Data Doctors: Big benefits to using ‘dark mode’

Q: Are there any reasons not to use dark mode on my smartphone all the time?

A: The default display theme for smartphones and computers is generally a white background with black text, but it hasn’t always been that way.

In early computer days, all displays had a black background with either green, amber or white text. That all changed with the launch of the graphical user interface in the late 1970s into the mid-80s, which displayed text like it was ink on paper.

This display standard held firm until we started seeing devices offering the option to use “dark mode” or “dark theme,” features that switch the background back to black with lighter-colored text.

Reintroduction of dark mode

One of the main reasons dark mode was introduced on smartphones was because we all started using them in bed at night.

Low-lighting situations can cause eye strain if the display is too bright, not to mention filling a dark room with a glare that can disturb others.

While the initial intent of dark mode was for those low-lighting situations, it’s evolved to be the preferred display mode for many in just about all lighting conditions.

Reading large amounts of text in dark mode can be harder for some, with studies indicating that reading comprehension is typically better in the traditional light mode.

This is one area that is specific to each person, so you’ll have to decide when and where dark mode works best for you.

It can be especially challenging in very bright lighting conditions.

Battery savings

Dark mode can also have a significant impact on battery life for both smartphones and laptops, as long as they are using a common display technology known as OLED.

These newer displays turn each pixel on and off, so pixels that are black draw no power. Using more black pixels can have a measurable impact on power consumption that can range from 5% to 50% improvement, depending on how high the brightness is turned up.

The brighter you like your screen, the more power savings dark mode can provide.

If you have an older device that uses a traditional LCD display, dark mode will have no impact on battery life because the backlighting is the same for all colors.

Global or app-specific

You can choose to set dark mode (Apple) or dark theme (Android) at the device level, which will attempt to display all apps in dark mode.

Not all apps will respond to the change and many websites will still render in the traditional black text on white background.

If you find that you only want dark mode on specific apps, look in the settings menu of those apps to see if the dark mode or dark theme option exists.

Schedule dark mode

If you determine that dark mode is best for you when the sun goes down, you can set your device to switch based on a time schedule.

iPhone users can get the instructions here. Android users should go to their settings app and look for the ‘dark theme’ schedule option, as each manufacturer uses a different menu system.

Popular Science has a post with dark mode instructions for computers and lots of other apps here.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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