Not a bright idea: Pixel 4’s 90Hz Smooth Display doesn’t work on a dim screen

Sleuths on Reddit have discovered the Google Pixel 4’s 90Hz refresh rate screen only shows its full potential when it’s set above 75% brightness. In other words, when the phone’s screen is below 75% brightness, the refresh rate is 60Hz, the same as you get on all previous Pixel phones and the majority of other models available today.

The 90Hz screen is a major benefit, and it’s a feature shared with phones including the OnePlus 7T and 7T Pro, but on these the 90Hz refresh rate is permanent and in use at all brightness levels and throughout the operating system. While there is an option to manually select 60Hz, or to let the phone automatically switch between refresh rates, you can have 90Hz all the time if you want it.

Out of the box, it appears the Google Pixel 4’s screen will default to 60Hz when viewing the screen in good lighting conditions. This will likely mean that indoors the screen will not show at 90Hz, and you may notice scrolling through apps and websites, and playing games, has more blur and stutter than you may have expected given the Pixel 4 screen’s ability.

Why has Google added this restriction, and is there anything you can do about it? The most likely reason Google has placed this restriction on its Smooth Display feature is to help improve battery life, something that’s already poor even with this tweak in place. The Pixel 4’s battery capacity is smaller than that of the OnePlus 7T and OnePlus 7T Pro.

There is something that can be done if you want the Smooth Display active all the time. According to the Reddit post, the switch to 60Hz can be overridden in the Developer Options menu, using a setting labeled Force 90Hz. Tick this, and Google’s attempts to better manage battery life will be a distant memory. Sadly, it will also almost certainly have a further detrimental effect on your Pixel 4’s battery life, so you’ll have to accept the trade-off.

Our reviews of the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are already up, and both phones will be released on October 24.

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