How To Test Mobile Websites On Desktop: Best Emulators And Tools

Testing Your Mobile Site

How to test mobile websites on your desktop with different mobile devices is a question we get quite often. There's a huge amount of devices out there and you need to make sure your sites work fine for the majority of them.

As Google is placing a huge emphasis on mobile user experience – their latest algorithm update causing nearly 50% of non-mobile friendly URLs to drop in ranking, making it bigger than the "Panda" update – you can be sure that if your site's mobile visitors will not like the loading speed and what they see, they will leave, and that will affect your site's ranking.

We have collected in this post some of the best free and paid tools that you can use to test your mobile sites on your desktop on various devices without having to actually go and loan or purchase the devices.

Just keep in mind that whenever possible, it's always best to do sanity checks on the actual devices as well, if you have access to them somehow.

Important Note About Latency

The screen size is not all there is to mobile. Don't forget to play with the connection speed, which many of the tools allow you to change. It makes a HUGE difference to the website loading time if the mobile visitor is using a 3G or even 4G network.

The total "network overhead" time for mobile page loading on 3G is over 50%! That's spent without regard to your web server's or the client device's performance, just due to the mobile network latency.

The number of total roundtrips needed (number of HTTP requests) to load a page quickly add up. You won't even realize that if you only do your testing on fast DSL.

If you are interested to learn more about how latency affects mobile loading times and massively optimize your Joomla! website performance on mobile devices, check out our free education series.)

Background Preparations - Understanding Your Mobile Visitors

There's such a huge amount of devices out in the market that you need to focus your efforts. It's simply not productive to try to test with hundreds of different devices and browsers.

It would be best to start with analyzing your target audience, i.e. your website visitors. What are the main user groups in terms of demographics? What devices can you assume they use? Cheaper Android phones, or iPhones? Windows Phones? From which countries does the majority of your traffic come from?

A good tool for checking high-level country-level stats is Statcounter's service, here's for example the graph for mobile and tablet OS market shares for the US:

You can and should check your existing traffic from Google Analytics. Go to your Reporting view, and select Audience->Mobile->Devices, and you will what your current visitors use. You probably will see a lot variations of the same devices and close cousins like Samsung GT-I9295 Galaxy S4 Active, Samsung GT-I9195L Galaxy S4 Mini, Samsung GT-I9195 Galaxy S4 Mini etc.

Realistically, you can check your Top 10 devices in more detail, and then combine different variants and include 10-20 more device profiles that you will check in less detail, to cover e.g. 80-90% of your mobile traffic. Naturally the scope depends on how much traffic the site gets.

So, with your top 10-30 devices identified, let's review some of the best ways to test your mobile websites:

Test on the Real Mobile Device

Yes, we promised to cover the various alternative tools, but let's just get this out of the way first.

Naturally, it is always best to test your website using the actual devices so that you can actually see what's really going on with your website. This way you are also able to see any possible bugs in the device software (firmware) which might cause (not-so-)funny outcomes. Also, if you use local caching, you may found out that it doesn't work the way intended if you haven't taken into account the mobile device's much smaller cache space available which fills up fast.

The user experience contains many factors like variable network conditions, pixel densities, the relative size of tap targets, and real page load times. In a perfect world, every website would be tested on every major mobile device that it might be viewed on.

Online Emulators and Simulators

What's the difference between a simulator and an emulator? In many cases, the terms are used interchangeably. Both let you run the mobile device software in the desktop or browser environment.

Typically emulator specifically means that it works by duplicating every aspect of the original device's behavior down to the hardware. So it tries to mimic the real device use as closely as possible.

A simulator, on the other hand, sets up a similar environment to the original real device, but it doesn't attempt to simulate the actual real hardware. This may affect the results. Practically when we're talking about testing mobile websites, this doesn't necessarily make that much difference (but it might). Most of the (most convenient) tools available are simulators, while emulators typically are distributed as downloadable applications along with possible IDEs more targeted for app development.

