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Dark mode isn’t saving your phone’s battery as much as you think – here’s why

While dark mode can save you a little battery, there’s more to it.

dark mode on android phone
Image: Purdue University

Several years ago, dark mode was introduced to many mobile apps and devices. Dark mode shifts the background of an app or web page to a dark color, reducing brightness and supposedly saving battery life. But, a new study shows that dark mode may not save as much battery life on our devices as we previously thought.

The study, performed by Perdue University in Indiana, looks at the effectiveness of dark mode in saving battery life in several different devices. By looking at the dark mode feature found in several Android smartphone apps, researchers were able to determine just how much battery our smartphones and other devices save by taking advantage of dark mode.

“When the industry rushed to adopt dark mode, it didn’t have the tools yet to accurately measure power draw by the pixels,” says Charlie Hu, Profesor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. “But now we’re able to give developers the tools they need to give users more energy-efficient apps.”

Hu and his team have developed software that can detect power usage of the pixels in your device, and they have studied the effects of dark mode across various scenarios. The findings are somewhat surprising.

So what exactly did this study find?

facebook messenger dark mode
Image: Facebook

When looking at the results of this study, it seems that the key to understanding the battery drain on your device lies in the brightness. Most newer phones have an OLED screen which doesn’t include a backlight like previous LCD devices. This results in the device having to draw more power to display a brighter screen.

The study looked at six of the most downloaded apps on the Google Play store for this study: Google Maps, Google News, Google Phone, Google Calendar, YouTube, and Calculator. Researchers studied the effect that 60 seconds of dark mode screen activity would have using these apps on the Pixel 2, Moto Z3, Pixel 4, and Pixel 5.

When using these apps while using a phone’s automatic brightness settings (generally around 30% to 50% overall brightness), research showed that switching to dark mode only saved around 3% to 9% battery life on these devices. However, the effects of switching to dark mode tend to become more evident when you turn your device’s brightness up.

Researchers found that when cranking the device’s brightness up to 100% (maybe to help combat glare on a sunny day), switching to dark mode could save an incredible 39% to 47% of your device’s battery power. Using that same logic, it is much more efficient to run an app in dark mode with high brightness than to run the same up in regular display with slightly lower brightness.

Dark mode still saves battery life, just not as much as you might have thought

While the findings of this study are certainly surprising, the news isn’t all bad. There is at least a little battery power saving when switching over to dark mode, especially if you’re using your phone at a higher-than-average brightness level.

As someone who spends a lot of time looking at a screen, I know I personally get a lot of benefit from dark mode wherever it’s available. It is much easier on my eyes in the long run, so the extra battery life that it may save is just a little bonus.

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