Will Higher (Above 90Hz) Refresh Rate Screen Become a Standard Feature?

As smartphone market is saturated, companies are trying to differentiate their products through various specifications. Display size, Pixel per inch and display type have been used as major differentiators for a while. The new element in the differentiation game is the refresh rate of the display.

Screen Refresh Rate Terminology

Screen refresh rate is the count of number of times the screen refreshes its image in one second. While most of the smartphone screens are usually 60Hz, recently introduced phones with above 90Hz screens reportedly give a smoother experience.

Brief History

Razer Phone, presented as a gaming phone in 2017, is the first smartphone to have a 120Hz refresh rate display. Soon after, Sharp launched the Aquos R2 with 120Hz refresh rate in May 2018. Since then, many Tier 1 companies like Samsung, Huawei, OPPO and Xiaomi have joined the club. Apple is also expected to introduce 120Hz refresh rate in its iPhone 12 this year. Some point out that it is still too early to utilize 100% of this feature as many games and other content are yet to support high refresh rates.

Pros and Cons

A higher refresh rate provides smoother scrolling and animation, which can be important factors in gaming or 4K videos. In most cases, customers find it hard to return to a lower specification after experiencing such quality. The shortcomings are also clear. Higher refresh rate means faster battery consumption. Another constraint is that there is not much content (such as games) available to support higher refresh rates.

Current Situation

Many companies are launching higher refresh rate products, thus increasing their penetration. First introduced to the market in 2017, higher refresh rate products’ presence in the market has increased sharply since the third quarter of 2019, reaching 8.1% in Q2 2020.

Market Penetration Rate of Higher Refresh Rate (Above 90Hz) Smartphones

Market Penetration Rate of Higher Refresh Rate (Above 90Hz) Smartphones
Source: Handset Model Sales Tracker

Tier 1 companies like Samsung, Huawei, OPPO and Xiaomi are aggressively adopting such specifications for their flagship products, while smaller companies that focus on niche segments like  gaming phone are also increasing such products in their portfolios.

Market Penetration Rate of Higher Refresh Rate (Above 90Hz) Smartphones by Major Brands (Q2 2020)

Counterpoint Research Market Penetration Rate of Higher Refresh Rate (Above 90Hz) Smartphones by Major Brands (Q2 2020)
Source: Handset Model Sales Tracker

Samsung ranked first in this segment in Q2 2020 with its flagship S20 series adopting this specification.

Market Share of Higher Refresh Rate (Above 90hz) Smartphones by Brands (Q2 2020)

Counterpoint Market Share of Higher Refresh Rate (Above 90hz) Smartphones by Brands (Q2 2020)
Source: Handset Model Sales Tracker

The sales rankings for Q2 2020 below show top-tier companies adopting this specification in their flagship products:

Other models targeting the gaming phone segment are also present in the market, but not attaining much share.

Conclusion

Not all newly introduced features in smartphones end up being accepted as market standards. Cost of implementing the feature, reception from the consumer, and the strategies of leading companies can change the end result. As content consumption in smartphones extends beyond simple video-viewing to high performance gaming, 4K videos and AR/VR, higher refresh rates are expected to become clear differentiators and a new standard specification for smartphones sooner or later.

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