Dark themes are becoming more and more popular. On some devices, they can even save battery power. It all depends on what type of display your device have—only devices with OLED displays can reap the power-saving benefits.
Devices With OLED Displays Only
You’ve probably heard of OLED displays, especially if you’ve been on the market for a new TV in the last year or so. OLED screens differ from LCD and LED displays typically found in electronics in that OLEDs don’t have a backlight layer: each pixel is individually illuminated. This makes the display thinner, but the main draw is that black pixels don’t get lit up at all.
The result is higher contrast in your favorite films, inky blacks throughout any interface, and battery savings when you’re using a dark theme on your laptop or cell phone.
When a Dark Theme Can Save Battery Power on Your Laptop
OLED laptops are starting to appear, with some newer models just announced at CES 2019. There haven’t been any macOS or ChromeOS laptops with OLED screens, but there are a few Windows options. HP’s Spectre x360 15 is shipping with a 15-inch Samsung AMOLED display, while Lenovo is offering its Yoga C730 with an OLED panel. Surface fans will be out of luck—Microsoft hasn’t shipped an OLED screen on its laptops yet.
Changing to Windows’ dark theme is easy, and that will darken all of the built-in applications at the same time. Microsoft Office lets you change to a dark theme, as do a lot of third-party apps. Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome all offer dark themes, but your favorite websites may or may not. Google’s official dark theme isn’t stable on Windows yet but will arrive in the next few months.
You won’t get the battery savings benefits if your laptop isn’t using an OLED display, and you could find the dark theme may harm your battery life—in theory, at least. A dark theme could lead you to crank your laptop’s brightness to read text and see buttons in the interface, and the higher brightness would draw more power from the battery. This will depend on how much light is in your environment, how well your eyesight works, and how efficient the backlight is—so you may not notice any difference. Just keep that in mind when you’re switching to the dark side.
Of course, if you’re looking to save battery power, there are plenty of ways to increase your Windows laptop’s battery life. You could even use Windows 10’s battery saver mode. We’ve covered a lot of tips for saving battery power on your MacBook, too. And the same basic principles apply to extending your Chromebook’s battery life, too.
When a Dark Theme Can Save Battery Power on Your Cell Phone
OLED displays are much more common in smartphones because they’re easier to produce in smaller sizes. Samsung’s Galaxy flagships have always used OLED screens, while iPhones reserve them for the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max—not the iPhone XR or any older iPhones. Google has been using OLED displays for its Pixel phones since 2016, while support from other manufacturers is hit and miss.
Samsung offers a dark theme for its phone, while Pixel phones will receive a dark mode later this year with Android Q. Apple’s iOS 13 is also rumored to include a dark theme, but we won’t know that for sure until WWDC in late May or early June.
Battery savings from using a dark theme with OLED screens are drastic: Google saw battery life savings between 15% and 60% when it moved from YouTube’s default white background to the dark mode. I spend a good portion of my day on Facebook Messenger to chat with friends and book musical performances, and Facebook just rolled out a dark theme to Messenger. I’ve noticed an extra percent or two on my phone at the end of the day, but that small amount could go a long way if I’m ever away from a charger. Doubletwist (my music player of choice) also offers a black theme, so most of my phone usage is spent in the dark, and I get the most of my phone’s battery.
Some TVs Use OLED Panels, Too
You don’t need to worry about battery life on your TV—and most of the time it will be displaying TV shows, movies, or video games, anyway. But, if you have an OLED TV, it will use less power when displaying blacks than bright colors.
In theory, maybe you’ll save a few pennies on your electric bill if it spends a lot of time powered on and showing menus. LG makes some of the best OLED TVs, and those TVs also offer a dark theme in their user interfaces.