Home Tech News Emulators vs. Simulators vs. Real Devices Testing: Key Differences

Emulators vs. Simulators vs. Real Devices Testing: Key Differences

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Website and application testing have always been essential to the overall development process. The testing procedure involves finding and fixing bugs, and it varies from identifying navigation glitches, transaction processing breaks, issues with signup forms, or a minor font size difference. However, testing helps ensure that a change does not break the user experience across several target devices.

There are two types of devices used for mobile testing:

  • Real devices
  • Virtual devices

This blog discusses emulators vs. simulators and distinguishes them from real devices.  

What are Real Devices?

Real devices are the actual handsets that the end user would use. These models of mobile phones are used to run applications and websites to test their functioning and behavioral pattern. 

However, building an infrastructure for real device testing can become cumbersome. This is due to the complications in acquiring handsets of variable specifications and building an ecosystem to run tests on them. 

Nonetheless, this is considered priceless as it provides the dev team invaluable real-time insight into what a customer will experience, thereby helping them achieve high levels of consumer satisfaction. 

Advantages of Real Devices

  • Real devices enable testing almost all possible real-time scenarios for an application.
  • This testing method allows the testers to analyze and determine usability issues, such as the object’s look and feel and the screen’s resolution under various circumstances.
  • Real devices do not disappoint in terms of interoperability testing and readability.
  • It can easily stimulate accurate color displays.

Disadvantages of Real Devices

  • The storage capacity is comparatively lesser than virtual devices.
  • Real devices are high-priced in comparison to virtual devices. Thus, it can risk profitability if the project is under a limited budget or time.
  • The user/tester has to type the URL manually to open the web application that needs to be tested.

What are virtual devices?

Unlike an actual device that provides simulation for the essential features, a virtual testing device is a software program on the computer. 

It imitates the nature of the smartphone, which helps the testers run software applications smoothly and get an idea about how it would perform on the designated device.

There are two variants of virtual testing devices :

  • Emulators
  • Simulators

What are Emulators?

An emulator imitates the hardware and software of the target device on a computer. This process is executed by translating the Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) of the target device to the one used by the computer to conduct testing using binary translation.

By translating the ISA of the target device, one can form a virtual environment for testing by mimicking the way the target device works. However, the near-native potential of the target device, which permits one to adjust the geolocation, and physical sensors, comes at the cost of latency.

ISA is the set of instructions in Machine Language by the processor families, which is used to build device configuration depicting the behavior and functionality of the device.

Android and Galaxy emulators are some examples.

What are Simulators?

A simulator helps specific programs run on the computer smoothly. The programs are built for different operating systems. Usually, they are meant for iPhone and iPad devices, not android devices that can be emulated easily.

The iOS simulators imitate iOS and run the necessary applications/websites inside it by sitting on top of the computer’s OS. To run the iOS simulator, one needs to work on macOS because it requires Apple’s native Cocoa API, which is vital for running GUI and other operations.

However, this poses a problem. Developers have to either virtualize macOS on their existing systems or work on the MacBook.

Besides, simulators do not mimic hardware. Thus one cannot analyze certain functionalities like cellular interrupts and battery usage while using simulators for testing.

Emulators vs. Simulators: The Differences 

Although both emulators and simulators are considered virtual devices, they have stark differences.

  • The emulator’s objective is to mimic the outer behavior of the targeted device as flawlessly as possible. At the same time, the simulators aim to simulate only the internal functionality of the device.
  • Emulators are used whenever a requirement is to test the device’s external behavior, like making transactions or calculating similar features. Whereas simulators are used to test the internal behavior of a device, such as the hardware and firmware
  • The emulators are written in machine-level languages, while the simulators are written in many higher-level languages.
  • For debugging, emulators are given more preference for their efficiency. On the other hand, simulators can be pretty tricky for the same task.
  • Emulators usually come as a complete re-implementation of the initial software, while simulators are just the partial implementation of the software.¬†

Advantages of testing on emulators and simulators

There are certain situations where the timeline is limited, and purchasing the actual device may not be possible. In those circumstances, emulator/simulator-based testing may prove to be useful.

