OnePlus keeps alienating its core users to go mainstream, but this time it's gone too far

OnePlus 9 Pro review
OnePlus 9 Pro review (Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

OnePlus is intentionally slowing down the performance of a lot of very popular Android apps in an attempt to improve battery life. According to the company, it's trying to balance everything so an application can have the power it needs but nothing extra. So, for example, by not allowing the CPU to crank all the way up, there is a noticeable benefit in battery life.

See how sensible it sounds when you say it that way? Too bad OnePlus didn't have the foresight to say anything to customers before it decided to mess with everything on one of the best Android phones available.

I'm not going to lie — I really like OnePlus's recent phones. Not because I'm some superfan who wants to rush to a pop-up event or buys everything OnePlus has to offer (though the company's USB-C earbuds were really good, too). But because I think they have a nice mix of useful software without too much meddling, and it runs on top of quality hardware. Besides, the paint on the Interstellar Glow OnePlus 8 is frigging beautiful.

OnePlus 8

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central This is what beauty looks like. (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

With that out of the way, how dumb was doing the whole OnePlus 9 app throttling thing and not tell its customers, who are more likely to be very tech-savvy and notice a problem? Again, very dumb is the answer.

I'm not against what OnePlus did, just how it went about it.

Let's be clear — digging around in the code that makes Android and its kernel to try and improve performance or battery life is something that a lot of phone makers do. And OnePlus was on that big list before the latest controversy. The same goes for benchmark manipulation — most companies either actively do it or have done it in the past — and it's so common in products that people want to benchmark, nobody really cares. I don't care about OnePlus 9 benchmarks either way.

If you got this far and haven't figured it out, I don't think what OnePlus actually did is terrible. But doing it in secret wasn't smart. Every phone has some semblance of battery saver mode. OnePlus should have built a super-duper battery saver mode and let us all know how it works.

I've been breaking Android phones for over 10 years and know there is no way to hide something like this.

I've been both an Android enthusiast and writing about Android for more than a decade. Yeah, my first Android phone was the G1, which I quickly rendered unusable because I was messing with it. Now, that doesn't necessarily make me a special expert on anything, but it does give me some insight into how Android enthusiasts react to getting tricked. This time, Andrei from Anandtech figured it all out and did a fantastic job doing so. Other times, a random person from a forum figured it out. But every time, someone figured it out when a phone maker tried to pull a fast one.

OnePlus knew someone would track down what it was doing once people started complaining about all the performance glitches. OnePlus also knows that if it did this out in the open, brilliant people who don't work for OnePlus would have jumped in and helped make it better. Hell, do it exactly right, and you might even grab Google's attention like Samsung, LG, HTC, and probably OnePlus have done in the past. The code that makes Android work is filled with great ideas from folks who don't work for Google.

We all want better battery life, but not this way.

But OnePlus did the dumb thing and figured it could slide this past its enthusiast fanbase, and here we are. It's fixable, but it means root and custom software and other hoops that most of us don't want to jump through. Especially if the OnePlus 9 or 9 Pro is our only phone. And OnePlus isn't likely to release a patch that just rolls everything back to normal, at least not any time soon. That matters here, and it matters a lot.

This is a real issue and needs to be fixed and soon.

I figured this was yet another issue that was getting blown out of proportion because Android enthusiasts like me tend to do just that. It's OK to admit that, and I freely do. But then I asked a few people with a OnePlus 9 about it, and there are issues. Chrome seems to be the biggest offender, but almost any application that uses the Android webview can get all kinds of flakey on a phone with the best hardware Android phone makers have to offer. Most of the time, everything is just fine, and there is likely a tangible battery life improvement. But we all want our phones to work as expected every time, not most of the time.

OnePlus will get this fixed, and in time we'll forget about it because the next Android phone controversy will take its place. But still, there was no reason to do things the dumb way.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

