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HTC admits boosting One M8 benchmarks; makes it a feature

Some suspected the HTC One M8 of pumping up its processor for better benchmarks. HTC's response: Of course it does. In fact, it's now a feature.

If this phone wore pants, some think they would be on fire. Brian Bennett/CNET

The superphone-benchmark whistle-blowers are on the case of the HTC One M8 after the new Android flagship posted some chart-topping results. And HTC turns out to be more than happy to answer their charges.

You may recall that Samsung got a little defensive last year when code was allegedly discovered on the Galaxy S4 that kicks the phone into hyperdrive when it detects that certain benchmarks are running. We went through the same thing with the Galaxy Note 3, and then a report claimed that almost all Android devices not coming directly from Google do something similar.

Even before the HTC One M8 was unveiled, leaked benchmarks for the new phone had it topping all the competition, including the upcoming Galaxy S5, in key tests, including overall performance.

Now those results are being called into question in some corners of the Web. It turns out that there are two versions of one of the most popular benchmarking apps, AnTuTu. According to Taiwan-based site ePrice via GSMArena, AnTuTu X is a newer version of the benchmark that attempts to combat some of the "cheating" techniques and provide a more authentic measure of how a phone might perform under real-world conditions, like playing a 2048 clone or showing this awesome video to everyone you know.

Turns out when you score the HTC One M8 on AnTuTu X rather than standard AnTuTu4, it comes in behind the Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z, and LG G Pro 2:

Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

I asked HTC how the One M8 handles benchmark apps like AnTuTu, and received this response:

"Thanks for your email about the HTC One (M8). Benchmarking tests look to determine maximum performance of the CPU and GPU and, similar to the engine in a high-performance sports car, our engineers optimize in certain scenarios to produce the best possible performance. If someone would like to get around this benchmarking optimization there are ways to do so, but we think most often this will not be the case."

So, not only is HTC admitting that the One M8 does kick itself into high-performance mode when it detects a benchmarking app, the company representative who responded to me went on to make it clear that HTC doesn't see this as any kind of "cheating," but as a potential feature:

"For those with a need for speed, we've provided a simple way to unleash this power by introducing a new High Performance Mode in the developer settings that can be enabled and disabled manually. The HTC One (M8) is optimized to provide the best balance of performance and battery life, but we believe in offering customer choice, as there may be times when the desire for performance outweighs the need for battery longevity."

The HTC rep said that this mode is not yet available on US devices right now but will come to them shortly via software update.

So there you have it. It looks like we can look forward to a more confusing benchmarking regime going forward -- high-performance marks and more stealthy "old-school" marks that somehow don't trip a phone's pre-programmed tendency to chug a digital energy drink when it thinks it's being tested.

What this all really means is that no single measure or metric can tell you how a phone stacks up. There are just too many variables, including the type of benchmark. Like all phones, we learn about their foibles and idiosyncracies once they're actually out in the wild.

Update, 3 p.m. PT: to add response from HTC.

(Via Amongtech)