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Stop freaking out about the iPhone 12’s 60Hz display

Published Oct 12th, 2020 7:31AM EDT
iPhone 12 Specs
Image: Zach Epstein for BGR

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  • The iPhone 12 specs list will not include a 120Hz display, which is a staple feature for high-end Android flagships this year.
  • Several leaks hinted that Apple had tested prototypes with 120Hz displays, but ultimately choose not to enable the feature to save battery life.
  • A high refresh rate would be a great upgrade, but it’s not a must-have feature for the iPhone.

The iPhone 12 launch event is just over a day away, but we already know many things about this year’s iPhone series. The new handsets will deliver major upgrades over last year’s phones, and that’s a statement that applies to any new iPhone. But the iPhone 12 phones will bring over several “firsts” for the iPhone. The iPhone 12 series will be the first iPhone series to come in four models, and all of them will pack OLED displays. All phones will feature a new design inspired in part by the iPhone 4 and iPad Pro. The iPhone 12 will be the first series to support 5G connectivity, as well. When it comes to specs, the iPhone 12 will be the world’s first phone to pack a 5nm processor, and the first iPhones to deliver up to 6GB of RAM. The camera will see several notable upgrades of its own, including the LiDAR cameras coming to the Pro versions. Storage will start at 128GB for the Pro versions, also a first for the handsets. Some of those “firsts” will upset fans, like the absence of a free charger and wired earphones.

But what the iPhone 12 won’t get is a 120Hz display, which is the must-have feature on Android flagships this year. Some people will complain about Apple’s decision to keep ProMotion screens away from iPhones for one more year. But it’s time to stop freaking out about it. The iPhone doesn’t need 120Hz displays as badly as Android does, and it’s the kind of feature that most people will not care about when deciding to upgrade to the iPhone 12 this week.

“The stunning, redesigned Retina display in iPad Pro features ProMotion, a new technology that delivers refresh rates of up to 120Hz for fluid scrolling, greater responsiveness, and smoother motion content.” That’s how Apple described in early June 2017 the 120Hz display of the iPad Pro. Many people thought the iPhones that were due that year would be the first to get 120Hz screens. The upgrade made sense for Apple’s first phone that was supposed to feature an all-screen display. But the iPhone X turned out to feature a 60Hz OLED screen. All the phones that followed it featured 60Hz screens.

Android vendors started making “gaming phones” in the past few years, and high-refresh-rate screens become then new normal for the overpowered Android handsets. Whether 90Hz or 120Hz, the improved display refresh made sense for gaming. But it also made sense for Android. Regular phones then got the same upgrade. OnePlus, Google and Samsung are just a few of the mainstream Android handset makers who added 90Hz or 120Hz displays to the list of specs of their flagships. This year’s Galaxy S20 series comes with a 120Hz display screen, as do many other high-end, expensive Android handsets.

Early iPhone 12 rumors said Apple was testing 120Hz displays on iPhone 12 prototype, but more recent reports said the feature got canned. Apple leaker Jon Prosser provided one of the latest updates on the matter. If accurate, the information indicates that Apple did not want the 120Hz display to ruin battery life on devices that will already face battery drain related to the 5G screen.

The higher refresh rate screens will indeed eat more battery life. That’s why Pixel 4 users found themselves unable to take advantage of the 90Hz screen at all times initially. And why the Galaxy S20 battery life tests might not be satisfactory with the screen running at 120Hz.

But the fact remains that 120Hz isn’t a necessary upgrade on iPhone. If it were, we’d have gotten it already. Apple’s tight integration of software and hardware allowed it to optimize the iPhone’s software experience to a much greater degree than what’s available on Android. That’s why the scrolling experience has never suffered similarly as on Android, and why high-end mobile games will offer a great experience on 60Hz displays.

Most iPhone users might not even be aware of the differences between iPhone and Android when it comes to the screen experience. Or care. That’s not to say 120Hz displays would not improve screen responsiveness on iPhones. After all, Apple did bring the tech to the iPhone for that very reason. But 120Hz refresh rate support is hardly a must-have feature for the iPhone 12 series, no matter how great it would be.

To put things in perspective, the Pixel 5 sports mid-range specs that make it the most disappointing Pixel upgrade Google released so far. Many have argued that the cheaper Snapdragon 765 processor allowed Google to keep the prices down while offering a high-end 5G Android experience to buyers. The Pixel 5 also features a 90Hz display. But that’s not a phone that will age gracefully. I’d rather buy a 60Hz phone powered by the best possible processor, rather than compromise on key specs to get a 90Hz or 120Hz display. Anyone planning to use an iPhone or Pixel for at least two years will definitely fare batter by choosing iPhone 12 than the Pixel 5. And that 60Hz OLED screen will not disappoint. The overall speed of the iPhone will make more of a difference than the higher refresh rate screen of an Android handset, as the two devices get older.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.