Review Xiaomi Black Shark in the test – just a gaming smartphone? (Global Version for $499.99)
Not that Xiaomi has already released some smartphones this year (keywords: Xiaomi Mi 8, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S & Xiaomi Redmi Note 5). No, apparently you also want to target the gaming smartphone market. Aside from Pioneer Razer, Nubia, Asus and now also Xiaomi are trying to gain a foothold in this new niche. Can the Black Shark also prove itself as an everyday flagship, or is it “just” a gaming phone?
- Xiaomi Black Shark Global Version
- Xiaomi Black Shark China Version
- Gamepad at JoyBuy for $27.57 | Geekbuying for $44.99
|Display||5.99 inch 18:9 2160×1080 Full HD+ IPS LCD (403 PPI)|
|Processor||Snapdragon 845 Octa Core @ 2.8 GHz & 1.8 GHz|
|Graphics chip||Adreno 630 @ 710 MHz|
|Memory||6 GB / 8 GB LPDDR4X Dual Channel|
|Internal memory||64 GB / 128 GB / 256 GB|
|Main camera||dual camera 12 MP & 20 MP with f/1.75 f-stop & dual-tone flash|
|Front camera||20 MP with f/2.2 aperture|
|Battery||4,000 mAh with Qualcomm QuickCharge 3.0|
|Connectivity||LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HD, Wlan AC, NFC, GPS/GLONASS, Dual SIM|
|Features||USB type C, headphone jack, water cooling, fingerprint sensor|
|Operating system||Joy UI 1.0 (Android 8.0) with security patch February 2018|
|Dimensions / weight||161.62 x 75.4 x 9.25 mm / 190 g|
Eccentric but well thought-out design
The first glance at the back of the Xiaomi Black Shark reveals that it is a gaming phone. The (Razer) green accent stripe and the logo are guaranteed not unnoticeable. From the front, the gamer aesthetic is conveyed by a thin metallic-green stripe and the likewise green shark space slider on the left side. With quite large edges at the top and bottom, a fingerprint sensor at the front and the sensor buttons to the left and right of it, the Black Shark looks more like a 2016 flagship from the front, but this “old” design has the practical reason that you don’t accidentally get the palm of your hand on the display while gaming.
The back was also designed with this gaming idea in mind and has a correspondingly symmetrical layout with pleasantly rounded corners as well as recesses and elevations. They should provide a “storage place” for your index, middle or ring finger and provide a firm grip while playing. Even the choice of materials has been subordinated to the goal of the best possible grip. Therefore the frame is made of sturdy metal, but the middle of the back is made of plastic, which is covered with many small triangles. You feel them too and they should also give more grip.
Due to the comparatively large edges above and below the display, the Xiaomi Black Shark has become exceptionally long. Despite the same screen size (5.99 inch), the Black Shark (161.62 mm) is another 5.5 mm longer than my OnePlus 5T. The width of 75.4 mm is normal again and the thickness of 9.25 mm is also OK with a 4,000 mAh battery.
During the processing one notices that Xiaomi had his fingers in the game here, because this is as always without mistakes. Neither buttons, slider nor SIM slot wobble and the slider even has a rougher texture to prevent slipping when switching on the “Shark Space”.
So if you don’t have a problem with the “gamer green” or if you even like it, you get a well thought-out gaming phone that definitely stands out from the crowd.
Our brightest display yet
Xiaomi provides the Black Shark with a 5.99-inch IPS LCD with an aspect ratio of 18:9 (2:1). The size and FullHD+ resolution of 2160 x 1080 pixels results in a pixel density of 403 PPI, which is now standard. Right at the beginning you will notice the high brightness and the high color saturation for an LCD. Even on the current sunny days, there are no problems with the display when reading outdoors. Even the very bright Mi Mix 2S is slightly trumped. Contrast and viewing angle stability are also convincing.
Even if I like the colors in the preset Cinema-Mode, you can change them if necessary. Three different modes are available in the options: Cinema Mode, Natural Mode and Eye Care Mode. Eye care mode is a classic night mode that is strongly reddish or yellowish to protect your eyes.. A “Super cinema mode” is also available and should provide better frame rates and thus lead to a better gaming experience. But I didn’t notice any difference in screen performance either in gaming or in everyday life.
Speaking of frame rates, I would also like to mention that the Black Shark has a normal 60Hz screen and no “super-fluid” 120Hz display like the Razer Phone. But this would have driven up the price considerably and only makes sense for a few mobile games. In addition, the display also reacts directly and quickly to my inputs at 60Hz.
