Android iPhone and iPad

Try Before You Buy: 6 Emulators For Test-Driving Mobile Phones

Joel Lee 19-10-2012

mobile phone emulatorIt’s been about one year since I purchased my first smartphone (yes, I’m late to the party). I remember having such a difficult time deciding which phone I wanted. An iPhone? An Android? What about a Windows Phone? Back then, I had no idea that mobile phone emulators existed. And boy, that sure would’ve made my life easier.


Compare it to shopping for a new car. On the one hand, you can browse a car company’s website and read the various specifications of a particular model; on the other, you can go to an actual dealership and give each model a test drive. Well, for smartphones, you can now test drive right from your own home.

So whether you’re looking to purchase your very first smartphone or considering switching from one type to another, these mobile phone emulators will definitely come in handy.

When To Use a Mobile Phone Emulator

But before we take a look at the actual emulators, let’s talk about their advantages and disadvantages. What are they good for? When should you use them? And more importantly, when shouldn’t you use them? You should have a proper set of expectations before you take the time to install one.

Mobile phone emulators are not meant to be full-blown smartphone replacements. Think of them as closer to a demo phone model. These emulators will give you a good sense of what the phone will be like in practice, but the emulators won’t have access to every feature of the operating system.

Similarly, a mobile phone emulator will not give you a proper gauge of a particular phone’s speed, performance, or responsiveness. Emulators run on your computer and your computer has a different set of hardware from a phone, so it makes sense. If you want to see how fast or smooth a particular phone would be, an emulator won’t do you any good.


However, an emulator will help you get acquainted with a particular operating system’s interface. There are subtle differences between iOS and Android and Windows Phone–an emulator will let you explore those differences. This is probably the best reason for using a mobile phone emulator.

MobiOne Studio [iPhone, Android]

mobile phone emulator

MobiOne Studio is an easy-to-use program that acts as a development aid for iOS and Android phones. In other words, MobiOne can emulate an iOS or Android environment, allowing you to test them and see how particular apps perform in those environments.

Unfortunately, MobiOne Studio will put a noticeable dent in your wallet. At $99.95, it’s not exactly an easy or impulse purchase. However, they do offer a 15-day free trial where you can test all of their features. At least you can experience both iOS and Android in one program, even if it’s temporary.


Android SDK

mobile phone emulator for pc

Google provides an Android software development kit (SDK) free of charge. While most users won’t be interested in the actual software development aspects of the SDK, the SDK does come equipped with an Android emulator. This emulator is meant to be an environment in which to test apps in development, but you can use it to get a feel for the operating system.

Unfortunately, installing the SDK is not exactly one-step-ready-to-go. There are a few hoops that you may need to jump through, but it’s up to you if you think it’s worth it. Here are some setup instructions that may provide helpful.

YouWave [Android]

mobile phone emulator for pc


YouWave is an Android emulator that lets you fully experience the operating system. It doesn’t start out with a large number of apps, but you can install some using the built-in app stores. In this way, you can explore the various Android apps and see what they’re like before having to shell out some cash on an Android phone.

The program isn’t free, though. There’s a 7-day free trial that lets you play around with it without any restrictions. Afterwards, you’ll have to fork over $14.99 for an activation license. But for most people, seven days should be more than enough time to test an operating system.

BlueStacks [Android]

mobile phone emulator for pc

BlueStacks isn’t exactly an Android emulator since it doesn’t replicate the operating system environment on your computer. However, it does provide tools that let you run Android apps right on your computer. If you just need to test individual apps, then BlueStacks may be what you’re looking for.


And for those who already have Android devices, you can use the BlueStacks Cloud Connect app [No Longer Available] to synchronize apps between your device and your computer.

Windows Phone Emulator

simulate mobile phone

As you might guess, Windows Phone Emulator is an emulator for….the Windows Phone! I don’t know about you, but a lot of my friends and family have completely forgotten about Microsoft’s entry in the smartphone market. However, with Windows Phone 8 coming out soon, it may be worth your while to give the emulator a run.

Windows Phone Interactive Demo

mobile phone emulator

For those of you who can’t be bothered to install a standalone emulator, you can give Windows Phone a try by using the interactive demo provided by Microsoft. Surprisingly, the demo is actually quite helpful. I’ve never used a Windows Phone before – never even seen one, actually – but the demo really gave me an idea of what to expect.

Again, all of the emulators mentioned in this article will only give you a taste of the different operating systems. Speed, performance, stability, and reliability are all determined on a per-phone basis – you won’t be able to get a feel of those here.

