One of the most influential tools available to Android developers are Android emulators. Emulators enable developers to test Android projects on more devices than they could possibly hope to ever have access to. You will notice, however, that the emulator does have a major flaw when you will use it for the very first time. Getting comfortable is essential, because the emulator takes a long time to load.
There’s no getting around the fact that sooner or later you are going to have to load the emulator because it’s still the best way to test how your app works across multiple hardware and software configurations. Despite the fact that the emulator has improved over the past few years, it remains a frustrating experience to test on, particularly if you need to switch between multiple Android Virtual Devices (AVDs). You won’t have to tear your hair out trying to get the emulator to work.
In this Android Emulator tutorial, we will have a look at how they work. Read-on!
What Are Android Emulators?
You can build Android-centric applications at your desk using Android emulators. Android emulators are software programs that simulate the hardware and software of an Android mobile device.
A popular reason for using Android emulators is to play or test games, but you can also run any application available on Google Play. With an emulator, you can, for instance, upload photos directly from your computer to your Instagram app, something that would otherwise be impossible.
Capabilities, Limitations And Android Emulators
Despite its close resemblance to a real Android device, Developer Studio’s latest Android emulator still has its limitations.
When a virtual device is connected via USB, data transfers are faster. The drag-and-drop file upload feature lets you upload .apk files from your computer to the virtual mobile device. In addition to being useful when you are working with physical sensors such as the accelerometer, the emulator is also useful for testing apps under context. You can configure the settings through the visual, extended controls of the emulator if you are testing an app feature that relies on the sensors.
It is important to remember that guests and hosts must match in order for emulation to run faster. The most popular chipset for Android smartphones is the ARM v7a. In other words, you’re stuck with poor emulation of most Android devices if you don’t have an ARM processor. Virtual device user data, SD card data, and cache are stored separately in the AVD Manager in separate directories. A single virtual device can take up to 3.5GB of your disk space. Over time, a library of virtual devices will clam up your workstation. Virtual devices’ performance is affected by your workstation’s performance.
If there’s not enough disk space at launch, the emulator will crash and burn. Enabling hardware acceleration solves performance problems. Even experienced developers have difficulty setting up hardware acceleration. It is incredibly difficult to understand how an app interacts with a native device environment when you are using an Android emulator. For instance, you wouldn’t be able to determine:
- A comparison of how different levels of brightness affect the front-end
- Processes running in the background of your app
- A range of touch gestures are supported by the app
How Do Android Emulators Work?
In this section of the blog, we will have a look at how Emulators work. The Quick Emulator (QEMU) offers complete hardware and software virtualization (hardware and software emulation).
- Quick Emulator (QEMU)
QEMU stands for Quick EMUlator. It is an open-source tool that can run on a wide range of host (workstation) CPUs/OS and emulate a wide range of guest CPUs/OSs. Most Android emulators (including one developed by Android Developer Studio) are powered by QEMU. In this way, it replicates the hardware of the guest device. Then the Application Binary Interface (ABI) of the guest device is translated into the ABI of the host device. This can be run on your computer as a program if it is equipped with an OS. The translation of CPU architectures is a complex, time-consuming process, making emulation almost painfully slow. A hypervisor can be used to skip this step if the guest CPU architecture and host CPU architectures are the same.
As of version 25.3.0, Android Developer Studio’s emulator now supports hardware-assisted virtualization, replacing the old emulator that translated Android’s ARM architecture to fit Intel and AMD architectures found in PCs.
Basically, QEMU skips the binary translation part when the guest device has the same instruction architecture as the host (for example, an Android OS image running on an Intel processor with an x86 instruction architecture). You can enable hardware-assisted virtualization with a hypervisor. Intel’s HAXM is a hypervisor for Windows and macOS.
With the latest x86 Android ABIs, most computers can now take advantage of hardware acceleration. When your CPU supports the hypervisor, the Android emulator prompts you to enable or install it. Virtual devices can be run at speeds similar to those of your workstation CPU with hardware acceleration.
Ways to supercharge your emulator
Here are ways through which you can supercharge the working of your Android Emulators.
- Switch to x86 and install HAXM
It is possible to emulate two different CPUs using the Android emulator: the ARM chip and the Intel x86 chip. When creating an x86 AVD, it’s generally pretty straightforward if your IDE and SDK are up to date. By making use of an x86 system image, you can speed up the emulator significantly. In order to create a new AVD, click the ‘x86 Images’ tab in the ‘System Image’ window, and then choose from one of the available images.
- The ‘Instant Run’ option in Android Studio can be helpful
Among the many improvements made to Android Studio, Instant Run is one of them. It is likely that you have been left tapping your foot while the AVD re-installs and re-launches your project from scratch if you have ever installed a work-in-progress project on an AVD, made some changes to the project, and then attempted to push those changes to the AVD. Instant Run will appeal to you if that sounds familiar to you.
If you select Instant Run when launching or debuging your application, Android Studio will launch the emulator, load the AVD, and push your APK normally the first time you press ‘Run’ or ‘Debug’. You will notice, however, that a small, yellow thunderbolt icon will appear within the ‘Run’ and ‘Debug’ buttons the next time you make changes to your project.
- Emulation of GPUs
In emulation (also called GPU acceleration), drawing options are accelerated using the GPU of the host machine. You need to turn on GPU Emulation whenever you launch an AVD, since it is turned off by default. It is possible to make the emulator run much faster by enabling GPU Emulation. Even though ‘Use Host GPU’ is no longer available in Android Studio, you can still enable GPU emulation if you launch an AVD from the command line.
- Disable the emulator’s boot animation
When the emulator starts, it displays a boot animation. Although the emulator does exactly what it is supposed to do (emulating a real device), watching the boot animation won’t improve your Android application. If you disable the boot animation, you can save precious seconds when loading the emulator. Initially, you must launch the SDK’s ‘Tools’ folder in your Terminal by pointing it to its SDK ‘Tools’ folder. Once the SDK is launched, you must run the AVD you intend to use by specifying the -no-boot-anim flag.
- Try an Alternative
You can opt for a third-party Android emulator, such as Genymotion, which runs across all major platforms, if you find all of these techniques frustrating. If you want to use the premium features, or have multiple users, you need to purchase a license. The basic plan is free for personal use, but if you want to use the premium features, or have multiple users, you will need to purchase a license.
- Accelerating virtual machines
The Android emulator can be run inside an accelerated virtual machine (VM), which can improve the execution speed. Many modern CPUs have extensions for running virtual machines more efficiently. The CPU of your computer must support one of the following virtualisation extension technologies to use these extensions:
- Extensions for AMD Virtualization (AMD-V, SVM) for Linux only.
- A set of extensions to Intel’s Virtualization Technology (VT, VMX or VT-x,).
Lambda Test, a cloud-based platform that lets you perform manual and automation testing of your web and mobile apps on over 3000+ devices and operating system combinations. Testing mobile applications and mobile browsers at scale are possible with Lambda Test’s online Android emulators. On Windows and Mac, Lambda Test can be used to test any Android application and web application. You can also upload .apk, .zip, or .app files directly to Lambda Test cloud servers, making it less archaic and enabling rapid testing. For browser and app testing, you can also use Android emulators for Linux in addition to Windows and Mac.
With an Android emulator, you can test applications and play games on large screens, which has revolutionized device capabilities and user experience. An Android emulator helps you to connect various aspects of all of your electronic devices simultaneously, making it a worthwhile addition to your electronic devices. By using an Android emulator, you can enhance the capabilities of your device and improve your user experience.