a problem if you don’t turn your phone off frequently.
4. Ok, now to the app itself! This is really easy to use. When you’ve found something that you want to take a screengrab of - a webpage, text message or app - you can go to the app and tap ‘take screenshot’.
There can be a delay from whenever you tap this button, lasting from 5 to 15 seconds, giving you some time to tap the button and ‘get into position’ as it were.
A neater and convenient way to take photos is to enable the ‘shake to take’ option - this allows you to take near instant screengrabs simply by shaking your Android phone.
You can choose to have your screen captures saved as either .jpegs or .pngs depending on your preference. You can also crop shots immediately after they’ve been taken.
The Old Fashioned Way No. 2 - Install the Android SDK on your desktop, download DDMS
While this route is entirely possible, it’s not straightforwards, is trickier than the above method and is nowhere near as convenient; in order to take screengrabs using this method, you’ll need to have your phone connected to your computer via USB. So you don’t get the convenience of being able to screengrab stuff on the fly - you’ll need to be near a desktop or laptop.
For writing app reviews/blog posts this is less of a hassle - chances are you’ll be on your computer anyway. Also, it’s free.
1. Go to developer.android.com/sdk and download the revelent zip file and extract to your desktop.
2. Once downloaded and extracted to your desktop, open the folder and run SDK setup.
3. Check the box marked ‘accept all’ on the pop up and then click install - this can take a little while, (it took us about 20 minutes).
4. When installed, go back to the main SDK folder (the one on your desktop) and select the folder named ‘usb_driver’. Open this up - you’ll need it later.
5. Now grab your Android phone and go to Settings > Applications > Development and enable USB Debugging mode.
6. Connect your Android phone (in debug mode) to your PC.
7. On your Windows PC go to Start > Control Panel > Device Manager. Find your Android phone here (it should be easy to spot on the list) and right click on it. Select ‘Update Driver Software’ from the list. Once done, close Device Manager.
If you’re doing this on a Mac, then you don’t have to do this.
8. Go back to the main SDK folder, and open up Tools. From here, scroll down until you see a file called DDMS - this is the Dalvik Debug Monitor. Open this.
9. The DDMS can take a little while to open, but when it’s done you should see a couple of windows like the ones above pop up. Your Android phone should be listed here at the top; our HTC Sensation appeared as ‘HT15BV805658’.
10. Now for the easy part. Click ‘Device’ then ‘Screen Capture’. A large black window will pop up; this is the Device Screen Capture.
Click on ‘Refresh’ and you should see whatever’s currently on your Android phone’s screen. From here you can save the image as a jpeg.
Each time you move to a different screen or load an app you’ll need to refresh the screen, as it’s not a ‘live’ representation of what’s on your phone’s screen.
Before you disconnect your Android phone, be sure to click done ‘Done’ and close DDMS.