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