Xiaomi Black Shark Review

Xiaomi Black Shark

Xiaomi Black Shark

Xiaomi

April, 2018
5.99" display, Snapdragon 845 chipset, Dual: 12 MP + 20 MP primary camera, 20 MP front camera, 4000 mAh battery, 128 GB storage, 8 GB RAM.
EUR:€400
Rate It:User Rating: (Good)


Xiaomi Black Shark Review

Xiaomi Black Shark Review


Introduction

Mobile gaming has been extremely popular in recent times, with top games like PUBG and Fortnite launching their mobile editions. All of this mobile gaming hype has paved a way for smartphone manufacturers to consider another market for their smartphones which focuses solely on gaming. We have seen Razer introducing their gaming smartphone, one which started this gaming revolution in smartphone industry, and following suit now is Xiaomi. With a deal signed with a Chinese gaming company, Xiaomi has entered smartphone gaming market and launched their first ever gaming smartphone, Xiaomi Black Shark. As Razer phone couldn't live up to the expectation and could not penetrate into smartphone market, does Xiaomi Black Shark has the formula to be a success or is it just another Razer phone? Let's find out.

Design

Given it's gaming nature, you won't be expecting this phone to be as sleek or stylish as an Apple iPhone X or a Samsung Galaxy S9. Xiaomi Black Shark's main color theme is black with gamer green accents all over device. Phone looks rugged at first look and truth be told, it is a solid device.

At front, phone looks similar to OnePlus 5, however bezels on top and bottom of this device are smaller. There's a home button on bottom bezel which also acts as a fingerprint scanner. To right and left side of home button, you will find capacitive buttons for recent apps and return functions. These buttons don't light up when touched, and personally, I believe that is a great design decision by Xiaomi, given that it is a gaming phone. On top bezel, you'll find a front facing camera and rest of area is blacked out, giving this phone a stealthy look.

Back of this phone is made of plastic and there is a very prominent gaming theme going on. At top, you'll find a dual camera setup which is placed pretty much in middle. Both camera sensors and LED flash together with a mic are housed inside a black plastic panel which fits right into the body of phone. Panel is flushed as well, so you won't find any uncomfortable bulge and phone won't shake while sitting on a smooth surface. Going a little lower, there's a V shaped design which does creates a small bulge. You'll find Shark branding in middle of this phone, which is accented with gamer green color, giving it a very stealthy, gamer look. Below that is another V design bulge rotated upside down and all of this is enclosed within an area accented with gamer green color at border. When you look closely, you'll find a pattern of small triangles printed inside that enclosed area, which shows that Xiaomi put a lot of thought in giving this phone as much detail possible, something Razer Phone clearly lacked.

At right side of phone is where power button and volume keys are located. Finish on these buttons is metal so that gives a premium feel to device. On left, you'll find a sim tray slot and a 'Shark Space' button which activates gaming mode on this phone. Bottom of this phone is where you will find stereo speakers and USB Type-C port which is also accented with gamer green. Sadly, there is no 3.5 mm headphone jack or waterproofing to be found on this phone.

Quite frankly, this is first gaming smartphone which is built and made to look like a gaming device. It's solid, rugged and attention to details is just impressive.

Display

Display on Xiaomi Black Shark is a 5.99 inch IPS LCD Full HD+ panel with a resolution of 1080x2160p, 18:9 aspect ratio and pixel density of 403 ppi. It also features a 97% DCI-P3 coverage which means that you get maximum area of touch while playing your favorite games on this phone.

Biggest talking point of this display is the fact that it does not have a 120 Hertz display which is found on Razer Phone. A lot of games these days come with high frame rate support and with a 30 Hertz display, all details and fluidity of games cannot be demonstrated to users. This may also become an important deal breaker for many gaming users, as they would like their gaming smartphone to have a 120 Hertz display. Also, it is a Full HD+ display and while some might say Quad HD resolution would have been better, Full HD gives less strain on battery life without losing much detail in pictures and graphics.

