90Hz vs 60Hz display refresh rate revisited: can people tell the difference this time?

90Hz vs 60Hz display refresh rate revisited: can people tell the difference this time?
Reviewers often rave about the smoothness of 90Hz displays and how they can’t go back to using a phone with a standard 60Hz screen. Phone manufacturers also never miss an opportunity to boast how awesome this feature is. 

What is a 90Hz refresh rate exactly? Well, in short, the display's refresh rate is the number of times the picture on it is updated. This happens 60 times per second on a 60Hz display, 90 times per second on a 90Hz one, and so on. When there's movement, a 90Hz screen can display 30 more "steps" as objects move across your display, making the motion look more pleasing for the eye. But is the difference really so stark?

Back in July, we did our own 60Hz vs 90Hz display test, but while the results were interesting, they weren't conclusive as we only had one phone with a 90Hz display. Now that we have a bunch, we decided to redo the test using the OnePlus 7 Pro and the 7T Pro which have identical OLED displays, with the same resolution and diagonal size. We made sure to have the same color mode and brightness setting on both to make the screens appear identical. Then we set one to 90Hz and the other to 60Hz and went on to find some test subjects. 

60Hz vs 90Hz: Confused average users edition

We handed the two phones side by side to 15 people with a Gmail inbox opened on both, where one could scroll up and down to their heart's desire. Then we told the participant to play with the phones without navigating to different pages. After that, we asked them to tell us if they could see any differences between the two displays. If they did, we asked what they were. 

Getting a definitive answer during our 90Hz vs 60Hz test proved to be harder than expected. Because we couldn't say exactly which aspect of the displays we wanted people to compare, they interacted with the devices suspiciously. From comparing viewing angles to checking if the curvature of the edges was the same, it was clear that nothing struck them as different right off the bat.

But with the help of some additional questions, we managed to get a good idea about people's impressions. We ignored any statements like “this one looks crisper” or “the letters on this one are clearer” and looked only for answers related to smoothness. If people didn't say anything about that, we assumed they didn't notice a difference. 15 people were subjected to our test, and although that’s not a scientifically significant sample size, it paints a clear picture. Here are the results:

Granted, the participants were limited in what they could do and how much time they had to experience the displays, but at the same time, having two almost identical displays side by side is when it should be the easiest to see the difference.

Eagle-eyed phone reviewer easily spots the 90Hz display

OK, maybe the average user doesn’t really notice a significant difference, but what about an expert? We brought in our colleague Victor to our test lab (desk). He’s been enjoying the 90Hz display of the OnePlus 7T for three months now and swears it’s much better than the peasant 60Hz. This was the perfect time for him to prove he actually knows what he’s talking about.

Since Victor is a pro, we cranked up the difficulty for this next test. Again, we handed both phones to him side by side, but we set the refresh rate setting on each randomly. And we did this for 6 rounds. Sometimes one phone was set to 90Hz and the other to 60Hz. Sometimes both were at 60Hz or 90Hz. Each round, Victor had to say what the refresh rate setting was on each phone. He was allowed to browse through different apps or menus (without the display settings menu, of course) before answering. 

The result: 11 out of 12 correct answers. Very impressive. He was especially quick to point out a 90Hz display setting after noticing that scrolling through Gmail made for the most noticeable difference.

90Hz display vs 60Hz: the end results

Based on our tests, we can make the following conclusion:

So, does a 90Hz refresh rate matter then? Well, a 90Hz display phone will make a positive difference to some people, but for the great majority of users, it’s not really something that’s worth upgrading for. It is best to decide after you've used one yourself. As you can tell from our quick experiment, the benefits may not be obvious immediately or at all. 

Related phones

7 Pro
  • Display 6.7" 1440 x 3120 pixels
  • Camera 48 MP / 16 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Octa-core, 2840 MHz
  • Storage 128GB
  • Battery 4000 mAh(34h talk time)
7T Pro
  • Display 6.7" 1440 x 3120 pixels
  • Camera 48 MP / 16 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+, Octa-core, 2960 MHz
  • Storage 256GB
  • Battery 4085 mAh



1. User123456789

Posts: 1364; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

90, 120, 144 and 240 Hz cost more than 60. That is why we will se 60Hz flagships in 2020. To keep same profits .....

11. Wazupmrg

Posts: 214; Member since: Apr 10, 2017

Unless Samsung once again pushes the technological boundary and does the 120 version

42. matistight

Posts: 1055; Member since: May 13, 2009

Right, because the OnePlus ANYTHING costs more than an iPhone 11 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S10.

2. Locked-n-Loaded

Posts: 114; Member since: Sep 13, 2019

An article that essentially supports what I've been saying here many times about the preposterousness of a 120 refresh rate - it's just downright stupid on a phone. Pointless. Ceiling effect!

8. monoke

Posts: 1206; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

I'm even skeptical that some claim they see a huge bump in gaming performance too. Most mobile games are coded targeting 30fps. A 90 htz panel isn't all a sudden gonna give u 60 fps in those games! Lmao!

44. matistight

Posts: 1055; Member since: May 13, 2009

No they are not. You don't get it. On phones, Hz also means FPS. Your phone runs at 60FPS to begin with, that's why shooting 30fps video looks slower than 60fps. 90hz is 90fps and 120hz is 120fps on phones. Use a phone with 90/120hz, then come back here and tell people to shut up like I do, because there is a big difference if you care about media.

