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How to test mobile applications using a game emulator

We could all use a little wiggle room in software testing budgets. Sometimes you've got to be creative to find it. Learn how a video game emulator can test mobile apps.

Mobile device labs are expensive to buy and maintain, and daunting to manage. Alternatives are in order.

In a mobile device lab, IT organizations must manage, secure and update the test units. To test properly, a lab should mimic how average users configure their mobile devices. Furthermore, the lab must account for the wide variability in network speed, access and productivity from one user to another. You cannot cover all options, but, at a minimum, you should evaluate settings that might interfere with functionality.

If your organization can't spend the money for a device test lab, you could test mobile applications using a mobile device emulator. These products, however, also require an investment. If there's limited budget for mobile device testing, consider creative alternatives, like free or low-cost game emulator software.

Game emulators translate mobile-based games on larger-screen devices, like laptops or desktops; such programs are not meant for everyday use. However, game emulators are one means to test development builds of mobile software. Here's what you need to know about game emulators for testing mobile apps: legal and security concerns, the platforms and device profiles available and some common products.

Legality and security

Safety comes first. As long as game emulators don't contain third-party software or proprietary code, then they are legal to use in most areas. When in doubt, check with your company's legal department to confirm laws for your specific use and location.

If you download a gaming emulator from an unknown source, you will take a risk. The program may (or may not) be safe for your system or for running development code. Set up the emulator on a standalone computer that's not connected to your business network for vetting. The development team is the best resource for information for the security of mobile application development code. Various ways exist to mock, mimic or secure code for temporary use. Run the testing plan by the development and security teams. Don't put the company at risk by exposing proprietary information, data or code.

Device and platform variety

Most gaming emulators are based on the Android OS. Some Apple iOS emulators exist, but they are more restricted to a defined set of games.

Android-based emulators offer a variety of mobile devices for testing. Typically, within the settings, you can choose a predefined device profile for specific types of devices. For example, with BlueStacks, you can select from about six different device profiles. Additionally, users can create a custom Android profile and designate a mobile network. An emulator might not offer all the Android options on the market, but such programs have a good sampling of the most popular types. For testing purposes, QA engineers can extend testing onto more available device types without added costs.

Game emulator tool options

These tools are a small sampling of free Android gaming emulators available for download. Be sure to search for more options that suit your individual needs.

  • BlueStacks. This popular Android emulator works on both Windows and Apple OSes. BlueStacks is well supported and under active development, so bug fixes and updates are routinely available. Once you get past the game selection portion, BlueStacks works quite well for general testing of mobile software. However, the free version includes ads, which might interrupt testing efforts frequently.
  • NoxPlayer. Another popular Android emulator, NoxPlayer or Nox also works for both Windows and Apple systems. However, only a free version exists. The makers actively develop this product, so updates and bug fixes are regularly available. NoxPlayer has a reputation of being more stable than most gaming emulators, which is a plus for testing. NoxPlayer can also run more than one instance at a time.
  • MEmu. This game emulator offers the ability to run more than one Android instance at a time. MEmu also supports 64-bit devices. An extensive amount of documentation is available for user information and development support.

Game emulators aren't perfect, but these programs open up software testing across more of the devices in users' hands, and are easy on the budget. They give testers the ability to configure popular settings. Consider game emulators a good first step at expanding the variety of mobile devices on which you test your software. If need be, you can always turn to a paid service or tool that offers a managed device farm for iOS and Android. In the meantime, increase your Android test coverage without contracts or cost complications.

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