The New Year may be in its infancy, but that hasn’t stopped a wealth of rumours spreading about some of 2020’s biggest handsets. And the common thread so far relates to one key area: screen tech.
Over the last fortnight we’ve seen rumblings suggesting the Samsung Galaxy S20 and OnePlus 8 will all have one key thing in common. Specifically, the rumours suggest they will each have a speedy 120Hz refresh rate display.
Full disclosure: neither of the above mentioned phones, or the 120Hz ‘leaks’, are official at this point, but for me the reports are a little worrying nonetheless. This isn’t because a jump to 120Hz refresh rates would be bad. In most ways it’d be awesome.
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For non-techies, refresh rate is a metric used to measure how many images per second a screen displays. A higher refresh rate offers two key benefits. First, it makes the screen feel smoother as there’s less of a delay between each new image being shown. Second, when combined with a high polling rate, it can make the screen more reactive, which is a huge deal in certain use cases like gaming.
But to me, just raising the refresh rate is a misguided strategy. This is because, while high refresh rates are awesome, they’re a two edged sword when it comes to battery life. Surprise − making the screen render 120 images per second requires a lot more power than the standard 60Hz screens most phones use.
Which is why, if the current rumours are true, every phone company is missing the mark when it comes to improving screen technology. For me, if phone companies want to make a truly next generation phone screen, they shouldn’t just be pushing a higher refresh rate: they should be working to make it variable.
Variable refresh rates are a nifty solution that lets screens intelligently change how many images a second they render, depending on what the device is doing.
This is a huge deal, in that it lets the users enjoy the benefits of a higher refresh rate when it’s needed, without drastically eating up the device’s battery all the time.
For example, it would let your phone boost the refresh rate to 120Hz while you’re gaming, then drop it back to 60Hz or lower when you’re just browsing the web, an activity that really doesn’t require a high refresh rate. It could also let you stream videos and live sports at its native refresh rate, which will make the content look exactly as it was intended to.
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We know the tech works great, thanks to Apple’s stellar work loading it onto the latest Apple Watch 5, which can drop its refresh rate down to 1Hz when it’s just showing the time. I can’t help but hope it comes to 2020’s flagships as well.