High refresh rate displays have taken on and it’s no surprise that manufactures are responding to consumer demand with 90Hz, 120Hz, and even 144Hz panels with full HD and 2K resolution.

These displays can, however, be excessively harsh on batteries and that’s where the difference between a high refresh rate and a variable refresh rate (VRR) screen comes in. 

Screens with a variable refresh rate can slow down refreshing themselves based on the content being displayed and thus conserve battery. For instance, if you are viewing a static picture or are sifting through images in your gallery app, there is no reason for the display to keep refreshing 90 times or 120 times every second; instead, a 1 fps or 15fps refresh would do just fine. 

The variable refresh rate has been a staple gaming monitor feature for ages but there are several limitations when implementing the same concept on smartphones. 

True variable refresh rate limitations on phones 

Let’s talk about some issues with VRR implementation on smartphones. To start with, Most Android-based user interfaces target just 60Hz. Also, DDICs (Display driver ICs) currently in use for smartphone displays reportedly don’t support variable refresh rates. 

The variable refresh rate on modern phones is basically mode switching – the phone senses the screen content and switches to a specific refresh rate mode. This implies that a phone may be able to run at 48 Hz or at 60Hz but not at any in-between frequency like 55Hz or 58Hz. 

Most high refresh rate phones that we have today switch between 60hz, 90hz, 120hz, and 144hz modes. 

It’s only recently that we have had Android phones that can go lower below 60 Hz and these are being marketed as VRR phones that help conserve battery. 

Do phones really have true variable Refresh rate or dynamic refresh rate? No.

On the Android side of things, Samsung and Xiaomi are brands that market technology similar to VRR and we assume several other manufacturers should follow similar implementation going forward. 

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra was the first phone to include a ‘dynamic variable refresh rate’. It does so by using HOP (Hybrid Oxide and Polycrystalline silicon) display panel that has faster switching transistors in the display backplane and also by using display driver-level optimizations. 

As AnandTech discovered, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra switches from true variable refresh rate to mode-switching VRR based on variables like ambient light, set display brightness, and content brightness. 

Even the True VRR on Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is still not seamless but switching between preset modes – there are more gradations or subsets under different modes. For instance, in the 60Hz mode, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra can switch between 1Hz, 10hz, 24hz, 30hz, 40hz, and 60hz. 

Xiaomi’s AdaptiveSync variable display implementation is even rawer. The IPS LCD displays on Xiaomi and Poco phones simply switch between 6 or 7 presets – 144Hz, 120Hz, 90Hz, 60Hz, 50Hz, 48Hz, and 30Hz. The company, however, claims a similar reduction in battery drain and that’s perhaps what matters. 

That’s also how Apple implemented VRR on iPad Pros and Macbook Pros in 2016 where the screen could dial down to a constant 30Hz from standard 60Hz for static content and this helped conserve battery. 

Such implementations that support refreshes below 60Hz help conserve some battery and we will consider such phones under True Variable Refresh Rate or Dynamic Refresh Rate phone because they are being marketed as such.  

It must be noted that none of these implementations fall under Seamless VRR as on gaming monitors. 

Also Check: Phones with 144Hz refresh rate in 2020

List of phones with VRR or dynamic refresh rate displays

Here are a few phones that support VRR displays. The list is pretty limited as of today and we will add more options as they surface. 

1. Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a gorgeous display and impressive cameras. The Exynos 990 powering the phone in India is a tad underwhelming in comparison to Snapdragon 865, but it’s still powerful enough for most consumer needs. 

The 2K display supports high-refresh-rate only at full HD resolution but the panel can switch between 1Hz and 120Hz depending on a number of variables. The Note20 Ultra represents the closest implementation of seamless VRR on phones. 

2. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (review) is the first Samsung phone to support 120Hz dynamic refresh rate at a full 2K resolution. The Galaxy S21+ and Galaxy S21 also get variable refresh rate, but it isn’t dynamic and switching takes place in fewer present modes (48Hz, 60Hz, 96Hz, 120Hz. 

The technology used is similar to what we had on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Samsung has improved the AF mechanism on the Galaxy S21 series and has also improved its chipset.  

Other Samsung Flagships to include VRR:

3. Xiaomi Mi 10I

Xiaomi Mi 10I (review) has a 120Hz adaptive sync display that switches between 6 presents. The IPS LCD panel isn’t the only tech to look forward to with the Mi 10I. The phone employs Snapdragon 750G octa-core chipset, has Samsung HM2 108MP resolution sensor for the primary camera, and a sizeable battery with fast charging support.

Also, the Mi 10I retails at a very aggressive price. 

4. Xiaomi Mi 10T 5G and Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro 5G

Xiaomi Mi 10T and Mi 10T Pro use 144Hz 6.67-inch Full HD+ IPS LCD panel that can dial down to 30hz refresh rate with static content in order to conserve battery. 

The 10T series offers Snapdragon 865 for a very competitive price and the Pro version gets a higher resolution primary camera (108MP vs 64MP). Other highlights include a 5000mAh battery, stereo speakers, Dual-mode 5G, and Wi-Fi 6. 

5. OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus will be introducing Fluid Display 2.0 on their upcoming device. Among other things, this fancy term comprises both LTPO backplane and a new touch response technology. 

By incorporating LTPO, the OnePlus 9 Pro display will be able to reduce power consumption whilst using high refresh rates. This happens because the refresh rate will be cycling between 120Hz and 1Hz depending on the on-screen content. OnePlus claims the new Fluid Display consumes up to 50% less power while ensuring a smooth visual.


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