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Is there a convenient small Unix virtual machine I can install as an Android app?
If you're specifically looking for a Linux VM, you might consider amending the question title. If you're not, you might consider amending the question text.
Any reason NOT to run Linux in a VM all the time?
Actually, the advent of llvmpipe means you won't necessarily need 3D hardware acceleration for much longer -- the GNOME 3.4 live CD (based on Fedora 17) runs gnome-shell just fine in VirtualBox with no guest additions. Performance suffers a little of course, as the rendering is done in software instead, but the results are still better than I ever managed trying to run gnome-shell with VirtualBox's accelerated OpenGL support.