Important: User Agent Recognition

One important concept in the mobile world is the so called User Agent of a device. The detection of a mobile device can be done on the client-side (browser) and/or the server-side, and these approaches have certain major differences.

When you want to see how a site would look on a certain mobile phone model without using the actual device, your best bet for accurate results is to mimic the User Agent string (UA) of the device. What happens when you download a web page is your browser sends its UA to the server.

The UA identifies the device and the browser, and this way it’s possible for the web server to detect and identify the browser as e.g. a Chrome desktop browser, a Safari browser running on iPhone 6 Plus, or as the native browser of a Samsung Galaxy 5.

Majority of the biggest websites are using server-side handset detection, as it allows them to serve different content depending on the device (e.g. optimize images, remove non-mobile compatible plugins etc.). So, if there is server-side detection of the UA in place, simply resizing your desktop browser window will not necessarily show you the same version and content of the website.

That's why no matter what tool you use, it's always good to make sure the tool actually uses the target device's UA string when making HTTP requests. You will mainly need to worry about this only when you use the built-in browser tools which we will cover later below.

Quick Tests With Mobile Joomla!

First, let's review a few of the simplest ways to test the mobile version of your site when you have Mobile Joomla! installed:

1) visit your mobile subdomain (if you are using one).

2) switch to a mobile site by enabling the “Mobile Switcher” module, which allows you to choose between web version and mobile version manually.

3) use our Mobile – Always plugin so that you always get the mobile version.

4) add ?device= parameter to the URL as in the following. We will see device-specific output with these parameters:

Mobile phone emulator (by COWEMO) a mobile phone emulator that enables you to test the display of any website in many cell phones.

With this online mobile emulator (although there isn't much information disclosed on the accuracy of the tool), you can select lots of devices from a dropdown list and enter your website URL to test it.

Price: Free, you can get JavaScript API access from USD $50 per month.

Opera Mobile Emulator for Desktop

Opera Mobile Emulator is software created by Opera for web developers and designers to test websites on the Opera Mobile browser. It has the exactly same engine and UI as Opera Mobile on mobile phones. There are, however, some extra debugging tools available, such as keyboard shortcuts, the profile selector, and various command-line flags. Check out detailed description on the use of Opera Mobile Emulator.

Works on: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X.

Requirements: Just a download from the Opera site.

  • It’s an emulator, so you don’t need any real phones for testing.
  • It comes pre-configured with a series of phone and tablet device profiles (User Agent strings).
  • There’s also an online and downloadable Opera Mini Simulator for feature phones that run the Java-based Opera browser.
  • Customizable User Agents - Users can freely change the UA string.
  • Super simple to install and easy to use. No need to install any complex SDKs or the like.
  • Various input modes - There are three input modes available: touch, keypad and tablet.
  • All modes can be activated and controlled by links and controls.
  • Bookmark sync - Opera Mobile Emulator can be integrated with Opera Turbo and Opera Link to enable bookmark sync for faster testing.
  • Remote debugging with real devices - you can do remote debugging by installing also Opera Dragonfly that contains useful features such as DOM, CSS, Network Inspectors, JavaScript Debugger, Command Line and Error Console.
  • Media support may not be perfect.
  • By default, only User Agent Strings for the platforms Opera Mobile runs on are included. However, it's possible to add iPhone User Agent to Opera Mobile Emulator as a custom UA string.
  • The emulator displays how pages look using the Opera mobile browser -- as known, not all features work similarly in different browsers. Even more so in the mobile world.

Responsinator Responsinator - With this tool you can quickly test mobile sites on the few top iOS and Android devices. It takes in a URL and then outputs a sequence of device mockups with the web page rendered in them so you can get an idea of how the page layout will be experienced by your users in various devices. It only includes a limited set of devices, and is intended for quick visual checking rather than seeing exact device behavior.

Price: N/A (Donation Only) Very simple way of testing your mobile sites and web applications right from your browser.

