The latest smartphone OEM to be caught playing games with device power is OnePlus. Depending on who you want to believe, the company is either benchmark cheating or “optimizing performance.” But everyone—OnePlus included—seems to agree that OnePlus is taking control of app performance out of the hands of users and deciding what is and isn’t allowed to run at maximum speed on the user’s device.
The story starts with Andrei Frumusanu of AnandTech. Frumusanu recently did some digging into the behavior of the OnePlus 9 and found it dramatically throttled Chrome and other popular apps. At times, Chrome was apparently limited to the Cortex-A55 cores only, ignoring most of the phone’s computing horsepower, which is present in the bigger A78 and X1 cores.
Why would any OEM want to make its phone slower on popular apps? Frumusanu assumed this was a roundabout way of benchmark cheating:
We have detected that OnePlus is blacklisting popular applications away from the its fastest cores, causing slow down in typical workloads such as web browsing. We have confirmed that (a) benchmarks or (b) unknown apps get full performance; most of the top popular non-benchmark apps get notably reduced performance. This is perhaps to improve battery life at the expense of performance, but it does mean that the regular benchmark results are somewhat useless for user experience.
The popular benchmark app Geekbench took notice of the report and quickly banned the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro from its benchmark charts, saying “We view this as a form of benchmark manipulation.” Geekbench is also going to do a review of other OnePlus phones in its possession.
OnePlus responded to all of this and, uh… kind of agrees with everyone? The company gave an official statement to XDA Developers:
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 300 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.
It’s pretty troubling that the company decided to lower the device performance after the phone was released and reviewed by most outlets. Now customers aren’t getting what they were expecting. This isn’t just minor tweaking either. AnandTech’s article shows some Chrome tests turning in numbers that are 85-75 percent lower than they should be. It’s hard to imagine any user wanting their web browser to be dramatically slower, but any weird power-management tricks from OEMs like this should always be behind a checkbox—users should be able to control the devices they purchased.
Listing image by Ron Amadeo