Join the webinar on 'How to Inspect Browsers Hosted on the HeadSpin Platform from a Local Machine' on June 27th.
Emulators vs. real device testing—which one to choose for Appium tests?

Emulators vs. real device testing — which one to choose for Appium tests?

September 14, 2023
Christy ManjilaChristy Manjila
Christy Manjila

The last ten years in app development and testing have seen big shifts, especially with the entry of AI and ML. We started with straight-line testing methods but quickly adapted to flexible, agile techniques. As users wanted more, developers and testers had to change their game. They focused on making everything smoother, centered on the user, and eliminating unnecessary steps.

Today, a lot of developers use tools that let them build apps for multiple platforms at once. At the same time, testing isn't just about "does this work?" anymore. It's grown to answer questions about how fast, secure, or user-friendly an app is. Agile and DevOps have become standard names in the scene, bringing smart coding advice and data-driven insights.

Within this mix, deciding between using real devices or emulators for Appium testing is a big deal. Both have their strong points and cater to today's app development demands.

So, what is mobile app testing?

Simply put, it's making sure mobile apps do their job well. Whether you're using a smartphone, tablet, or any other handheld device, the app needs to function properly. Tests vary from checking basic functions, gauging speed, and ensuring safety. And given the sheer number of devices and user preferences out there, good testing ensures everyone gets a similar, top-notch experience from the app.

How do test automation and Appium work together?

Automating tests has been a game-changer. Instead of manually going through every single function, the process can now run automatically, spotting issues faster. This means developers get feedback quicker, make necessary changes, and get the app out in the market faster. Essentially, automation helps catch big problems early on. Many companies are on board with it, seeing it as a way to spot issues early and save money in the long run.

Enter Appium!

Let’s take a closer look at Appium.

Appium isn't just another mobile testing tool. It's an open-source solution that redefines how we test iOS apps and Android apps. One of its standout features is the ability to write automation tests for both platforms using a single API. This means less fuss with platform-specific scripts and a faster, more streamlined testing process.

In the competitive space of mobile test automation, Appium holds its own with its adaptability. It fits right into various testing frameworks, letting teams use their existing know-how. With Appium, there’s no steep learning curve, no unnecessary retraining. When you pair the strengths of test automation with Appium's broad capabilities, you're setting your business up to launch top-notch mobile applications that truly cater to modern user demands.

Analyzing real devices and emulators — what to go for with Appium tests?

In today's fast-paced digital age, ensuring top-notch reliability and user experience across a myriad of devices is more than just a goal—it's a necessity. As businesses seek more accurate testing outcomes, they're often torn between using emulators and real devices. With Appium testing, this decision becomes even more pivotal. Each approach, be it emulators or real devices, brings its unique strengths and challenges to the table.

Choosing emulators for Appium tests — its advantages 

  • Cost efficient: Setting up emulators is often more affordable than acquiring multiple real devices, especially when it is necessary to test across different OS versions and screen resolutions.
  • Convenient environment control: emulators offer a more controllable environment, making the simulation of different conditions like low memory, low battery, or varying networks more seamless.
  • Scalability: Emulators allow developers and testers to easily scale up the testing environment. Multiple instances can be run simultaneously, helping in parallel testing.
  • Safety in early testing: When testing potentially unstable app versions, it's safer to do so on emulators to avoid bricking real devices.

Why are emulators often complex for Appium tests? 

Testing on emulators has its advantages, but when it comes to Appium tests, there are several limitations that professionals need to be aware of:

  • Hardware differences: Emulators don't always simulate the intricacies of actual devices, especially when considering aspects such as camera quality, battery consumption, or biometric authentications (like fingerprint or face recognition). These differences can sometimes lead to false positives or negatives in tests.
  • Performance discrepancies: Emulators run on the computer's hardware, and hence, they might not accurately represent the real-world performance of an app on an actual device. Factors like CPU usage, memory usage, and network performance can differ.
  • Sensory limitations: Real devices come equipped with various sensors such as GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, and more. Emulating these sensors accurately is a challenge, and some tests might not run as expected on emulators because of this.
  • OS and version fragmentation: While emulators allow for testing across different OS versions, they might not cover every minor update or specific customizations added by device manufacturers.
  • User interface (UI) discrepancies: An app might look and feel different on an emulator compared to a real device due to factors like screen resolution, size, pixel density, and other display characteristics.
  • Network conditions: Emulators may not effectively reproduce network conditions like signal strength, speed variations, or connection drops that might happen in real-world scenarios.
  • Gestures and multi-touch actions: Complex gestures and multi-touch actions, pivotal in many modern apps, might not be simulated perfectly on emulators.
Read: Why is Real Device Cloud Critical in App Testing?

Why choose real devices for your Appium tests?

