Loud design and sturdy build quality
Improved performance with Extreme Mode
Super clean software
Great battery life
Screen is very inaccurate
Speaker is easily muffled when gaming
Gaming modifications could be improved
Gaming smartphones had a breakthrough in 2018, with multiple renowned companies in the field launching their super-powered handsets. These include the Asus ROG Phone, Razer Phone 2, and today’s review subject, the Xiaomi Black Shark.
Check out the Asus ROG Phone vs. Razer Phone 2 vs. Xiaomi Black Shark to see how the three phones differ. Today we’re focusing on the Xiaomi Black Shark.
This is the most affordable gaming handset of the three, starting at 2,999 yuan (~$434). Xiaomi’s tendency is to bust through industry doors with no regards of the competition, offering top-notch specs, great design, and plenty of features, while undercutting prices by far. Let’s see how well the Xiaomi Black Shark follows this trend.
Design & build quality
Like any gaming product worth its salt, the Xiaomi Black Shark design is bold and shameless. You will know it the minute you lay eyes on it. The device is black with green metal accents, and glass parts along the back. Housed in the rear you can also find the dual cameras (12MP and 20MP), LED flash, Black Shark branding, and a light-up logo surrounded by a textured design.
Around the edges there is another green metal outline, as well as the power and volume buttons along the right, the Shark Space toggle in the left (more on this in the software section), a USB Type-C port towards the lower edge, and the bottom speaker grills.
The front of the device takes a more traditional black slab approach, though. It has a notification light, a 20MP front-facing camera, and a fingerprint reader in the bottom bezel. The reader also works as a home button, and though you can’t see them, two capacitive buttons to its left and right work as the back and overview buttons, accordingly.
The Xiaomi Black Shark will turn heads and satisfy that gamer need to own flashy tech.
This device will turn heads and satisfy that gamer need to own flashy tech. The logo in the back lights up with notifications, which I find pretty darn awesome. Though it is made mostly of plastic and glass, it is the best-built device of the big three gaming handsets.
The Black Shark’s sturdy grippy surface and back recessions will give you a secure grip while gaming. I wish Xiaomi had followed the norm with thinner bezels along the front, but this is a gaming handset. You don’t necessarily expect it to be small or thin. Instead, the Xiaomi Black Shark is solid, unique, and comfortable to hold (at least as much as a rectangular smartphone can be).
The Xiaomi Black Shark sports a 5.99-inch IPS LCD panel with a 2,160 x 1,080 resolution and an 18:9 screen ratio. IPS LCD displays are known for great color accuracy, but the same can’t be said about the Xiaomi Black Shark’s screen. It is very saturated and the blacks are super deep, making the experience seem more like an AMOLED one.
You should look elsewhere if you prioritize accuracy.
In our testing we found even the “Natural Mode” calibration’s color temperature goes up to 8778k, while the ideal one is 6500k. Average color error is also sky high at 7.1 Delta E 2000. This would make it the screen with the second highest average color error we have tested. You should look elsewhere if you prioritize accuracy.
The screen gets pretty bright at almost 560 nits, though. While colors are not that accurate, the image looks good for gaming, with exaggerated colors and deep blacks. The display pops, which further immerses you into the game.
Performance & hardware
Gaming products are all about performance. The Xiaomi Black Shark certainly doesn’t disappoint on paper. Its specs include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, up to 8GB of RAM (6GB if you go for the 64GB storage version), and an Adreno 630 GPU.
The Xiaomi Black Shark is fast, smooth, and will present very few hiccups. The same can be said about any high-end device, though.
This is a powerful device. It is fast, smooth, and had very few hiccups. The same can be said about many high-end devices, though. The Xiaomi Black Shark has other elements to entice gamers.
For starters, an “Extreme Mode” can be turned on while gaming to bring the processor to higher speeds and take better advantage of the phone’s resources. In addition, you can easily clean the RAM to liberate memory. There is a difference when turning it on, but it is minimal. Loading times shorten by like a second or two. Smoothness seems basically equal, at least to the naked eye.
Needless to say Xiaomi's liquid cooling didn't seem to work wonders.
Gaming can make a device really hot, which in turn affects performance. The Xiaomi Black Shark uses a unique liquid cooling system the company claims will reduce temperature by 8 degrees Celsius when compared to traditional all-copper.
This cooling system might get you all hyped up because liquid cooling is the fanciest method for PCs, but it doesn’t quite work the same in this smartphone. The small amount of liquid will start evaporating as its chamber gets hotter, travel to cooler areas, and turn into liquid again.
This allows for better cooling at first, but eventually the chamber will get too hot for the system to work. I managed to cross that point often and the phone got uncomfortably hot. Needless to say it didn’t seem to work wonders.
Those looking for accessories can also enjoy the included gamepad, but it only attaches to one side and has a joystick, as well as two shoulder buttons. It is a nice addition, but I don’t like that it is single-sided. Those looking for something better now have another option.
The company recently announced the Xiaomi Gamepad 2.0, which has extensions to both sides of the phone. The Gamepad 2.0 features a joystick and D-pad on the left side and a touchpad and ABXY buttons on the right side. Both sides feature a trigger button and a triangle-shaped button near the bottom.
All of the buttons are mappable too, giving you a little more flexibility in various games.