  • In most cases, emulators and simulators are open and accessible software that are readily available. It can be downloaded online and is ready for testing.
  • Web application testing can quickly be done with the help of an emulator/simulator. The user only has to copy-paste the URL of the application.
  • Availability of memory is not an issue with emulators and simulators. That is because they have far more memory capacity than real devices.

Disadvantages of testing on emulators and simulators

  • They cannot efficiently simulate the battery issues.
  • The performance is found to be slower than the original devices at times.
  • They cannot simulate the interruption caused by incoming SMS and calls.
  • When the actual device is under sunlight or in black, the emulator/simulator fails to properly emulate/simulate the exact color display.

When to test on Emulators vs. Simulators vs. Real devices

Usually, the testers prefer to be flexible with the various types of mobile app testing strategies for every application that is being developed and needs to be tested.

Undoubtedly, virtual devices offer a better debugging facility and are mostly preferred during the initial stages of applications or code development. This testing method is best suited to make the development cycle faster and more efficient, with recurring iterations required in the initial stages.

On the other hand, user acceptance and sanity testing can be done better with the help of real devices. Although the parts of regression testing could be done using virtual devices after a certain point, it might result in unsatisfactory results.

One does not have to bother about frequently changing settings with virtual testing. And for that sole purpose, numerous developers prefer virtual devices to get done with basic sanity testing. Moreover, the speed and frequency of testing play a significant role, based on which the tester opts for the ideal technique.

While virtual devices can’t accurately detect performance defects, they can be easily identified with the help of real devices. However, not everyone can afford the cost and logistics involved in purchasing and managing real devices.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that more people are using the application, which is essential for building a user-friendly, high-performing app. And to provide the best, one must choose the right tool based on the customer demands, business needs, and risk management aspects.  

Choosing an ideal testing strategy

Each organization needs to analyze and strategize carefully to determine at which stage it is best to introduce real devices. Besides that, the enterprise also needs to decide the number of sufficient devices to cover customer needs and the best possible option to adopt for managing those devices.

Both real and virtual devices have advantages and disadvantages in their functionality. And to lessen the drawbacks and make the most out of the benefits, it is essential to understand and adopt the best possible testing strategies.

However, opting for a real device cloud for testing applications can provide the best of both worlds. This cloud-based application lets dev and testing teams connect multiple targeted devices and test their functionality irrespective of location. It is also a brilliant method to test applications manually or automate the application functionality on a large scale.

Real device cloud is the appropriate solution for testers to find bugs and for developers to fix bugs effortlessly without overspending resources. Moreover, it is an excellent choice for developers of agile companies. 

Cloud testing also offers multiple advantages:

  • Easy debugging
  • Budget-friendly
  • Accuracy and Reliability
  • A real device-like experience
  • Test results recording
  • Parallel testing
  • Enhanced security


Thorough contemplation of both the pros and cons of virtual and real devices would be valuable to conclude the optimal mobile testing devices for your project or company. That way, you do not have to rely entirely on real or virtual machines but instead can opt for a better yet efficient method, that is, an optimum of both.

Considering the remarkable role that mobile applications play in day-to-day life, it requires much testing to make them work in a certain way. Testing via virtual and real-world devices is essential to maintain unbeatable standards and quality assurance.

In conclusion, each testing method has its own pros and cons. When selecting the fine approach for a positive checking out purpose, cost, time, and private desire have to all be taken into account. Emulators let you test software in a simulated environment without spending a lot of money. This helps developers find problems early on in the process. Simulators, on the other hand, can better represent how things work in the real world. This lets developers test software in a more realistic setting. Real devices give the most realistic testing experience, which makes it easier to spot problems with performance or usability that could happen when the device is actually used.

As technology advances, you will find more ways to improve these testing methods. For example, we can use machine learning to automate tests and make them more accurate. Additionally, new hardware and software program developments that end result in extra high quality and environment friendly checking out tactics will proceed to form the panorama of software program testing. But for now, understanding the pros and cons of each testing method will help you make decisions that meet your testing goals and lead to better software products in the long run.

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