When you read a smartphone review, you usually get a long list of screen specs: the screen type, the dimensions and aspect ratio, the resolution in pixels, the HDR support (or lack thereof), and the brightness, for example. Too often it is assumed that everyone understands the meaning of each of these specifications.
So in this article, we’re going to focus on the basics of refresh rate, which is also reflected in monitor and TV specs. It indicates how many times the screen refreshes per second, usually measured in Hz (hertz). In other words, a 90Hz screen refreshes itself 90 times per second. Here’s what you need to know about the specification and how to make sure that the maximum refresh rate is enabled on your phone.
What does the refresh rate mean?
A faster refresh rate means a display that’s easier on the eye because motion looks smoother and pixels update faster. There’s a downside though, as all this extra refresh means battery life can take a hit, especially on big and bright screens.
High refresh rates are most sought after on gaming monitors, where fractions of a second can make all the difference when it comes to making a turn or spotting an enemy. However, the video source has to keep up: if you have a gaming monitor that offers 144 Hz (144 refreshes per second), but a graphics card that can only display 30 frames per second, then a large part of that 144 Hz refresh rate is unused become. It’s the same on your phone: games and videos would often be capped at a certain number of frames per second to keep them stable – Netflix content, for example, being streamed between 24 and 60 frames per second.
That is now starting to change as phones with higher refresh rates appear. For years, phone screen refresh rates were stuck at 60 Hz, but in recent years that has changed: the iPhone 14 Pro Max, for example, can go up to 120 Hz, while the Google Pixel 7A can hit 90 Hz.
As a result, YouTube now displays content at 60 frames per second, for example. a growing number of games can support higher refresh rates on modern phones. It is best to check the list of games or search the Internet.
Whether a higher refresh rate is really noticeable can be a point of contention. A higher refresh rate ceiling is a nice feature to have, but unless you’re an avid gamer you may not need to prioritize it – and you should be wary of paying a premium price for this feature alone. It’s also worth emphasizing that a screen is the sum of its specs. A 60Hz screen can easily outperform a 120Hz screen in terms of brightness and color accuracy, depending on the manufacturer, so always check reviews carefully.
Set refresh rates on your phone
As we’ve already mentioned, higher refresh rates can mean faster battery charging. That’s why many handsets take an adaptive approach – that means the refresh rate can be adjusted on the fly if needed.
On the iPhone, the adjustable refresh rate technology is called ProMotion. The feature is supported on the iPhone 13 Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the iPhone 14 Pro and the iPhone 14 Pro Max and will undoubtedly come to more handsets from Apple in the future.
If you have one of these models, you can check if ProMotion is enabled. Using this ensures that the higher frame rates are only used for specific apps; However, if you’re really concerned about battery life, you can turn it off to keep your frame rate at 60Hz.
- Open iOS Settings and tap Accessibility.
- Tap on Movement.
- Switch Limit the frame rate to fix the refresh rate to 60 Hz or disable it to allow ProMotion to run normally.
A similar setting is available on high-end Samsung Galaxy flagship phones made in recent years, including the most recent Samsung Galaxy S23 series. Just like on the iPhone, you can choose to turn off the higher refresh rates if you want.
- Open Settings and tap Display.
- Tap on Smoothness of movement.
- To elect Custom to enable variable refresh rates, Standard to hold the screen at 60Hz, or High to lock the screen at the highest position.
- Crane To apply to confirm.
Keep in mind that if your phone is in power saving mode (which disables battery wasting features like background network usage and synchronization), it’s limited to the Default View option.
Pixel phones that go above the traditional 60 Hz ceiling — for example, the Pixel 6 and 7 phones can go up to 90 Hz, while the Pixel 6 Pro and 7 Pro phones can hit 120 Hz — have a feature called Smooth Display , which sets the refresh rate to their higher rate for certain apps.
- Open Settings and tap Display.
- Switch Smooth rendering on to let the phone automatically switch between 60 Hz and 90 Hz as needed or turn it off to leave the refresh rate fixed at 60 Hz.
If you have a later model Android phone from a different manufacturer, try one of these methods or see if you can find your manufacturer’s equivalent. It may take some trial and error before you figure out what’s best for your phone and battery life and the type of tasks you want to do on it. If you find you can’t really tell the difference as you switch between modes, you may decide to keep your phone locked at 60Hz – but to make objects on screen look as smooth as possible, you’ll want the highest possible settings present.