Price: $9.99/month - One price, unlimited testing. (For more information about pricing, please see this link)

Browshot - Testing Mobile Websites

Browshot is a service to easily create screenshots of web pages in any screen size, as any device: iPhone, iPad, Android, Nook, PC, etc. The service is simple to use: you get to select a mobile device, the screen orientation, and then you can request a screenshot of any website. The shot will be generated using the Browshot's virtual browsers and delivered to you almost instantly (they mention an average of 15 seconds).

There are a few limitations, however: First, there’s a quite limited set of mobile devices; Second, apparently the screenshots are cached for 24 hours, so same day changes with the exactly same URL won’t show up (this could be bypassed by adding empty parameters to the URL, or using their API). For high-volume customers the firm also offers customizable browser setups (e.g. any screen size ratio).

Works on: Any browser

Requirements: N/A

Price: Browshot uses credits system for paying for the screenshots. Mobile shots take 2 credits. You can get 20 credits for free for signing up to their newsletter and sending a tweet. You'll also get 100 free screenshots a month. Credits are sold in packs starting from $1 per 10 credits and up to $1,000 per 300,000 credits.

  • Very easy, simple, and fast to use (the average time, including page load, to finish a screenshot is just 15s).
  • Affordable pricing for small batches.
  • Configurable - each feature (Flash/HTML5/CSS/JavaScript/Image loading) can be enabled and disabled on demand. They also have an API.
  • Limited device selection.
  • Iterative development difficult with only screenshots - also, the service caching can be a nuisance.

BrowserStack - Web-Based Cross Browser Testing

BrowserStack is a web service that offers a complete range of browsers for cross browser testing. The service is available online instantly without any downloads or installs.

While the service started with desktop browsers, it now also includes official mobile emulators of iOS, Android, and Opera Mobile, so you can test how the sites work on iPhone, iPad, various Android devices, plus some others that support Opera Mobile (see full device list). BrowserStack also features advanced functionality like local tunnel testing of private sites and pre-installed debugging tools.

Works on: Windows, Mac OS X (Linux coming soon)

Requirements: You don’t need to install anything, just need a browser and Flash.

  • Free for Open Source: We love open source projects. Choose any of our plans. Contact us with details of your project.
  • $12.50/mo for Freelancers: 100 minutes of Live. Only 1 license/account. $12.50/mo , Billed annually. $19 month-to-month.
  • Live $29 license/month: For teams focused on cross-browser compatibility.
  • Automate $59 license/month: For teams with Selenium or JavaScript tests.
  • Automate Pro $99 license/month: For test-driven development teams.

For more information about pricing, please see this link.

  • Instant access to iOS, Android, and Opera Mobile emulators (+ all major desktop browsers)
  • No installation required
  • Advanced developer tools
  • Limited amount of different mobile devices available
  • Needs a good block of available memory to run

Built-in Mobile Developer Tools of Chrome, Firefox and Safari

All these browsers come with built-in mobile testing tools. To access the mobile developer tools, on all browsers you can right click anywhere on a website and select Inspect Element from the drop-down menu, or use keyboard short cuts key F12 or CTRL + SHIFT + I on Windows, or Cmd + Opt + I on Mac. (Further shortcut instructions for Chrome, Safari and Firefox.)

Chrome's Device Mode & Mobile Emulation

The Device Mode comes with presets of device information including screen width, height, and device pixel ratio from popular devices, like Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy series.

Changing the device also changes the User Agent string of the browser (remember what we discussed above in the beginning?), which ensures that you will also see the results of any server-side device-specific processing that might be happening.

You can use these tools to:

  • Test your responsive designs by emulating different screen sizes and resolutions, including Retina displays.
  • Evaluate your site's performance using the network emulator, without affecting traffic to other tabs.
  • Visualize and inspect CSS media queries.
  • Accurately simulate device input for touch events, geolocation, and device orientation.
  • Enhance your current debugging workflow by combining device mode with the existing DevTools.

