Real Device Testing vs. Virtual Device Testing: Making the Right Choice

One of the first decisions you must make when developing a cross-browser testing strategy is the environment in which the tests will be conducted. When it comes to testing mobile devices, you have three options: simulators, emulators, or real devices. 

While developers weigh the benefits and drawbacks of these options, the solution to a classic testing quandary may be simpler than you think. To have a better understanding, let’s examine the distinctions between virtual and real device testing solutions.

What is Virtual Device Testing?

A virtual testing device is a software program that delivers characteristics similar to those of a real phone. The program replicates the smartphone’s functionality, allowing testers to test their applications and evaluate how they would operate on a real device.

What are Emulators?

An emulator is a type of application software that imitates the functionality of the target device’s hardware, operating system, or other applications. It allows you to simulate a genuine device and test your app. Debugging, automation, and unit testing all make use of emulators. Because software is usually platform-specific, developers create different programs for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and iOS.

Different types of emulators use different emulation techniques. The ultimate goal remains the same, regardless of the method: to replicate the sensation of utilizing the original device or software. Certain emulators are more feature-rich and perform better than the original product. 

What are Simulators?

Another type of software that enables you to run your app tests designed for other operating systems is called a simulator. High-level languages are used to write simulators, which are primarily utilized for iOS devices. To make sure the app functions as intended in a variety of contexts, iOS simulators are frequently used for app testing.

To assess an app’s ability to provide data to another app, for instance. Generally, a simulated environment will work just fine because it is unlikely that the underlying hardware configuration will have a substantial impact on data transfers for your software. Ensuring that the user interface of a program displays appropriately at various screen resolutions may also be achieved with the use of simulated testing environments. But at the end of the day, it is a simulator and not the real thing.

What Do You Mean By Real Device Testing?

The merit of utilizing real device testing is evident in its name. Testing on tangible, physical devices ensures that the testing process mirrors how users operate their own devices. While simulators and emulators come close to replication, they can never precisely emulate the intricacies of a real device. 

Emulators cannot account for every environmental factor, feature, or user action that occurs on a real device. For instance, emulators struggle to simulate high traffic volume as experienced by real devices, potentially impacting the outcomes of performance or functional testing.

Moreover, emulators are prone to providing both false negative and positive testing results, introducing challenges in an advanced testing process and adversely affecting developers’ progress, return on investment (ROI), and overarching goals. In contrast, testing on real devices is more accurate, specific to users, and essential for comprehensive testing aspects like performance, reliability, operability, sanity, and regression testing.

However, testing on real devices does come with a higher cost. In many instances, testers may resort to emulators and simulators as a more cost-effective alternative to establishing a device lab covering all required platforms. Nevertheless, adopting real devices through third-party cloud hosting offers a practical solution, reducing costs while providing access to a diverse range of devices. 

This approach also facilitates faster testing by enabling parallel execution. Ultimately, real devices are indispensable because they uncover a broader range of issues that users might encounter, making them an invaluable component of the testing process.

Distinction Between Real Device Testing and Virtual Device Testing

CriteriaReal Device TestingVirtual Device Testing
DefinitionInvolves testing on physical devices, actual smartphones or tablets.Conducted on emulators or simulators that replicate device behavior on a computer.
Real-World AccuracyProvides an accurate representation of how the application performs in real-world scenarios.May not fully replicate real-world conditions, leading to potential discrepancies.
User ExperienceOffers an authentic user experience as it tests on real devices with varying specifications.Simulates device behavior, but may not capture nuances of real device usage.
Diversity of DevicesCovers a wide range of devices with different screen sizes, resolutions, and hardware configurations.Limited to the devices and configurations available in the emulator or simulator.
CostMay involve higher costs due to the need for a variety of physical devices.Generally more cost-effective as it doesn’t require any physical device infrastructure.
Testing TimeTesting time may be longer due to the need to conduct tests on multiple physical devices.Generally faster, as tests can be run simultaneously on virtual devices.
Network ConditionsCan accurately simulate different network conditions, including various connection speeds.Network conditions may be simulated, but not always as accurately as on real devices.
AvailabilityPhysical devices may not always be readily available for testing, leading to potential delays.Emulators and simulators are readily available for testing, reducing wait times.
Resource ManagementRequires storage and maintenance of a diverse range of physical devices, which can be resource-intensive.Requires less storage space and resources as emulators/simulators are software-based.
Compliance with GuidelinesEnsures adherence to device-specific guidelines and regulations.May not fully comply with specific device guidelines, leading to potential issues during app submission.
Common Use CasesCritical for performance testing, device-specific functionality testing, and compliance with real-world usage scenarios.Suitable for initial testing, rapid prototyping, and quick checks, but may lack the depth of real device testing.

Which One Should You Choose?

In general, while virtual testing aims to emulate the software environment of real devices, they inherently differ from real devices because of the authenticity of certain features. Notably, virtual devices fall short in replicating features such as push-up notifications, incoming calls, and device battery behavior. Despite these limitations, real devices have their drawbacks, including challenges in debugging and speed. However, these issues are often offset by the speed and debugging features inherent in simulators and emulators.


The significance of mobile testing is on the rise, given the pivotal role mobile applications play in our daily routines. Despite the substantial testing required to meet defined objectives, selecting the appropriate mobile app testing tools—whether real devices, simulators, or emulators—can significantly contribute to success. Optimal testing solutions often involve a combination of these mobile app testing tools, allowing for cost savings, time efficiency, and ultimately delivering a better return on investment (ROI).

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