Web and mobile testing faceoff: Sauce Labs vs. BrowserStack

Two automated testing platforms enter; only one tool leaves. IT consultant Tom Nolle examines how Sauce Labs and BrowserStack each test apps across mobile devices and web browsers.

Sauce Labs and BrowserStack offer device and cross-browser automated testing, with similar capabilities and drawbacks. Which option is a better choice to help enterprises ensure their applications work everywhere, and keep pace with rapid development timelines?

Browser and mobile app testing are means to vet application functionality and the UX overall -- they range from user-, device-, to application-centric evaluations. They can be purely a cross-browser or cross-device test, a GUI test of a mobile app to validate its interface, a functional validation of a user interface's logic, or any combination of those. You can even do performance testing and debugging.

One of the biggest headaches for development organizations to support GUIs is the range of client-side choices for browsers and mobile devices. For many application owners, testing against all the possible options for UIs is paramount.

Sauce Labs and BrowserStack, each based on the Selenium browser-automation model, specialize in browser and mobile testing. Open source Selenium is still a market leader, but companies with a specific need to test a large number of applications -- in a short timeframe because of rapid development -- find the extra features of BrowserStack and Sauce Labs a major benefit.

Sauce Labs vs. BrowserStack is a nuanced contrast because the tools are near equals in this critical area of automated testing. Let's check out BrowserStack and Sauce Labs' specific features, what apps teams tend to test with the platforms, and the similarities and differences of the tools' capabilities.

Meet the test contestants

Sauce Labs, founded in 2008, claims more than 3,000 active customers, and supports more than 2,000 iOS and Android devices. It emphasizes a visually integrated testing approach that is meant to support developer productivity and rapid development approaches. It is the high-end player in the test automation space, with a higher cost overall and somewhat greater complexity than competitors like BrowserStack, but with the ability to produce solid and consistent results. Users like the product's rich feature set and the company's approach as it visually guides them through tests. They also give the tool high marks for the clear way Sauce Labs describes the cloud-based test process.

BrowserStack, founded in 2011, claims over 25,000 customers and support for more than 2,000 mobile and browser front ends. It offers four integrable but separate products: Live and Automate for website and browser testing, and App Live and App Automate for mobile testing. The company also supports preconfigured integration with tools such as Jenkins, Jira and Selenium. Users like the integration support, but it takes time and effort to fully integrate BrowserStack's tools if you select one or more options in each product area. Users also praise BrowserStack for ease of use.

Both products aim to validate the UI, whether browser-based or mobile, on as many different browsers, devices or apps as possible. Neither vendor designed its tool as a framework for massive Load testing or even end-to-end performance testing. Instead, the tests ensure an application works with a wide and growing variety of devices and browsers.

Testing scope and features

Both vendors offer cloud-hosted testing. Sauce Labs' Continuous Testing cloud is designed to support all aspects of testing, using both simulated browsers and mobile devices and real mobile devices. BrowserStack supports functional testing, real-world condition testing and regression testing. Sauce Labs has more elements in its testing repertoire than BrowserStack, including analytics and performance, and users say its UX testing capability is more complete.

Both products require users to define how the test data maps to the GUIs involved, and users are generally comfortable with this process in each toolset. Users with specific interest in browser or mobile apps appreciate BrowserStack's approach of different modules for different missions, but those who require both view the segmentation somewhat negatively, so it's smart to know just what UI type the app uses.

BrowserStack has strong organizational features. Users can define teams, allocate resources by team, and -- depending on the purchased plan -- do parallel testing. With provided analytics, development managers can review how many tests are run and the pattern of testing, and whether the tests cover the full functionality of the UIs. Sauce Labs also has good team support and team metrics such as data on the rate of changes made, the number of changes and tests run.

Both companies are diligent to prevent security holes the testing process creates. Each tool, for example, tears down and clears VMs built for tests. Safeguards keep the integration of test cloud resources from compromising network security.

Both Sauce Labs and BrowserStack generate screenshots -- and even videos -- of device UIs during tests. Users like these capabilities but report occasional issues with video quality in both products. Both companies also offer both enterprise and SMB support, though users say that unless a smaller business has extensive development resources, Sauce Labs is a bit of a heavy lift and BrowserStack is easier to adopt.

Sauce Labs: Tight with CI/CD, but complex and costly

While both Sauce Labs and BrowserStack packages do cross-browser and mobile device validation, Sauce Labs is more integrated with the development and deployment process. Direct integration with CI/CD tools enables the company to offer testing and validation of the UI, and even estimate performance at every step in the development and deployment process. IT teams like Sauce Labs' continuous feedback and debugging assistance, but they particularly like the extensive integration with the development flow.

Sauce Labs' cloud includes emulators and simulators for iOS, Android and all the popular browsers, as well as real device testing with major mobile devices. Emulator/simulator testing is useful for the early processes in development and integration; validation on real devices should occur prior to release. Real device testing is more expensive than simulated assessments and users note that it's also more time-consuming. Emulator/simulator tests provide better feedback too, because they collect information that devices may not.

Sauce Labs supports both live and automated testing that is well-designed and suitable for integration into the CI/CD process. The platform is focused on the features of testing and flexibility in integration, according to users, but there's a learning curve for the process. Users also believe that Sauce Labs is more diligent than other vendors about advancing its features and tool integrations to support CI/CD best practices.

Many users assert that the vendor could do more to help the platform's mobile application testing easily integrate with the app stores of the respective mobile operating systems. While Sauce Labs' users consider the tool's documentation to be good, they don't regard it as exceptional. Some of those customers also claim that Sauce Labs is too expensive.

BrowserStack: Easy to use, but integrations lag

BrowserStack offers comparable main features to Sauce Labs but focuses more on ease of use. BrowserStack also makes its integration with on-site hosting, testing and network resources crystal clear, which users find easy to set up. Development teams can combine local testing and cloud/remote testing and run it repetitively.

The Live products from BrowserStack offer an opportunity to work with a browser or mobile device in real time, useful for developer and early-stage unit testing. The Automate offerings use Selenium for test automation, to suit all aspects of testing. The testing features are good, but users think that BrowserStack is slow to add features and tool integrations.

BrowserStack users generally have a more favorable view of the platform's documentation than Sauce Labs customers. Interestingly, as users build experience with the package, the advantage BrowserStack offers in documentation diminishes; experienced users sometimes find the documentation to be superficial.

Toss-ups: Speed, performance, stability

For both Sauce Labs and BrowserStack, users' major complaint is speed. These products take as much as three times longer than comparable in-house cross-browser or UI testing. Subjectively, users think Sauce Labs is slightly slower overall. The ability to run tests in parallel is important when the CI/CD cycle is just days or hours.

Performance and stability are also drawbacks customers cite -- BrowserStack users in particular. BrowserStack users claim that the tool is difficult to integrate into CI/CD development pipelines due to lacking plugins.

Sauce Labs vs. BrowserStack

For small companies or companies with limited development resources, particularly those that focus entirely on web design, BrowserStack's ease of use and lower cost are advantageous. BrowserStack also has pricing plans that enhance its appeal for SMBs.

Overall, Sauce Labs is the browser and mobile device test automation tool most organizations prefer -- particularly medium and large enterprises, and small companies with fairly complex development requirements. Sauce Labs exhibits better testing support and stability, and timelier updates, than BrowserStack. The features and integration tools meet the expectations of development teams. It's a bit slower, and a bit more expensive than competitors, but the features are worth it for many teams.

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