The mobile gaming segment isn’t a joke anymore. Mobile gaming is a serious business and with major gaming franchisees participating actively in this segment to cater to the ever-growing demand, companies are coming out with souped-up phones adoring attractive RGB LED lighting systems and some aggressive names. This year in India, we have seen two new gaming phones so far with extremely capable hardware. One of these is the Black Shark 2 and it is quite a special one.
Why special? Well, it comes from the house of Xiaomi but the brand operates completely independent of Xiaomi globally. The Black Shark 2 is the first Black Shark device in India and the company has managed to stay in the sweet spot when it comes to pricing – you can get the base version of the phone for Rs 39,999, which is slightly more than what the segment benchmark OnePlus 7 costs. Unlike the OnePlus 7, Black Shark 2 completely focuses on the performance aspect and it promises to make serious gamers happy.
Interested? Being a gamer, I wanted to flex my fingers on this one playing my favourite games for a few days and at the same time wanted to see how this works as an everyday phone. And that’s exactly what I did.
Extremely polished gaming experience consistently delivered
First and foremost, this is a gaming phone and it has to offer a no-holds approach to gaming. A gaming phone is no good if it compromises even a tiny bit in the gaming experience. The Black Shark 2, thankfully, is one phone that has a lot of positives in this regard.
Gaming phones need to look exciting and the Black Shark 2 redefines exciting with its rather masculine design ethos. There’s a metal chassis that feels premium and strong at the same time. To aid network performance, there are glass inserts done in the shape of X-type antennas, with a metal patch in between. There’s a dual-camera setup that has been fused into the body tastefully. And, the Black Shark logo sits in between with RGB illumination. There’s a green accent running around the edge of glass insert and the same can be found on the edge at the front. This green accent differentiates the Black Shark 2 from other gaming smartphones we have seen this year. The phone is compact and this masculine design rather makes it look appealing, especially with the matte metal surface. The design also aids grip while gaming.
When it comes to specifications, the Black Shark 2 doesn’t shy – you possibly can’t find better specifications than this. Let’s get all the techy stuff out first – an extremely powerful Snapdragon 855 chipset paired with up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, Joy UI based on Android 9 Pie and liquid cooling. These are beefy specifications and on any phone that flaunts these features, the performance is bound to raise eyebrows.
During my time with the Black Shark 2, I played a lot on this phone – a lot of gaming, which on the busiest of days included at least two hours. The games that I played a lot were PUBG Mobile, F1 Mobile Racing, Asphalt 9 and a few car parking games. PUBG Mobile is the most intensive one and the Black Shark 2 never ever showed signs of stress even in the Classic mode matches. I always kept the graphics settings to the highest ones possible and the phone was able to deliver a smooth looking gameplay.
F1 Mobile Racing is another game that tests the sensor calibration as well as high-quality graphics rendering. I did a few GP events that usually have many longer races with lots of AI cars rendered in high quality racing side-by-side – I eventually got tired but the phone was still happy to handle some more. Asphalt 9 was flawless and extremely smooth with no frame drops even in the busiest frames.
There are a lot of things that make gaming joy on the Black Shark 2 and I begin with the Shark Space launcher. The Shark Space mode is a separate launcher that essentially converts the phone into a proper gaming console with the sole focus on gaming. All the games are presented in massive icons with cool sci-fi style graphics done in green accents. The Shark Space also lets you clear RAM as well as manage the detachable gamepads made by Black Shark.
While gaming, you can summon the Gamer Studio panel which essentially provides shortcuts for a few essential functions such as clearing RAM, silencing notifications, show performance figures such as CPU load and data speeds, and more. The Shark Space can be activated by the dedicated slider key. The Gamer Studio panel, in my opinion, is extremely helpful to quickly access all the basic parameters and it is beneficial for those who are concerned about the performance statistics. There’s also a Ludicrous mode that turns of all LED lights and other processes in favour of dedicating all the available resources for maximum performance.
The Black Shark 2 offers reliable network performance and that has to be credited to the X-type antenna. In whichever position you hold the phone, the network performance stays unaffected. Not many gaming phones have this technology in-built.
The low touchscreen latency aided an extreme advantage in PUBG Mobile where the faster touch responses helped me kill opponents before they could start firing.
Other special gaming-centric features include an active haptic feedback system that vibrates according to control inputs. The strong haptic feedback does enhance the gameplay experience in games like PUBG. To add to the experience, there are two RGB LED light strips on both sides on the frame, and a backlit Black Shark logo – these look super cool in darker ambiences. The lights can also be customised to notify about new messages, calls, equalizer effects and more.
