Why are Android manufacturers throttling the performance of apps and games?

Scott Brown / Android Authority

Samsung found itself in the midst of heated controversy last week when reports of the alleged throttling began circulating on Korean tech forums. Dozens of users have complained that Samsung’s Game Optimization Service (GOS) is limited in performance within specific apps and games on their smartphones, some of which date back several generations. The company responded predictably, stating that the feature is meant to prevent the CPU and GPU from overheating. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen phones artificially restrict apps and games, OnePlus discovered “improving” performance back in 2021.

It’s easy to see why a lot of Android enthusiasts are pissed off – you’re basically paying for premium hardware performance that’s often inaccessible. In the case of the 3DMark benchmark, for example, the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s score should drop by about 50% with the optimization service strength enabled. While Samsung deserves criticism for not revealing this behavior, let’s try to understand why it went down this path in the first place.

More on choking: Hey OnePlus, it was never about crime, it was about a cover-up

Throttle vs No Throttle: Was Samsung Right?

Genshin effect on Vivo X70 Pro Plus.

Hadley Simmons / Android Authority

When dealing with a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, factors such as power consumption, battery life, and heat are arguably more important than raw performance. And in that respect, the new test shows that Samsung’s game-enhancing service may in fact justify its name.

galaxy s22 ultra gos on vs off power

The above plot, courtesy of golden references On YouTube, it shows how much more power an “unoptimized” app can get from the S22 Ultra’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC. With the GOS turned off via an informal workaround, the power draw routinely rises in excess of 10W within the first minute. That’s a lot for a portable device, which has historically aimed to peak in the 7W region. Power consumption drops after a few minutes of heavy use as the SoC starts to throttle.

With GOS turned off, everything seems to work as it should – albeit with a very high power that will drain more battery and heat up the device faster. While some users may want the maximum power possible, it’s not sustainable here, and heat throttling begins. But what should be noted is that the device continues to draw more power after thermal throttling versus a GOS enabled device. Further, take a look at this tire plot from the same range:

galaxy s22 ultra gos on vs off

In the second graph, we notice that the non-optimized application eventually drops to the same level as the performance of the optimized application. In other words, you see roughly the same FPS after a few minutes of boot time – whether Samsung’s GOS is there or not. At the same time, however, power consumption remains noticeably high on an untethered device. In other words, you are consuming a lot more energy in order to boost performance only in the short term.

Without a GOS system, power consumption increases dramatically without any long-term performance benefits.

While the single test doesn’t give us a conclusive look at the big picture, the graphs above show that the S22 Ultra uses more power to deliver the same end result in the Genshin Impact—at least over the course of several minutes. If this is the case consistently, then Samsung’s decision to artificially limit the performance cap was not only justified, but rather wise. As a result of higher power consumption, an untethered device will use more battery and heat up more – which can lead to worse component life and faster battery degradation.

Can chip makers consistently achieve annual performance gains?

Qualcomm Smartphone logo on screen

Robert Treggs / Android Authority

While Samsung’s performance limit seems somewhat justified, I’m not advocating that the company continues the practice of silently restricting apps without the user’s consent or knowledge. You own the hardware you pay for, after all. If you want to prioritize performance over battery life, this option should be available. Having said that, the vast majority of users have never noticed Samsung or OnePlus’ stifling behavior during daily use. Meanwhile, the advantages of realistic battery and longevity offered by GOS and similar ideas are not only tangible, but also perceptible to each class of users.

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that Samsung (and possibly other device manufacturers) are resorting to throttling at the app level due to persistent expectations of increased performance throughout the year even though this goal is no longer achievable.

The majority of users have never noticed the stifling behavior of Samsung or OnePlus during daily use. But battery drain or overheating issues will be detected immediately.

In our tests, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 only offers marginally better single-core performance compared to the Snapdragon 888. Meanwhile, the multi-core Geekbench scores showed a slight uptick between generations. Interestingly, Anand Tech Testing of Qualcomm’s latest chip reveals peak power usage in pursuit of these performance gains. There are still performance and efficiency improvements, but the peak CPU power draw is also increasing, which will eventually lead to overheating issues.

Likewise, our biggest concern when testing the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Exynos 2200 is their inability to maintain peak performance while benchmarking. A fact reflected in the tests referenced in this article as well. While neither chipset is a competitor to one of the worst Android operating systems we’ve seen over the years, it’s unable to maintain the groundbreaking performance that enthusiasts have come to expect. This may be partly due to the fact that Samsung’s 4nm process is not quite as energy efficient as initially hoped.

All eyes are now on Mediatek’s flagship Dimensity 9000, the first SoC built on the 4nm TSMC node. According to tests conducted on an early engineering sample, Dimensity 9000 offers equal or better CPU performance than Snapdragon 8 Gen 1. Most importantly, it consumes about 20% less power on average. In a smartphone where every watt counts, this reduction translates directly into better temperatures and less severe throttling. Qualcomm’s 4nm chips made by TSMC are rumored to be on the way later this year, but we’ll have to wait and see if there’s a noticeable efficiency bump by moving to a different manufacturing process.

Maybe it’s time for us to let go of expectations of annual performance jumps.

With an industry-wide focus on peak performance over everything else, it’s clear that manufacturers are starting to feel the heat — quite literally. Perhaps it is time for us to drop expectations for annual performance jumps and encourage chip makers to switch to a less frequent update tempo or more conservative generational improvements.

Until that happens, it looks like we’re stuck between a hammer and an anvil. We can either pay for a device with unsustainable peak performance or a cheaper, less feature-rich device that offers more consistent performance. Fortunately, if you prefer the previous version, Samsung has already released a software update for Galaxy S22 models that brings more granular control over the Game Enhancement service, including the ability to turn it off completely.

next one: It’s time to let go of our fascination with the annual promotion cycle