Emulators vs Real devices for Test automation: Which is better?

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Mobile applications are in the golden era of embracing more hybrid and progressive applications. The rapid proliferation of mobile technology and the internet has led to an increased interest in the development of a lot of mobile applications. 

Be it bill payments, shopping, or entertainment, we all are dependent on mobile apps. Can you believe that the number of mobile app downloads is expected to rise to a whopping 258 billion by 2022?

As more and more companies are rolling out business-critical mobile apps, such as health apps, mobile banking apps, their risk exposure is very high. For the same reason, companies need mature mobile testing solutions that allow them to deploy and support mobile application development while reducing the risk exposure. It does not matter how well the code is written; the final product should pass through a well-defined testing strategy. 

With all this in mind, you need to put extra effort into testing your mobile apps. So, you have a perfect balance of experienced team, manual and automated testing, and appropriate testing methods.

But one important element is missing here – the mobile app testing approach. Will you be buying multiple smartphones or clicking a mouse to test the mobile applications? There are two ways to test a mobile application: emulators and real devices.

Read on to understand the pros and cons of testing on emulators vs. real devices that will help you make the right decision.

Types of mobile testing solutions

With the evolution of technology, testing has also seen its share of advancements in the form of different mobile testing solutions. These solutions are built to support mobile apps, and cross-browser testing of websites on different mobile phones by analyzing the function, behavior, and user interface aspects of the application. Since there is an end number of mobile devices that differ by the operating system, hardware configuration, and screen resolution, what might work on one device could vary for other devices. There are primarily two types of devices for mobile testing:

Real devices

Real testing devices are different mobile handset models that are used to run a website or mobile app to test its behavior and functions. These are the real mobile handsets that are used by the end-user. These tests are conducted by buying a few mobile handsets with different Operating Systems like Android and  iOS, tablets, iPad devices.

Virtual Devices

A virtual device is a program that imitates the real software and hardware of the mobile device. And the two types of virtual devices for this purpose are emulators and simulators. This is done by translating the ISA (Instruction Set Architecture) of the target device to the computer. It completely mimics the way your target device functions and forms a virtual testing environment.

Evolution of Testing: From real to virtual testing devices

With over 60 Android phones and 18 iOS versions released in 2020, real device mobile testing has become a challenge. Whether you are testing the mobile application manually or through automation, the testing strategies have evolved to virtual devices. Even though the results generated on real devices are more accurate, the testing cost is very high as the company needs to buy a lot of mobile devices and update them as new devices hit the market. To overcome the expense of real device testing, virtual testing devices have been introduced to conduct mobile app and cross-browser compatibility testing.

When to use emulators vs. real devices for test automation

There are many strengths to using emulators and real devices but the testing route depends on the risk and phase of the application. For example, if the only risk is to render an application, the best choice is to choose an emulator for test automation. The combination of real and virtual testing should be combined if responsiveness is the primary objective of the users. In addition, the cost of the emulator is much favorable when compared to using a real device. When the main risk is related to swiping and dragging the application, the emulator can be the best choice.

Many organizations prefer to conduct only real device testing but they are very costly. So, here the rule of thumb is to use emulators for hardware and software. An emulator can check how the application is operated using different memory allocations and central processing units. Emulators are especially useful when the testing needs to be conducted under an extensive range of conditions. However, emulators are more beneficial when they are used in combination with real device testing practices.

Pros and cons of automating tests in emulators


The most important advantage of the emulator is the price as they are free or very affordable. You just need to download the software; install the application and you are all set. In addition, emulators are client software and run locally. They have less or no dependency on real devices and run faster as compared to the real devices connected to the local network or cloud. The emulator is a part of the SDK provided to the software developers.

With a strong development environment integration, mobile emulators provide the access to detailed information of debugging, which plays a crucial role in the development phase. It allows testers to proceed with the step-by-step debugging of the application on the emulator. Also, there may be cases where the mobile emulators provide enormous benefits of simulating difficult to reproduce scenarios (certain GPS coordinates, low battery, etc.) that a real device cannot support.


Even if the testing goes perfectly fine, you cannot be 100% sure that the data can be applied to a real device. It raises the questions of which tests need to be verified in real time and which can be considered reliable on emulators. Also, if the test fails on the emulator, it is important to define whether to perform a test on the mobile device or assume that the function does not require any further changes.

