OnePlus has created a great niche for itself, with a portfolio of devices that showcase very impressive specs and cameras at relatively not-so-flagship prices. Case in point being the OnePlus 9 Pro.
This last week, however, saw the company come into the spotlight for the kind of reasons any brand would ill prefer.
First, we had that Twitter post. OnePlus’ official Twitter handle carried an ad of the Samsung Note20 Ultra, with the caption ‘The enhanced #SPen is my weapon of choice’. Call it complacency on the part of an employee or three, but any brand needs to be more mindful of how they handle a certified social media feed.
This goof-up, of course was small change, easily rectified by a ‘Delete this Tweet’ click.
As if to add insult to clumsiness, what happened next was a bit more serious.
The OnePlus 9 Pro packs the Snapdragon 888 SoC, a very much competent processor with eight CPU cores. A very speedy, responsive phone is assured. However, Anandtech noticed some unevenness in its various tests of the phone, noticing how some of the popular apps it tested were reporting up to 20% less benchmarking scores compared to other similar devices.
The outcome of Anandtech’s analysis was quite revealing.
It reported that OnePlus has a “blacklist” of applications that will cause the CPU to throttle the clock speed, a blacklist that applies to pretty much everything that has any level of popularity in the Play Store, including the whole of Google’s app suite, all of Microsoft’s Office apps, all popular social media apps, and any popular browser such as Firefox, Samsung Internet, or Microsoft Edge.
Interestingly, benchmarking apps are not on the Blacklist.
So the mechanism was thus: an app that is not on the blacklist gets the full speed of the SoC. In the case of an app on the OnePlus Blacklist, the clock speed drops considerably, with workloads often pushed off to the slower CPU cores, bypassing the X1 altogether. When it pretends to be Chrome, for instance, the clock drops even more that regular apps.
Meaning while performance of the various apps are seriously throttled knowingly, when you run a standard benchmarking test, the scores are rather stellar.
Of course, this flips the script on most previous benchmark cheating scandals. The standard ‘approach’ is for brands to specifically boosted clock speeds on whitelisted apps, which included benchmarks. OnePlus went the other way, slowing down almost all popular apps like Twitter, Chrome, and Uber, while ensuring the full power of the Sanpdragon 888 would be available to benchmarks, ensuring stellar scores.
Given that the OnePlus 9 Pro was released in April, surely there would have been feedback on this compromised performance? According to Anandtech, OnePlus had a plan for that as well. While performance peaks were evidently limited, it remains a responsive phone with OnePlus had mechanisms at play such as OS framework boosters and touch boosters which fight against the limitations.
As for one reason why a brand would possibly reduce performance of key apps, battery life is an easy answer, given that OnePlus devices have struggled in that area.
Key brands have shown differing approaches to crisis situations like that, but I think OnePlus must be applauded for their immediate response to the finding, before the flames of discontent spread.
Speaking to XDA, OnePlus elaborated “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.”
Nicely balanced statement, and wethinks OnePlus could well be in the clear. True, Geekbench may have opted to remove the OnePlus 9 Pro from its popular benchmark charts, pledging to investigate other OnePlus phones have similar issues. Yet one has to ask, how does it work out for the end user? Smooth performance and great battery life are a key criteria, and my belief is that as long as OnePlus can ensure great performance for customers, these factors will not affect their buying decision.