What’s the difference between 120Hz, 90Hz and 60Hz?

Once you've made the jump to a high refresh rate, you'll never want to go back - we explain why


While the majority of smartphones available in 2020 feature a standard 60Hz display, there’s a growing trend of manufacturers using high refresh rate displays in their flagship smartphones to improve the overall experience, but what does that mean in practical terms?

We explain the key differences between 60Hz, 90Hz and 120Hz and why you’ll never want to go back to using a 60Hz display on your smartphone again.

What is a display refresh rate?

In its simplest form, the display refresh rate refers to the value of how many times your display refreshes every second. 60Hz is the standard these days across both PC monitors and smartphone displays, but there are higher options available.

When you opt for a high refresh rate like 90- or 120Hz, the screen refreshes content more dynamically, in turn producing a better, smoother picture quality with low motion blur. Interacting with the device feels more responsive at a higher refresh rate, and makes all the difference not only when gaming but when using the device in general.

The technology has been available for desktop PC gamers for years, with some monitors going up to 144Hz, and even 240Hz if you’re looking to really splash out. Smartphones aren’t quite at that level just yet, as the smartphone would have to be capable of outputting 144- or 240fps content, but 90- and 120fps are a bit more manageable.

Higher refresh rates provide a transformative experience

High refresh rates are a truly transformative experience; you might be used to the standard 60Hz display, but once you’ve made the jump to 60- or 120Hz, you’ll find it difficult to go back. When it comes to smartphones specifically, animations are faster and more responsive, and scrolling through social networking apps is completely jitter-free.

The latter is admittedly partly down to the high-end mobile processors found alongside the high-end displays, but the two work together to provide a great mobile experience.

And, of course, it should go without saying that games that take advantage of the improved frame rate caps feel more dynamic and responsive, helping to give you the edge in online multiplayer games like Call of Duty Mobile and Fortnite. It’s not going to make you better at the games, but it’ll give you a split-second chance to respond to an enemy player, especially if your opponent is capped at 60Hz.

In fact, a 2019 study by Nvidia found that a higher refresh rate could improve a player’s kill-to-death ratio by as much as 90 percent.

Gaming aside, if you use an app on a 60Hz display next to a 90 or 120Hz display, you’ll notice just how sluggish and laggy a standard 60Hz display really is. In fact, our Consumer Tech Editor Alex Walker-Todd posted the below video on Twitter to showcase the differences when slowed down:

That all sounds great, but it’s down to app developers to really take advantage of the high refresh rate on offer from flagship phones in 2020 – especially when it comes to mobile games, which can go up to 90fps on a 90Hz display and 120fps on a 120Hz display. It’s the same when it comes to content; 60Hz content looks great on a 120Hz display, but 120fps videos – although rare right now – would look even better.

Will we see a pivot towards 90fps and 120fps video recording capabilities in smartphones as manufacturers pivot to higher refresh rates? It’s too early to say for sure, but if 90Hz becomes the new standard for smartphones, it’s certainly a possibility.

For more, take a look at our selection of the best smartphones available right now.