Tech

OnePlus caught slowing apps on phones. Pretends it’s not a big deal.

OnePlus said it tweaked the behavior of the phone when running certain apps in order to improve battery life. But the move still feels shady.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - MARCH 24: A OnePlus 9 pro smartphone and a Hasselblad camera are on display during the launching ceremony of the OnePlus 9 series at Oriental Sports Center on March 24, 2021 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Xin Yue/Huanqiu.com/VCG via Getty Images)
Huanqiu.com/Visual China Group/Getty Images

OnePlus is facing criticism for the way it optimizes the performance on its latest smartphones, the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro. It was discovered earlier this week by AnandTech that the phones throttle their processor speeds when running certain apps like Chrome, Twitter, and WhatsApp.

Battery optimization — OnePlus in a statement to XDA Developers confirmed the behavior, saying it was responding to customers who have complained about poor battery life. When it was released in March, the OnePlus 9 Pro was found to have worse battery life than its predecessor, the OnePlus 8 Pro.

It’s not unusual for smartphone makers to optimize the operating system software to balance performance with battery life expectations. What is ruffling feathers is that OnePlus targets specific applications and slows down CPU performance. Because this behavior is based on an application’s identifier rather than application behavior, benchmarking apps aren’t being throttled at all.

Sleight of hand — That might be viewed as deceptive, as OnePlus phones frequently appear in the top rankings of benchmarking tests based on their performance. But those rankings might not reflect reality if, in the real world, intensive apps are being slowed down.

Now, it’s unclear whether any OnePlus 9 users have even noticed any performance issues as a consequence of the tweaks. The phone’s OxygenOS 11 operating system has been found to be quite fast and responsive in testing. But it adds to a series of complaints that OnePlus has faced over less-than-transparent modifications to its software that threaten to tarnish the reputation it has developed as a brand for Android purists.

Moreover, back in 2017, OnePlus was caught cheating performance tests when it artificially boosted the clock speeds of its OnePlus 3T while running certain benchmark tests.

Brand concerns — OnePlus has long been a favorite among Android loyalists for selling premium phones at competitive prices that run mostly uncompromised versions of Android, free from the bloatware and unnecessary modifications that plague phones from other makers. But late last year, OnePlus faced outraged fans when it was discovered the company was pre-installing Facebook apps. The company quickly walked back that move. And prices of its flagships have crept ever nearer to those of its rivals.

If OnePlus were true to its brand, it might be best to include a toggle so that hardcore users have a choice to disable any such performance throttling. The beauty of Android is supposed to be customization and control, after all.