27 Comments
  • I fell for the OnePlus hype and won't buy another OnePlus phone ever again, the final straw for me is their throttling of their current flagship phones while not informing customers about it, have they not learned anything from Apple's "battery gate"? Clearly not and them ditching what made them standout in the first place, their stock like Android UI and the obviously paid for "reviews" said that they're good with updates, yeah they are.... For about 3 updates then they just forget about their phones. That's OnePlus in a nutshell and my 7T is my first and only OnePlus phone.
  • "Battery gate" was a totally different thing. Apple was throttling phones with battery capacities at 40% or less to save power. It was squeezing the most out of old devices.
  • Granted the issue was was with older iPhones with depreciated batteries but the the similarities are that both Apple and OnePlus didn't inform customers on what they were doing until they were caught out. OnePlus about have learnt from the aftermath which is still being felt by Apple to this they with them being sued in Europe.
  • I'm sticking with my iPhone 12 Pro Max. I was hoping the OnePlus 9 Pro would get me away from iOS, but it won't. Want an S21 Ultra from Best Buy, but they haven't had any in stock for weeks. Sigh.
  • I was going to pick up a OnePlus 9 Pro at Best Buy a couple of days ago, but when I read they throttle apps, I easily decided against it.
  • I picked up a op9 2 days ago, this phone is awesome...I am coming back to Android after a year of iOS so it may be the honeymoon phase but still, this phone is awesome.... Except for the camera, which I usually never use but when taking pictures of my old phone to sell on swappa I noticed it isn't the best (I got good shots but had to work way harder than I'm used to, came from IPhone 12 and pixel 4 before that). Bottom line, this whole thing is blown way out of proportion. For me this phone is great, feels very fast, 5g on vzw, unlocked bootloader, and active development (can't wait to rock LOS on a modern phone with vzw).
  • I agree that this is blown way out of proportion. As I understand it, everyone is screaming at OnePlus for using less power where more power isn't necessary. Scrolling a webpage article at max processing power isn't necessary for a great experience. It's like people are upset that their Ferrari won't run at 8000 RPM's burning unnecessary amounts of fuel even when they're tootling through a parking lot looking for an open space.
  • I'll be looking to replace my One+. I can't support a company that pulls this s**t.
  • I'd advise anyone that avoid OnePlus and if they're sued they'd be finished as an OEM.
  • I have used 3 OnePlus phones and they all worked great for me. That being said I have no problem with what OnePlus did here. They are doing what they can to keep the battery alive. Does what they did cause any real world problems? I think the problem is more with the constant "need" to make faster, better, more efficient SOC's. The problem is that the only way these companies think they can make money is to constantly "improve" on last years product. If we stopped using these SOC's that are clearly overkill then maybe the battery would last longer, and everything would still run just fine. Show me a company, any company that doesn't cheat in one way or another and I will sell you some prime swamp land down in Southern Florida for a great price!
  • I agree that what OnePlus is doing isn't a bad idea because battery life is the most important feature on every phone. But the way OnePlus is doing it means people are seeing really weird things and have no idea why. The communication failure turned this into a controversy that didn't need to happen.
  • What they did is bad because they throttled some apps and didn't do so to some other apps
  • The problem is not what OnePlus did as such but the way they want about it by not informing customers until they got caught. OnePlus cannot be defended over this and with their terrible approach to updates along with their decision to emulate Samsung's One UI which I'm not fond of, even though I own an S20 FE is reasons why I'm not likely to get another OnePlus phone and will go back to a Pixel which to be honest has always been the phone that I've had the most enjoyable experience with along with the Pixel Launcher being my favourite Android UI.
  • Dude... You talk circles around your own points. Please use your Samsung and forget about OnePlus so we don't have to be burdened with your immature, ignorant rants. Oh, take a grammar / spelling course in your spare time.
  • I was already on the fence about staying with OnePlus for my next phone. I love my 7 Pro but the once great updates are now delayed and extremely buggy. This was the nail in the coffin for me.
  • For anyone who owns a OnePlus 9, why not go install a custom ROM and be done with it. That's what I would do if I had one and wasn't happy with them throttling my phone.
  • They make good phones, but alas I made the jump from my Pixel 3 to OP 6T based on hrspr specs, I regretted it, I even went with the TMobile OP 7T Pro 5G, I regretted it also, further validating that their update cycle is atrocious and made the jump back into Pixel 5, zero regrets.
  • Great decision, OnePlus are terrible with updates and they've only deteriorated since then, i wouldn't recommend OnePlus at all. I had a 7T which was my first and last OnePlus phone, I'll be getting the 4a 5G this fall, I currently use an S20 FE which is a very good phone but Samsung's software just isn't for me.
  • This is why I use Samsung phones now, updates that are almost on par with Google themselves, they actually offer longer updates than Google, and the phones actually have features instead of that boring ass vanilla Android that can't do anything lol
  • I like boring vanilla Android, I actually don't care about the extra features that I hardly use and don't even use the One UI launcher and use Lawnchair instead and don't even use any Samsung apps at all. I use all Google apps that's how much I despise the Samsung experience, I don't even use Bixby. Give me boring, vanilla Android that looks elegant which may have fewer features but I actually like and use them. Looking forward to dumping my S20 FE once I get my Pixel 4a 5G and won't be looking back, Samsung updates take a lot longer but at least they're consistent but I value early updates so almost on par isn't good enough for me.
  • Doesn't like OnePlus, doesn't like Samsung. Do you like Android?
  • Of course i like Android, I just like my Android, clean and bloatware free with no third party OEM skin on top with only Google apps and services because that's what I use. I have nothing against either Samsung or OnePlus. I'm not a fan of One UI but was a fan of Oxygen OS until the Oxygen OS 11 update which looks too much like Samsung and then there's OnePlus's updates policy which has gotten worse along with their shady practices of throttling apps on their phones without informing users drove me back to iPhone first with the terrible updates when I should have been thought about getting a Pixel instead as my 2 XL is still the best Android experience and overall best phone experience I had and was very happy with it but I was at a low point in my life when I sold it back in 2018 and have regretted it ever since. But I will getting a 4a 5G this fall and I can't wait and I'll definitely be sticking with a Pixel from here on out.
  • Samsung phones could do with better battery too though. And they don't still offer modern fast charging.
  • Not to mention giving users the choice to disable Bixby.
  • "We all want better battery life, but not this way." Hmm I do. Letting battery hoggings apps to run riot isn't how you make operating system choices. Phone battery sucks, but phone performance is fine at the high end these days. People are always saying their phone doesn't last long enough. As long as it's done in a manner that's seamless to the user I don't mind.
  • I hate to say it, but Samsung fixed this problem with it's "enhanced processing"toggle. Oneplus should have done the same.
  • Could this throttling be reason why YouTube is stuttering in Chrome browser on my OnePlus 7?
    Stuttering issue is resolved after I clear Chrome cache, but it again appears after few days.