Gaming phones are a niche category, but since mobile gaming is likely to become a billion dollar business in the near future, some companies hope to take the lead early on. The Black Shark supported by Xiaomi is one of them and now wants to expand its influence with its third offering, the Black Shark 2. It has all the features of a great gaming phone like a flagship processor and an aggressive design with RGB lighting effects, gaming centered features, superior cooling and more. But is the Black Shark 2 the best option for mobile gaming enthusiasts? How well can it compete with other playful options on the market? Most importantly, it's worth peeling Rs out. 39,999 for? Read on to find the answers in our Black Shark 2 review.
Black Shark 2 design
The Black Shark 2 is a distinctive mobile phone for gamers thanks to its curved edges and aggressive style. It has a solid anodized metal housing with a satin finish. The sloping contours of the predecessor are still there, but more subtle. The monotony is broken by glass inserts, which not only give it a special appearance, but also have a functional value, since the X-shaped antenna is below it for better network reception.
The matte surface of the metal parts feels pleasant, but the shiny areas quickly smear. A neat design touch is the light vertical hump in the middle, which prevents the glass-coated area from touching the surface on which it lies and protects it from scratches. The Black Shark 2 feels solid, but does not have IP certification to protect against accidental contact with liquids.
The illuminated Black Shark logo sits exactly in the middle. There is an LED strip on both sides which, like the backlit logo, serves as a notification indicator and can be configured to light up or pulsate in different colors or patterns while playing.
The Black Shark 2 is characterized by the elegant profile of the phone and the clear design of the back. The Black Shark 2 is available in the color variants Frozen Silver and Shadow Black. We have the latter for review and we think it looks better with this reserved color scheme.
The on / off switch and the Shark button to access the Shark Space are on the right, while the volume rocker is on the left. The top is empty, while the bottom houses the USB Type-C connector and the double nano-SIM compartment. It should be noted that the Black Shark 2 does not allow memory expansion, so buyers have to choose between the basic memory variant 8 GB RAM + 128 GB at the price of Rs. 39,999 and the higher 12 GB RAM + 256 GB memory variant, which costs Rs. 49,999.
There is no 3.5mm headphone jack, which is disappointing, but this is somewhat offset by two front-facing stereo speakers. The Black Shark 2 is larger and thinner than its predecessor, but at 205g, it's not the lightest phone to carry around. Its ergonomics will satisfy the target audience, who mainly use it in landscape format for games, but one-handed operation is a problem due to its size and size.
Black Shark 2 software
Instead of using flashy design elements with neon accents that represent the customization tools for monkey PC games, the Black Shark 2 features a lightweight, custom skin called Joy UI, which is basically a standard Android without bloatware is. The only noticeable difference is the addition of game dock and light settings in the phone's Settings app, as well as some additional tools that focus on games.
The software of the Black Shark 2 is clean and represents a drastic improvement over the bad user interface of the predecessor. Joy UI's new avatar will certainly appeal to Android purists. Our test device released the security patch for May. The most notable UI element is Shark Space, which can only be activated with the dedicated Shark key. Shark Space is the gaming hub of the phone, in which all installed games are cataloged and thus act as a dedicated game launcher.
Enabling this mode automatically clears the phone's memory, stops network activity in the background, and blocks notifications, paving the way for an uninterrupted gaming session. It also acts as a connection node and calibration center for the wireless controls sold separately by Black Shark.
Swiping diagonally inward from a top left or right corner in a game opens the Game Dock, which gives you quick access to the controls for notifications, CPU usage, battery statistics, and other optimization settings.
The main attraction is the Gamer Studio area in the Game Dock, where the most important tools for games are located. This is divided into sections for performance, display, touch, and audio, to name a few. In the power settings you can choose between five power levels, the fifth being called Ludicrous mode. Not surprisingly, the higher power levels result in faster battery drain and heat up the phone fairly quickly.
There's also an option to adjust CPU and GPU usage and even toggle to override the standard thermal controls and improve performance. Game HDR mode can be activated in the display settings for better contrast and optimized brightness. It is also possible to manually adjust the hue, saturation, contrast and sharpness of the display.
