The Truth About iPhone 13 Pro's 120Hz Display

The Truth About iPhone 13 Pro’s 120Hz Display

So, the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro series has recently been released and has made a lot of casual consumers confused as to what the differences are from this generation of iPhones to the ones prior. And although no major design changes were made, this year’s iPhone 13/13 Pro series have made a great stride to catch up to the competition. Having a 120Hz refresh rate panel on the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max will make a huge leap in day-to-day consumer use. The long-rumoured feature of a smoother and more responsive screen yearned for by tech enthusiasts for almost 2 years and has finally arrived. 

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The Truth About iPhone 13 Pro's 120Hz Display

120Hz refresh rate on OLED panels is notorious for being battery hungry as it is not possible to make the refresh rate as variable as it is with LCD displays. Apple has been using 120Hz LCD panels for its iPad Pro series since 2017 until recently where the 2021 12.9″ iPad Pro has shifted to a Mini-LED display. A “Variable refresh rate” allows the display to change how many times per second the screen shows an image (determined in frames per seconds – “fps” or “hertz”).

Read More: Samsung, LG Producing iPhone 13 OLED Display Panels 

A higher refresh rate generally allows for a smoother picture display, but also consumes much more energy. This lack of energy efficiency for high refresh rate displays was a major concern for mobile devices and is the main reason this tech was not implemented earlier. Early adopters of this smooth display tech was the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which packed a large 5,000mAh battery to cater for the power-hungry display which was either locked to 1080p – 120Hz, or native resolution – 60Hz.

With the introduction of the LTPO panel (and similar technology) by Apple in 2019 with the Apple Watch Series 5 it was finally possible to incorporate a variable refresh rate into OLED panels.


So What is Wrong With iPhone 13 Pro’s 120Hz Display?

It seems as though the 120Hz ProMotion displays on the new iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max do not reach the advertised smooth experience as often as you would expect. Videos posted on online social media platforms YouTube and Weibo show that the iPhone’s display requires excessively strong swipes to reach its maximum refresh rate. Apple was eager to show off its OS optimisations with its new ProMotion display technology in their annual iPhone keynote. They highlighted how the display would react to your finger’s motion, the application in use and the content displayed on screen to optimise and enhance your experience. For example, depending on how fast one scroll’s the display ramps up its refresh rate to match your finger. This is exactly where the problem starts…


In the examples shown above it seems quite evident that the iPhone requires excessive force when swiping to reach 120Hz. While the first video includes real-time monitoring of the refresh rate, the latter demonstrates the iPhone’s refresh rate by using slow-motion and counting the frames. In both examples it can be observed that the iPhone usually scrolls at around 80-90Hz which is well below the advertised 120Hz. As observed in the first clip, the iPhone only reaches 120Hz when the content displayed is being scrolled at an incredibly fast pace. It is important to note however that the device disables faster refresh rates when it is in low power mode, or when the phone is hot. The latter of the two may or may not have affected the results of the tests.

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Why did Apple do this? To save battery life? Or was it to create a more seamless experience? Although neither of the videos can be looked at with certainty and cannot be verified as of their authenticity, they do provide examples of Apple, being Apple. A company that tries to give the customer the best experience, but only in a way that they think is right. 

120Hz Third-party App Support

As of right now, most third-party Apps on the App Store are not fully optimised for 120Hz and some aspects of the user experience are still capped at 60Hz. Scrolling, default  Apple animations, and game fps are able to reach 120Hz without any further actions needed by the app developers (except for gaming frame rates which need to be changed via a software update from the developer). The only aspects of an app that do not run at 120Hz currently are app animations crafted by the developer; essentially just custom animations.

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This huge difference in refresh rates from 120Hz when scrolling and opening the app, to only 60Hz when interacting with the application is jarring and does not provide a great user experience. Apple has released developer release notes which will allow iOS devs to toggle the 120Hz setting. Apple has reportedly toggled this feature off by default and encouraged developers to use lower refresh rates wherever possible to increase battery life. “Use lower refresh rates whenever possible to save power, because higher refresh rates can result in significant power consumption.”

What do you think? Do you have any personal experience with the iPhone 13 Pro’s 120Hz Display? Let us know in the comment section.

Video Sources: Weibo (1), YouTube (2)

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