All in all I like the display with its terrific brightness and it even rejects fingerprints better than other smartphones.
Does “water cooling” help?
There are no excuses for performance – a gaming phone has to score here. The Black Shark comes with the right equipment for this. The CPU is, of course, the Snapdragon 845 Octa Core processor. It works with four Kyro 385 Gold cores at 2.8 GHz and four Kyro 385 Silver cores at 1.7 GHz. The Adreno 630 GPU at 710 MHz provides the corresponding graphics power. Those who expected a faster clock rate of the SD845, as with the Asus ROG Phone, will unfortunately be disappointed. Nevertheless, the Black Shark delivers and sets the previous AnTuTu record of the OnePlus 6 with an impressive 290,439 points!
The results in the other benchmarks also show that the Black Shark is a flagship. The optional 6 or 8 GB LPDDR4X memory is very fast with approx. 13 GB/s and also the mass memory ensures smooth operation thanks to 600 MB/s read speed. From this fast UFS 2.1 standard memory you get either 64 GB or 128 GB, which is unfortunately not expandable. Especially with a gaming smartphone, memory expansion is a must in my opinion. After all, modern games like to be around 2 GB in size.
The much advertised “water cooling” is only a liquid that should cool the processor better. Of course, this has nothing to do with water cooling as you know it from PCs. But even the liquid could not prevent the thermal throttling. However, I have to say to Xiaomi’s defense that it is currently between 32 and 35 degrees in the office. Under more normal conditions, there’s definitely more in here. This resulted in a power loss of approx. 30% in a continuous test over 15 minutes.
Nevertheless, one notices in everyday life: The Black Shark is one of the strongest smartphones we have tested so far. Games like Asphalt 8, NFS and PUBG Mobile run absolutely smoothly even at the highest settings. And when it is a little colder again, the “water cooling” will also be able to align more.
JoyUI: MIUI in a gaming disguise
JoyUI 1.0 is the operating system used here and is based on Android 8.0. I would have wished for Android 8.1 for a 2018 flagship and a newer security patch than February 2018. However, Xiaomi has always been and is very reliable with its MIUI operating system when it comes to good update support, which is why I still have hope here. MIUI is already the keyword, because who has ever had a Xiaomi-Smartphone with MIUI in his hands, will quickly find his way on the Black Shark. Basically JoyUI is “just” MIUI with some design adjustments and extra gaming features.
We still have the Chinese version for testing, but there is now also a Global Version, which I would highly recommend to you, as Play Store etc. is directly available there and the whole software can also be set to different languages. This allows you to set a Smart Dock to open when you stroke the fingerprint sensor from right to left (or vice versa). There the current playing music is displayed and you can store your most used apps.
The same movement opens a small menu in a game with Shark Space activated. You can block the sensor keys, switch on the night mode and clean up the memory. Shark Space is a special gaming mode that even has its own slider. In this mode, notifications and calls are blocked and the smartphone runs at full power, which is only used for the games.
If Xiaomi makes up for updates and then runs a similar policy to MIUI, JoyUI is a good operating system with useful additions. Without continuous updates I prefer a MIUI flagship like the Mi 8.
Xiaomi Black Shark: Install Play Store
Anyone who has ever used a Chinese version of a Xiaomi smartphone knows the process. Just go to the App Store (green icon) and search for “Google”. Then go to the results page and click on the blue Baidu symbol. There you will find the Play Services Installer and install it. Then just open it and click on the big button below. After a few seconds you will have all Google Play Services and of course the Play Store.
Good camera despite gaming focus
Although Xiaomi is initially aimed at gamers, the cameras are also convincing. These consist of a main camera with 12 MP, an f/1.75 large aperture and 1.25μm large pixels. The secondary camera is used only for portrait depth of field blur and offers 20 MP with an f/1.75 f-stop and 1.0μm pixels. The cameras are supported by a dual-tone flash and electronic image stabilization. The exact sensors are unfortunately not known.
The results from the 12 MP camera are really impressive. Especially the good color accuracy surprised me with a gaming smartphone, because I expected oversaturated colors and an exaggerated contrast. Admittedly, this is also the case with some (automatic) HDR recordings (2nd image), but generally the colours, contrast and sharpness of detail can at least keep up with my OnePlus 5T. Low-light images are not the strength of the black shark, but they are well brightened and sharpness and details are still in order.
