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HTC Sense Android Phones Capture Screen. So Why Can’t YOU?

As an Android user, one of the things that I’ve yet to figure out is why there are no Apps to capture what’s on my screen. They just don’t exist.

OK, so that’s not completely true. If I “root” my Droid SmartPhone, meaning tweak it to bypass the regular Android operating system and make it do stuff that Verizon, Motorola, and Google didn’t intend, screen grabs become a possibility. I give up my warranty and any hope for technical support if I even need it, but I gain some control and a feature I often wish I had.

Surprise! If you use a Droid Incredible, or other Sense UI – based SmartPhones from HTC, the screen grab feature is built right in. But it isn’t under your control. In fact, it’s just the opposite; it looks like Sense UI does periodic screen grabs in the background and hides the results from you.

Annoying enough that screen grabs are apparently way more easy to implement than Google’s led us all to believe. But way worse is this: there’s stuff on your phone that you don’t know about, and let’s face it; your security is compromised when there are captures of your screen being stored.

No further commentary needed, eh? If you use an HTC SmartPhone with the Sense UI, please follow the instructions you’ll find in the article linked above and clean out that stuff every now then.

Happy Friday, Friends.


  1. err… Android 2.2 and 2.3 support screen capture without rooting, and not only on my Galaxy S.

    Press the BACK button and while doing so tap the HOME button…

    • Richard, I’ve tried that several different ways on my Droid, running 2.2.2, and I can’t confirm what you’re saying. Can you provide SPECIFIC instructions? You DO mean the soft-keys, right? And assuming so (or for that matter, not) where do those screen captures files land in your phone?

  2. Hi

    I’m not conversant with HTC handsets so things MAY be different but on my Galaxy S and several other Android phones friends have, complete instructions are as simple as I said before (no tweaks to Android 2.2 and above, or additional apps required):

    Press and keep pressing the soft BACK key, then hit the (hard) HOME key and a system message flashes up “Screen captured, Saved as image file”.

    Screenshots are saved in [root]\ScreenCapture on my phone but I’m not sure how things work on phones requiring external SD cards for storage.

    • Thanks, Richard. That may be so on your handset, but it sure isn’t a stock Android thing. Thank your manufacturer for building that in, you lucky guy!

  3. Actually, I’ve always been able to make screen captures on non-rooted as well as rooted devices using DDMS / ADB setup on Eclipse.

    • Lee, I’m with you: Using the right set of developer tools, you can do a screen capture. So literally, you are correct; “it is possible to screen capture an Android device without rooting it”.

      But regular people don’t do that … frankly, just as regular people don’t root their phones. So in PRACTICAL terms, I wasn’t wrong; just imprecise. I’m happy to ‘fess up on that count!

  4. @Lee so exactly how do YOU take screen captures without rooting, I have a Nexus S, back & home doesn’t work. My sister has a HTC Sense, her phone takes screen shots, she triggered it accidentally, back & home doesn’t work either.

    • I’m guessing you saw my post on the Starbucks Android App? If you take a close look at that picture you can see the reflection of my knuckles. I literally took a picture of the screen using a camera.

      I’m very much as “Solutions” kind of guy, and I’m known to tell people that pointing out a problem is of limited use unless you also offer a solution, but the truth is I don’t have an answer other than that. Without rooting your phone there (still!) doesn’t seem to be a way that regular people can take screen grabs on Android!

  5. MJ,

    If you read my comment, I mentioned exactly how _I_ do screen captures on Android devices. Bear in mind that I am an Android Software Engineer, so I have more tools at my disposal for performing image captures than the average consumer would have. I perform image captures through use of the device drivers available for the device, DDMS and the ADB plugin for Eclipse. But, I do this on my job daily, so I have experience with creating captures as I need them. The other article mentioned by Jeff contains screencaps of my non-rooted Kyocera M9300 Echo.

    • Lee, I’m glad you’re paying attention; I was thinking of you as I was responding to MJ, whose query suggested a non-rooted, consumer-like position.

