Jul 12, 2023
Best phones for PWM/flicker sensitive people 2023
Motorola is quickly becoming a community favorite. 1. At a glance 2. Best overall 3. Runner-up 4. Best affordable flagship 5. Best folding phone 6. Best mid-range phone 7. Best affordable phone 8. How
Motorola is quickly becoming a community favorite.
1. At a glance
2. Best overall
4. Best affordable flagship
5. Best folding phone
6. Best mid-range phone
7. Best affordable phone
8. How to choose
If you're like me, using a Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, or Apple iPhone has become increasingly difficult due to these phones' penchant for using flickering displays. The OLED panels that power these devices sure look nice, but unfortunately for us, our eyes and brains just don't like how they operate.
Thankfully, several options on the market offer a great experience without sacrificing processing power, camera quality, or overall experience. We're working to deliver the best guide for PWM/Flicker-sensitive people to make an informed buying decision and are aiming to include phones from every product category and price range.
I've tested a lot of phones over the years and have been specifically testing phones for flicker sensitivity since originally posting about becoming PWM-sensitive in mid-2023. Many of these phones are also the best Android phones, and some, surprisingly, even use OLED displays. To note, if you're extremely sensitive to flickering and PWM dimming, it's safe to say most phones with OLED displays are likely not in your future.
I'll be updating this list regularly as I'm able to test these phones myself, but I'm also including some community favorites that have been vetted by well-known users.
People who are sensitive to display flicker aren't all sensitive to the same problems, so what works for one person may not work for another. I've included as much information as I can on each phone to help you make the best decision.
Motorola has taken a massive turn for the better in 2023, and part of that is thanks to its excellent displays. The pOLED in the Motorola Edge+ (2023) is super eye-friendly, particularly with Motorola's flicker-reduction setting enabled.
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Xiaomi made a name for itself by offering an experience that's a lot like the iPhone for a fraction of the price. This phone's display is far friendlier than Apple's with DC Dimming options and 1,920Hz PWM for lower brightness.
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Best affordable flagship
The Nothing Phone (2) leans heavily into the greyscale, transparent, dot-matrix aesthetic the company is known for. Plus, partial DC dimming at high brightness levels and 1,920Hz PWM makes this one easier on the eyes.
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Best folding phone
The Motorola Razr Plus (2023) isn't just the only folding phone on this list, it's also one of the very best folding phones on the market. It uses a pOLED display but offers Motorola's flicker-reduction technology.
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Best mid-range phone
The Honor 90 will work in the U.S. on 4G LTE but it's best internationally because of 5G support. Honor uses a Samsung AMOLED panel with 3,840Hz PWM and low modulation rates that feels surprisingly great to use.
Read more below
Best affordable phone
The OnePlus Nord series has been known for offering great value to folks since its inception a few years ago. This phone's IPS LCD panel is completely flicker-free down to the lowest brightness, making it a great pick for extra-sensitive folks.
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Our expert review:
Motorola took us by surprise this year when it released the Motorola Edge Plus (2023). Motorola's premium phones had been struggling in recent years so it was refreshing to see Motorola not only release a phone with such stellar hardware but also back that hardware up with a four-year software update promise and a PWM-friendly OLED display.
Motorola sells this model as the Motorola Edge Plus (2023) in the U.S. and as the Motorola Edge 40 Pro in most of the rest of the world. It's also sold in China as the Moto X40.
Motorola debuted a relatively new flicker-reduction option with the Edge Plus (2023) that ensures the phone's display is on 99.51% of the time during the duty cycle. In practice, this is identical to DC dimming, which means the phone is actually reducing the voltage to the OLED diodes instead of using PWM flickering to fake a dimmer display.
Above 35%, the Motorola Edge Plus (2023) uses DC dimming to achieve a flicker-free display. As is telling from DC dimming measurements, the brightness dips a little bit each time the display refreshes. In this case, the display is refreshing at around 120Hz. This is normal for all DC-dimmed OLED displays.
Below 35%, the phone switches to 720Hz PWM dimming to ensure the display still retains a high-quality image and correct color accuracy.