For more information, please visit Chrome's official site: Device Mode & Mobile Emulation

Firefox's Responsive Design View

Firefox has a mobile development view as well, allowing you to get a preview of how a responsive design website will look on different screen resolutions (mobile phones, tablets, PC, etc).

However, it's important to notice that changing the screensize this way in Firefox does NOT change the User Agent string of the browser - it will still show up as desktop Firefox, which means you may miss server-side device-specific processing magic.

The UA string change is buried in Firefox’s about:config page, which is not very handy. Luckily, there's an extension which allows you to change the User Agent easily: User Agent Switcher. The extension only comes with a limited amount of devices, but you can download a whole lot more User Agent strings from You can download all UAs in the same XML and just directly import the file to User Agent Switcher (In Firefox, select Tools->Default User Agent->Edit User Agents->Import).

To enable, select Firefox's menu > Web Developer > Responsive Design View (CTRL+SHIFT+M).


  • Size Selection
  • Portrait / Landscape
  • Screenshot
  • Simulate touch events
  • and more controls.

Fore more information, visit Firefox Developer Tools home page.

Safari - Using iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch Website Testing

Safari browser also has a built-in mobile emulator for the iOS devices, and allows you to change the device User-Agent into also non-iOS devices.

These screenshots will guide you how to use Apple's Safari web browser for testing your iDevice-ready website by simulating an HTTP request from Safari on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

Check the official site of Safari Developer Tools for more details.

Mobile Emulators from Device Manufacturers

Device Manufacturers, or OEMs, typically provide desktop emulators of their platforms. Often these are aimed more toward native application development, but they can also be used for mobile website testing. Typically the emulator provided by the device manufacturer or OS provider is the closest-matching alternative to real device testing, although it’s not always the case. In the following we will present some of these manufacturer tools.

BlackBerry Simulators

BlackBerry simulators are provided by RIM for web developers to do BlackBerry compatibility testing on various devices. There’s support for keyboard, and trackpad/trackwheel/trackball input. The tools also allow running and debugging BlackBerry applications on desktop computers.

Works on: Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

Requirements: VMware Player on Windows or VMware Fusion on Mac needs to be installed.

  • Most of the typical device functionalities, even advanced like push notifications, can be tested. Very close to real device.
  • Complex SDK, so there may be installation and other issues if you’re unlucky, and if you only want to test the browser, installing whole SDK is redundant.

Windows Phone Emulator

Windows Phone Emulator is a desktop tool to emulate Windows Phone 8. Installation gives you a mobile environment where you can test, view, and debug Windows Phone apps and use the browser to check websites. Windows Phone Emulator is designed to provide comparable performance to an actual device.

Requirements: You need to download and install Windows Phone Developer Tools.

  • Full-blown SDK with device emulator.
  • Allows for in-depth developer access.
  • Check on device peripherals, processor speed, RAM, display resolution and GPU.
  • Lots of language versions available.
  • Only works on Windows.
  • Heavy and complex SDK with lots of requirements.
  • Some complaints about slow performance.

Android Studio

Android Studio emulator enables you to create a virtual mobile device on which you can run Android applications and test mobile websites. It has Android system stack and includes pre-installed applications that you can access. You can find the emulator inside Android SDK package.

Works on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux.

Requirements: You need to download and install the Android SDK before you can launch Android Emulator to run the browser to test your site. It is recommended that you use Eclipse Classic version, or a Java or Eclipse RCP version for running the Android SDK. Before doing this, make sure that you also have Java SE Development Kit (JDK) installed on your computer. In order to use the emulator, you must also create one or more Android Virtual Device configurations where in each of them you must specify which platform to run, which hardware to use and which emulator skin is your choice. You can also run Firefox Mobile on top of the Android SDK.

  • Full-blown SDK with device emulator.
  • Allows for in-depth developer access to e.g. telephony, SMS, and SD card emulation.
  • Geo location, extensive logging capabilities.
  • Very close to real device.
  • Complex SDK with lots to install.
  • Lots of unnecessary stuff if you just need the browser to test mobile websites.

