How to take screenshots on an Android phone

Here's how to use your Mac or PC to save a picture of your Android phone screen.

You're probably used to pressing PrintScreen (Windows) or Command-Shift-3 (Mac OS X) to capture occasional computer screenshots. But the operation is not so easy on an Android phone. What if you want to taunt a friend with proof of an online game victory, record a strange error message, teach a relative how to perform a task, or capture an image for your blog? You can still do it, but you'll have to walk through a few more steps.

I'll explain how to set up a PC or Mac to capture your Android's screen. With the right software installation and Android configuration, you can get direct screenshots in any situation.

Install the Software

Google thinks that only a developer would be interested in capturing Android screenshots, so you'll have to act like one. Download and install the free Android SDK (software development kit). Visit the site, and be sure to get the correct version for your OS.

The software also requires Java. Mac OS X has the right tools already built in. Windows users should download the Java Development Kit. Install the Android SDK and Java downloads.

Launch the SDK Manager from the Android SDK download. (In Windows, if prompted, choose Extract All.) Accept the terms, and click Install. The SDK will download more packages and then update itself with the latest files. This process can take about 30 minutes.

Launch DDMS (Dalvik Debug Monitor) within the Android SDK Tools folder. The software will open a console for a moment and then launch a graphical interface in another window. Give it a moment, but if it quits and there seems to be an error initially -- as happened to me on my test systems -- try running DDMS again.

On the Android device, open Setting, Application settings, Development, and select USB debugging. Connect the Android device to your computer.

In Windows, if the Android doesn't appear as a listing in the Dalvik Debug Monitor application, go to the Device Manager. Right-click the Android device, and select Update Driver Software. Choose Browse my computer for driver software, click Browse, and navigate to the USB driver folder within the Android SDK folder. Click Next. Approve the following prompt to install the driver. Return to the Dalvik Debug Monitor; your Droid should now be listed.

With either OS, if your Android device still failed to show up in the Dalvik Debug Monitor, verify that you set it for USB debugging mode. In addition, drag the menu down from the top of the Android screen, and pick USB connection. In most instances, you'll want USB Mass Storage to be selected. (I had to perform this step on a Droid X because it set itself up in PC Mode first.) But try PC Mode if the software isn't finding your Android; that might solve the problem.

On your computer, click the phone icon in the upper-left section to select your Android. On the Android, prepare the moment you want to capture. On the computer, choose Device, Screen capture. Click Save. Repeat the process for additional screenshots as needed.

Get to the Root

If you're a savvy Android enthusiast, you can shoot screenshots without hooking up to a computer at all. First, however, you'll have to root your phone.

Normally, the Android OS prevents screenshot apps from working, since they muck around with deeper permissions. The rooting process confers superuser abilities, however, granting you permission to do anything you want.

After rooting, search the Android Marketplace (or PCWorld's AppGuide) for screenshot to find various apps such as Screenshot, and Screenshot It. You'll activate screenshots with a timer, by shaking the phone, or via another command, and the app will then capture your device.

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Zack Stern

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