Google deliberately capped the Pixel 4's screen brightness

Front of the Google Pixel 4 XL
Front of the Google Pixel 4 XL (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google artificially capped the Pixel 4's maximum brightness.
  • The phone can achieve as much as 610 nits of brightness, but you only get about 450 nits out of the box.
  • The only means of currently enabling the 'High Brightness Mode' requires rooting the device.

Yet another day, yet another compromise on the Pixel 4. As it turns out, the award-winning 'Smooth Display' — yes, the same display that promises a 90Hz refresh rate but more often than not gave you only 60Hz out of the box — was saddled with yet another limitation: a cap on its maximum brightness.

As discovered byXDA's Mishaal Rahman, the phone has a 'High Brightness Mode' disabled by default and hidden behind root access. If you are willing to take a risk with rooting the phone, though, the setting could prove invaluable in helping improve the phone's maximum brightness and, therefore, its legibility in sunlight. The Pixel 4 currently maxes out at 450 nits, but it can achieve 610 nits, according to Rahman's investigations.

He points out that the higher brightness levels are automatically enabled when playing HDR videos, but there's no toggle for turning it on anywhere in the phone's settings. Most other flagships — which also tend to feature max brightness levels of well above the 600-700 nits range — tend to leave the feature on by default, and automatically dial up the screen's throughput when you set the brightness slider to its max value or when the ambient light sensor detects sunlight.

The only means of enabling it currently is to gain root access to the phone and to tinker with its kernel. Alongside the possible risk of losing your warranty, the feature has the added drawback of eating into the Pixel 4's already abysmal battery life even more, all the more proof that there's a reason phone makers like Samsung puts massive 4,000mAh batteries in their flagships. The Pixel 4 has but a measly 2,800mAh cell in comparison.

Google fixed some of the limitations on the Pixel 4 XL's refresh rate earlier this week, though its smaller sibling's limited battery means it's still saddled with a screen that automatically downgrades to 60Hz below certain brightness settings. So, if you're tired of squinting at your Pixel 4 outdoors, you will likely continue having to do so for the foreseeable future.

Google Pixel 4

The Pixel 4 is designed for consumers looking for a compact yet powerful smartphone. Like its predecessors, the Pixel 4 is extremely impressive in the camera department. With features like improved Night Sight, you can click great photos even in low-light. The phone also comes with the other impressive features such as Motion Sense, secure face unlock, and the new Google Assistant.

14 Comments
  • Google should toss in a 10,000 mAh battery pack with the purchase of every Pixel 4.
    You're gonna need it.
  • I have it and I don't so thanks anyway. I don't spend my day or my life on a phone :)
  • Tell that to the guy who gets called in to work for an emergency, and has to use his as a conference call speaker phone, email hub, and Hotspot until 3am in the morning with no place to charge. That happened to me and I went home with my phone at 41%. The Pixel 4 would have died. Twice.
  • Yes you do. Don't even front.
  • I think if I owned this critter I would set the refresh rate at 60 and leave it and adjust the brightness to 75%. However anyone who buys this really has no right to complain because the battery issues have been widely reported since very early on.
  • But are there really THAT many people who aren't part of the press who actually own and use the phone regularly who are complaining? I've had my Pixel 4 XL since the launch day, and I really like it. I don't have any complaints other than the fact that the back is glass, which means I feel scared without a case. I see articles every day about some other supposed horror show regarding the phone, but none of those articles actually reflect the experience I've had with it.
  • The article is about the Pixel 4. You have the Pixel 4 XL, so you should be fine.
  • So many compromises on this phone yet the price just doesn't reflect that does it?
  • Nah, and it will wind up on Android Central's "best" list anyway.
  • So many compromises!
  • ''all the more proof that there's a reason phone makers like Samsung puts massive 4,000mAh batteries in their flagships.'' Really?
    Then why does the *Samsung s10 have a 3400mAh*? So no, that is not true. The S10e has a 4100mAh battery. But that is not a Flagship. If you are going to compare the S10+ then you need to compare to the 4XL. The battery in the Pixel 4 is not great, but it is not the end of the world either. Know your usage and buy accordingly.
  • I'm only posting this because the sizes vary depend on source. From Samsung's specification page:
    "Rated (minimum) capacity is 3000mAh for Galaxy S10e, 3300mAh for Galaxy S10, 4000mAh for Galaxy S10+, and 4400mAh for Galaxy S10 5G" Either way, I agree with you that we should compare oranges to oranges, and people should "Know your usage and buy accordingly".
  • Whatever view people take of these phones it does look as though Google has 'restricted' certain features on this phone to preserve battery life, which has to beg the question if they knew the battery life was going to be bad why not simply put in a bigger battery? Ok maybe the phone would have to be slightly thicker and a little heavier but surely that's a fair tradeoff to get a brighter and faster refreshing screen without battery anxiety? I know not everyone spends all day on their phone but I think everyone has those days when they need to use them more than normal or are away from charging facilities and simply need their phone to last 1 whole day without dying. Surely that's not too much to ask in 2019 from such an expensive phone? The Moto g7 power has a 5000mah battery and that's not exactly a huge monstrosity and it's under £200.
  • This is what happens when you don't listen to the consumer, the missing wide angle, terrible screen, battery life etc. OnePlus 7t blows this phone away ...