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App Performance


Emulators Vs. Real Device Testing for Mobile Apps

Testing is one of the biggest challenges facing mobile apps nowadays. The huge amount of mobile apps available nowadays means that users are no longer willing to stick with buggy apps. But with the growing number of mobile users, the amount and variety of devices in use are also increasing. Testing is difficult enough without having to worry about the huge variety of devices out there. And that variety means different device capabilities, screen sizes, OS and more. There are two ways to test devices: emulators vs. real device testing. This article will explore the difference between both types to help you decide which to use.

Emulators Vs. Real Device Testing for Mobile Apps

Emulators for mobile apps

Using emulators/simulators is common practice nowadays. They are essentially the virtualization of a mobile device. In the case of emulators, they are software that mimics the hardware and software of the target device on your computer. Simulators are more about running the software on your computer without any hardware details. The main benefits of using emulators for mobile testing are:

  • Cheaper: Finding and buying various devices especially newer ones to conduct full testing can become costly. Emulators and other cloud solutions usually offer all the devices you would need while being cost-effective.
  • Easier to use: Instead of having to manually set up each device for testing purposes on real devices, emulators make this much easier. Running devices is much easier to deal with while keeping everything on the tester’s computer.
  • Faster: For some test cases, running emulators and simulators can be much faster to access and use a computer/cloud’s higher resources to speed up tests.
  • Work in parallel: Running various emulators and devices on the same computer running tests is much more accessible on a computer to maintain and support tests.
  • Availability: Some devices won’t be accessible everywhere. Emulators let you use any device or OS version that will be much more difficult to come by in physical form.

Real devices for mobile testing

Despite emulators gaining popularity in testing, real device testing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. There are still plenty of issues when it comes to emulators that even though they are mimicking devices to a great degree it can’t be the same experience. It’s important for testers to experience what the final users will be experiencing. This can only be achieved on physical devices. The main benefits of using real devices for mobile testing are:

  • Testing gestures: Not everything can be emulated on a computer. There are a lot of sensors in smartphones and added gestures that need to be tested and need a physical device.
  • Performance: While an emulator does mimic the hardware and software it does so in lab conditions. Real devices will have various different factors like temperature and other software running that will affect performance.
  • Network conditions: Testing for network performance is essential and on an emulator, it will only be lab conditions. But there needs to be testing for spotty and slow network internet because that’s what most users will be using.
  • Battery: Without a real device you won’t know how your app affects a particular device’s battery. If your app is a battery life drainer it will be deleted quickly, so it’s important to test for it on a real device.
  • Interruptions and other real-life conditions: Day-to-day use of a smartphone will include of a lot of interruptions like phone calls or turning off the screen. Your app needs to be tested for the interruptions and this can only be performed on a physical device.
  • Validating exact colors and display: When trying to optimize the look of your app, an emulated device on the same computer screen for every device won’t work. Each device has wildly varying screen quality, size, and brightness. It’s important that these be tested on real devices.

What should you use: emulators vs. real devices testing?

If it’s not clear already the best and smartest way to go about your mobile app testing is to not stick to one or the other. Using a mixture of both emulators and real device testing will maximize the benefits and minimize the potential issues.

When to use emulators:

  • To test flows and UI
  • For devices you don't have access to

When to use real devices:

  • To test gestures
  • For general performance tests like battery and network

Factor in budget, of course, and decide on the mixture of both you will use in order to get the best out of your app, preferably in the early stages of app design.

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