You can check the signal strength and network latency in the network area of Gamer Studio. You can also check the processor utilization and frequency with which the large and small cores of the Snapdragon 855 work at any time in real time.
Black Shark 2 performance, games and accessories
The Black Shark 2 offers an AMOLED display with 6.39 inches Full HD + (1080 x 2340 pixels), an aspect ratio of 19.5: 9 and 430 nits of peak brightness. The low latency HDR panel is said to have an industry leading response time of only 43.5 milliseconds and is also pressure sensitive.
The display delivers vivid colors and the viewing angles are also good. The brightness is also satisfactory because there were no problems using this phone outdoors. However, the changes made to the display by the game presets are not easily recognizable in daylight. There are a variety of modes such as Nature, Cinema, Super Cinema and True View that automatically adjust the color profile to the ambient light conditions.
Low latency and pressure sensitivity may not sound like particularly useful features, but we have noticed a difference in certain games. Are they really useful? Certainly. Take shooting games like Modern Combat 5 and PUBG Mobile, for example, where a faster trigger response is crucial. So a shorter response time means that players have a higher chance of performing actions like shooting bullets at opponents and then winning a match.
Another useful feature in Game Dock is Master Touch, which eliminates the need for users to tap small onscreen buttons. Players can set a large area of the screen for a specific command in the game. For example, you can tap the empty space on the left half of the screen to throw bullets at the opponents and the right half to quickly pull out the scope.
You can also adjust the pressure sensitivity and intensity of haptic feedback, but there are some limitations. The Master Touch function cannot be used for games played in portrait mode. Games based on swipe gestures like Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat won't benefit much from the Master Touch feature.
In terms of performance, this Snapdragon 855-enabled phone can effortlessly do whatever you do. The Black Shark 2 has proven itself in all application scenarios, whether it is multitasking games or graphics-intensive games. All compatible games ran without problems with their top graphics and performance settings. In the case of PUBG Mobile, the Black Shark 2 delivered a buttery smooth experience, with the graphics set to HDR and the frame rate set to extremes.
The Liquid Cooling 3.0 system makes a commendable contribution to keeping the phone cool while gaming. We noticed an average temperature rise of 4-6 degrees while playing graphic-intensive games for 30-45 minutes, but the temperature never exceeded 36 degrees and the phone didn't get uncomfortably warm.
With Ludicrous mode, which maximizes CPU and GPU settings and disables thermal throttling, the peak temperature rose to 42 degrees Celsius after a 40-minute session. In such scenarios, the area around the camera became quite hot and made using the phone difficult.
In practice, there is little difference in game quality when using Auto and Ludicrous modes. We have a constant 60 fps with top graphics settings in PUBG Mobile and 30 fps in Asphalt 9 without entering Shark Space.
Even when Ludicrous mode was enabled and CPU and GPU usage was at its maximum, the frame rate remained the same. However, the slight performance impairment is noticeable in the synthetic benchmark scores.
The Black Shark 2 scored 3,550 points in Geekbench 4's single core test, while the multi-core test was 10,143 points. By running the test with Ludicrous mode enabled, the multi-core tally was slightly increased to 11,077. In AnTuTu, the Black Shark 2 scored a remarkable 299,621 points and reached 312,745 in Ludicrous mode. GFXBench's T-Rex and Manhattan 3.1 tests delivered 60 fps and 57 fps, respectively.
Black Shark also sells the Black Shark 2.0 gamepad, which can be used like a console controller or the same way as the Nintendo Joy-Con controllers by separating the two halves. The company also offers a protective cover that allows users to attach the two halves of the gamepad to the phone ends and play on them like on a Nintendo Switch.
Each half of the Black Shark 2.0 gamepad is separately paired with the phone via Bluetooth and can be configured relatively easily. The real gaming experience, however, is a mixed bag. On a positive note, the gamepad is relatively light, compact and easy to grip. The shoulder triggers, directional buttons and action buttons (X, Y, A and B) gave decent tactile feedback.
On the other hand, the gamepad felt a little slow when you registered inputs, and it takes some time to remember which buttons are assigned to the functions of each game. The joystick worked fine in most games, but the touchpad turned out to be somewhat irregular. If you are used to the Sony DualShock or Xbox One controllers, the buttons on the gamepad of the Black Shark 2 look a bit too small and rigid.
