Gaming-oriented smartphones are beginning to make waves across the world. And with graphics-intensive games like PUBG Mobile taking the industry by storm, it’s about time that devices designed specifically for gaming are released.
(The author, whose passion is to review whatever Xiaomi releases, is a contributor at Revü Philippines.)
Enter the Black Shark gaming phone, which comes from the Xiaomi-backed company of the same name. In China, the 6GB RAM and 64GB storage model costs ¥2,999 (about P24,799 or $478), while the 8GB and 128GB edition is priced at ¥3,499 (P28,933 or $557). The nifty Shark GamePad controller sells for ¥179 (P1,480 or $29).
At first glance, the Black Shark has a slight resemblance to the Razer Phone from last year. But take a closer look, and you’ll notice that it has a distinct, striking look of its own. I love the metallic-green lines that run along the back and sides of the unit; they blend well with the rest of the hardware.
But the back of the Black Shark is what really makes it stand out. The “S” logo blinks and bleeds green when the phone is turned on, and its matte-finished center provides a good grip. The “X” design of the antenna, which allows for better cellular coverage and prevents the grip of death, is a nice touch, especially for diehard gamers who want the best experience while playing online.
The front panel isn’t as exciting. From the front, the Black Shark looks like the Xiaomi Mi Note 3, but with an 18:9 display. The screen-to-phone ratio is 76 percent, which is pretty decent.
Display and audio
The 6-inch, 2,160 x 1,080 LCD display has a 60Hz refresh rate, as with most other smartphones and unlike the 120Hz display on the Razer Phone. But still, 60Hz is okay for heavy gaming. Also, 1080p is sharp enough for the majority of content available right now. I watched a full-resolution movie on the Black Shark and compared it to the screen on the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, and I honestly can’t tell the difference in picture quality.
Cranking up the loudspeaker volume, I was able to fill a small room with good sound. For an even more immersive listening experience, the Black Shark offers high-definition audio playback. However, because it doesn’t have a 3.5mm audio jack, you’ll need to either use Bluetooth or the provided USB Type-C-to-headphone-jack adapter to connect a speaker or plug in a pair of headphones.
The mic of the phone is also gaming-focused, offering the option to make calls and chat hands-free while a game is running.
One of the few devices that sports the latest and fastest chipset from Qualcomm is the Black Shark. The Snapdragon 845 has eight CPU cores and can run up to 2.8GHz. It’s paired with an Adreno 630 graphics and 6GB or 8GB of RAM, too. All this to say that this phone will give you perhaps the best gaming performance ever seen on an Android device.
In reality, and as expected of a handset in this segment, the Black Shark keeps a consistently high frame rate across demanding games such as Asphalt 8, NBA 2K18, and PUBG Mobile. The detachable Shark GamePad controller should also come in handy when playing in landscape orientation and is compatible with many popular games today.
Furthermore, the Black Shark is fitted with a special cooling system inside that, per the company, allows it to run by up to eight degrees cooler, which is a big deal, because heavy gaming sessions can cause so much stress on the processor and graphics chip. My unit doesn’t get too hot, and neither does it show any effects of thermal throttling after three hours of nonstop gaming.
The Black Shark is fitted with a special cooling system, and it shows. My unit doesn’t get too hot, and neither does it show any effects of thermal throttling even after about three hours of nonstop gaming.
Running Android Oreo based on Black Shark’s Joy user interface, the phone feels incredibly responsive and fast outside of gaming. This is also partly because the custom UI is close to the vanilla Android software of the Xiaomi Mi A1, with only a handful of customizations to the OS. Most of these customizations are present to make playing games on the Black Shark more enjoyable and to make the home screen feel less cluttered with apps you probably won’t need.
Just to give you an idea of how the Xiaomi Black Shark’s UI looks
To wit: The Black Shark comes preinstalled with the Shark Space application, which is similar to Apple’s Game Center app and Google’s Play Games for Android. You can quickly access it by pressing a dedicated button along the edge of the handset.
Activating it closes all apps running in the background and clears system resources to improve gaming performance. Do keep in mind, however, that you’ll have to manually activate games installed on the Black Shark within the Shark Space app, and that running it will prevent all calls, notifications, and alerts from showing up on the screen.
Screenshots of Xiaomi Black Shark’s Shark Space application, which you can quickly access…
Offering a zippy and fantastic experience overall, the Snapdragon 845 is definitely among the best processors you can get on a mobile phone today. The Black Shark’s Antutu Benchmark score reflects this as well; the phone got 270,321 points. That’s the highest I’ve seen on an Android device. For comparison, the most points awarded to my comparably specced Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S unit was in the 269,000 mark.
The Black Shark supports 12 different LTE bands. It’s only sold within China (at least for now), so that’s fine. Black Shark has yet to announce retail plans outside of the Chinese market, anyway.
Both SIM card slots have LTE connectivity, and switching from one SIM to the other for mobile data is straightforward and works well. And because this phone supports carrier aggregation on LTE-Advanced or LTE-A connections, you should experience speedier downloads and internet browsing when connected to compatible networks.
Other connectivity features include Wi-Fi Direct; wireless screen mirroring over the Miracast protocol; Bluetooth 5.0; and GPS with GLONASS compatibility.
As with many Xiaomi phones these days, the Black Shark features a dual-camera arrangement at the back. The setup comprises 12- and 20-megapixel cameras with large pixel sizes and f/1.75 aperture lenses. The selfie camera is 20 megapixels and comes with f/2.2 aperture.
Having said that, the Black Shark gives the impression that it’s pretty good for taking pictures as well. It is, as shown in these sample images.
Sample photos (including selfies) captured on the Xiaomi Black Shark
This phone indeed packs a punch, so having a 4,000mAh battery will help in giving users sufficient time to play games on the go. However, I did notice that its battery drains a bit quicker than the 3,400mAh pack inside the Mi Mix 2S. I got an average of around 10 hours of screen-on time with these two phones in spite of the significant difference in battery capacities.
The Black Shark nails the look and performance of a gaming phone. It has fairly good cameras on both sides, too, making it an excellent daily driver for those who are not super concerned about playing games on their phones. But as a handheld gaming device that’s also a phone (or vice versa), you can do no better.
Xiaomi Black Shark gaming-phone specs
- 6-inch LCD display, 2,160 x 1,080 resolution (18:9)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor
- 6GB/8GB RAM
- 64GB/128GB expandable storage
- 20-megapixel + 12-megapixel rear cameras with dual-LED flash
- 20-megapixel front camera
- Fingerprint reader (front-mounted)
- 4,000mAh battery
- Android 8.0 Oreo
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