43. matistight

Posts: 1055; Member since: May 13, 2009

You're a ceiling effect

3. midan

Posts: 3237; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

I use iPad with 120hz and iPhone with 60hz daily. I don’t really spot any difference in normal use, sure if i scroll text very fast, i see very small difference in how sharp the text stays with iPad. People in these tests can’t see it because they don’t know what to look. Which just means in everyday use the difference isn’t important. Victor knows what he should look so It’s not hard for him.

45. matistight

Posts: 1055; Member since: May 13, 2009

iPad ProMotion display is variable, not fixed. This is done to save battery life because Apple users don't have high iq's, so Apple does not give their customers the options to change the speed like OnePlus and Razer do

48. phonedroid

Posts: 36; Member since: Dec 15, 2017

I don't notice the difference between my Iphone and ipad pro either. Not a huge difference on my pixel 4xl from 60 to force 90. Smoother the phone and operating system the less you notice i think. Just a proper smooth no jank experience as found on most modern phones is more important.

4. RoryBreaker

Posts: 307; Member since: Oct 11, 2015

Only the tech savy are really concerned with things like this

14. TBomb

Posts: 1715; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

unfortunately, it's the tech savvy that buying a new device more frequently and therefore still important to the OEMs so we gotta deal with the narrative being pushed that it is important and everyone can/will notice

49. phonedroid

Posts: 36; Member since: Dec 15, 2017

That and people that fall for marketing easily.

5. Popop971

Posts: 54; Member since: Nov 24, 2013

To make it simple, you'll notice the difference if you are already used to it. This is an aspect of many high end product. You pay a lot for a small (but still noticeable) difference.

24. chenski

Posts: 789; Member since: Mar 22, 2015

Diminishing returns

6. monoke

Posts: 1206; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

Eh. I'm fine with 60 htz. Smooth enough. Just game casually. I just don't want any battery compromises.

46. matistight

Posts: 1055; Member since: May 13, 2009

90Hz does not mean bad battery life. People complaining about bad battery life just use their phone more because the 90Hz looks nicer. I have used the OnePlus 7 Pro since launch, toggling from 60-90Hz and there is no battery hit what so ever in my testing. I review and repair devices for a living, and have used a wide variety of 60Hz and 90-120Hz devices and can tell you this with honesty. In the last 2 years, the best battery life that I got was from the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Razer Phone 1st Gen.

7. DRS1977

Posts: 681; Member since: May 27, 2015

I just got a OnePlus 7T and it is the the fastest phone I have ever used. Super smooth plus great battery life. Warp Charge 30T rocks!

9. dimas

Posts: 3448; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Between 60 and 90hz- won't notice difference Between 60 and 120hz- big difference

18. cevon3239

Posts: 82; Member since: Jan 01, 2020

Probably just 2 milliseconds of difference. It is completely pointless right now. Static text gains almost no benefit from higher refresh. Movies don't either. Unless your phone can sustain 60FPS for hours, which I don't know of any that do; it just battery kill. Which is why the batter would need to be 5000MaH. Because when you consider Samsung phones have lots of features already, the battery life is gonna suffer. To get all day usage, you couldn't do it on the battery in the Note 10 as an example.

30. AlienKiss

Posts: 324; Member since: May 21, 2019

I was just thinking about that. Maybe the difference between 60 and 120 is more noticeable. Anyway, right now my phone is set to HD+ to save battery life and processing resources.. I don't know if it's the same thing, but search for a video on YouTube that has the FPS to 60 and you'll definitely see the difference between 30 and 60.

10. MaxIT

Posts: 5; Member since: Jan 10, 2020

Conclusions are wrong, IMHO. The “expert” was able to notice the difference because he was accustomed to the 90 Hz display, having used it for months. Even an expert couldn’t notice any difference, if it was the first time with a 90 Hz display. I’m not saying 90 Hz are useless, but it is mostly a marketing move.

12. Wazupmrg

Posts: 214; Member since: Apr 10, 2017

120 will become more important to have as 5g kicks in with cloud based video streaming and gaming. That's why I'm excited about the new Samsung devices having it. Once you experience a better tech for a while, you get used to it and you truly do notice the difference.

13. DFranch

Posts: 562; Member since: Apr 20, 2012

I can see the difference on my OP 7 Pro, I just don't care. I'd rather save a couple of percent battery, so I still use 60hz.

15. cmdacos

Posts: 4394; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

It's a useless gimmick

16. CDexterWard

Posts: 138; Member since: Feb 05, 2018

You pay for the better refresh rate both in your wallet and your battery life...

17. cevon3239

Posts: 82; Member since: Jan 01, 2020

When most media is at 60FPS or less, higher refresh on a small screen is pointless. Refresh rates had to e increased for larger screens, because the pixels are scattered over a larger screen. To insure they all refresh fast and equally, the rate had to be increase. On a tiny screen a 90hz rate isnt significant enough because 60hz is already faster enough. Ghosting and blurring is not an issue as are games on consoles where frame rates could exceed 60FPS and your tv needs to keep up. This is nothing more than a way to charge more for a display and make phone prices increase.

19. UglyFrank

Posts: 2200; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

I'll take a true 2 day battery of any high refresh rate. Hell I wouldn't mind the option to go down to 30hz to save battery.

20. wando77

Posts: 1169; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

Classic phonearena. When a new tech is about to come out for a Samsung phone they usually produce an article saying what a waste of time it is.....right up until the iPhone gets that tech 3 years later.....then it's amazing and worth another 9.4 score for the iPhone. You'd think they have shares in Apple or something..... Oh, wait a minute

21. Jason2k13

Posts: 1478; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

Watch PA praise the iphone once it gets high refresh rate.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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