Once I get below 35% in the video, you can see the typical PWM line appear and start to get thicker as the brightness slider goes down. In the second half of the video, I turn off the flicker reduction setting and you can see how different the PWM rates are at each brightness level.
This is my personal favorite premium phone and I have no comfort issues from using this phone all day long.
Aside from just having a comfortable display, the Motorola Edge Plus (2023) is a downright amazing phone. It's got a blazing-fast Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor — the best in 2023 — plus 2-day battery life and those timeless Motorola features that make using Motorola phones so convenient.
The camera could be better but it's surprised me more than a few times. Just make sure you stick to 1080p video recording quality if you want to use all the best camera features the phone has to offer.
Our expert review:
The Xiaomi 13 is a community pick and the one that best fits in the category of best international premium phone. We've had the pleasure of reviewing the Xiaomi 13 Ultra and Xiaomi 13 Pro, and Android Central's Harish Jonnalagadda also has the regular Xiaomi 13 as well, so we're familiar with the software and overall phone experience.
But the smaller (and less expensive) Xiaomi 13 is the one to pick for PWM-sensitive folks. Out of the box, it utilizes a 1,920Hz PWM OLED display, but you can enable DC dimming by selecting the "anti-flicker" setting in the display options.
Graphs from the same Opple Light Master light meter I use can be found here, and you can see the difference between the two modes in this video.
Aside from a vision-friendly display, you're getting a cutting-edge Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor (which is the best processor in 2023), great battery life, and faster charging than anything offered by Google, Apple, or Samsung.
It's also got a great camera — even if it's not as good as the Xiaomi 13 Pro or Ultra models — and MIUI is always feature-packed and updated regularly.
The phone is clearly styled after the iPhone with its shiny, flat sides. This is something that people will either love or hate, as is evidenced by the constant design changes back and forth over the years. MIUI is also extremely Apple "inspired" and has always been a sort of iOS clone since its inception.
Our expert review:
Nothing made a name for itself very quickly, taking up the mantle of OnePlus' affordable flagship mantra and putting a little twist on it. Nothing's stylish designs and trendy chic vibes mean your brilliantly-lit phone is going to get noticed as you walk around, thanks to the unique LED array on the back.
But that complicated LED array on the front — that's the display, of course — is an OLED display made by a company called Visionox, and it uses DC dimming above 47% brightness to deliver a reduced flicker experience.
The chart shows that this definitely uses refresh rate-locked DC dimming at brightness levels above 47%, with the usual dip in brightness at refresh intervals. OLEDs always have a slight dip in brightness when the diode is refreshed since the light is tied to the color, but this display dips a little lower than some others on this list.
For me, this 11.5% modulation rate (or higher) is too severe, even though the display doesn't flicker like it would when using PWM dimming. Running the phone at a 60Hz refresh rate can help reduce the negative effects since it dips less often, but I find that I can only use the Nothing Phone (2) for a day or two before my eyes start to ache.
But I've seen plenty of success stories with this phone in the PWM-sensitive community. As I've said many times before, different people are sensitive to different things. For me, a drop in brightness above 8% or so is what seems to bother my eyes the most. For others, it might just be the rapid flicker from PWM-style dimming that causes discomfort.
Either way, this phone doesn't use PWM dimming until you get below 47%, and even then, it's a very high 1,920Hz PWM frequency, so it isn't as harsh as phones from Samsung, Apple, Google, or OnePlus. If you need to use the phone in darker settings, you can use the Extra Dim button in quick toggles to reduce the maximum lux of the panel, ensuring that you stick with DC dimming and still get a less harsh display.
Other than having a mostly eye-friendly display, the Nothing Phone (2) is a fantastic phone all around. It uses the speedy Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset, has excellent 2-day battery life, a solid build and gorgeous transparent design, and plenty of unique features and niceties in the software. Plus, that LED array on the back is a lot of fun to play around with.
Our expert review:
The worst part about being a fan of folding phones is when you're also someone who's sensitive to display flicker. Most folding phones use Samsung AMOLED panels, and, as a result, most of them flicker a lot. Motorola uses pOLED panels by LG, and these allow for proper DC dimming at high brightness levels.
Motorola's flicker reduction option in display settings further helps keep things under control, but that doesn't mean this phone will work for everyone who is flicker-sensitive.