      Leaving a question for you, sir: WHY hasn’t someone (umm … like you)? figured out a way to do a non-rooted screen grab app for Android? Since we know those screen grabs are happening in the background on Sense, and since they’re accessible (if not deleteable), you’d think some smart developer would have jumped on this by now!

  6. @Lee If I were an android software engineer I wouldn’t have asked. I need step by step instructions in layman’s terms, using layman’s tools.

  7. Because I’m not a developer for Android. I’m an automation test engineer. I guess I could see if I can whip up something, but getting something to work across devices with different OS locks–sometimes based on carrier and manufacturer–is a hard thing to scope for. I’ll leave it in my “Do Someday” list.

  8. MJ, I unfortunately don’t have a layman solution to that. We usually, failing access to our tools, do what Jeff did. Take a picture of the screen with another phone.

    • I like when I’m smart. I hate when I’m too dumb to REALLY be smart 😉

  9. @Lee OK, thanks for nothing. It isn’t that serious, I’ve been able to survive withOUT screen capture on any of my phones for this long, I won’t be sitting around anticipating SOMEDAY from YOU.
    I don’t understand why you felt the need to ‘name drop’ your job if you don’t have a solution. I wouldn’t care if you were Oprah or Steve Jobs, if you can’t me I could care less about your job, or degrees, who you work for, and why.
    Is it that hard to say I DON’T KNOW, or that easy to come up with lame excuses? No response needed.

    >>Interestingly, this flamer comment got flagged as SPAM, MJ. And I gotta tell you, while I understand your frustration and you’re “right” that Lee didn’t help, I don’t see why you felt it worth your time to respond in that way. I’m letting it through since it’s on-topic (sort of), but … DUDE! -JY <<

  10. Many months ago, while helping someone in a civil case I took a picture of important information on their phone to submit for evidence, been there done that, I just want an easier more convenient option.

    @Lee thanks for the dialogue of pseudo-intelligence and ‘name dropping’ yet devoid of a solution. I won’t be sitting around anticipating SOMEDAY from YOU, nor do I care about your job or title, if you do NOT have a solution just say “I DON’T KNOW.” or better yet, don’t respond.

  11. I’m sorry that you’re upset, but as a professional in the industry, I’ve never had a need for a consumer solution, so I’m not aware of one. I’m sorry that I couldn’t help, but there was no need to lash out and be upset.

    There are probably solutions out there, but the scope to which one would develop an app to work with Android devices is hard to achieve. Unlike iPhone, where the app runs exactly the same on every single iPhone and iPad, the same can’t be achieved on Android due to OS restrictions that both carriers and manufacturers put into their own devices. Accessing the APIs needed to capture a screen may be fully accessible on one device, but fully locked out or non-existent on the next device. It’s simply a hard thing to implement across all carriers and all devices.

    But, I’m not a dedicated Android developer. I have knowledge of the platform sufficient to carry out my duties as a QA Engineer for Android and other smartphones, software and technologies.

    Specifically, you asked “How would YOU capture…” which implies how I would do it. And I provided an answer. It wasn’t the answer you wanted. Had it been “How would ONE…” or “How would a consumer…”, then I could tell you quickly that I don’t know. In fact, I first stumbled upon this article looking for a consumer level way to capture screens for our test users.

    • Lee, I really like your response. But just as I pointed out to MJ that he didn’t need to give you crap in the way he did, I want to point out one small thing to you:

      Your words

        “How would YOU capture…” which implies how I would do it

      imply that MJ was imprecise, and of course you’re CORRECT in both that position and in pointing out that you can only speak from your own position. But really, what’s served by arguing in this way?

      BTW: let me be clear that I’ve been known to do exactly the same thing. 😉

  12. A quick search on the Android market reveals this:

    But, some of those apps only cater to specific devices, again emphasizing that rule that carriers and manufacturers seem to adopt about locking out functions on otherwise powerful Android devices.

