Samsung’s Galaxy S20 lineup innovates on many fronts. For most consumers, the S20 will be the first 5G device they ever lay their hands on, the first phones with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 865 processor, and the debut of Samsung’s much-hyped 108-megapixel sensor (at least on the S20 Ultra). But the most important feature the S20 lineup is going to introduce to most phone owners might be the one that isn’t actually that new at all: the high-refresh 120Hz display.
Of course, there have been various high-refresh display devices in the US before: Apple’s offered a high-refresh “ProMotion” mode on its iPad Pro lineup since 2017, and the Razer Phone introduced the technology on smartphones later that year. Since then, it’s appeared in a variety of devices with both 90Hz and 120Hz refresh rates, including the OnePlus 7 Pro, the Asus ROG Phone II, and most notably, the Pixel 4.
Why does Samsung’s implementation of the tech in 2020 matter, then? Because unlike the litany of devices listed above, people will actually buy the Galaxy S20. This isn’t a dig against Google or OnePlus — those phones are great phones! But the simple fact is that neither of those companies make up an appreciable amount of the smartphone market globally or in the US.
The fact of the matter is that Apple and Samsung — and Huawei, outside of the US — make up the majority of phone sales. OnePlus, Google, Razer, Asus, and the rest barely register as blips on the sales chart compared to those juggernauts. And of those three major brands, Samsung’s S20 lineup will be the first to introduce high-refresh displays to customers. Yes, Google and OnePlus may have beaten everyone else to the punch, but at the end of the day it’s Samsung that’ll put high-refresh displays in the mainstream.
The average customer may be aware that Apple’s priciest iPads or the Pixel 4 have super-fancy screens, but high-refresh technology isn’t the sort of thing that translates well to video or photos: it needs to be seen in person to really appreciate the drastic difference it makes in the day-to-day usage of your phone. And given the ubiquity of the S20 relative to the other phones with high-refresh displays before it, Samsung’s phone will likely be most people’s first time experiencing the technology.
It’s not a small upgrade, either. As my colleague Dan Seifert wrote back when the Razer Phone first launched, “The difference between a high-refresh screen and a standard one is as noticeable as the jump from the iPhone 3GS’s screen to the iPhone 4’s Retina Display.” The immediate benefits are likely to be even better than that leap, given that developers (for the most part) won’t have to rebuild their apps to take advantage of the faster refresh rate.
There may still be a few roadblocks: customers may not actually choose to take advantage of the high-refresh option (depending on how much Samsung chooses to surface the feature). There’s also the question of battery life — redrawing the content on the display more frequently may offer smoother animations and interactions, but it comes at the cost of drawing more power.
Samsung isn’t the only company with ultra-smooth displays launching this year, either. OnePlus has already said that its next flagship will feature a similar 120Hz display, developed in concert with Samsung, and some rumors claim that Apple may be adding the feature to its 2020 iPhones, too (although that’s far from confirmed at this point).
With Samsung on board, though, high-refresh displays are finally getting the spotlight on one of the biggest phones of the year. We’ll find out soon enough whether customers are on board, too.