Explainers

Explaining smartphone display refresh rates

Are they really any different from PC displays?

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Smartphones, little by little, are turning into mini-PCs with the features that come with it. From browsing on social media to playing video games, technology is slowly adopting a more “on-the-go” lifestyle. Recently, smartphones have acquired another feature that your own desktop or laptop already has.

Some of the recently released premium and gaming smartphones now come with displays having their own dedicated refresh rate. Refresh rates aren’t new, but to see it on a compact device has a lot of people wondering. How different or similar is it to a PC’s refresh rate? And is it actually something good to have?

A crash course on refresh rates

A display’s refresh rate, basically is the number of times your display updates every second. Your screen usually takes a few seconds to just a second to load new images, depending on that rate. For example, a 60Hz refresh rate means that in one second, any image on your display is refreshed 60 times. Your eyes wouldn’t catch it fast enough, but that’s how your display works.

For most PC displays, the default is at 60Hz with companies releasing displays that range up to 240Hz. You mostly see this in displays fit for gaming purposes, since gamers prefer the higher refresh rate for improved performance. If you’re someone who mostly likes to watch movies, it really doesn’t matter how high the refresh rate is.

Note that this is entirely different from frame rates, in that these show how many images are produced within a second. Although, having a high refresh rate allows you to perform a lot better because it is optimized for higher frame rates. That’s why you see some gamers complain about playing on a 60Hz display.

Transitioning to a smartphone near you

Eventually, the concept of amping up a refresh rate will reach the world of smartphones. In fact, the OnePlus 7 Pro was actually the first mainstream smartphone to have a display with a 90Hz refresh rate. Most smartphones, even budget ones, have displays built with a 60Hz refresh rate. Something about it just makes you scroll through your phone without feeling too dizzy, unless you scroll too fast.

Premium smartphones mostly incorporate either a 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rate for a smoother UI experience. With higher refresh rates, scrolling through your phone feels a lot smoother without risking an eye sore. Of course, these smartphones do cost significantly more than your average, everyday smartphone.

Apart from premium smartphones, gaming smartphones have also incorporated higher than 60Hz refresh rates. Phones like the Razer Phone 2 and the ASUS ROG Phone 2 both come with a 120Hz refresh rate to suit mobile gamers, especially FPS (first-person shooter) gamers. With these higher refresh rates, mobile gamers see clearer images with less motion blur involved.

Do you really need all the hertz?

That begs the question: what do you need a high refresh rate screen for? When you use a PC, 60Hz is already good for most tasks and games. Trying to go for higher refresh rates usually means that you’re doing a lot more than the ordinary. Tasks such as heavy-duty data analytics or hardcore gaming are optimal for higher refresh rates.

The same logic works for smartphone displays, except on a smaller screen size. A lot of what you can do, you’re able to do so on 60Hz displays. If you’re just using your phone to browse social media, watch Netflix on the daily, and play games casually, you don’t need anything higher. Although, it is a premium to have if you want buttery smooth software.

If you play games competitively, you would prefer higher refresh rates just like in gaming monitors. Higher refresh rates allow you to perform at an optimal level when going for higher frame rates. We’re talking close to no image tearing or motion blur when you play PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty. While you can perform well at the default 60Hz, going for a 90Hz or 120Hz ideally makes the experience better.

Some final thoughts

Smartphone display refresh rates have always been a part of the technology. These displays were built in a way that everyone can benefit from them. It’s only fairly recently that smartphone companies came up with a way to make the experience a lot smoother. Hence, smartphones started incorporating higher refresh rates.

It almost feels like having that high refresh rate is a premium, given only select smartphones have it. But it’s a premium that you don’t really need unless you have a good reason to. Apart from the cost of experiencing it, it really depends on what you plan to do with your smartphone.

At the end of the day, it’s better to ask yourself if it’s a feature worth getting. If it’s something you feel you can’t live without, by all means, right?

Explainers

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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Apps

How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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Explainers

The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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