    My best answer is to hit up forums about your particular device, because failing access to developer tools (DDMS is actually standalone, but still requires the Android SDK and the Java SDK), there isn’t a clear-cut way to capture a screen from a non-rooted device on the consumer level that applies to all Android OS devices across the board.

    If you’d like help setting up a developer solution just for screenshots, I’m willing to help you on that front. But, otherwise, I don’t have any sort of consumer level answer for you regarding screenshots.

    Jeff, you are quite intelligent. I appreciate your professional level of discourse.

  13. Jeff, I’m not arguing. I’m explaining the difficulty to which developing an application for android device carries. there are solutions available but there isn’t a broad sweeping solution. I don’t develop applications for users on my own time for free. many others do I’m just not 1 of them.

    – sent from my keyocera echo.

  14. Let me clear things up, if I had ANY idea what DDMS/ADB setup was, had the tools & knew how to use it, I would have read that info and ran with it.
    Only reason I got into this discussion because it was discussing the ways ‘regular people’ can take screen shots, not to get smart-alecky responses to every one of my questions, and yet still devoid of a ‘regular people’ solution.
    Which is the main reason why I almost NEVER comment in any tech forums; seems the ‘geek squad’ is obsessed with telling people how naive they are, rather than actually giving solutions to those seeking help.
    I’m a Nurse, I’m VERY intelligent, and I save lives everyday, but that is neither here nor there, doesn’t answer any questions, or give any solutions, so why would I bring it up? *Exactly.*

    P.S. The reason why that particular comment was flagged as spam was because I clicked PUBLISH but had forgotten to fill in the CAPTCHA. Which is why there are 2 comments saying practically the same thing; and I didn’t know the 1st went through, so I wrote a 2nd. (You can erase the 1st if you like.)
    I’m not upset, far from it. Nor am I arguing. I just call it like I see it, the truth.
    All this and guess what? I still can’t take a screen capture, Smh.

  15. LOL! I am just reading your last comment Lee, and you have FURTHER proved my point.
    “I don’t develop applications for users on my own time for FREE.”
    So are you saying that if I paid you, you would make a Screen Capture application for my android phone? How much? Do you have a PayPal?
    OR are you just being a solution-less antagonist?

    • Guys, may I suggest that this back-and-forth sniping has gone past where either of you is adding anything to the conversation?

      Lee is a geek. He speaks like a geek.

      MJ is a regular person, and the way geeks speak is proving to be frustrating.

      Lee is defending himself. MJ is getting angry.

      That’s why people like me exist; I get between geeks and people. But seriously? you two have one of those “let’s just agree to disagree” issues. So if I may sum this all up:

      1) There is not presently a way for non-geeks to screen capture a stock Android.
      2) It would be great if a geek made one, and since we know it’s possible TO capture an Android screen on an un-rooted device because some Sense-based Android devices are capturing screens and saving them I’m amazed it hasn’t happened.
      3) ANYONE LISTENING? THERE’S A HUGE BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY HERE, and I’ll commit right here and now to market your app that does non-rooted Android screen capture.

      Guys . . .?

      • I’d like to add something else to the debate. MJ, this might prove useful to you:

        I’ve just come across a system launcher replacement app called Home++ (search for it in the Android market) that … DOES SCREEN CAPTURE!

        Sort of.

        First, let me say that installing a replacement system launcher (running all the time, taking up space, eating battery, etc.) just to get the one extra feature sounds kooky to me. But there it is.

        Second, FINDING that feature in Home++ and making it work took some patience

        Third: it only really works at capturing Home++ screens, meaning it has marginal use for people like Lee, and maybe even for people like me, but since it doesn’t do screen capture reliably when you’re running other applications, I’m not excited.

        I’ll be writing about this in detail, soon. The way Home++ works gave me soms stuff to think about against that “why hasn’t someone make a screen-capture app?” question.


  16. Again, I do speak tech. In simple terms, a few people have made screen capture apps, but they don’t work on all devices. The independent developer is limited by the devices they have on-hand. I, for example, am limited to the scope and capabilities of my non-rooted Kyocera Echo. I can’t guarantee that anything I ever develop for that phone will work on other Android phones without testing it on every single Android phone on the market.