As you can see from the charts below, the phone uses refresh rate-locked DC dimming for the OLED panel, meaning there's a slight dip in brightness every time the screen refreshes. Dropping the refresh rate to 60Hz may make this phone more comfortable for some folks since the dips happen less often.
But, even with DC dimming enabled, the modulation rate is a bit higher than what's comfortable for some flicker-sensitive folks. For me, anything below an 8% modulation rate is usually the most comfortable. Phones like the Nothing Phone (2) and the Motorola Razr Plus (2023) are comfortable for about a day or so until my eyes start feeling fatigued.
Other flicker-sensitive folks might find this display is still comfortable, though, since it doesn't use PWM dimming above 25% brightness. Extra dim is supported on this panel, but it triples the modulation rate, so I wouldn't recommend using it.
The video confirms that modulation is low throughout most brightness levels. You can see the difference between the flickering levels with the flicker reduction setting enabled and disabled here, too.
The phone's cover display modulates at the exact same rate as the large folding display, so using that more often won't change much.
If you're comfortable with these numbers, Motorola's flip phone is one of our favorite flip phones of all time. While it doesn't have as many software features as Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip series, Motorola's cover display is much more useful than the Galaxy Z Flip 5's because Motorola lets you do anything with it. It's all here, from running full apps, swiping through widgets, or even playing games without having to flip open the phone.
It uses last Fall's flagship Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, so it's quite speedy, but, being a flip phone, the battery life isn't the best. Thankfully, Motorola's chargers are quicker than Samsung's, and you can top up in just a few minutes without worry.
Our expert review:
I've had the Honor 90 since mid-July and have been testing it on and off between other device reviews. True to the marketing, the Honor 90's OLED display is a lot friendlier on the eyes than most smartphone OLED displays. Much of that is the TÜV Rheinland-certified display which not only emits less blue light than many other smartphone displays but also dims at an incredible 3,840Hz PWM rate.
Now, you might be wondering what in the world a phone that uses PWM is doing on a list for PWM-sensitive people, right? Part of the reason many of us are sensitive to PWM dimming is because of the low-frequency manufacturers like Apple, Google, and Samsung use. Honor's frequency is 8x faster than Apple's and 16x faster than Samsung, Google, or OnePlus's.
That might not work for everyone who is PWM-sensitive, but this rate is personally OK for me to use. I've tried using the phone down to 50% brightness for a full day and have yet to experience any kind of PWM sickness symptoms, which usually manifest themselves in eye pain, headaches, and sometimes nausea if I stare at a rapidly modulating display for too long.
And the measurements prove what I'm feeling. At anything above 35% brightness, the modulation rate on this phone is truly great. Not only does it use an extremely high frequency, but it also doesn't fully turn off the display at normal brightness levels.
Like most OLED displays on this list, though, things change once you get below 35% brightness. At that rate, you're better off keeping the display at higher brightness and using a screen dimmer app like the one I recommend in the "how to choose" section below.
The video below also backs up what my light meter picks up, showing that the modulation rate stays very low until under 50% brightness and, even then, is moderately acceptable until about 35%.
If you watch the black bar that appears to scroll down as I dim the brightness, you'll see that it's fairly dim — a sign that it's using a very high modulation rate since I'm recording at 1/6000 shutter speed — and that bar stays fairly thin until I get down to around 50% brightness.
Below 35%, it modulates very heavily, and I wouldn't recommend using it at all at that point, even with the high PWM frequency.
Aside from the display, the Honor 90 packs in a mid-range Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 "Accelerated Edition" processor, which is really just codeword for a decent mid-range processor. It's nothing special, but it'll run most mobile games and do just fine on all sorts of apps.
It's also very battery-friendly, and you'll easily get 2 days out of a single charge in most cases. Plus, the charging speed is nice and quick, so topping up takes no time at all.
The biggest negative — aside from using PWM dimming at all — is MagicOS. Honor's flavor of Android feels clunky in many ways, and the OS comes across as feeling "old" in several respects. Menus can sometimes be oddly laid out, and the launcher feels dated but at least it doesn't split the notification shade or try to force the feel of iOS the way MIUI does.