Other than that, it is a Full HD+ panel and got a larger aspect ratio than Razer Phone. This makes Xiaomi Black Shark look modern and gives it an edge over Razer Phone. Colors look bright and punchy even when this is not an OLED display and while playing some games, I did not notice any lag on screen, even when game was extremely graphic oriented. For protection, Xiaomi has used a 2.5D curved glass, however, they have not revealed whether it is Gorilla Glass protected or not.

Xiaomi has done a good job with display and even when it lacks a higher resolution or a higher refresh rate, it is more than good enough for most users to enjoy gaming on this powerful device.

Hardware

For a gaming smartphone, hardware selection is very crucial as it is what powers entire gaming experience and Xiaomi Black Shark is not shy about boasting top of the line specs for its hardware. Phone is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and Adreno 630 GPU, coupled with either 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB of onboard storage or 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. What this means is that you are getting best hardware combination available in smartphone market at the moment.

Very first gaming smartphone from Xiaomi has highest benchmark score on Antutu for Android (270.680), beating OnePlus 5T's (212.558). During my performance test, phone performed extremely fast in almost all conditions. Games of all sorts, including GTA and PUBG ran absolutely smooth with almost zero lag. While gaming for long hours, my concern was that this phone will heat up and start to lag, but even when I could feel a bit of warmth at back, there were no problems running games smoothly on this phone. This has been possible due to Xiaomi's innovation as they have provided true liquid cooling inside this smartphone, which is a first on any mobile device. Liquid cooling keeps temperature 7 degrees below normal cooling and that enables users to enjoy more game time without making their phone heat up and turn off.

To help enhance gaming experience, Xiaomi has launched a Black Shark Gamepad, which can be attached to phone and has a 340mAh battery of its own. Gamepad connects through Bluetooth and makes it a little easier to control many mobile games. First 50,000 buyers get this gamepad for free and rest of them would have to spend around $20 to get their hands on this gamepad. It is a great addition to this gaming device by Xiaomi, however, we'll have to see how many games end up supporting it.

Phone comes with plenty of storage if you're going for 128 GB variant, however, if you would want to have excess memory, you will not find a microSD card slot on this phone. This might become an issue for some users as games can take a lot of space and Xiaomi Black Shark's competitor, Razer Phone, does support storage expansion via microSD. Phone does support Bluetooth5.0, A2DP and aptX HD codecs for better gaming though. For charging and data transfer, you get a USB Type-C port which will also be used for your music needs as there's no 3.5 mm headphone jack to be found on this phone. Phone also features active noise cancellation with dedicated mic for better call quality.

As a whole, Xiaomi Black Shark's hardware is one to compete with. It is powerful, delivers solid performance and truly makes this phone a gaming smartphone.

Battery

Xiaomi Black Shark comes with a huge 4000 mAh battery which supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 1.0. Being a gaming device, Xiaomi had to make sure users enjoy gaming for long time periods and having a huge capacity is a good start.

During my test, I could game for around 4 hours non-stop before phone would die. That isn't a great screen-on time as phones these days give as much as 7 hours of screen-on time, but given this phone's gaming nature, even 4 hours is not bad. Charging this device isn't fastest, however, as it only supports Quick Charge 1.0, as compared to Razer Phone's Quick Charge 3.0. It takes around 2 hours for this phone to charge from 0 to 100% and for a gaming phone, that is impressive.

Camera

Xiaomi's Black Shark carries a dual camera setup at its back, with combination of 12 MP + 20 MP sensors, both having an f/1.8 aperture. It's an impressive camera setup on a gaming device, as camera is not a focal point for gamers.

While testing, I noticed that image quality of photos taken with this device was surprisingly good. Colors were accurate and saturation was on point in most scenes. Colors are more towards warmer side though, as when compared to pictures taken from Apple iPhone X, there was a clear difference in color temperature. Photos taken with Apple iPhone X were much more towards cooler color side. During daylight shoots, camera performed exceptionally well, and portrait shots were crisp, with accurate blurring of background. In low light setting, however, camera struggled to take amazing photos and there was grain in most photos I took. You get a 2x zoom option and when activating it, you won't find a great loss in detail, thanks to 20 MP sensor which captures a lot of detail.

