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Home Guide Chrome OS Emulator or Real Device: Which one to choose?

Chrome OS Emulator or Real Device: Which one to choose?

By Tom Collins, Community Contributor -

Do you develop or test applications for Chrome OS? If yes, then one question that you likely struggle with is whether to test on emulators or on real devices. In this article, we’ll help you work through this indecision.

As you know, Google created Chrome OS to be a simple and secure OS for Chromebook devices. As an operating system, Chrome OS:

  • Is not as resource-heavy as Windows or macOS
  • Uses one-sixth of the hard drive space compared to Windows 7
  • Has the Chrome browser already installed
  • Enables you to download and run Android apps

Chrome Browser Market Share Chrome Browser Market Share


  • Since it’s lightweight, not all that you can do on Windows or macOS can you do on Chrome OS.
  • When you use an Android app on Chrome OS, the app displays in the phone mode. The visual dimensions of the app resemble how you’d see it on a phone. So, you get to work with a portion of the Chromebook screen, and not the entire screen.

What is an Emulator?

To emulate is to imitate. An emulator is a program that imitates an actual device. Most of the things that you can do with a real device, you should be able to do with an emulator. To make this happen, emulators translate the target device’s Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). A few things that you should know about emulators are:

  • They simulate the environment in which you want to perform your tests.
  • They don’t exactly match real devices’ capabilities and functionality.
  • They imitate the ‘nearly native capabilities’ suitable for early testing.

Different kinds of emulators are available for your testing requirements. For example, you have Android emulators, iPhone simulators, and Galaxy emulators. You can run Chrome OS on Android emulators.

Let’s look at the two best Chrome OS emulators for Windows 10.

Chrome OS Emulators for Windows 10

1. Android Studio

If you’re an Android dev or tester, Android Studio is a good choice. It’s an IDE that also has emulators with Android Virtual Device (AVD). Create a virtual device of your choice and start testing. You get to test on the latest Android versions.

With Android Studio, you don’t enjoy the same level of support for keyboard as you do with game-oriented emulators. Otherwise, it’s a powerful Chrome OS Emulator for Windows 10.

2. ARChon

ARChon, on the other hand, is a pseudo-emulator that runs on Chrome OS. If you want to use it, you must have Google Chrome. It’s compatible with all OS including Linux. If you want to run or test your Android apps on desktops, use ARChon. The process is a bit complicated though.

Apart from Android Studio and ARChon, there are other emulators that you can use for both app dev and QA, as well as for playing games. For example, you have the likes of John GBAC, Nintendo DS Games, PPSSPP. But note that Chrome OS isn’t great for playing games.

Advantages of Running Chrome OS on an Emulator

The advantages of running Chrome OS on an emulator are:

1. You can access Chrome OS on non-Chrome OS devices

Emulators enable you to run Chrome OS on non-Chrome OS devices. For example, Android Studio.

An emulator runs system images of Chrome OS. To get the images, use the SDK manager of the emulator.

To manage the process of testing on Android emulators, use AVDs. An AVD defines the characteristics of real Android devices. It has hardware profiles, images, storage areas, and other properties. AVDs help you produce better performance testing solutions.

To maintain your AVD, launch the Device Manager from Android Studio.

2. You can test apps and websites on Chrome OS

No matter whether you are a dev or tester, you can test your apps and websites with Chrome Dev Tools emulation features. To do that, you have to switch to the mobile responsive view mode. To inspect your website, use ‘element inspector’.

3. It’s cost-effective

Most emulators are free to use. So, you can easily access Chrome OS for free. Just be sure to have the required installations and configurations in place.

Disadvantages of Running Chrome OS on an Emulator

The disadvantages of using an emulator are:

1. You can’t get the same performance that you get when running Chrome OS on a real device

If you run Chrome OS on an emulator, the results of your performance testing aren’t authentic.

You can’t match real-user conditions testing like battery heating, drainage, memory usage, and storage issues with an emulator.

Features involving the performance of sensors such as GPS, biometrics, or accelerometer, can’t be sufficiently tested either.

Finally, though an emulator can help you identify issues with performance, these aren’t necessarily called out as performance issues. 

2. You have limited functionality when compared to Chrome OS on a real device

It’s a lot more difficult to perform user interactions on emulators.

When working on a desktop, you have to use a mouse, and for a mobile device, you have to use your touch keypad. 

Actions like zoom in, zoom out, scroll, and file upload, the experience is inconsistent. Sometimes they work fine. Sometimes they don’t.

3. You need more resources

Emulators are slower than real devices. They take time to load. It gets really frustrating, especially if you’re working with multiple virtual devices. You need additional time to run emulators; as you know, they are slower than real devices. If you’re working on long-term testing projects, it’s okay to use emulators. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time. 

Also, you can’t depend on emulators throughout the duration of SDLC. For smoke, sanitary, regression, and UAT testing, it’s better to use real devices.

Does running Chrome OS on Emulator solve your problem?

Let’s admit it. Emulators can’t be a substitute for testing on real devices. The reasons are:

  • The test results aren’t as accurate.
  • They can’t simulate real user conditions for testing.

If you test only on emulators, you always run the risk of bugs showing up when your customers use your apps.

Chrome OS Emulators or Real Devices: Which one to choose?

It’s ok to use emulators in the initial phases of software development. But never a good idea to release your apps before testing them on actual, physical devices!

Let’s look at some of the benefits of testing on real devices to understand why.

Benefits of using Real Devices:

On real devices, you can test:

  • The exact behavior that your app users will experience
  • Things like screen resolutions, brightness, and contrast
  • The performance of hardware components such as camera, Bluetooth, and GPS
  • How your app performs when there’s an incoming notification, message, call, or audio or video call.

But device labs are costly. You have to invest in maintenance and upgrades from time to time.

Instead, use a Real Device Cloud. It enables you to test on a wide range of real devices. And there’s more! You can perform cross-browser testing, local testing, and Responsive web testing.

How can BrowserStack help for this purpose?

This is where BrowserStack comes in. It’s an enterprise-grade testing infrastructure that provides access to 3000+ real devices and browsers on the cloud. You have instant access to device-browser-OS combinations from anywhere and anytime. It solves the problem of device fragmentation. You can also test locally with it.

When using a Real Device Cloud, you have to put a premium on security and privacy. These are non-negotiable for BrowserStack, too. It’s SOC2 Type 2 and GDPR-compliant.

Real Device testing on BrowserStack

Want to test user interactions such as tap, scroll, zoom, and navigation? Or, real device features such as Geolocation testing, push notifications, and network simulations? BrowserStack’s Real Device Cloud has you covered.

User interaction testing on browserstack dashboardClosing Notes

Chrome OS and Chromebook users prefer to use the Chrome browser for their browsing needs. Which makes it important for modern websites to be compatible with Chrome.

Matter of fact, you should test the compatibility of your website on all browsers popular among your user base. And you do that by testing the website on real devices.

With BrowserStack, you have access to the latest and legacy browser versions for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Microsoft Edge on different OS. 

Test on BrowserStack

Emulator/Simulator Real Device Cloud

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