In context to software and hardware differences, the emulators are a plain vanilla version of the operating system and often do not reflect any specific software and hardware of each supported device. With companies like Apple, the emulator provides accurate results because the vendors are of the same company.

Another disadvantage is related to network configuration as the emulators are run on the PC and connected to LAN to access the internet. While using devices, the network is connected directly to the radio interface and internet. In many cases, the different network environments can result in different application behaviors. Since the mobile device is a phone, the network-related events (text message, incoming call, etc.) should be tested to determine the impact of the application. And it can be difficult to accomplish these tests using an emulator because the quality of the network varies between different states, carriers, regions, and countries. Since emulators are connected to the mobile network, they cannot identify the impacts on the application. Moreover, the slow emulators when compared to real devices cannot identify touch screen and app behavior issues.

Pros and cons of automating tests in real devices


Testing on real devices always provides accurate results and there are not any concerns of false positives or negatives. This type of testing is performed in a live network. It is a vital testing process as it does not get affected by any network-related events. For example, if a text message or call comes into the device in the middle of a transaction, the whole testing process will vanish. In addition, the network technologies (LTE, HSDPA, WIFI, etc.) can have a major impact on the behavior of the application. Real device testing is the only way to understand the experience of users, screen size, considering CPU factors for a given device. When it comes to quality of service, real handset operations can provide the best testing results. Furthermore, it is much easier to identify performance defects with real devices.


As stated above, real devices are physical handsets that need to be managed properly. The costs and logistics involved in buying these resources are very high. Another challenge is different types of handsets that need to be purchased, and which devices need to be procured? In the initial development stages, real devices are difficult to connect to IDE as compared to emulators, and it can slow down the process of debugging.

Top emulators for test automation in the market


BrowserStack provides easy access to the mobile emulators for testing of Android and iOs devices. It mimics the functionality of popular web browsers to provide the same look and feel of the browser on real devices.


Screenfly is an emulator that supports over 25 devices and 5 tablets with varied platforms like Android, iOS, etc. It checks how the application looks and performs on multiple devices and helps in testing the visual elements and interfaces on multiple devices and resolutions.

Top real devices test automation tools


Kobiton is a cloud platform that provides real device access to run automated tests on native web and mobile apps. It is an open-source tool and keeps on adding the latest hardware and software updates to their device lab. The tools allow you to test across multiple devices without any modifications in the script. It also generates commands, activity logs, metadata, screenshots, and allows for quick identification of bugs.

Keynote Mobile Testing Tools

Keynote helps to ensure the high quality of the application on real devices. It provides the ability of testing apps on real devices. It is a commercial cloud-based tool that helps you to conduct regression and functional testing of mobile apps.


RobusTest is a free cloud-based testing tool on real devices and supports the Android and iOS platforms. It allows you to conduct rapid and advanced tests with scriptless automation testing. It also helps in performing rapid automation testing with open API and continuous integration.

Choosing the most optimal testing strategy

Are you still confused between emulators vs real devices? Well, both have their pros and cons. And the best strategy is to make the most of their advantages and minimize the impact of disadvantages. The most optimal strategy here is to adopt a cloud-based testing solution that supports effective testing throughout the software development lifecycle.

The cloud testing platform enables developers and testers to connect with a variety of mobile devices in the cloud for test automation. It offers a wide set of options, combining different screen resolutions, operating systems, frameworks, and so on. Moreover, the cloud solutions also support parallel testing, are available 24/7, and support the agile development process.

So, the winning strategy is:

Although it is the best option to rely on real-device testing, you can use emulators at the initial stages of the development lifecycle. Then, you can turn to real devices in the later stage. Further, you can scale up your test automation and run tests on as many devices as you need with a cloud testing solution provider.

Win your test automation strategy with QAonCloud

Now, you have the answer to your question – choosing between emulators vs real devices for test automation. Your next step should be to find the right balance of real-device and emulator-based testing while combining the two approaches and complementing them with the best cloud testing solution. QAonCloud is here to help you make testing more scalable, effective, and cost-effective with hundreds of devices in the cloud. Talk to our QA experts now to see us in action.

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