Camera on Xiaomi Black Shark is capable of shooting videos up to 4K at 60 fps. Videos taken with this phone had lots of detail, however, due to lack of Optical Image Stabilization, they came out pretty shaky, especially while recording in 4K. Camera app is simple with basic shooting modes and its clearly seen that Xiaomi's main focus on this device was definitely not camera.

On front, it has a massive 20 MP selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture. Camera offers amazing selfies and it presents a flash that enables you to take wonderful photos even in low light conditions. You can also record videos up to 1080p and results are pretty good.

Overall, it's a good camera on a gaming phone, certainly better than Razer Phone's. It captures good amount of detail and dual camera setup takes good portraits. It does not have features which you would see on other smartphones, but this is a gaming device and for most gamers, it offers enough of camera power to satisfy their needs.

Software

Xiaomi Black Shark is running Android 8.0 Oreo with a custom OS “Joy UI” on top. This is not MIUI as it is much cleaner and closer to stock Android with some modifications. Overall theme of this phone is black and green, and even settings menu has a black background, as compared to MIUI's white background.

While using this phone, I did not feel that there was any lag in software. Animations were smooth and there was very less bloatware. Most important and impressive part about this phone's software is its ability to adapt to gaming conditions. On right side of this phone, there's a button called 'Shark Key' which activates Shark Space, or in simple words, gaming mode on this device. Its main purpose is to enter special game mode in which all enclosed games will be comprised in this phone and will be shown in a horizontal view. This is very much alike to display style of Nintendo devices. Furthermore, it will be founded on users' favorite games, thus, users could set which games they like to play and comprise them in this mode. In 'Shark' mode, you can see that Home button is mildly shifted from top to bottom to activate a Dock bar. Here you will be able to see CPU /GPU's resource load and some particular functions of this switch. These include 'anti-missing' and 'do not Interference' modes, announcement blocking, and background cleanup features. What this means is that you will be able to enjoy an interference free experience while gaming.

Overall, it is a simple, yet interactive software which fits right into gaming smartphone spot. It is not overly bloated, yet carries features to enhance gaming experience.

Conclusion

Xiaomi Black Shark is priced at 2999 Yuan ($479) for 6GB RAM/64GB internal storage model, and 3499 Yuan (around $559) for 8GB RAM/128GB version. Controller can be picked up separately for 179 Yuan (~$29). Phone will go on sale in China in two colors, Polar Night and Sky Gray, but wider availability details are not yet known.

It is a phone that will most definitely excite mobile gaming enthusiasts with its excellent gamer-like build and powerful specs. Having most powerful Snapdragon chipset available right now with ample RAM, Xiaomi Black Shark proves to be a heavy hitter and a device to reckon. It has ability to even challenge OnePlus 5T, as it already scored more on benchmark scores. Xiaomi has given a lot of importance to details on this phone, something which was not seen on Razer Phone and that certainly sets this device apart, making it a true gamer's smartphone. Most importantly, gaming on this device is excellent and with Black Shark gamepad, it gives users a new way to interact with mobile games.

It doesn't come without its faults though. It does not have expandable memory via MicroSD card slot, nor does it support a 3.5 mm audio jack. You won't find Corning Gorilla Glass protection for screen and phone does not have water & dust resistance. You will also miss out on NFC and temperature sensor on this device and for some users, lack of Optical Image Stabilization in camera will be an issue. Even with all these cons, one has to wonder whether this phone was intended for everyone, and answer is no.

This is a phone, made for gamers, by gamers and will not please everyone. It provides everything a mobile gamer cares about, ranging from performance and gamer looks, and in my opinion, this is the best looking and performing gaming smartphone available in market at the moment.