Xiaomi Black Shark Specs
|Xiaomi Black Shark|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|RAM||6GB / 8GB|
|Storage||64GB / 128GB|
|Camera||Rear: Dual 12MP / 20MP cameras
Front: 20MP camera
|Software||Android 8.1.0 Oreo|
|Dimensions||161.6 x 75.4 x 9.3mm|
|Colors||Black, gray, and royal blue|
All photos shown in this review are compressed and reduced. Pixel peepers can always check out this Google Drive folder to see the full, uncompressed photos.
For some, a camera can make or break a phone. Many deem it the most important factor in a smartphone. The Xiaomi Black Shark is not for the mobile photographers among you. That is not to say it can’t take some great photos, though. It is a high-end 2018 phone, after all.
Let me tell you right off the bat the Xiaomi Black Shark is not for the mobile photographers among you.
In daylight we get pretty good detail, exposure, and contrast, but the camera fails in some ways. That lame watermark is on by default, so if you are not careful you might end up with some unwanted publicity in your otherwise beautiful shots. I always leave stock settings alone for testing purposes, so I didn’t turn it off — make sure you do!
The dynamic range is also lackluster. Highlights are fine, but a tremendous amount of light is lost in the shadows. Look under the bushes, and you will see a deep darkness. The clock also looks way too under-exposed, even though I set the exposure and focus point to it.
HDR brings out the shadows more, but the results are still underwhelming compared to HDR in the best smartphone cameras. At least there is a way to improve dynamic range, though!
Colors are bright and vibrant as long as they catch the right light. The Coronado sign looked much more saturated in real life, but the environment was a bit darker, as the sun began to set on the other side of the building. Turn to a well-lit store with crocheted dolls and things look much more lively. We do still wish contrast was on the higher side, though.
The shots are well exposed, but we can’t say the Xiaomi Black Shark is great at taking photos in the dark. In both images you can easily tell the shots have been over-softened too much, which results in loss of detail. Not to mention the phone struggles to get white balance right, especially in the first picture.
Portrait mode shots suffer from the same shortcomings as other shots, but I was impressed at how well the camera outlines us to create the bokeh effect. This is something most smartphone cameras miss.
We were both outlined as close to perfect as these phones get, and I happen to like how gradual the bokeh is. This means closer objects look clearer than the farther ones. You can better appreciate this in the second image, where the cannon starts to blur out slowly, as well as the grass.
Xiaomi Black Shark review: Software
Fans of the pure Google experience will love this phone. The UI looks just like that of a Pixel smartphone. Xiaomi didn’t even add its own apps. All its customization options are in the Settings app. The phone’s software really is as clean as it gets.
There are gaming options to be had, though. When in a game you can slide down on the fingerprint reader (in landscape mode) and the Game Dock will slide down from the top, overlaying the game interface. From here you can change gamepad settings, turn Wi-Fi on or off, activate the NoIncall mode, turn NightMode on, and disable the keypad. Hit the more button to turn off notifications, toggle ExtremeMode, clean the RAM, hang up a call, or access more settings.
In addition to the dock, Xiaomi created Shark Space. This mode can be turned on using the physical toggle on the left side of the phone. When activated, the phone will automatically clean the RAM and disable all notifications, calls, and messages, effectively killing all distractions. In addition, the phone will display a clean UI with a list of your games, gamepad settings, gaming stats, and more.
I believe the Xiaomi Black Shark is too simple to be a true gamer's machine
Aside from these discrete additions, Xiaomi did a great job keeping this phone as clean as possible. It is a joy to use, but I would also argue a gaming phone needs more gaming features. The Asus ROG Phone, for example, lets you manage device temperature, CPU and RAM usage, light color modifications, cooling modes, presets, and more.
I believe the Xiaomi Black Shark is too simple to be a true gaming machine. Gamers tend to demand more customization and control over their machines.
The Xiaomi Black Shark sounds good, but it won’t be winning any audio awards. It sounds loud enough to be immersive.
I have to complain about how the phone offers dual speakers but one of them is not front-facing. This is mostly a problem because it’s easy to cover when playing in landscape mode, an orientation nearly every game uses. This results in random muffled sound.
The Xiaomi Black Shark actually did quite well against our battery tests. When playing video continuously at 200 nits, the device was able to last for 735 minutes (12 hours and 15 minutes) before dying. When continuously loading websites, it went for 820 minutes (13 hours and 40 minutes), which is significantly higher than the average 675 (11 hours and 15 minutes).
It starts to die faster when playing, but I never played enough to really see it go from 100 percent to zer0 percent. I’d say it should average at about four to five hours of straight gaming.
Xiaomi Black Shark review: Price and conclusion
Two versions of the Xiaomi Black Shark are available. It starts at just 2,999 yuan (about $434) for the version with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. You can upgrade to the iteration with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage for 3,499 yuan (about $508).
Gamers looking for the most bang for their buck need look nowhere else. Hell, even non-gamers will probably find this phone an amazing deal considering the specs. However, there is one huge caveat — Xiaomi devices aren’t exactly easy to come by for most of us.
Sure, it isn't exactly the best gaming phone out there, but...
For starters, it is not available in the U.S. Only select markets can get Xiaomi devices directly. The rest of us need to import them. The value Xiaomi offers makes it hard for supply to keep up, too. If you can get your hands on one, the performance and capabilities make the Xiaomi Black Shark a steal.
It has the specs to handle all the games you need, and Extreme Mode offers that boost many of you will enjoy. Sure, it isn’t exactly the best gaming phone out there, but it is plenty capable and carries a significantly lower price tag than its direct competitors.
This is also a pretty cool device to use as a daily driver for the times you don’t want to game — if there are any.