Gaming phones make up a niche category, but with mobile gaming projected to grow into a multi-billion dollar business in the near future, some companies are hoping to take an early lead. Xiaomi-backed Black Shark is one of them and it is now looking to expand its influence with its third offering — the Black Shark 2. It has all the makings of a great gaming phone, such as a flagship processor, aggressive design with RGB lighting effects, gaming-centric features, superior cooling, and more. But is the Black Shark 2 the best option for mobile gaming enthusiasts? How well does it stack up against other gamin-focussed options in the market? Most importantly, is it worth shelling out Rs. 39,999 for? Read on to find the answers in our Black Shark 2 review.
Black Shark 2 design
The Black Shark 2 is unmistakably a phone targeted at gamers, thanks to its curved edges and aggressive styling. It boasts of solid anodised metal body with a frosted finish on top. The sloping contours of its predecessor are still there, but they are more subtle. The monotony is broken by glass inserts that not only impart it a distinct look but are also of functional value, as the X-shaped antenna lies beneath them for better network reception.
The matte finish on the metallic parts feels pleasant, but the glossy areas quickly get smudged. A neat design touch is the slight vertical hump in the middle, which keeps the glass-covered region from touching any surface it is lying on and protects it from getting scratched. The Black Shark 2 feels solid, but lacks an IP certification for protection against accidental liquid exposure.
The Black Shark 2 has a sturdy metallic build, but the phone is quite bulky
The illuminated Black Shark logo sits squarely in the middle. There's an LED strip on either side, which like the backlit logo, serves as notification indicator and can be configured to light up or pulse in varying colours or patterns while playing games.
The phone's sleek profile and the distinct styling of the rear panel set the Black Shark 2 apart. The Black Shark 2 is available in Frozen Silver and Shadow Black colour options. We have the latter for review and we think it looks better with this understated colour scheme.
The power button and Shark Key for entering Shark Space are on the right side, while the volume rocker sits on the left. The top is blank, while the bottom hosts the USB Type-C port and the dual Nano-SIM tray. It must be noted that the Black Shark 2 does not allow storage expansion, so buyers must choose between the base 8GB RAM + 128 GB storage variant priced at Rs. 39,999, and the higher-end 12GB RAM + 256GB storage variant which costs Rs. 49,999.
There is no 3.5mm headphone jack, which is disappointing, but that is somewhat made up for with dual front-facing stereo speakers. The Black Shark 2 is taller and thinner than its predecessor, but at 205g, it is not the lightest phone to carry around. Its ergonomics will satisfy the target audience who will mostly use it in landscape orientation for gaming, but one-handed usage is a struggle due to its size and bulk.
The phone comes equipped with an X-shaped antenna positioned below the glass inserts
Black Shark 2 software
Rather than garish design elements with neon accents that ape PC game customisation tools, the Black Shark 2 runs a light custom skin called Joy UI which is basically stock Android with no bloatware. The only visible difference is the addition of Game Dock and Light Settings in the phone's Settings app, plus a few additional gaming-centric tools.
The Black Shark 2's software is clean and is a drastic improvement over the poor interface of its predecessor. Joy UI's new avatar will certainly appeal to Android purists. Our review unit ran the May security patch. The most notable UI element is Shark Space, which can only be enabled using the dedicated Shark key. Shark Space is the phone's gaming hub where all installed games are catalogued, thus, acting as a dedicated game launcher.
Enabling this mode automatically clears the phone's memory, kills background network activity, and blocks notifications, paving the way for an uninterrupted gaming session. It also acts as the connection hub and calibration centre for the wireless controllers sold separately by Black Shark.
Shark Space acts as a game launcher and can be enabled by the dedicated Shark Key
Swiping diagonally inwards from the upper left or right corners in a game opens the Game Dock, which provides quick access to notification controls, CPU usage, battery consumption stats, and other optimisation settings.
The main attraction is the Game Dock's Gamer Studio section, which is where the key gaming-centric tools are located. This is divided into sections for Performance, Display, Touch, and Audio, to name a few. In the Performance settings, one can choose between five performance levels, with the fifth one being called Ludicrous Mode. Unsurprisingly, the higher performance levels result in quicker battery consumption and heat up the phone rather quickly.
There is also an option to adjust the CPU and GPU usage, and even a toggle to override the standard thermal controls to boost performance. In the display settings, one can enable Game HDR mode for better contrast and optimised brightness. There is also an option to manually tweak the hue, saturation, contrast, and sharpness of the display.
