Using Android Within VirtualBox

Make the most of your virtualization software

If you want to use the Android operating system on your laptop or desktop computer, the best way is to use the Android x86 distribution with virtualization software such as VirtualBox. Android isn't designed specifically for mainstream computing and, unless you have a touchscreen, some of the controls could become painfully slow during the course of time. But, if you have some games on your phone or tablet you want to play on your computer, using Android within VirtualBox is the best solution. You don't have to alter your disk partitions and it can be installed within Linux or Windows environments. There are some drawbacks, though. This list highlights five essential tips and tricks for using Android within VirtualBox. 

Alter the Android Screen Resolution Within VirtualBox

Android Screen Resolution

The first thing you notice when running Android within VirtualBox is that the screen is limited to a smaller resolution, something like 640 x 480. This might be suitable for phone applications, but for tablets and monitors, the screen needs to be a little bit bigger. There isn't a simple setting in either VirtualBox or Android for adjusting the screen resolution and size, so it ends up being a bit of an effort to do both.

Turn off Screen Rotation Within Android

Android Screen Rotation

The most important thing you can do when you first run Android within VirtualBox is to turn off auto-rotate. Lots of applications in the Google Play store are designed for phones, and as such, they're designed to run in portrait mode. But, most laptop screens are designed in landscape mode.

As soon as you run an application, it auto rotates and your screen is flipped to 90 degrees. Turn off auto-rotate by dragging down the top bar and selecting the auto-rotate button so it becomes rotation locked. If you find that your screen still rotates, press the F9 key twice quickly to straighten it up again.

Install Smart Rotator to Make Apps Run in Landscape Mode

The Curse Of Auto Rotate

Despite turning off screen rotation, the applications themselves may still rotate the screen by 90 degrees. You have three options at this point: turn your head 90 degrees, turn the laptop on its side, or install Smart Rotator.

Smart Rotator is a free Android application that lets you specify how other applications are to run. For each application, you can choose either Portrait or Landscape orientation.

This tip has to work in conjunction with the screen resolution tip because some games become a nightmare if you run them in landscape mode when they were supposed to run in portrait mode. Arkanoid and Tetris, for example, become impossible to play. 

How to Fix a Disappearing Mouse Pointer

Disable Mouse Integration

Your mouse pointer always disappears the first time you click into the VirtualBox window running Android. This is very annoying but the resolution is simple. Select Machine and then Disable Mouse Integration from the menu.

How to Fix the Black Screen of Death

Prevent Android Black Screen

The Android screen goes black if you leave it idle for any length of time. It isn't immediately obvious how to get back to the main Android screen again. Press the right CTRL key so the mouse cursor becomes available, then select Machine > ACPI Shutdown option. The Android screen should reappear.

You also might want to change the sleep settings within Android. Go to Settings > Display > Sleep. There is an option called Never Time Out. Select it. Now you never have to worry about the black screen of death.

A Few Bonus Tips

Here are a few extra tips for running Android through VirtualBox:

  • Some games are designed to run in portrait mode, so the tip for fixing auto-rotate might work, but it can cause the game to work differently than planned.
  • Why not have two Android virtual machines? One with a landscape resolution and one with a portrait resolution.
  • Android games are mainly made for touchscreen devices, so playing with the mouse might get tricky. Consider using a Bluetooth game controller to play.