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Following a probe by Andrei Frumusanu at Anandtech, OnePlus has admitted that it deliberately throttles “many of the most popular apps”. Andrei noticed an apparent slowdown in a wide range of apps available in the Google Play Store. He described the situation as ‘baffling’. OnePlus justifies its decision to reduce performance on its latest OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro phones because they see it as an effort to extend battery life. But, are they crossing a line?

Anandtech’s conclusion is that OnePlus is “blacklisting popular applications away from its fastest cores, causing a slowdown in typical workloads such as web browsing.” They extensively tested Chrome and Twitter among other apps and found that the performance quashing applies to the majority of popular apps in the Play Store. Google apps, Microsoft Office apps, and social media apps were all affected by the throttling. Most web browsers as well. The only things that seemed to be unaffected were some complex games, Genshin Impact reportedly being one example.

Other phone manufacturers have been guilty of boosting performance in benchmark testing but this is almost the opposite conduct. OnePlus benchmark-tested apps seem up to expectations but regular, heavy use apps have been reduced. Geekbench has described the approach of OnePlus as “benchmark manipulation”. Being a very popular benchmark testing tool with scruples they have gone so far as to remove the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro from their Android benchmark chart.

Sam Byford reported for The Verge in regards to the recent admissions of OnePlus publishing the company’s statement to XDA Developers. The company insists that its measures are solely intended to improve battery life. Here is what they had to say in full;

“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.”

If we take what they have to say above, then performance should only be affected in terms of benchmark test results. However, this contradicts Anandtech’s findings. This makes it hard to judge the user experience. With most popular apps slowed down, the “impact” on benchmark results is non-transparent at best. The results appear higher than they ought to be and the reality of the situation is unclear.

When it comes to the overall experience, the performance tweaks don’t make a huge difference to the user. As the Anandtech report said itself; the reduction is hardly dramatically noticeable. “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.”

Whether it affects users or not, the main takeaway that we are left with is that the companies power management solutions for the 9 Pro are atypical and could mark a real change with other suppliers in the future. Frumusanu remarked that the situation “certainly represents the first case of a vendor implementing application and benchmark detection in this manner”.

At the very least it is something for consumers to consider before purchasing the latest flagship model from OnePlus.

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