An Overview of Testing on Real Devices vs. Simulators vs. Emulators

Published: 22 Dec 2021

An Overview of Testing on Real Devices vs. Simulators vs. Emulators

Last Updated: 10 May 2022

Mobile apps are important for today’s enterprises as they continue to be the major business enablers. It is critically important that these mobile apps should function seamlessly at all times. Typically, these mobile apps should be tested for their functionality, usability, accessibility, consistency, performance, etc. Evidently, mobile app testing plays an important role in the overall mobile app development process. Mobile app testing helps identify various types of bugs that affect the functionality, security, and reliability of apps to ensure a seamless experience (UX). It is important to note that today’s end-users access mobile apps on various devices that differ in hardware configuration, operating systems (OS), browsers, etc. Thus, testing the mobile apps on various mobile testing devices is essential before releasing them to the market.

Content 1. Broad classification of mobile testing devices 2. What are real devices? 3. What are virtual devices? 4. What are emulators? 5. What are simulators? 6. Major differences between real and virtual testing devices 7. Key differences between simulator and emulator-based testing 8. How to decide when to test on real and virtual devices? 9. Mobile testing types to be performed on real and virtual devices 10. Conclusion 11. How can TestingXperts (Tx) help?

Broad classification of mobile testing devices

mobile testing platforms

Mobile apps are tested using various types of mobile testing devices by analyzing application behavior, functionality, user interface, and many other factors. As mobile devices differ by hardware configuration, OS, screen resolution, etc., it is evident that what works on one type of mobile device might not work on another mobile device. Therefore, to ensure the consistent behavior of apps on different mobile devices, it is essential to test them using various mobile device solutions. These mobile testing devices solutions are broadly classified as Real Devices and Virtual Devices

What are real devices?

Real devices - mobile testing platforms

Real devices are the various models of actual handsets used by the end-users. Testing teams have access to a couple of devices of different versions. To test the functioning and behavioral patterns, the mobile testing team tests the apps on a range of mobile devices such as iOS, Android, Blackberry, Tablet, iPads, etc. The results generated by real-device testing are accurate, but there is a higher cost involved with their purchase. Also, as the devices get updated from time to time and new devices are launched frequently in the market, it is difficult for testing teams to test mobile apps on all real devices. Thus, to overcome this challenge, testers use virtual devices. But, specifically, there are certain use cases where only real devices can be used for testing, including push notifications, real-time messages, GPS data, etc.

What are virtual devices?

virtual devices - mobile testing platforms

Virtual devices are software programs that mimic an actual smartphone device’s important features and nature. These virtual devices help testers run the application and understand how an application would work on real devices. The virtual testing devices are broadly classified into emulators and simulators.

What is an emulator in mobile testing?

emulators - mobile testing platforms

Emulators are software programs that create virtual devices on a computer. They are used to mimic the target device’s hardware and software on the workstation. It works on machine language that the processor understands and translates to the language used by the system through a binary translation process. The two most widely used types of emulators in mobile testing are android emulators and iOS emulators.

What are simulators in mobile testing?

simulators - mobile testing platforms

Simulators are virtual testing software that can only mimic mobile devices’ software characteristics and configurations. They are made for iOS devices, i.e., iPhone and iPad. The iOS simulator mimics the iOS and runs the required application within the environment by taking charge of the computer’s operating system. But, to run the iOS simulator, testers need to work on MacOS as the iOS simulator needs Apple’s native Cocoa API, which is essential for the GUI, runtime, and many other operations. It sometimes challenges testers as they have to either work on MacBook or virtualize MacOS on their existing systems.

Major differences between real and virtual testing devices

 real vs virtual testing device
Point of Difference
Real testing devices
Virtual testing devices
Testing Accuracy Testing on real devices ensures accurate test results as tests are conducted in the same condition as a user under real-environment Virtual devices testing results are comparatively less accurate than testing on real devices
Debugging Debugging on real devices is comparatively difficult Debugging on virtual devices is relatively easy
Validation of battery issues, incoming interrupts, color displays Real devices can easily simulate battery issues, incoming interrupts, exact color displays, etc. These virtual devices cannot simulate battery issues, incoming interrupts, color displays, etc.
Simulation of memory-related issues Memory storage level for real devices is less as compared to virtual devices Memory storage level for virtual devices is more as compared to real devices
Cost Cost is involved in the purchase of real devices It is less costly as virtual devices can be installed for free