The phone's pressure-sensitive display comes in handy while assigning touch controls in games
In the network section of the Gamer Studio, you can check signal strength and network latency among other things. One can also check the processor load and frequency at which the big and little cores of the Snapdragon 855 are operating in real-time at any point.
Black Shark 2 performance, gaming, and accessories
The Black Shark 2 packs a 6.39-inch full-HD+ (1080 x 2340 pixels) AMOLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and 430 nits of peak brightness. The low-latency HDR panel is claimed to have an industry-leading response time of just 43.5 milliseconds and is pressure sensitive as well.
The display renders vibrant colours, and viewing angles are good as well. The brightness levels are satisfactory too, as we did not face any issues while using this phone outdoors. However, the display changes applied by the gaming presets are not easily discernible under daylight. There are a host of modes, such as natural, cinema, super cinema, and True View that automatically adjust the colour profile based on ambient lighting conditions.
Low latency and pressure sensitivity might not sound like particularly useful features, but we noticed a difference in certain games. Are they really useful? Definitely. Take for example shooting games such as Modern Combat 5 and PUBG Mobile, wherein faster trigger response is vital. So, lower response time means players have a higher chance of executing actions like shooting bullets at opponents and subsequently win a match.
Gamer Studio serves as the command centre for all basic gaming controls and customisation tools
Another useful feature in the Game Dock is called Master Touch, which frees users from the pain of tapping small on-screen buttons. Players can designate a large area of the screen for a specific in-game command. For example, one can tap the blank space on the left half of the screen to rain bullets on opponents, and on the right half to quickly pull out the scope.
You can adjust the pressure sensitivity and intensity of the haptic feedback as well, but there are a few limitations. The Master Touch feature cannot be used for games that are played in portrait orientation. Also, games that rely on swipe gestures such as Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat won't benefit much from the Master Touch feature.
As far as performance goes, this Snapdragon 855-powered phone can handle any task you throw at it with ease. Be it heavy multi-tasking or playing graphics-intensive games, the Black Shark 2 excelled at all usage scenarios. All compatible games ran at their peak graphics and performance settings without a hitch. In the case of PUBG Mobile, the Black Shark 2 provided a butter-smooth experience with the graphics set to HDR and frame rate set to Extreme.
The liquid cooling 3.0 system does a commendable job at keeping the phone cool while gaming. We noticed an average temperature rise of 4-6 degrees while playing graphics-intensive games for 30-45 minutes, but the temperature never crossed the 36-degree Celcius mark, and the phone didn't become uncomfortably warm.
Gamer Studio lets users adjust performance output and tweak audio-visual parameters
However, with Ludicrous Mode — which maxes out the CPU and GPU settings and disables the thermal throttling — enabled, the peak temperature soared to 42 degrees Celsius after a 40-minute long session. In such scenarios, the area around the camera got quite hot and made handling the phone difficult.
In practical terms, it is hard to discern any difference in gameplay quality when using the Auto and Ludicrous modes. We got a consistent 60fps at peak graphics settings in PUBG Mobile and 30fps in Asphalt 9 without entering the Shark Space.
Even when Ludicrous mode was enabled, and CPU and GPU usage were maxed out, the frame rate remained the same. However, the slight bump in performance does make a difference when it comes to synthetic benchmark scores.
The Black Shark 2 scored 3,550 in Geekbench 4's single-core test, while the multi-core test tally stood at 10,143. Running the test with the Ludicrous Mode enabled slightly raised the multi-core tally to 11,077. In AnTuTu, the Black Shark 2 produced a respectable 299,621 points, reaching 312,745 in Ludicrous Mode. GFXBench's T-Rex and Manhattan 3.1 tests returned 60fps and 57fps respectively.
Black Shark also sells the Black Shark 2.0 gamepad, which can be used like a console controller or in the same fashion as the Nintendo Joy-Con controllers by separating the two halves. The company also offers a protective cover that lets users attach the two halves of the gamepad to the phone's ends and play games on it like a Nintendo Switch.
The gamepad is lightweight and easy to use, but the touchpad output is a little erratic
Each half of the Black Shark 2.0 gamepad pairs separately with the phone over Bluetooth, and can be configured with relative ease. However, the actual gaming experience is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the gamepad is relatively light, compact, and provides a good grip. The shoulder triggers, directional button and action (X, Y, A, and B) keys provided decent tactile feedback.
