A guide to using screen recording with Android 4.4 KitKat

Google has included an incredibly useful tool in Android 4.4 that will make more technical users very happy. If you’ve ever wanted a good way to record the screen on your Android smartphone, your prayers have been answered.

For a very long time, Google included the ability to pull screenshots from Android devices via DDMS in the Android SDK. Eventually, screenshots were baked into the Android OS, usually by some kind of button combination on the phone itself. Individual screenshots are useful for many occasions, but sometimes you need to be able to capture something in a video format.

Using another camera to capture these kind of events can work, but ideally if you could record what was going on right off the phone, you’d have access to exactly what you need in an easy to edit file that required nothing but your computer. Google has included this feature with Android 4.4 KitKat, and we’ve prepared a brief walkthrough on how to use it.

The first thing you will need is the Android SDK, which is freely available from developer.android.com/sdk for you to download and install. This set of tools includes the Android Debug Bridge, which is needed in order to start the screen recording process.

Head to the folder that was installed with the SDK and locate the Platform Tools subfolder. If you’re using Windows, hold down shift and right click on Platform Tools, then open the folder in your command prompt. If you aren’t using Windows, navigate to the Platform Tools folder from your Terminal.

Once this is set up, head to Settings on your phone and enable Debug Mode. Connect your phone to your PC via your microUSB cable, and make sure your phone is recognised by the Android Debug Bridge by typing in ADB devices in your command prompt. If you get a number back, you are ready to go. If you do not get a number back, you may need to install the ADB driver for your phone. A quick search for Universal ADB Driver will get you what you need.

Using an ADB shell, you’re going to connect to your phone and initiate a screen record. The default command is adb shell screenrecord /sdcard/demo.mp4 where “demo” is whatever you want the name of your file to be. If you’d like a little more control over your video, there are plenty of options at your disposal. You can control the resolution with –size or the bit rate with –bit-rate. The maximum recording time is three minutes, but you can set shorter time limits if you need to with –time-limit (and be sure to put the time in seconds).

The default recording, which is shown in our video above, is a little on the choppy side. This can be adjusted with a higher bit-rate, as well as a lower resolution for the recording. If you plan to use screen recording frequently, it’s important to tweak the settings until you get what works best for you.

The finished video will be in your Gallery app, with whatever title you assigned to it. This file can be pulled to a PC and easily edited, making it an invaluable asset for anyone who needs to record something happening on their smartphone.

For more on KitKat, check out our closer look at Android 4.4, which discusses why it’s the most important Android update in a long time.