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OnePlus admits to throttling popular apps to save battery life

OnePlus admits to throttling popular apps to save battery life


GeekBench describes behavior as ‘benchmark manipulation’

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The OnePlus 9 Pro (top) and OnePlus 9
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

OnePlus has confirmed that it deliberately reduces performance in “many of the most popular apps” in order to improve battery life on its latest OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro phones. The issue arose following testing by Anandtech’s Andrei Frumusanu, who called the situation “rather baffling” after discovering slowdown in a wide range of prominent apps from Google’s Play Store.

Anandtech’s conclusion is that OnePlus is “blacklisting popular applications away from its fastest cores, causing slowdown in typical workloads such as web browsing.” The site tested Chrome and Twitter performance extensively, but concluded that the slowdown “applies to pretty much everything that has any level of popularity in the Play Store.” That’s said to cover all Google apps, all Microsoft Office apps, and all notable social media apps and web browsers, though some complex games like Genshin Impact are reportedly unaffected.

Some phone manufacturers have been caught in the past artificially boosting performance so that their devices run unreasonably fast in benchmarks. That isn’t quite what’s happening here; while benchmark apps seem to be running within expectations, it’s the performance of “regular” apps that’s been reduced. Nevertheless, popular testing tool GeekBench describes OnePlus’ approach as “benchmark manipulation” and has removed the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro from its Android benchmark chart.

OnePlus confirmed to XDA Developers that this is intended behavior designed to improve battery life. Here’s the full statement:

“Our top priority is always delivering a great user experience with our products, based in part on acting quickly on important user feedback. Following the launch of the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro in March, some users told us about some areas where we could improve the devices’ battery life and heat management. As a result of this feedback, our R&D team has been working over the past few months to optimize the devices’ performance when using many of the most popular apps, including Chrome, by matching the app’s processor requirements with the most appropriate power. This has helped to provide a smooth experience while reducing power consumption. While this may impact the devices’ performance in some benchmarking apps, our focus as always is to do what we can to improve the performance of the device for our users.”

OnePlus’ statement implies that the performance is only affected in benchmark results, which is essentially the opposite of what Anandtech has found. Unless, of course, the intended user experience is for most popular apps to be slowed down, and the “impact” is on benchmark results that are higher than they ought to be.

It is worth noting that the performance tweaks may well not make much difference to the user’s overall experience. “I wouldn’t blame anybody if they hadn’t necessarily noticed the performance discrepancy — I hadn’t immediately noticed it myself beyond the device’s extremely slow momentum scrolling speed setting,” Frumusanu writes. “However, having it side-by-side to a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, or a Xiaomi Mi 11 (Ultra) and paying attention, I do very much notice that the OnePlus 9 Pro is less responsive.”

What’s clear is that OnePlus is taking an unusual approach to power management on the 9 Pro — Frumusanu says it “certainly represents the first case of a vendor implementing application and benchmark detection in this manner” — and that’s something you might want to be aware of before dropping the cash on the company’s latest flagship.