ASUS VivoBook S14/S15

Here’s an interesting development for the Honor Play. We know that the Honor Play is actually the first ever “flagship specs for killer price” of 2018 – as it was announced to be RM1,249. They also touted impressive benchmark scores as GPU Turbo is here to boost your gaming performance. To add depth to your gaming experience, Honor touts “4D Gaming Experience with Smart Shock” too.

Honor Play

GPU Turbo – what is it and how does it work?

I was suspicious at first. What’s GPU Turbo and how does it actually work? We were actually at the local media briefing and preview of the Honor Play – and they focused a majority of the time towards GPU Turbo. When asked questions about it, we weren’t given answers, but instead was redirected via a red herring and we were presented with more questions. Frustrated, we set off to the internet to look for answers – and we pieces that talked highly about GPU Turbo but never go in-depth about how it actually works and improved graphical and gaming performance – until we stumbled upon AnandTech’s article.

AnandTech’s article struck a few notes and rang coherently with our in-depth review of the Honor Play, which you can read it here.

Honor Play

Let’s first talk about AnandTech’s article where they explained how GPU Turbo actually works. By utilizing a neutral network to “learn” how a specific app behaves, the neural network can predict when the app will require more power and vice versa. Combining with a technique called called dynamic voltage and frequency scaling, or DVFS for short, it can be called “adapting performance on the fly”, with the help of what the neural network learned.

GPU Turbo prediction
Summary of how GPU Turbo works. Source: AnandTech

AnandTech’s article found out the deception that Huawei/Honor is trying to pull off, it was found out that Honor touts an amazing 60% performance increase and 30% power waste reduction. Sounds like magic, doesn’t it? It does – and magic doesn’t exist. Because AnandTech found out that on Honor Play’s product page, they had a footnote stating that the 60%/30% values were compared with Kirin 960.

Honor Play graph comparison with footnote

Honor Play graph comparison with footnote
Source: Honor’s website | Cached webpage

Instead of comparing with Kirin 970 with and without GPU Turbo for a controlled test, Huawei/Honor decided to compare it with Kirin 960, their previous generation chipset! That is one big red flag.

Checking Honor’s official GPU Turbo webpage on their website, we can see the same 60%/30% that they’re touting once again – but this time, there’s no footnote at all. This is a sign of deception and to mislead customers.

Honor Play graph comparison without footnote
Source: Honor’s website | Cached webpage

We’ve also cached both the webpages so that Honor doesn’t just edit out the information like what Huawei did with the P10 eMMC/UFS issue.

Another website was found on Honor Malaysia’s blog posts (cached version) where it talks about GPU Turbo and once again mentioned the 60%/30% benefit but does not have the aforementioned disclaimer.

GPU Turbo itself doesn’t really improve much in terms of performance, as shown in this graph. Once again with Huawei/Honor’s own data set, they did show GPU Turbo increases performance by only a little with the new Kirin 980 chipset that was announced a few days ago.

Honor Play GPU Turbo graph comparsion
Source: AnandTech

UPDATE: Huawei did not have a disclaimer during their Nova 3 launch event.

Our friends at also shared us an interesting Instagram post. During the Huawei Nova 3 (which also uses Kirin 970) local launch event, they mentioned GPU Turbo and showed the 60%/30% improvement. Once again, there is no disclaimer.

Another update from Honor Malaysia here. They just published a new campaign where you can win the Honor Play Player Edition gift box by participating their latest contest. In this contest, you’ll need to complete the “Click the link to complete the “How loyal are you?” quiz. One of the question asked about the benefit of GPU Turbo.

Honor Play quiz

Seriously? Even after so many posts regarding Huawei’s deceptive claim about GPU Turbo, yet Honor Malaysia is still doing this?

What about cheating benchmarks?

This is nothing new and definitely not the first time a smartphone brand cheats in benchmarks, by the way. And unfortunately, it won’t be the last time either.

When we played highly demanding games on it – like Honkai Impact 3 and PUBG Mobile on highest graphical settings – the phone warmed up but did not show any signs of overheating.

In another article also by AnandTech, Honor Play was caught pumping extra power their Kirin 970 SoC for benchmarks. Huawei was caught to be detecting whatever app that is running, and “unlocked” the floodgate to enable more power to the SoC. Essentially, it’s like a secret higher TDP that is only enabled for a few apps.

Honor Play Benchmark detection
BM means benchmark detection. Once benchmark is detected, the average power pumped to the SoC nearly doubled. Source: AnandTech

Pumping more power to the SoC did result in better benchmark scores – but it also made the phone overheat. Remember in our full in-depth review of the Honor Play, the Honor Play overheated when we looped 3DMark benchmark. Let’s not forget that the Honor Play does not have a heatpipe either.

Honor Play screenshots

AnandTech caught Huawei and Honor cheating their benchmark scores red-handed when they used custom version of the benchmark tool and compared with the version in Google Play Store. Huawei and Honor are using a whitelist system where they detected apps and allowed the SoC to receive more power to run these apps. We’re unsure about the long-term effects of “overclocking” SoCs, but in the PC DIY segment of things, it’s going to kill the chip and reach a premature death.

Huawei/Honor’s response

AnandTech also discussed the issue with Dr. Wang Chenglu, President of Software at Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, at IFA. The response from Dr. Wang himself was “others do the same testing, get high scores, and Huawei cannot stay silent”.

UL Benchmarks, the owner of Futuremark who created 3DMark, just published a blog post announcing that they have delisted several Huawei and Honor smartphones. The list includes:

  • Huawei P20 Pro
  • Huawei P20
  • Huawei Nova 3
  • Honor Play

Now, Huawei is saying that they’re going to give users an option to enable “performance mode” so that users can get that extra juice if they wish to do so.

UL Benchmarks & Huawei issued a joint statement here. Honor Malaysia also stepped out and issued a statement.

Let’s look at ASUS with the AI Boost on the ASUS ZenFone 5 and ZenFone 5z. It did prompt us to enable AI Boost to run benchmarks for higher score, but it showed zero to minimal advantage. We are able to debunk that because we can disable and enable the AI Boost at our own will.

We can’t do that for GPU Turbo. It’s enabled by default once you get the firmware update and there is no option to disable it and do the benchmark yourself in an apple-to-apple comparison. You’ll have to find two similarly-specced smartphones to do an independent test – which is a hassle.

We discourage such deceptive marketing to mislead customers.

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