There it is – the first gaming smartphone from China, the Xiaomi Blackshark, has arrived. It is anything but an inconspicuous appearance. The 6-inch display in 18:9 format gets a normal navigation bar below. Design elements in (Razer) green can be found both on the casing and on the system surface. A real flagship is hidden under the casing: Snapdragon 845, at least 6GB of RAM, dual camera and 4000mAh battery. A fight announcement for 524$ !
It seems the Blackshark and, of course, the forerunner of the Razer Phone have unleashed a wave of gaming smartphones. Besides the Nubia Red Magic and Honor Play comes now the ASUS ROG (Republic of Gamers) Phone, which definitely even goes further. But other manufacturers also integrate a gaming mode or try to get a piece of the cake with functions like Honor’s “GPU-Turbo”. Now only the really good games are missing! The term “gaming smartphone” covers two areas: On the one hand, it really has to be suitable for mobile gaming, so that it offers added value compared to other flagships. On the other hand, it should be as usable as other (flagship) smartphones. Nobody wants to pay about 460$ just for a second mobile phone. Is the Xiaomi gaming smartphone suitable for gaming and as a flagship? Let’s find out!
Design & build quality
The ridge on which the BlackShark smartphone walks is narrow: it may be a bit special, but also not so much that it looks like a toy. The front is kept in clean black and also no logo is hidden here – not even illuminated sensor keys, which would only distract from the events. The rest is made of metal, which is black or silver/grey, depending on your choice. Alternatively and exclusively for the 128GB memory version Royal Blue is offered.
The Xiaomi Blackshark has dimensions of 161.6 x 75.4 x 9.3 mm (5.1mm at the thinnest point) and weights 190g and is therefore larger than the competition. It has to be said that attention was also paid to improving the handling / how the smartphone lies in the hand when using it with two hands. For this purpose, the bars at the top and bottom are larger so that you cannot reach the display with the ball of your hand. And on the rear you have a hollow on the left and on the right for index, middle or ring fingers. Other “gaming” elements are, for example, the slide switch that activates the Shark Space or the illuminated Shark logo on the rear.
The rest is kept quite simple. On the front there is a home button that can be operated with gestures and acts as a fingerprint sensor. At the left and right, there are two sensor buttons that are completely hidden under the black glass. On the right side you find the power button and the volume control. At the bottom the USB-Type-C port is located – you have to do without a 3.5mm jack – and you find two cutouts for the speaker. There is a notification LED at the top right.
The Xiaomi BlackShark Gaming smartphone is big and quite long, but it still fits neatly in the hand. I really like that the frame and the rear form a curve. The small details, such as the recess for the green frame, ensure that you can find a secure grip with one hand. One-handed operation is still possible for surfing the web or social media, taking a photo or simply doing something quickly. For typing I usually grabbed the phone with both hands. Also, I often held the BlackShark upside down due to its symmetrical design.
The entire design is nothing for introverts, as you definitely attract attention with such a smartphone. The green is really cool if you like it, and the Blackshark logo on the back rarely lights up. The build quality is typical for Xiaomi: everything is neatly cut out and joined together, there are no gaps and you have a premium feeling, despite the special style.
Blackshark scope of delivery
The supplied protective cover is different from all the transparent silicone covers. It’s basically just a black plastic frame that leaves the rear free for heat management and grip. With the cover, edges and corners are protected, but there are no overhangs for the front, which still lies flat on the respective surface. Also included are the usual operating instructions, a display protection film that can be attached, a Quick Charge 3.0 power supply with Chinese plug, USB-C cable and an adapter for a 3.5mm headphone jack.
What unfortunately wasn’t included is the game pad, which was also announced with the smartphone. The pad can be clipped to the left side, so that you have a real analog stick. The price is around 40$.
The Xiaomi Blackshark features a 5.99-inch IPS LCD display. It is in 18:9 format and has a resolution of 2160 x 1080 pixels. This results in Full HD + resolution with a pixel density of 403 PPI. With the two large bars at the top and bottom you only achieve 76% screen-to-body ratio, but the Black Shark doesn’t even aim at that, as you also have only 3mm-bezels. At least no on-screen buttons are needed because you still have haptic soft-touch buttons.