Emulator vs. Simulator-based testing

 simulator vs emulator-based testing
Point of Difference
Simulator-based testing
Emulator-based testing
Aim The main aim of the simulator is to simulate the internal behavior/internal state of the target mobile device The main aim of the emulator is to mimic the outer behavior of the target mobile device
Target area Simulator-based testing is focused on testing the mobile device software’s characteristics and configurations. Simulators do not mimic hardware Emulator based testing is focused on testing mobile device hardware, operating system, and software
Language Simulators are written in a high-level language. Emulators are written in machine-level assembly language
Debugging Simulators are less suitable and less reliable for debugging Emulators are suitable and reliable for debugging
Device support One of the major difference between emulator and simulator is that simulators are used for testing iOS devices. Emulators are used for testing android devices
Speed Simulator-based testing is fast as no binary translations are involved Emulator-based testing is slower as binary translations are involved

How to decide when to test on real and virtual devices?

Real devices can be used for critical scenarios and in situations like memory leaks, high CPU usage, latency, and while having network issues that might fail when tested with virtual devices. Virtual devices can be used for testing the functionality and user interface as they give good results, and these devices are much cheaper than real devices. Moreover, these virtual devices can be set up with any configuration, and many instances can be created from them. Real devices testing comes with a cost, and automation testing on these devices requires additional effort, while cloud solutions can be used for testing as they provide numerous real devices on the cloud.

Mobile testing types to be performed on real and virtual devices

Mobile testing types

Installation testing:

This testing method involves a check on whether the application can be successfully installed, uninstalled, updated, or not. This test ensures that applications work as expected after they are installed.

Compatibility testing:

This test is performed to check the compatibility of the app on various devices varying in platforms, OS, browsers, etc. Testers use various types of real devices, emulators, and simulators to check the compatibility of an app on the maximum possible device forms.

Functional testing:

This test is performed to verify the functional aspects of an app. It ensures that the app functions well and works as expected. There are a variety of functional tests conducted on applications such as unit tests, integration tests, system tests, acceptance tests, alpha tests, beta tests, etc.

Usability testing:

The main aim of usability testing is to ensure the user-friendliness of an app. A set of end-users test the app, and their responses are recorded further to be evaluated to improve the mobile app’s usability.

Performance testing:

This test aims to eliminate performance bottlenecks from the app before it goes live, and it ensures that the application meets the performance objectives. This testing method checks the application’s speed, responsiveness, and stability under varying user loads, fluctuating networks, etc.

Security testing:

The main aim of security testing is to ensure that the application is free from vulnerabilities and security loopholes. Various types of security checks are performed in this testing method, such as vulnerability tests, penetration tests, security scanning, security auditing, etc.

Localization testing:

This testing ensures that the application meets the language and cultural requirements of a particular region. This test ensures that proper time zone, i.e., date & time formats, are included in the app, local currency, text, and user interface are used, and local regulations are included based on the geographical region.

Storage testing:

The main aim of this test is to ensure that the application’s data is stored in the right format and right directory. This testing method checks that sufficient apps are available on disk so that the app does not terminate unexpectedly.

User Interface (UI) testing:

This test aims to ensure that the application’s GUI meets all the required specifications. This test involves checking the UI of an app across various types of devices differing in screen size, resolution, etc., to ensure it provides the same UX across devices.


The need for high-quality mobile apps is rising, and it is essential to leverage effective mobile app testing to enable seamless UX. Testers should ensure mobile app testing using emulators, simulators, and real devices to reap the significant benfits of each mobile testing solution. Testers also need to ensure that they properly plan the test coverage, application under test, and mobile automation testing tools to maximize the benefits of mobile app testing while performing on different devices. Businesses can leverage mobile testing for flawless and reliable mobile apps from a next-gen QA and independent software testing services provider.

How can TestingXperts (Tx) help?

mobile testing platforms - Testingxperts

TestingXperts, with its advanced mobile test lab, extensive expertise in mobile testing engagements, and breadth of experience in the right mobile automation testing, ensures that the mobile testing is thorough and cost-effective. Our mobile testing Lab has 250+ physical and unlimited cloud-based devices from leading brands and the ability to test with various network carriers on 2G, 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi. Tx provides end-to-end mobile testing services, including functional, security, performance, compatibility, usability, and test automation across different devices, models, networks, operating systems, browsers, and locations.

Tx has also partnered with Sofy, the No. 1 AI-powered no-code quality automation platform, and established Tx-Device Hub powered by Sofy. This device lab contains a vast library of devices that allows QA Teams to test their apps on hundreds of devices before a release, ensuring a great user experience and the ability to release features within hours with high confidence. Get in touch with our mobile experts to know more.

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