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.

Muhammad Jarir Kanji