The phone's two front stereo speakers can get very loud and offer a decent sound profile with minimal distortion even at high volume. Their position ensures that there is no muffled or one-sided output, as is the case with most phones that have a single floor-triggered speaker.
The fingerprint sensor on the Black Shark 2's display takes about a second to unlock the phone, and while it's not the fastest module we've used so far, we haven't had any issues with accuracy.
Black Shark 2 cameras and battery life
The Black Shark 2 contains a 48-megapixel main snapper with an aperture of 1: 1.75, with which 12-megapixel photos can be taken in pixel bins. It is supported by a secondary 12-megapixel camera with a telephoto lens and an aperture of 1: 2.2. On the front there is a 20 megapixel camera with an aperture of 1: 2.0. This is a little overwhelming for a phone that costs north of Rs. 40,000.
The same applies to the phone's camera software. You only get HDR, portrait mode, a slow motion mode with a maximum of 120 frames per second and many beautification tools. There is no special night mode and none of the fancy camera functions that you can use on mobile phones like the Redmi K20. This costs almost half the performance of the Black Shark 2. There is no OIS and even Full HD videos are played at a maximum of 30 frames per second. In addition, despite the packaging of a 48-megapixel camera, you cannot take photos with the full 48-megapixel resolution.
In daylight, the Black Shark 2 takes razor-sharp photos with good contrast. The photos look pleasant on the phone screen, but a closer look at a larger display shows color accuracy and exposure problems. For long range shots, the phone has done a satisfactory job in most cases to keep the peripheral elements intact. However, the dynamic range turned out to be weak and this only deteriorates when the light diminishes.
Macro shots have kept a healthy amount of surface detail, but if you're a fan of natural colors, oversaturation will disappoint you. Switching off the AI mode helps a little with the color reproduction. In a direct comparison with Pixel 3, we found that the macro shots taken by Black Shark 2 were less sharp and not as detailed.
In portrait mode, the phone did a good job of highlighting the focused object, but the bokeh effect was inconsistent and edge detection was also a success or failure. Portrait photos looked bright, but there was some smoothing. In low light conditions, the phone had major problems and produced photos with a lot of noise, grainy texture and minimal sharpness.
The front snapper captures bright selfies that are worth sharing on social media. The focus is mainly on the skin and skin textures are neutral, but there isn't much background detail, and features like facial hair and pores are also softened. Self-portraits show good motif separation in good lighting conditions, but they appear grainy in poor lighting conditions and have subdued colors.
The battery life of the 4,000 mAh battery in the Black Shark 2 lasts for a whole day. While it was used as our daily driver for regular productivity tasks and playing graphics-intensive games for 90 to 120 minutes, the phone still had about 10 to 15 percent juice left at the end of the day.
However, if you want more game time while the gameplay settings are set to the maximum level, you can expect the battery life to decrease significantly. In our HD video battery loop test, the Black Shark 2 lasted 11 hours and 9 minutes, which is below average. Fortunately, the phone supports fast 27W charging, and the included charger takes the battery from zero to 60 percent in just half an hour. It took approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes to fully charge.
The Black Shark 2 delivers what it promises – excellent gaming performance. The phone can handle any game with ease and offers many features that enhance the gaming experience. It has a solid workmanship and the RGB lighting and the aggressive design also make it stand out from the crowd.
However, the phone's cameras can at best be described as average, and the battery life isn't particularly long either. These are two important factors that shoppers should consider before making a call, and they are questioning the value of the Black Shark 2.
In addition, this phone feels a little overpriced compared to a rival like the Nubia Red Magic 3 (Review). And when you are ready to spend Rs. 40,000 offer the OnePlus 7 Pro (test), the Redmi K20 Pro (test), the Oppo Reno 10X Zoom Edition (test) or the Asus 6Z (test) a much better price-performance ratio, without sacrificing camera quality and Overall performance. Yes, you'll miss the game-centered features and eye-catching yet enjoyable RGB lighting effects, but you'll get a much better overall package.
Ultimately, the Black Shark 2 is aimed at a user group that will acquire it due to its skill level and personality. Because of these parameters, it could be an interesting choice for many people.