In the settings you can adjust the display and choose between three modes: Cinema Mode, Natural Mode and Eye Care Mode. You can also adjust between warm and cold separately with a slider. An ultra-fluid 120Hz display, like in the Razer Phone, did not make it into the Xiaomi Blackshark for financial reasons. Instead, the manufacturer used a “Super Cinema Mode” and supposedly a chip that only takes care of the display output instead. I think you can’t tell the difference. During gaming everything runs super smoothly, but this is also the case with the OnePlus 6. The contrast of the BlackShark is indicated with 1500:1 because an IPS display cannot reach the black values of an AMOLED. We could measure a maximum of 623 lux for the brightness, which is far enough for outdoor use, only the display reflects strongly, which is kind of disturbing outdoors. The display glass doesn’t seem very hard to me: a key didn’t do any harm in the test, but in the few weeks of use a few micro-scratches have already made it onto the glass. The touch screen registers up to 10 points simultaneously and reacts without any delay at the inputs. Also worth mentioning is the protection against fingerprints, the rear is painted in matt anyway, but the glass front does not take up the unpopular fingerprints either .
A thing that every gaming smartphone should be able to do without compromises: handling every app, every task and every situation without any delays. And I think the BlackShark Phone does everything right regarding this request. The smartphone, of course, features the currently fastest processor: however, the Snapdragon 845 does not clock faster in the BlackShark than in other smartphones. It consists of four Kyro 385 gold cores at 2.8 GHz and four Kyro 385 silver cores at 1.7 GHz. The integrated Adreno 630 GPU takes care of the graphics calculations. And it is precisely this combination that sets the current speed record: almost 272,000 points in the AnTuTu benchmark are more than the competition could score.Antutu Result Geekbench Multi Result 3D Mark Result
These are just numbers, but the ASUS ROG Phone is supposed to clock at up to 2.85 GHz to score even more points. Depending on the version, 6 or 8GB LPDDR4x dual channel memory is used in the Black Shark, which at 14GB/s leaves nothing to be desired. The system memory is connected via UFS 2.1 and reaches rates of 730mB/s readig and 200mB/s writing speed. The BlackShark is available with 6+64GB or with 8+128GB. Unfortunately, you have to decide beforehand how much memory you need, as you cannot expand it with a MicroSD. Given that complex games consume a good two gigabytes (GTA: San Andreas 1.9GB), 64GB means you have to remove old apps more often.
To ensure that the Xiaomi BlackShark maintains this performance, the SD845 is kept at a “feel-good temperature” by a special liquid cooling system. At first we smiled at the liquid cooling and considered it to be more of a threat to the hardware. But as it turns out, it really keeps the Snapdragon 845 cool. The CPU throttling benchmark simulates full load for the hardware and observes when performance is limited – to avoid overheating. During the course of the process, there are short set-backs, but even after 15 minutes, the output is not reduced. For comparison: a Mi Mix 2S already reduces the output after 5 minutes. We can also exclude the point “danger”, because the Blackshark survived one hour in the freezer (Do not try this at home!).
In terms of performance, we did not expect any other results! On the one hand, cooling is an argument in favour of the gaming smartphone, which can maintain the necessary performance much longer than its competitors. On the other hand, unfortunately, the wheel cannot be reinvented. More hardware is simply not possible, since it is not on the market yet – and so you cannot provide noticeably more power.