Tips: The Android SDK is quite slow – it might be better to use an image from in VirtualBox.

Online Mobile Testing With Real Devices

Yes, it is also possible to test with the real mobile device online. Let's review some options.

Keynote Mobile Testing (DeviceAnywhere)

Keynote Mobile Testing (previously known as DeviceAnywhere) provides testing access to a huge variety of mobile devices.

The specialty of the service is that they actually make use of remote connection to real devices – so it's the real thing you are testing against, and not just an emulator.

Keynote's service can be used for testing of mobile websites as well as HTML5 hybrid apps and native apps. The service is a bit skewed towards testing apps, though.

Works on: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X

Requirements: To test your mobile site with DeviceAnywhere, you need to sign up for an account. After you have obtained an account, you can download and install their software.

  • FREE: Spot check your mobile apps and websites for a limited time on limited number of devices.
  • PRO: Manual testing of your mobile apps and websites starting at $180 per month.
  • PRO UNLIMITED: Unlimited manual testing of your mobile apps and websites starting at $500 per month / billed annually.
  • ENTERPRISE: Automated testing of your mobile apps and websites starting at $750 per month / billed annually.

For more information about pricing, please see this link.

  • Easy to use.
  • Great device selection.
  • Test using real devices.
  • Lots of advanced functionality available for automating tests etc.
  • Can get costly if you’re on limited budget.
  • Clunky/slow Java UI.
  • Since they use real devices, those may sometimes be broken or unavailable.
  • Limited carrier networks choice.


This website will test your website with 333 real devices (247 phones | 82 tablets | 4 PMPs).

Real, physical devices in the cloud

With AppThwack you can test your website with 300+ unique, non-rooted phones and tablets in our state-of-the-art device lab. They have real hardware and software, available 24/7 and 100% automated.

Example Test Results

  • Free: 100 minutes of testing.
  • Micro $20/mo (up to 200d)


We can validate our mobile website created with Mobile Joomla! with the following tools:

This checker performs various tests on a Web Page to determine its level of mobile-friendliness. The tests are defined in the mobileOK Basic Tests 1.0 specification. A Web Page is mobileOK when it passes all the tests.

If you wish to validate specific content such as markup validitation, or RSS/Atom feeds, or CSS stylesheets, or to find broken links, there are other validators and tools available.

The mobiReady testing tool evaluates mobile-readiness using industry best practices and standards. The free report provides both a score (from 1 to 5) and in-depth analysis of pages to determine how well your site performs on a mobile device.

Provides results for a single page:

  • dotMobi compliance.
  • W3C mobileOK tests.
  • Device emulators.
  • Detailed error reports.

Provides results for markup only:

  • Useful during development.
  • Live site not required.
  • HTTP tests ignored.
  • Detailed error reports.

Provides results for a whole site:

  • Site wide testing.
  • Report archive.
  • Enhanced emulators.
  • Detailed error reports. was developed a long time ago, and some its suggestions are not perfect at the present time. For example, most of mobile devices displays html markup well, but recommends to use xhtml markup, etc.

Bonus: Mobile Joomla! Pro

Mobile Joomla! Pro preview
Mobile Joomla! Pro preview
For our Mobile Joomla! Pro users we've tried to make it as easy as possible to do basic testing to see how the site looks on various devices while tweaking settings at the same time.

Mobile Joomla! Pro includes multiple back-end device simulators with which one can easily try out how the chosen settings affect the Joomla! site on the iPhone, Android, smartphones, and features phones.

While it may not completely remove the need to test advanced features with a large variety of devices, our aim has been to make it fast and easy for our professional users to make adjustments to their mobile site while seeing the results at the same time.


Have fund testing!

Do you have your own tips or comments for testing mobile sites on desktop and browsers, or have we missed something? Let us know in the comments below!

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