Pixel 4's Display Slows Down When Screen Is Dim (Update: Google Promises Fix)

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Update 3:08 pm ET: Google says that it will be rolling out a software update in the coming weeks that will allow users to enable the 90Hz refresh rate "in more brightness conditions."

One of the best things about the new Pixel 4 is its gorgeous display, which refreshes 90 times per second instead of the traditional 60Hz. That makes scrolling, animations, and games extremely smooth — until you turn down its brightness.

According to a Reddit post by Android developer Brian Sefcik, the “Smooth Display” feature in the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL is gone when you drop the screen brightness under 75%, which forces the OLED panel to go from hot butter 90Hz to 60Hz refresh rate.

XDA Developers’ Mishaal Rahman confirmed Sefcik’s finding using by using a command line tool called Logcat — which dumps a file with all system messages — over Android Debug Bridge (ADB), a client-server program that comes with the Android Software Developer Kit.

Presumably, Google may have assumed that if you set your brightness under 75%, you won’t be doing anything that would benefit from the higher refresh rate. And since 90Hz consumes a lot more power than 60Hz because it refreshes the screen more often, the Pixel 4 throttles down the rate to avoid wasting it.

Google promises 'fix' but you can do it yourself now

In a statement given to The Verge, Google said the following:

"We have previously planned updates that we’ll roll out in the coming weeks that include enabling 90hz in more brightness conditions." 

But what if you don't want to wait?

If you're willing to sacrifice your battery life, you can deactivate this measure by going into the developer mode and enabling “Force 90Hz refresh rate”. To enable the developer mode and access this setting, go to Settings, then in the About section and click on the Android build number seven times.

If you do this, please keep in mind that your battery will empty a lot faster. Personally, I think a more useful option would be to automatically deactivate the 90Hz refresh rate when your battery goes under 50%.

Jesus Diaz

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.