What is an Android Mobile Emulator?

Posted Oct 27th, 2022

Laptop with lines of code and phone

Whether you’re starting off in mobile testing or a seasoned tester, learn more about Android mobile emulators and how they can help streamline your testing process.

When it comes to automating your mobile app testing, it’s a best practice to use a combination of virtual devices (Android emulators and iOS simulators) and real devices to optimize costs and get your apps to market faster. Although the terms emulator and simulator are often used interchangeably, they serve different purposes. This post discusses Android emulators and how they’re used for mobile app testing.

What is a Mobile Emulator?

A mobile emulator, as the term suggests, emulates the device software and hardware on a desktop PC, or as part of a cloud testing platform. It is a complete re-implementation of the mobile software written in a machine-level assembly language. The Android (SDK) emulator is one such example.

Mobile Emulators vs. Real Devices

Emulators are virtual devices, not real-world test environments. The most important distinction when it comes to software for mobile devices is the difference between virtual environment testing and real device testing.

A real device is the actual hardware (plus OS and built-in support resources) on which your software will run in production. For mobile software, it's the mobile phone or tablet. For specialized industrial, scientific, or medical monitoring software, it's the actual monitoring device.

Emulator Benefits and Limitations

Emulators and simulators are faster to provision than real devices, as they are software-driven. Additionally, they enable parallel testing and test automation via external frameworks like Appium, Espresso, and XCUITest.

Emulators and simulators enable parallel testing in a way that can’t be achieved with devices in a lab. Because tests on emulators and simulators are software-defined, multiple tests can be run on tens of emulators and simulators at the click of a button without having to manually prepare each emulator/simulator for the tests.

Real Devices Emulators/Simulators
Easy to Provision
Easy to Scale
Facilitates Automation
Detect Hardware Failures
Advanced UI Testing
Easy to Maintain
Cost Efficient

Virtual Devices and Real Devices - Better Together

Today, organizations fall under one of two extremes. They either rely only on real devices, or only on emulators and simulators for their mobile testing. Some organizations test exclusively on real devices with the assumption that they aren’t compromising on the quality of their tests, while other organizations test exclusively on emulators and simulators because they are faster than real devices, easier to maintain, and cost much less. However, both of these extremes are a compromise. Real devices have drawbacks in terms of scalability and cost. Though emulators and simulators are an improvement on real devices, they are unable to deliver a real-world testing environment.

The ideal mobile testing strategy employs a mix of emulators/simulators and real devices. This option addresses the scalability and cost inefficiencies that come with real devices, while retaining the ability to test under real usage conditions. It provides the best of both worlds. 

Once the decision has been made to add emulators and simulators to the mix, there may still be uncertainty about which tests to run there, and which tests to run on real devices. The exact answer to this question would vary for each organization, but there are certain guiding principles that can help.

Getting Started with Sauce Labs Mobile App Testing

Sign up for a free Sauce Labs trial and experience the benefits of mobile testing in the Sauce Labs cloud. Test your mobile apps across the most comprehensive range of real devices (iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, Xiaomi, and more), emulators, and simulators to increase coverage and release with confidence.



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