Front Camera / Selfie Camera
In front then a little disappointment after the good main camera. But first to the hardware: a 20 megapixel sensor with a f/2.2 small aperture and 1.0μm large pixels should ensure good photos. Unfortunately the selfies, whether with HDR (left) or without (middle), lack sharpness and details. Especially bright surfaces like a sunny sky seem to cause problems for the camera. If you are a bit more in the shade (right) the photos will be better, but still not sharp. Despite the 20 MP sensor you only get 5 MP images, because the software apparently combines 4 images into one.
Solid 11 hours battery life
Through a combination of obviously good software optimization and a 4,000 mAh battery, the Black Shark achieves a good 11 hours in the PCMark Work 2.0 Battery Life Test. Sure, a Redmi Note 5 lasts another 1 hour and 45 minutes longer with the same battery, but also has a more energy-saving processor. So if you’re not just gaming, you can use the Black Shark for two days without recharging.
Fortunately, charging the battery is then very fast. In only 30 minutes you reach 48% and after 60 minutes 88%. A full charge to 100% only takes a short 90 minutes. During the loading times I felt strongly reminded of the OnePlus Dash Charge technique. However, Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 is then used. Of course, the adapter is included.
Now also with the usual LTE bands
Again the hint that there is now a Global Version with LTE support, but we have tested the Chinese version without it.
Xiaomi especially promotes the X-shaped antennas, which should guarantee good reception, no matter how you hold your smartphone. I don’t know if this is due to the special arrangement, but the reception was always excellent. In more rural areas you might have to do without LTE speeds with the Chinese version, but luckily Xiaomi has already improved it here. Phone calls were clear for both sides and the speaker mode can almost be used for conferences at its volume. Unfortunately neither VoLTE nor WiFi calling is supported.
The addressed speaker also uses the auricle as a second channel for stereo sound, which can be heard. So even if the lower speaker is blocked by the hand, you still have some sound. Next to the main speaker is the green USB-C port, but unfortunately no headphone jack. As with the memory expansion, I would have liked a jack output for a gaming smartphone. Of course, an adapter is included.
WLAN is very fast thanks to 2×2 MIMO technology (use 2 antennas simultaneously), provided the router already supports the technology. WLAN 802.11 ac is of course also on board. Furthermore, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptxHD support and good GPS/GLONASS/Beidu support are also available. The SIM slot can hold two Nano cards simultaneously.
Gamepad, Face Unlock and a Bumper
The standard extras the Black Shark brings along and implements them well. There is a fingerprint sensor, face unlock and a notification LED. The fingerprint sensor is located on the front below the display, which will be a rarity in 2018. It works absolutely reliable and fast, as you are used to with Xiaomi phones. Two sensor keys are hidden to the left and right of the sensor, which do not even light up when you touch them. But you quickly get a feeling where the right “meeting point” is. After a short familiarization period I don’t want to go back to my OnePlus 5T with fingerprint sensor on the back and on-screen buttons, but that’s a matter of taste.
The speed of the Face Unlock can be compared to a Mi 8 (very fast), even if the system is safer and more complicated. The Black Shark simply works with the front camera and therefore cannot see your face in the dark. By the way, you can’t fool Xiaomi with a photo, we tested that.
Accessories are included, but you have to order the actual highlight separately. The gamepad connects to your phone via Bluetooth and offers you a joystick and two shoulder buttons. Just attach the supplied bumper case to the Black Shark and push the pad “up” onto your mobile phone. It snaps in with a clear “click” and thus does not fall off in the heat of an online battle. The integrated 340mAh battery is also charged via USB-C and should last 30 hours.
You can move the shoulder keys and the joystick via software and assign them as you like. In PUBG you have a clear (unfair?) advantage and the playing feeling is clearly improved in my eyes. What such a joystick can do 😀 .
In addition to the plastic bumper case mentioned above, a screen protector, a USB C to jack adapter, a sim needle and of course a charger plus USB C cable are also included.
Conclusion: The Global Version saves the Black Shark
If the Global version hadn’t just been released, I would probably only recommend the Black Shark to absolute hardcore mobile gamers (are you?). Of course a non-global version can’t be an absolute dealbreaker for some, but other flagships (also from Xiaomi) offer this and are at least as good smartphones. Thanks to the Global version, these criticisms are eliminated and the absolute top performance, the good screen, the long battery life and the good main camera are again more important. The missing microSD slot and headphone connection remain negative.
In the end, however, only those who really like the special design and/or want to use the gaming features (gamepad + software) will buy. If these unique selling points are ignored, the Mi 8, Mix 2S or OnePlus 6 are recommended, which are also somewhat cheaper.
What do you think of Xiaomi’s first gaming smartphone?To the gadget