Our expert review:
OnePlus has long been a company focused on delivering value, and the Nord series fulfills its diehard customers' expectations of that idea. The Nord N30 is the 2023 U.S. Nord release, and it brings the usual suite of improvements along with one surprising change: the 60Hz OLED display on the N20 was swapped out for a 120Hz LCD panel on the N30.
That LCD panel is super friendly for anyone suffering from flicker sensitivity as it uses proper DC dimming at an extremely high frequency — greater than 15,000Hz, in fact — to get things done.
This display is totally flicker-free at almost all brightness levels, but something changes under 10%. I'm not sure if it's just a low-quality backlight or something else, but the light meter says it flickers below that.
I picked up no flicker in the video below, but my camera only drops to 1/16000 shutter speed, and the video gets too dim to actually be able to see the display clearly at the lowest brightness level.
Some users in the PWM-sensitive community have picked up the phone and found that it does bother them at very low brightness levels like this, so I wouldn't recommend using it at super low brightness. Of course, that isn't different from any other phone we recommend, so just be sure to use a dimming app if you need the brightness to be very low.
Aside from the flicker-free display at most brightness levels, the Nord N30 is a fantastic budget phone that's littered with features thanks to OxygenOS. This is the same OxygenOS you'll find on more expensive OnePlus phones, so you're getting the best features at a bargain price.
And the processor in this phone is fast enough even for graphics-intensive games like The Division Resurgence thanks to fast internal storage speed and general improvements in optimization in OxygenOS over the years. Plus, battery life is truly excellent, and it charges in about 30 minutes flat with the included charger.
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If you're PWM or flicker-sensitive, it can be extremely difficult to figure out which phones work best for you. As a rule of thumb, IPS LCD panels are usually friendlier on the eyes than any kind of OLED panel, but even that's not guaranteed. It's cheaper for a company to use PWM dimming on a display, so even some IPS LCD panels will use it.
OLED displays have to use PWM dimming at a certain brightness level to retain accurate colors and details, which is something I'll explain in depth in another article. But know that most OLED displays can use DC dimming to maintain brightness at high levels. Some manufacturers — like Samsung, Google, and Apple — just refuse to do this.
All the phones on this list have been tested by us and vetted to help alleviate eye strain when used at regular brightness levels above 50%. We would recommend never using a phone below 50% brightness level simply because many of them use tricks to help keep image quality high, as I said above. Oftentimes, that means PWM dimming.
My recommendation is to use these phones at high brightness to ensure no flicker, then use an app like this screen and notification dimmer to artificially lower the brightness. I've tested a lot of screen-dimming apps, and this is the best one.
Don't lower your screen's brightness below 50%. Instead, use a screen dimming app to artificially lower brightness when needed.
Folks looking for a premium phone in the U.S. should look no further than the Motorola Edge+ (2023). Motorola uses a special flicker reduction DC dimming method that ensures the screen's duty cycle remains on 99.51% of the time.
In simple terms, that means the screen isn't flickering like other OLED displays when used above 35% brightness. Just make sure you enable "flicker reduction" in the phone's display settings. The Motorola Razr Plus uses a similar method of flicker reduction, making it the only foldable phone available in the U.S. that's vision-friendly.
Internationally, there are a lot more options. Many smartphones from Asia offer DC dimming methods, including the Xiaomi 13 and Zenfone 10. I didn't include the Zenfone 10 on this list yet because I haven't been able to use it to determine whether its DC dimming methods are safe, and there are few opinions in the community.
On the more affordable side, the Nothing Phone (2) offers flagship specs for a reduced price, all while offering DC dimming by default at high brightness levels. Below 50%, it switches to 1,920Hz PWM dimming. The Honor 90 uses PWM dimming at 3,840Hz, and it doesn't modulate much, making it look more like DC dimming in measurements.
Even more affordably priced is the OnePlus Nord N30, a phone that uses an IPS LCD panel with DC dimming down to about 15% brightness. Below that, the backlight seems to flicker quite a bit — albeit at a very high frequency above 15,000Hz — but some users have reported it gives them the typical flicker-sensitive feelings of eye strain and headaches below that brightness level.
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