When it comes to authenticity in testing, nothing beats real device testing. Here's why:

  • True-to-life performance metrics: With real device testing, you get a genuine look into an app's load times, response rates, and overall performance. It's all about ensuring your users get nothing short of the best experience.
  • Interacting with actual hardware: Real device testing enables you to evaluate how your app works with a device's camera, biometric scanner, or other sensors, offering you that firsthand insight.
  • Network conditions straight from the real world: From fluctuating Wi-Fi signals to varying mobile data speeds, real devices provide a window into how your app would fare in everyday connectivity scenarios.
  • Genuine user experience (UX): The tangible aspects, like how an app feels to touch or its visual allure, are best experienced on real devices. After all, that's where your users will be spending their time.
  • Ensuring features work seamlessly: Real devices are the gold standard for checking if features, especially those relying on specific hardware like GPS or cameras, work just as intended.
Also read: Merits of on-prem real device and real device cloud for mobile app testing

Implementing real device testing with Appium

● Getting started

First, tether your device to your Appium-hosting computer. If you're team Android, ensure USB debugging is on, and for the Apple aficionados, make sure your device trusts the computer.

● Setting up the drivers

Appium isn't a one-size-fits-all. Depending on your device's OS, you'll need to cozy up with the right driver. XCUITest suits well for iOS folks, while Android users find UiAutomator2 one of the most effective.

● Running tests

With everything in place, running tests becomes much easier. It's quite similar to using an emulator, but this time, Appium gets acquainted with your real device, setting the stage for some hands-on testing.

● Feedback loop

Once the test is complete, it is important to dive into the feedback. Appium offers comprehensive logs, snapshots, and even playbacks, helping you fine-tune your app to perfection.

Check out: Test Native Apps with Real Device Cloud

However, real devices also bring along certain limitations for Appium tests—

  • Budget Strain: Maintaining an up-to-date library of devices isn't cheap. And as technology churns out new models rapidly, staying current becomes a pricey endeavor.
  • The maintenance factor: Apart from costs, there's the time and effort spent in updating and maintaining these devices. Over their lifespan, inconsistencies can emerge due to natural wear, affecting test outcomes.
  • Scaling hiccups: As your testing requirements grow, so does the complexity. Managing and running tests on multiple devices concurrently can get intricate, especially without a well-orchestrated device farm.
  • Timing and access: If many teams share these devices, you might find yourself waiting your turn, slowing down the testing process.
  • Unplanned variables: Real-world conditions like network changes, incoming calls, or notifications can introduce unpredictability to your tests.
  • Location challenges: For distributed teams, getting hands on a specific device can become a logistical puzzle.

Nonetheless, a solution can help you eliminate the locational challenge and other pitfalls as well. 

Learn more about HeadSpin in the next section.

Running Appium tests with HeadSpin

HeadSpin allows you to run your Appium tests on real devices and accelerate the test cycles with improved outcomes and app performance. HeadSpin’s data science capabilities help capture critical performance and user experience metrics and identify high-priority issues to resolve them quickly. Additionally, the robust device infrastructure offers access to thousands of real devices across 90+ locations worldwide, allowing testers and QA teams to monitor apps remotely and securely. 

Integrating Appium with the HeadSpin Platform

HeadSpin integrates seamlessly with your existing Appium tests and can run on any device of your suitability. While Appium focuses on functional testing, HeadSpin provides AI-driven insights into the non-functional areas. The Platform’s version iteration even allows you to debug and develop Appium scripts directly in the UI, eliminating the need for any additional app or desktop client.


The following are the key benefits that HeadSpin Appium integration offers:

  • The flexibility of using open-source Appium without vendor lock-ins
  • Obtain AI-driven performance data for enriched insights
  • Speed up your Appium test cycles by at least 30% on the HeadSpin Platform
  • Execute parallel testing for efficiency
  • Leverage advanced features like audio, biometric testing, and audio-video performance evaluation
  • Experience reliable testing on both iOS and Android


When we dive into the world of mobile app testing with Appium, the debate between real devices and emulators always surfaces. However, there isn't a clear winner. It all boils down to what your project demands at a given moment. In case of budget constraints, emulators might be your go-to. On the other hand, for real-world user experience feedback, real devices come into play. What's crucial is being adaptable. As the mobile landscape shifts and grows, so should our testing approaches. It's about being smart and choosing what aligns best with our goals today and tomorrow.

Book demo.


Q1. What about testing older OS versions with Appium on emulators?

Ans: One of the strong points of emulators is their ability to mimic a variety of OS versions, including older ones. This helps ensure the backward compatibility of your apps.

Q2. What’s one effective emulator for Appium tests?

Ans: Android Studio's built-in emulator and Apple's iOS Simulator are widely recognized. However, the best emulator often depends on the exact requirements of your test scenario and the platform you're targeting.

Q3. You’ve got an old device model. Will Appium support it?

Ans: Appium boasts wide device compatibility. However, it’s best to check the exact versions and models supported. Remember, even if it's an older device, real-world testing on it can be crucial if a segment of your audience still uses it.

Emulators vs. real device testing — which one to choose for Appium tests?

4 Parts


Perfect Digital Experiences with Data Science Capabilities

Utilize HeadSpin's advanced capabilities to proactively improve performance and launch apps with confidence
popup image