However, if you’ve never used a particular operating system before, then download one of these emulators and get to it! After all, it’s always a great idea to try it before you buy it.

Image Credit: Mobile Phone Via Shutterstock

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  1. Anonymous
    October 30, 2012 at 3:51 am

    something very new to me :) thanks

  2. Jeremiah Iliffe
    October 28, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Useful, but it is unable to emulate the actual experience of a certain phone

  3. Efi Dreyshner
    October 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    My favorite is Android SDK(AVD), but BlueStacks is also great.
    I will try Windows Phone Emulator & Windows Phone Interactive Demo

    • Efi Dreyshner
      October 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      Posted twice ><
      I thought that the first comment didn't posted...

      • Tina Sieber
        October 26, 2012 at 8:20 pm

        Removed the duplicate. Thanks for pointing it out, Efi. :)

  4. Nguy?n Tân
    October 25, 2012 at 3:48 am

    I'm using BlueStack and android sdk from Google.

  5. Roystan Ang
    October 24, 2012 at 8:27 am

    The Android SDK emulator lags! Anyway to make it run smoother?

    • Joel Lee
      October 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      I believe it's relative to how speedy your computer hardware is. If you have a strong computer and the SDK is still slow, then I don't know. Emulators have a tendency to be slow in general, though, so maybe it's to be expected.

  6. Faysal Faruk
    October 24, 2012 at 5:29 am

    Windows phone interactive demo was really good.

  7. Gerhard Tinned
    October 23, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Android is nice for developers. iOS is very complicate because of all the limitations you have to deal with ... but trist me ... Windows Phone is Hell for developers. Worse then everything i have ever seen!!!

    • Joel Lee
      October 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      I've never developed for any of them but that seems to be the general consensus, I think. Hopefully Windows Phone 8 will change that up!

  8. Siddhant Chaurasia
    October 23, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Android SDK is the most reliable for me

  9. Harish Jonnalagadda
    October 22, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Will try out some of these, and I thought Visual Studio also had a WinMo emulator.

  10. Boni Oloff
    October 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Bad, there is only one emulator for iPhone. And it costs 99USD.

    • Joel Lee
      October 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      Unfortunately, for now, yes. For that kind of price, might as well buy an iPhone instead. Eek.

      • Boni Oloff
        October 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm

        Haha, yes 99USD is lots of money, It's better to be saved to buy the real iPhone instead of the emulator only.

  11. Raj Sarkar
    October 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Wow! Thanks for the tip! :D

  12. Brian Mok
    October 21, 2012 at 4:35 am

    Or you can use Android-x86 on VirtualBox or something.

    • Joel Lee
      October 22, 2012 at 4:50 am

      Yes, that's true. Actually emulating the OS itself in the most technical sense is a possibility, though I think that would be enough for a separate article in itself. Good point, though.

  13. Yiz Borol
    October 21, 2012 at 1:59 am

    wow, really nice!
    I'm really not planning on changing OSes anytime soon but it's nice to know I can come back here when that time comes.

  14. Jonas Brock-Hanash
    October 21, 2012 at 12:59 am

    It's sad to see Apple keeping on closing their borders.
    No free emulator on anything other than Mac? That's just too bad.

    • Joel Lee
      October 22, 2012 at 4:49 am

      At least Apple is consistent. Gotta pay, pay, pay!

  15. Samrudh Shetty
    October 20, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Nice post man!. Thanks for this.

  16. Dimal Chandrasiri
    October 20, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Android SDK is a little pain in the ass when it comes to installing! :(

    • Joel Lee
      October 22, 2012 at 4:49 am

      Tell me about it! I consider myself to be a person who has background in source code and setting up unconventional programs, but even I had some hiccups with Android SDK.

  17. Anonymous
    October 20, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Just started shopping, this is great.

  18. Suresh Volam
    October 19, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks for the nice article!

  19. Besian Cato
    October 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    now that's worth giving it a try before changing to a phone with different OS

  20. Richard Steven Hack
    October 19, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    So...the bottom line is there ISN'T a free Android emulator that actually mimics the actual OS...

    Well, that eliminates emulators.

    Of course, since I'm a die-hard Linux fanboi, I wasn't interested in the Windows Phone anyway, and since I'm cheap, I'm sure not interested in an iPhone as well.

    The only reason I'd want an Android emulator is to see what problems I might have using it. So I guess I'll just have to get an Android phone and find out. :-)

    • Joel Lee
      October 19, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      If you already decided against iPhone and Windows Phone, then what other choice do you have? Blackberry? ;)