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OnePlus always used flagship specs in its devices, even when its phones were undercutting the competition's price. The days of "flagship killers" are long gone, but the company still chooses high-end processors each year. In theory, that should make the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro some of the fastest phones you can buy today — indeed, our reviews say basically the same thing — but it turns out that many applications are being held back from reaching peak performance.
A new report from Anandtech dives deep into determining whether or not the OnePlus 9 Pro's benchmarks match real-world usage, and unfortunately, the answer seems to be a hard no. While OxygenOS allows benchmarking apps to reach full performance using its Snapdragon 888, OnePlus has included a blacklist of popular apps from the Play Store, all of which are prevented from taking full advantage of the phone's power. The report speculates it's an attempt to deliver improved battery life — a failure, if our review is anything to go by.
The CPU frequency scaling tracking test, comparing spoofed Twitter and Chrome apps with an anonymous app (image via Anandtech).
As for what apps are affected by OnePlus's manipulation, unfortunately, it seems to be wide-reaching. Anandtech tested dozens of the most popular apps in the Play Store, ranging from social networks to Microsoft's Office suite, along with several popular third-party browsers, and nearly everything was limited. Even pre-installed system apps were restricted. It didn't take long for a pattern to appear: if you recognize an app's name, it's probably being throttled by OnePlus.
There are, of course, some exceptions. Vivaldi was the one browser found not to be artificially limited, and games like Genshin Impact could be played at full performance. The analysis discovered some odd outliers as well. Uber and Uber Eats both ran at reduced speeds, but Lyft and Grubhub performed as usual.
While one could argue the main takeaway here is not to trust benchmarking apps — a lesson we've learned time and time again — this specific issue feels more reminiscent of Apple's throttling controversy from a few years ago, which ended with a rare apology from the company. We'll have to wait to see if OnePlus removes or reduces these app restrictions in response to this report since it's undoubtedly not taking advantage of the full power of the Snapdragon 888. Until then, you should check out the entire investigation over at Anandtech for a truly nerdy deep dive into benchmarking, kernel code, and app spoofing.
Not long after Anandtech published its report concerning OnePlus throttling apps on its phones, Geekbench — one of the most popular ways to run benchmark tests on Android — took action. According to its Twitter account, both the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro have been delisted from the service's benchmark chart.
We will also test the other OnePlus handsets in our performance lab to see if these handsets also manipulate performance in the same way. If they do, we will delist them from the Android Benchmark chart.
— Geekbench (@geekbench) July 6, 2021
Geekbench also intends to investigate whether other OnePlus devices are guilty of the same manipulation, promising to delist any culpable devices from its chart as well.
A day after Anandtech's original report, a OnePlus representative issued a statement to XDA's Mishaal Rahman, which you can read in full below, which claims 300 apps were affected.
“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.”
The company later reached out to us with the following, slightly different statement, which makes no mention of the number of apps affected by the behavior. When asked, the company would not respond to whether the 300-app claim in the original statement was correct or not.
"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."
Looking at the patch notes for OxygenOS 188.8.131.52 — the software version tested by Anandtech — OnePlus did note that it had "optimized power consumption," though that's quite the understatement compared to the actual change made. However, as Mishaal noted in a following tweet, throttling may have been implemented prior to launch, noting a low Jetstream score in PhoneArena's review from March.
Interestingly, the company says its "optimizations" affect the device while running benchmarking apps, but that's the opposite of what yesterday's report discovered regarding Geekbench performance. Whether a future update will undo this throttling, or allow users to customize the phone's power options, remains to be seen.