Using Android Within VirtualBox

Person holding phone in their palm with icons above it representing virtual machine


Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

If you want to use Android on your laptop or desktop computer then the best way is to use the Android x86 distribution. 

It's best to use virtualization software such as VirtualBox for running Android as it is not ready to be used as the main operating system on your computer. 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.

If you have some games that you like to play on your phone or tablet and you want to have them available on your computer, then 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, however, and this list is going to highlight 5 essential tips and tricks for using Android Within VirtualBox. 

Alter the Screen Resolution of Android Within VirtualBox

Android Screen Resolution

The first thing you will notice when you try Android within VirtualBox is that the screen is limited to something like 640 x 480.

This might be suitable for phone applications, but for tablets, the screen might need to be a little bit bigger.

There isn't a simple setting in either VirtualBox or Android for adjusting the screen resolution and size and 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 turn off auto rotate. There are lots of applications in the play store designed for phones, and as such, they are designed to run in portrait mode. The thing about most laptops is that the screen is 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 from the right corner and click the auto rotate button so that it becomes rotation locked. This should alleviate the screen rotation issue. Although the next tip will fix it fully.

If you find that your screen still rotates press the F9 key twice quickly to straighten it up again.

Install Smart Rotator to Rotate All Applications to Landscape

The Curse Of Auto Rotate

Despite turning off screen rotation, the applications themselves may still rotate the screen by 90 degrees into portrait mode.

Now you have three options at this point:

  1. Turn your head 90 degrees.
  2. Turn the laptop onto its side.
  3. Install Smart Rotator.

Smart Rotator is a free Android Application that lets you specify how an application is to run.

For each application, you can choose either Portrait or Landscape.

This tip has to work in conjunction with the screen resolution tip because some games become a nightmare if you run them in landscape when they were supposed to run in portrait mode.

Arkanoid and Tetris, for example, become impossible to play. 

The Mystery of the Disappearing Mouse Pointer

Disable Mouse Integration

This should probably have been the first item on the list because it is quite an annoying feature and without following this tip you will be hunting for the mouse pointer. When you first click into the VirtualBox window running Android your mouse pointer will disappear.

The resolution is simple. Select Machine and then Disable Mouse Integration from the menu.

Fixing the Black Screen of Death

Prevent Android Black Screen

If you leave the screen idle for any length of time the Android screen goes black. It isn't immediately obvious how to get back to the main Android screen again.

Press the right CTRL key so that the mouse cursor becomes available and then select the Machine and then ACPI Shutdown option. The Android screen will reappear. It might be better, however, to change the sleep settings within Android. 

Drag down from the top right corner and click on Settings. Select Display and then select Sleep.

There is an option called Never Time Out. Place a radio button into this option.

Now you never have to worry about the black screen of death.

Bonus Tips

  • Some games are designed for portrait mode and so the tip for fixing auto rotate might work but will cause the game to work differently to how it is 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 and so playing with the mouse might get tricky. Consider using a Bluetooth games controller to play the games.