Emulators vs Real Devices for QA testing

While creating mobile applications, developers need to assure that they appear great and function accurately with as few defects as possible. By testing your app in the simulated environment to replicate the real usage conditions, potential issues can be found and managed on the go. However, as the diversity in mobile devices is continuously increasing, testing has a crucial role to play in the overall application lifecycle. But, running test cycles and debugging on every possible device can be highly troublesome, when we have such a huge swath of devices out there.  

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of the emulators and real devices in testing and help developers answer their classic dilemma. 


Testing using Emulators 


An emulator is an application/software that virtualizes all properties and behavior of a real device, including both the OS and hardware, onto the machine during the testing cycle. Emulators can be accessed through an internet browser or launched from a developer’s environment too.  

The main benefits that the emulator provides are scalability and accessibility. The tester can access their emulation environment, select a type of device and an operating system, and immediately have a running version of that device. It works like Virtual Machines. Emulators are usually the subsequent stage in the development and testing cycle after a developer has built some new code, fabricated unit tests that can run during the Continuous Integration process. 



  • Huge variety  

Emulators provide developers a versatile method to test the most recent features, code patches, APIs, and many more across a variety of devices and screen resolutions without purchasing any actual devices for each configuration. Thus, testing applications on an Emulator ought to be just about as close as testing on an actual gadget, while keeping the advantages of virtual devices. 

  • Cost-friendly

The costs of smartphones and mobile devices are very high. Moreover, the prices of these devices are touching sky these days. This is where the emulator proves beneficial. There is practically no maintenance cost with emulators. Additionally, much time is squandered in having these devices fixed or replacing the defective ones, whereas emulators have breakdowns once in a while. Even if they do, fixing it is comparatively quick and easy.  

  • Starting from the Baseline

Emulators can be utilized for both manual as well as automated testing. They are generally more valuable when the application is in the beginning phase of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). During the test, the tester can start from the freshly booted device state each time. This is practically very difficult to achieve with real devices by manually doing the factory reset of all devices. Thus, testing on emulators can increase the reliability of the test too, as there won’t be any curveballs from the fresh virtual device during the run. 



  • False impression

One can’t really depend on the emulators because the conduct of the testing outcome may differ in a real-time situation. It may happen due to the emulation software missing a couple of test conditions, or due to some hardware fallback on the tester’s machine which is causing the emulator malfunction. It implies that eventually during the course of testing during the development lifecycle, the developers would have to retest the product on the real device also, to cross verify if such a situation arises.  

  • Hardware and Software Mismatch 

An emulator which is used by different vendors to test their applications on various hardware devices from various manufacturers, it can cause bugs due to the hardware and software mismatch. The underlying cause of such bugs is that the application creators tend to gain an extra edge in the market by providing more complex features that are never tested before on emulators and behave abruptly on different hardware. However, if both hardware and software are from the same vendor, it can turn down the false positives and deliver more accurate results, as the emulator will be well adapted in that case. 

  • Differences in Computing Resources

Emulators working on the host machine or server have a defined specification requirement with the machine’s computing power. However, the majority of the machines in any enterprise can’t sustain their proper function. It is due to their limited amount of computational power and memory. Hence, when you run the emulators on your computer, it may struggle in its operation and will not precisely mirror exactly the user experience and device behavior during testing.  

  • Not all mobile apps can be tested on emulators

Emulators are only accessible for specific platforms. They don’t support the total array of applications from various vendors. They might be incompatible with your application or part of your application that includes important components. For instance, a few emulators can test against the Android devices from different manufacturers, however, it may or may not support other devices with different OS like iOS. This implies that you may need to make fixes to a great extent to continue utilizing the emulator.  


Main Use Cases for Emulators: 

  • Local Development and Validation

The emulator provides adaptable testing capabilities that you can use to set up complex modeling and testing different environments for the application. Emulator assists with emulating numerous services for local development purposes. The developers can even test the application against the storage services locally without incurring any extra costs. As the emulator stores data just in memory, including pattern, schema, and configuration, it all gets lost on restart. Thus, the emulator is proposed for local development and testing, not for production deployments. 


Testing using Real Devices 



Generally, you should form a separate and customized testing plan for the app you develop. Sometimes the mobile application requires a specialized testing environment, which can be achieved by using real devices.  

Real testing devices as the name suggests are real mobile devices utilized by users outside the testing environment. For real device testing, you need to acquire mobile devices of different models, OS’s, and screen sizes. Testing on these devices additionally permits the developers to check for the functionality and standards of the application with real-time usage.  



  • Real-time testing 

Everyday utilization of a phone will incorporate a ton of interferences like phone calls or the screen turning off. Your application should be tested for interferences like this, and this must be performed on a real device. Real device testing is generally more reliable as it permits the developers to test practically in all real-time situations. Real-time testing can help to easily simulate the battery issues, handling interrupts, performance, notifications, OTPs and display jitters 

  • Better user interface validations 

When the developers are trying to improve the appearance of the application, the emulator on a similar PC for each phone device will not work. Every device differs in screen quality, size, and brightness. Hence, real device testing would be required. Real device testing allows the developers to ease up their user interface, for example, the screen type (AMOLED, IPS, or LCD), shading of the screen, and the look & feel of the application.  

  • Improved Hardware & Sensor-Related Validations 

Real device testing permits the developers to utilize sensors like gyroscope, accelerometer, orientation, and other sensors. Sometimes due to inefficient code or some other reason, the application may utilize excessive resources like the battery power, CPU, GPU, and RAM. Although the greater part of these things could be caught on emulators, the battery drain is a major issue that is practically difficult to catch on emulators, and hence real devices are necessary. 



  • High cost 

The major disadvantage of utilizing real devices for testing purposes is the extremely high expenses required for using them during the testing process. There are numerous models of devices available in the market, and testing on such a swath of devices isn’t just time-consuming and tedious, however, is more costly. The enterprises have to likewise consider the financial spending not only on procuring these devices but on the maintenance of real devices too. Thus, real device testing can be overkill for some low-budget projects.  

However, products like Sofy can provide a plethora of virtual devices during the testing cycle on-demand. It helps in achieving maximum test coverage and simultaneously combat the additional cost overhead involved with real device testing. 


While choosing between an emulator or a real device for testing your application, it is best to look at which stage you are in the development life cycle. For instance, you may utilize an emulator to upgrade the look and feel of the application, then further go on to do different tests on real devices. At last, you can choose whether to run application tests on an emulator or a real device dependent upon the situation, considering elements unique to your association, like budget, project timelines, and other factors.  

You can also use the combination of both and establish your Hybrid solution according to the application’s need. Moreover, cloud-based testing platforms are also emerging that can be the best solution currently accessible. Testing in the cloud implies accessing numerous iOS, Android, and other OS’s test emulators as well as real devices, directly from your browser. There is no compelling reason to purchase real devices or set up emulators, instead, you can use cloud testing to test on many devices directly from your browser on the go. 



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