System Joy UI & Sharkspace
Xiaomi’s Blackshark still runs on Android 8.0 with the security patch from mid-February 2018. The surface you see is called Joy UI, which is still MIUI, but has been colour-adjusted and has the said additional gaming features. Currently it is still running in version 1.0, but OTA updates arrive almost weekly. What is being changed? I have no idea because the change log is in Chinese. Our Blackshark came from Honorbuy and only the Google PlayStore was additionally installed. But that also means that you only have the choice between Chinese and English as system language. The Android system is easy to use – basically it is MIUI – and I was able to set it up the way I’m used to. Now, let’s get to the special features of the Blackshark:
Let’s begin with the Shark Space, which can be activated via the switch on the left side. It takes you to a world that is literally separate from “everyday smartphone life”: no notifications, calls or other disturbing factors; pure gaming without distraction. Here you also have an overview of your games on your smartphone, which then run with higher performance (e.g. also benchmarks). Swiping across the home button, a small menu opens from above to quickly select the individual factors: Clean up memory, game pad, lock sensor keys, NightMode, etc.. Outside the shark space, you can also swipe across the home button to bring up a quick menu to drop shortcuts. The Lock Screen is nice to look at: here you can have a slide show with cool pictures, which change when you press the power button.
Only a MIUI system would be too easy and that’s how Joy UI stands out, to the gamers plasure. Don’t worry: it’s rather moderate – no exaggerated animations, effects or features. Joy UI fits well with the Blackshark Gaming smartphone, but there are still a few question marks: is it just as well updated as MIUI? Will updates, security updates and new features really come? Because without this, a Flagship Xiaomi with MIUI is preferable to the Blackshark in the long run! And if you still think that an iPhone is better for gaming: it is too expensive for the performance you get in the end, apps are partly better but also more expensive. Android also allows you to install emulators with little effort to bring classic old consoles like PSX, Gameboy Advanced or SNES to your mobile phone.
It is a gaming smartphone, but first and foremost a flagship as well and therefore the Blackshark should and can call up the entire repertoire. Unfortunately, it is not known which camera sensors work in the mobile phone. On the rear of the camera unit, there are two sensors and a flash. The main camera has a resolution of 12MP, the pixel size is 1.25μm and the aperture is f/1.75. The second sensor is probably only responsible for bokeh shots: it has 20MP, also a f/1.75 aperture and 1.0μm. This combination has never appeared in a Xiaomi phone before.
But it works! You get good results with the Blackshark. The normal recordings especially seem as if they are in no way inferior to current flagships. In low light on the other hand, the quality visibly decreases. The overall presentation of the pictures is “good-looking”, which means that colours are somewhat stronger, the contrast is increased and they appear more brilliant, which fits the basic character of the gaming smartphone.
The front camera features a single sensor, again of unknown origin. Selfies are taken with 20MP and the pixel size is 1.0μm, the aperture f/2.2. The software then superimposes pixels so that you get a 5MP 2592×1940 selfie. The shots by the front camera are not convincing if you use other flagships as a yardstick. Too few details if you zoom in – single hairs become strands -, the contrasts are too strong – unnatural colors – the background blurs too much – trees can only be recognized as outlines. All in all, however, you get acceptable shots with the front camera. These are fully suitable for social media, also because they already get a few highlights of their own (HDR and involuntary bokeh) – but I don’t want them printed on canvas. The Mi Mix 2S or Redmi Note 5 produce bokeh selfies via the software. Since we have the MIUI camera software for the Blackshark, this could still be made available by an update. With HDR you get even more contrasting pics and with Face Beauty you can turn into an alien.
Videos can be recorded at up to 4K and are also electronically stabilized (EIS). The stabilization works very well, up to 1080p Full HD, at 4K you can see micro jerks. The app is known 1:1 from MIUI, so it’s easy to find your way around. You can choose from several modes, filters and settings. I would prefer more features for bokeh shots, e.g. that you could determine the degree of blur. But otherwise the Xiaomi camera software is a big plus for any MIUI smartphone.
The camera is good and almost on a flagship level. A Snapdragon 845 smartphone should be able to do everything, but you notice the difference to the Mi8 and Mi Mix 2S. Or to put it another way: with the tight budget and the price, the gaming smartphone’s focus was not entirely on photography. It doesn’t matter, because basically you will be satisfied with the setup so far.
The Xiaomi Blackshark is designed for the Chinese market, but supports most of the necessary LTE frequencies. The SIM slot accommodates two Nano SIM cards, both supporting the same frequencies. The SIM slot does not support MicroSD for memory expansion.
