emulators versus physical devices represented by woman holding cell phone at a computer

Emulators Versus Physical Devices: Which is Better?

When it comes to mobile testing, developers have two choices: emulators versus physical devices. Emulators/simulators are software programs that mimic a device’s features. These are virtual devices that act like real smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices. While typically lumped together, simulators and emulators are slightly different. Essentially, emulators mimic the outer behavior of an object while simulators mimic an object’s internal state.

Why Use Emulators/Simulators 

One reason emulators/simulators are used is that physical devices are expensive. Buying them for a project can quickly blow the budget for many projects. Plus, there’s a lot of manual work involved when working with physical devices.

On the façade, emulators seem to be more efficient. They can test very specific situations and can be used to simulate a wide variety of devices. Emulators for different devices are widely available, and for many companies most importantly, they’re relatively inexpensive (oftentimes free) in comparison to physical devices.

Emulators/Simulators and Faulty Results

While emulators seem like the perfect alternative to physical devices, they have many issues that could affect the overall validity of testing and possibly void results. Both simulators and emulators can give you both false positive and negative results – which is extremely problematic on both extremes. They also aren’t designed for all types of situations and may not provide adequate results as to how the app or website will perform on a device over long-term use.

Not all emulators support all types of mobile applications. Developers have to be very careful when selecting emulators. They may also have to purchase software patches in order to support additional applications. Finally, emulators can’t simulate all types of user interactions on a device while QA tests on a physical device do allow for different interactions.


Mobile is no longer a secondary market that simply needs to be accommodated. In many ways, it has vastly surpassed the days of mainly using desktops and laptops. The sheer number of devices and configurations that mobile apps and websites need to run can be a logistical nightmare for developers. Apps must run effectively without bugs on these devices. If not, consumers can get frustrated and cease to use the app.

For comprehensive results, always test on a physical device. If budgetary constraints keep you from buying a variety of different devices, consider hiring an outside QA testing house that has all needed devices on hand.

iBeta only tests with physical devices. We can test app and website compatibility with different hardware, OS and browser versions on a variety of carriers. Contact us today to learn more about our services.