    MJ, I’m sorry to sound cold, but developing applications is a task that isn’t as easy as just pressing a button. I don’t do it unless I’m paid, I do take PayPal, but frankly after our discourse here, I wouldn’t do it for you. You’d be a client nightmare. And that’s even if the Android OS on your device allows for screen capture.

    Jeff, I’m happy that you’ve taken to finding solutions on the Android Market. I’ve done the same, but have found that developer tools often solve my issues faster than anything available at consumer level. But, since Google is the developer behind Android, they have an immense storage base of geek-speak solutions. A search for “Android SDK” or “DDMS” results in the same body of resources run by Google. They are meant for developers, so the speak is beyond that of a layperson.

    I am again sorry that I couldn’t be of help. Given the make and model of the phone and version of Android running, including the carrier, I could possibly had given a better solution to the issue, but there is no broad-reaching solution at the moment to performing a screen capture on a non-rooted device.

    The reason the HTC Sense can perform a screen capture is because HTC and its phone service carrier allow for the API to be accessible at OS level by the device itself. There are many other manufacturers (HTC included) and carriers that simply lock out this functionality on other phones. And that lock out isn’t often as simple as flicking a virtual switch on or off through code. Sometimes, developers simply cannot access those snippets of code (APIs) to turn on a feature and make it useful for a user.

    So, while I don’t have an answer. I went beyond “I don’t know” to “this is what I know and why it currently is the way it is”. It’s a more roundabout “I don’t know”. Except that I do know.

    Anyway, since we’ve deviated from topic long enough, I’m going to stop any further interaction unless you, Jeff, prompt me to do so. In the meantime, I may just write an article in my tech blog on how to set up developer tools on anyone’s machine for the purpose of screen capture.

  17. Lol! You guys crack me up :)
    Once again, not angry or upset, just seeking solutions. If one knows how to make the screen capture app, as Lee claims he can, I’ll GLADLY pay for it.

    Thanks for the info & insight anyway Jeff.

    *correction: I’m not just any random regular person, but a highly skilled medical professional, when it comes to the geek world, not so much… if this were a forum in my field of expertise… well, hopefully you catch my drift.
    but then again…

  18. Anyone feel smart enough to take on a very cool project along with us?

    The Answer Guy is looking for one very smart Android Developer to write an Android Screen Capture App. You write it, we’ll sell it, and we’ll both make a lot of money.

    A usable Android Screen Capture App hasn’t been done yet. We’ve figured out why and what to do about it. Click here for details.

  19. Back again, but with a little more techie insight. After a bit of developer research, the issue of different API implementation on Android has been resolved by Google on phones having the Android 2.3 Gingerbread platform. If the phone has this platform, there are code libraries available that provide access to the screen capture libraries available on that OS.

    However, having the API may still be restricted on some carriers and some manufacturers, but it’s less of a limitation now to create it…for the newer OS. There’s still an issue with older OS phones, and there will always be the issue of limitations imposed by the major carriers and/or individual manufacturers of the devices.

    Non-programmers (users) will always put out requests like “Make this app for me” without knowing the hardships that go into making the app.

    But, in light of finding this, I’ll try to tool something out for my Kyocera Echo (since it’s running Gingerbread and it’s the only Android phone at my disposal). But, since I’m not a developer, it will be on my free time list. I have my job to do, and that doesn’t involve developing a screen capture application on Android. In other words, this app will be part of teaching myself to code for Android.

    In any case, if the app works, I can only guarantee that it works on my device (as I don’t have access to other Android phones), which makes it accessible to all Gingerbread Kyocera Echos running on the American Sprint network.

    • Lee, I’m impressed with your stick-to-it-iveness. Thanks! We’ll get this thing figured out eventually, eh?

      Oh, and if you know a developer who’s interested in poking through this further, please point them at this page about Creating an Android Screen Capture App.


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