First Click: Night mode is the greatest

September 27th, 2016


You'll know this feature by many names. It's Night Shift on your iPhone, Night Mode on your OnePlus, or a blue light filter on some other devices. All it really means is that your phone, tablet, or laptop's display tints itself into a warmer palette that neuters the blues and is easier on the eyes in the evenings and nighttime. I once thought this to be just another gimmick, but having given it an extensive try over the past month, I can't imagine ever using a device without it again.

My major principled objection to night modes on smart devices was that they break the established paramountcy of delivering as close to perfect color accuracy as possible. Actively tinting the screen felt like a betrayal of sorts, like headphones that didn't care to be perfectly neutral in recreating a musician's intent. But just like non-neutral headphones that nevertheless deliver more pleasing sound, a tinted display is much more pleasant to use than a starkly faithful one.

I first gave the night mode a try on Samsung's AMOLED display on the Galaxy Note 7, and I admit its subtlety won me over almost immediately. Then that phone got recalled and I extended the habit with the OnePlus 3, and now I'm keeping it going with the iPhone 7. Each of these handsets has preset timing options that will toggle the relevant display tweaks automatically (the iPhone even offers to sync that up with my local sunset and sunrise). Not one of them has felt like it's overwhelmed or in any way spoiled the image of what I'm seeing — night shift only warms up the hues, it doesn't detract from the screen's sharpness. In fact, the universal experience for me has been to squint and grimace when I turn off night mode and return to the cooler, neutral color palette.

I learned to stop worrying and love the color shift

The fact is that, most of the time, we don't need perfect color accuracy. We hold it up as a good goal for engineers to aim for — and indeed it is — but that doesn't mean we must be using it all the time. I was reading the tweet tornado that developed around last night's US presidential debate at 2AM here in the UK, and I was grateful I could do it through the iodine lens of what I now consider my laptop's most essential app: f.lux.

F.lux has been around (and critically acclaimed) for many years, and it's just testament to my resistance to change that I hadn't tried it earlier. But now that its hue adjustment has hit the mainstream via the iPhone and its Android rivals, I've been entirely converted and convinced. My typically restless nights have been filled with uninterrupted sleep the likes of which I haven't enjoyed in a long time. There isn't a hard scientific consensus on the benefits of night modes, and maybe they won't affect your sleep at all, but simply the comfort of using any smart device in twilight hours is dramatically improved.

The best part about night mode, in my judgment, is how quickly it's proliferated this year. I can't think of a single smartphone launched during the recent IFA trade show that didn't offer the option; f.lux is available on macOS, Windows, Linux, Android, and (if you want an alternative to the system option) iOS; and Microsoft looks set to make blue-light adjustment an integrated feature of Windows 10 in the near future. It's not often that the entire tech industry agrees on adding a new feature, and it's even less often that I agree that feature is for the better. But in this case, yes, night mode is great and every device with a screen should have it as an option.

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