Google Explains Pixel 4 90Hz Refresh Rate Oddities, Says Software Update Coming

Google Pixel 4
Google has issued a statement explaining what situations warrant the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL automatically downgrading the display's native 90Hz refresh to 60Hz. The statement follows reports of the newest Pixel phones switching to the lower refresh rate when the brightness level is below 75 percent, which will be addressed in a future software update.

The response is Google's equivalent of saying the refresh rate quirk as it relates to screen brightness is not a bug, it's a feature. However, it's not a feature users are happy about. Google's intentions are at least in the right place—the idea is to dynamically adjust the refresh rate to save battery life.

What's curious about this behavior, though, is a lower screen brightness puts less drain on the battery, and could potentially offset some of the battery life loss that might occur from running at 90Hz. But the way this is implemented, it might actually discourage users from lowering the Pixel 4's screen brightness. Nevertheless, it's all part of Google's Smooth Display technology.

"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," Google told The Verge.

"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," Google added.

In the meantime, there are workarounds available. One is to root the Pixel 4 and change the "config_brightnessThresholdsOfPeakRefreshRate" in arrays.xml from "74" to a different value. However, there's an easier way that does require root access.

If you own a Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL and want to prevent it from ever dropping down to 60Hz, go into Settings > About phone and tap the build number five times. This is not voodoo magic—it enables access to a hidden menu called Developer options.

After you enable the menu, navigate to Settings > System > Developer options > Force 90Hz refresh rate and flip the toggle. Just keep in mind that the phone will now always run at 90Hz, even in other situations where a lower refresh rate might be the better option, such as reading a PDF document or ebook (you can still change it manually, though).