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Google will update the Pixel 4's software to let the display run at 90Hz more often

By Koh Wanzi - on 24 Oct 2019, 12:35pm

Google will update the Pixel 4's software to let the display run at 90Hz more often

Google Pixel 4

Google will push another software update to the Pixel 4 to change how it works, this time for the screen refresh rate. The company earlier confirmed that an update to Face Unlock to check that your eyes are open will be arriving in the coming months, but the refresh rate update will drop "in the coming weeks", according to Google.

The 90Hz Smooth Display has been one of the highlights of the Pixel 4, seeing as it makes scrolling and animations on the phone feel smoother and more responsive. However, it recently emerged that the Pixel 4 doesn't actually run at 90Hz all the time, and that the refresh rate is tied to the brightness level of the display. Once that drops below 75 per cent, the refresh rate dips to 60Hz. There were also cases where the phone appeared to be able to stay at 90Hz at lower brightness levels if the ambient lighting in the room was bright enough, so it looks like the refresh rate could be linked to the Ambient EQ feature too.

Here's the statement that Google provided to The Verge:

We designed Smooth Display so that users could enjoy the benefits of 90Hz for improved UI interactions and content consumption, while also preserving battery when higher refresh rates are not critical by lowering back down to 60Hz.

In some conditions or situations, however, we set the refresh rate to 60Hz. Some of these situations include: when the user turns on battery saver, certain content such as video (as it’s largely shot at 24 or 30fps), and even various brightness or ambient conditions. We constantly assess whether these parameters lead to the best overall user experience. We have previously planned updates that we’ll roll out in the coming weeks that include enabling 90hz in more brightness conditions.

This means you should be able to experience the smoother 90Hz refresh rate more consistently, although Google didn't specify the new brightness parameters. More importantly, the update still does not enforce the higher refresh rate all the time, as is the case on other 90Hz phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro. Furthermore, Google explicitly cited battery life as the reason it's only selectively implementing the higher refresh rate. Battery life is one of the biggest weaknesses of the Pixel 4, and it looks like Google knows this. This then raises the question – why didn't it try harder to put in a bigger battery then?

That said, if you want to run at 90Hz regardless of screen brightness or ambient light levels, it looks like you'll still have to enable it manually in the Developer Options menu.

This is all still rather odd, but at least Google is working quickly to mitigate these issues. 

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