Samsung caught throttling 10,000 phone apps—and its own home screen





The Galaxy S22 Ultra.  It has a pen.
Enlarge / The Galaxy S22 Ultra. It has a pen.

Samsung

Samsung is once again in hot water over how it treats benchmark apps. This time, the company is accused of throttling 10,000 Android apps—but not benchmark apps. It sounds like the OnePlus scheme was caught running last year. Instead of boosting the SoC speeds when a benchmark app is running, Android OEMs are now turning down phone performance anytime a benchmark app isn’t running. It’s like benchmark cheating but in reverse.

Samsung’s throttling app is called the “Game Optimizing Service.” Users of the Korean message board Clen.net found wildly different benchmark scores depending on whether benchmark apps had their original names or not. By changing the package names of popular benchmark apps—thereby making the “Game Optimizing Service” treat a benchmark app like a normal app—scores dropped anywhere from 13 to 45 percent on the Galaxy S10, S20, S21, and the new S22. Normally, the throttling behavior is not user-controllable, but the users are tricking the service by modifying apps.

John Poole, the lead developer of Geekbench, was able to reproduce the wild performance changes based on whether the S22 thought it was running a benchmark or a game. Poole changed Geekbench’s package name to that of Genshin Impact, a popular game, and saw benchmark scores plummet. The Snapdragon Galaxy S22 dropped its single-core score 46 percent, while the multi-core score was down 35 percent. Poole confirmed that this behavior exists on the Exynos S10 as well.

Clen.net forum user “squiny” was nice enough to post the full database of apps targeted by Samsung’s throttling app, and we gave it a quick audit. This “game optimizing” applies to more than just games. The database actually flags apps into “game” and “non-game” categories, with only 3,200 of the 10,000 apps actually categorized as games. The rest are normal, everyday apps.

The Galaxy S22 benchmark scores plummet when Samsung's software treats a benchmark app like a normal app.
Enlarge / The Galaxy S22 benchmark scores plummet when Samsung’s software treats a benchmark app like a normal app.

There are 233 listings for Samsung apps on the list, including pretty much all of the packed-in Samsung apps, like the texting app, the contacts app, the calendar, the notes app, the phone app, Bixby, Samsung Pay, and the camera. Samsung is even throttling its own home screen. There are 169 Google apps on the list, including YouTube, Google Maps, the Play Store, Chrome, Gmail, and Google Play Services. Google only has 143 apps on the Play Store, so this is almost every app Google makes.

The list also includes every popular third-party app you can think of—Netflix, Disney+, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, among others. The only apps you reliably will not find on this list are benchmarking apps. Geekbench, 3D Mark, PCMark, GFXBench, Antutu, CPDT, and Androbench are all missing from the list.

Throttling a game is not necessarily bad; if users have control over the feature, allowing them to choose between performance or longer battery life is reasonable. Games require sustained usage and need to update the screen constantly, so throttling can save battery life. Throttling a regular 2D app is a tough sell, though. Most mobile power conservation relies on a “rush to sleep” policy. If you’re just reading an email or webpage and not touching the screen, the phone does its best to go into a low-power state automatically. When a command comes in to open an app or navigate a webpage, the phone tries to do the action as quickly as possible so it can go back to sleep and start saving power again.

It’s pretty inexcusable to throttle your own home screen, app store, browser, and other core 2D apps. If there is anything you want to be fast, it’s the core phone interface. Right now, it looks like the only apps that get full power are the benchmark apps. What good is a fast SoC if you never use it?

We’ll update this article if Samsung provides a statement.




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