However, the most important parameter that ultimately delivers the experience is the display. On the Black Shark 2, you get a 6.39-inch Full HD+ display with an AMOLE panel. This screen supports HDR colours and TrueView mode that adjusts the colours to enhance the gameplay experience. Like many iPhone models, the screen is pressure-sensitive and gamers can customise two different pressure levels to map different function in the game. The cherry on top is the extremely low touch latency, with a touch report rate of 240Hz and 43.5ms response time. With all the techy jargons aside, I can happily tell you this is one of the best screens I have played games on.
The low touch latency aided an extreme advantage in PUBG Mobile where the faster touch responses helped me kill opponents before they could start firing. Games look extremely colourful with bright and vibrant colours as well as contrasts. I wished a 90Hz screen could have improved the experience but the faster response rates made for an exceptional experience. I didn’t find the 3D touch very useful in games though.
While the visual aspect is superb, the Black Shark 2 nails it in the audio department as well. The dual stereo speakers are loud and offer punchy audio performance with strong mids and clear highs. This is the first time I didn’t resort to the headphone in order to play PUBG – the audio is on spot. Sadly, you will have to rely on the speakers or wireless headphones for the audio as there’s no headphone jack here.
And lastly, the massive 4000mAh battery manages to keep the phone alive for at least 12 full sessions of a PUBG Classic match. The 27W fast charging system fills up the battery very fast – it rose from 10 per cent to 100 per cent within an hour and 15 minutes.
A good everyday phone but not the most practical
I have always maintained that gaming phones are great at gaming but as everyday phones, they lag behind when compared to the conventional ones. That doesn’t change with the Black Shark 2 as well.
The Joy UI interface is almost identical to stock Android 9 Pie interface with almost no bloatware. Therefore, the overall user experience on a daily basis is smooth and seamless. I never witnessed lags or stutters with this one. Black Shark has optimised the interface quite well and it almost feels quite close to the interface you will find on a Google Pixel device. It feels normal and Joy UI doesn’t try to implement always that you are using a gaming phone with unnecessary graphics or UI elements.
However, stock Android 9 Pie doesn’t natively support a few modern features such as in-display fingerprint sensors and face unlock systems. The Face Unlock is fast in well-lit ambience but gives up when you are in the dark. The in-display fingerprint sensor has a smaller area of contact and it isn’t as reliable as modern sensors found on phones such as OnePlus 7 or Vivo V15 Pro.
Next, in line are the cameras. The rear camera gets a dual-sensor setup, with one of them being the 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor as the primary unit with an F1.7 aperture lens and a secondary 12-megapixel telephoto camera with 2x optical zoom. For the front, there’s a 20-megapixel camera.
In daylight, the Black Shark 2 rear camera takes good looking photos with vibrant colours and deep contrasts. With the HDR mode, the dynamic range improves significantly, meaning you get better colours. Turn on the AI mode and you will see boosted colours that make photos look good occasionally. However, as the light levels drop, the camera fails to sustain the impressive performance. Low light photos look dull and there’s a loss in sharpness. At night, the camera tries hard to eradicate noise and it does that efficiently.
The exposure performance suffers but the colours are saturated, which to the eyes of a layman looks good. The telephoto camera is decent as well but you should avoid using it in low light. For selfies, the 20-megapixel camera does a surprisingly good job with clear and colourful selfies. Like all Xiaomi phones, the selfies are brighter than usual but this is what selfie addicts prefer. On the whole, the camera performance is quite impressive for a gaming smartphone and shutterbugs won’t be disappointed with the performance.
As for the battery life, including a fair bit of gaming, the phone lasts for an entire day with moderate usage. My ‘moderate’ usage includes dealing with lots of texting on WhatsApp, making lots of calls, light photography needs, eight hours of music streaming and at least two hours of reading on the web. The 27W fast charger is a delight fill up the battery faster than usual.
The Black Shark 2 is an amazing gaming smartphone. As a gamer, I enjoyed my time with it. Whenever asked, the Black Shark 2 was ready to deliver an uncompromised gaming performance. Whether I was playing PUBG or Asphalt 9, the experience was always a notch above conventional smartphones. It looks good too and with its LED lighting, it does establish its presence in a sea of glossy sophisticated glass-bodied phones. As a regular phone, there are some weak areas — the in-display fingerprint sensor is not on par with what you get in conventional premium phones such as the OnePlus 7 or Redmi K20 Pro. The battery life is good whereas the stock Android interface makes for smooth user experience. Even the cameras are good for a phone costing Rs 40,000 but a OnePlus 7 or a Pixel 3a would beat it any given day.
Bottom line — At Rs 39,999, the Black Shark 2 is a mighty phone with supreme gaming capabilities. It fares better than other gaming phones in its class However, the Nubia Red Magic 3 at Rs 35,999 is slightly cheaper and offers a 90Hz AMOLED display as well as a fan-based cooling system. And it’s as capable than the Black Shark 2. For the geeks, the Red Magic 3 may sound better. The Black Shark 2, however, offers an overall polished experience — you get a more complete smartphone. If that is what you want, go ahead and buy it.