On the flip side, the gamepad felt a little slow at registering input, and it also takes some time to memorise which buttons are assigned to each game's functions. The joystick worked fine in most games, but the touchpad proved to be a little erratic. Also, if you are used to the Sony DualShock or Xbox One controllers, the buttons on the Black Shark 2's gamepad will feel a little too small and rigid.
The phone's dual front stereo speakers can get quite 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 the majority of phones that have a single bottom-firing speaker.
The Black Shark 2's in-display fingerprint sensor takes around a second to unlock the phone, and even though it is not the fastest module we have used, we had no issues with accuracy.
Black Shark 2 cameras and battery life
The Black Shark 2 packs a 48-megapixel main snapper with an f/1.75 aperture that takes pixel-binned 12-megapixel photos. It is assisted by a secondary 12-megapixel camera with a telephoto lens and f/2.2 aperture. On the front is a 20-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture. This is a little underwhelming for a phone that costs north of Rs. 40,000.
Black Shark 2 is available in Frozen Silver and Shadow Black colour options
The same is true for the phone's camera software. All you get is HDR, portrait mode, a slow-motion mode that is capped at 120fps, and lots of beautification tools. There is no dedicated night mode or any of the snazzy camera features that you get on phones like the Redmi K20 which costs nearly half of what the Black Shark 2 does. There is no OIS, and even full-HD videos max out at 30fps. Also, despite packing a 48-megapixel camera, you can't actually capture photos at the full 48-megapixel resolution.
In daylight, the Black Shark 2 captures crisp photos with decent contrast. The photos look pleasant on the phone's screen, but closer inspection on a larger display reveals colour accuracy and exposure issues. In the case of long-range shots, the phone did a satisfactory job at keeping peripheral elements intact in most cases, but dynamic range proved to be a weak area, and this only worsens as the light fades.
Macro shots retained a healthy amount of surface detail, but if you are a fan of natural colours, the oversaturation will disappoint you. Turning off the AI mode helps a little with colour reproduction. In a side-by-side comparison against the Pixel 3, we noticed that the macro shots captured by the Black Shark 2 looked less sharp and didn't have as much detail.
In portrait mode, the phone did a decent job at highlighting the object in focus, but the bokeh effect was inconsistent and edge detection also proved to be hit-or-miss. Portrait photos looked bright, however, some smoothening was visible. In low light, the phone struggled badly and produced photos with a lot of noise, grainy texture, and minimal sharpness.
Tap to see full-sized Black Shark 2 camera samples
The front snapper captures bright selfies that are worth sharing on social media. The focus is mostly spot-on and skin textures are neutral, but there is not much in terms of background details, and features like facial hair and pores are softened too. Portrait selfies exhibit decent subject separation in good lighting conditions, but in low light, they look grainy and have muted colours.
As for battery longevity, the Black Shark 2's 4,000mAh battery comfortably lasts through a full day of usage. While using it as our daily driver for regular productivity tasks and 90-120 minutes of playing graphics-intensive games, the phone still had around 10-15 percent juice left at the end of the day.
However, if you want more play time with the gameplay settings set to their maximum levels, expect the battery life to come down significantly. In our HD video battery loop test, the Black Shark 2 lasted for 11 hours and 9 minutes, which is below par. Thankfully, the phone supports 27W fast charging and the supplied charger takes the battery from zero to 60 percent in just about half an hour. Charging it fully took around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The Black Shark 2 delivers on its key promise — excellent gaming performance. The phone can handle any game out there with ease, and offers a lot of features that enhance the experience. It has a solid build quality, and the RGB lights and aggressive styling further help it stand out from the crowd.
However, the phone's cameras can be described as average at best, and the battery life is not great either. These are two major factors that buyers should take into consideration before splurging on the phone, and they put a huge question mark over the value offered by the Black Shark 2.
Moreover, this phone feels slightly overpriced compared to a rival such as the Nubia Red Magic 3 (Review). And if you are willing to spend around Rs. 40,000, the OnePlus 7 Pro (Review), Redmi K20 Pro (Review), Oppo Reno 10X Zoom Edition (Review), or Asus 6Z (Review) offer much better value without compromising on camera quality and overall performance. Yes, you will miss out on the gaming-centric features and the ostentatious yet gratifying RGB lighting effects, but you'll get a much better overall package.
At the end of the day, the Black Shark 2 is targeted at a user group that will purchase it for its gaming chops and personality, and on those parameters, it could be an interesting choice for many people.