- FDD LTE (Band B1 / B3 / B4 / B5 / B7 / B8 / B12)
- TDD LTE (Band B34 / B38 / B39 / B40 / B41)
- TD-SCDMA (Band B34 / B39)
- WCDMA (Band B1 / B2 / B5 / B8)
- GSM (Band B2 / B3 / B5 / B8)
- CDMA / EVDO (Band BC0)
Mobile internet near the city is no problem, those living in the countryside could occasionally have some problems. The Blackshark also supports all necessary 2G and 3G frequencies. To keep the ping as low as possible, the antennas run cross-shaped. So you can hold the smartphone as you like. Making calls works just like you’re used to. In the phone app you have three tabs with a dial field, the contacts and a yellow page, for China important numbers (useless for most other users). The speakerphone does its job properly and hardly distorts even at high volume. Unfortunately VoLTE or WiFi Calling is not available. The two microphones deliver the sound and transmit your own voice cleanly with no background noises.
The loudspeaker deserves a lot of praise! This has apparently been given enough space in the casing: it sounds as if a loudspeaker is placed behind both openings, although one sounds more bass accentuated. Even the small speaker for the ear is used with media, so that you get a stereo feeling. It is not as loud as the lower two, but it contributes to the sound. There’s a lot of bass for a smartphone speaker, which contributes to an astonishingly round sound. Depending on how you hold the Blackshark vertically, you cover one speaker – then just part of the sound comes through the other opening.
The 2×2 MIMO technology also ensures stable reception in the WiFi network: here, two antennas are also used simultaneously, provided the router supports it. Then the Black Shark transmits in Dual Band (5.0 GHz) and in the standards 802.11a, ac, b, g, n and n 5GHz. The metal rear inhibits the reception a little, in order to counteract, enough glass and plastic parts are embedded. Important for gaming: the ping I reached via WiFi was a maximum of 5ms over the direct LAN connection. In the settings you will find the item “XunYou” acceleration. The service apparently sets up a VPN and ensures trouble-free mobile data – but I preferred to leave it deactivated. Bluetooth version 5.0 is available and aptX also worked.
Users have GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Beidou and Hokuto at their disposal for navigation, an electronic compass determines the direction. The position is determined to an accuracy of 3m. The route guidance and navigation worked reliably both in the car and in the city. The Blackshark has to make cutbacks, for example in dense forests, where a OnePlus 6 was more accurate.
In terms of interfaces, only the USB-C port at the bottom is available – a jack connection would have been nice to connect your favourite headset directly. To unlock the smartphone you have to do without Face Unlock, but the feature could be added later. It doesn’t matter, however, because the fingerprint sensor is well positioned and works perfectly. It is very similar to the Xiaomi Mi6 and is slightly embedded, which makes it easy to find. Unfortunately, it is not as sensitive as the one in the OnePlus device, you have to put on your thumb more firmly instead of just scurrying over it: if you get the hang of it, it is 9/10 times successful. The three sensors standard (light, proximity and position) as well as a gyroscope and acceleration sensor are available.
Almost typical for Xiaomi devices, the smartphone has a very good battery life. The BlackShark smartphone has a 4000 mAh battery, which provides the necessary energy. The run time is quite difficult to determine, it depends completely on how often and what games you play – after all, that’s what it’s made for. Spread over two days I got about 7 hours display-on time, but that depends very much on the usage profile. For an one-hour YouTube video at full display brightness, the Blackshark consumes an impressive 18% of the battery.
In the PC Mark Akku benchmark the Blackshark reaches 9:05, which is not bad. But more would have been possible, as becomes obvious when having a look at the competitors: OnePlus 6 – 3.300mAh, Mix 2S – 3.400mAh, Mi8 – 3.400mAhBattery lifetime Result Unit: hours
The Blackshark is best charged with a Quick Charge 3.0 power supply. So you can quickly recharge it in between: in 25 minutes you get 35%. From 0% to 90% it takes 68 minutes, after 1 hour and 35 minutes the battery is fully charged.
Conclusion and alternative
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*Prices include shipping and toll. Intermediate changes of prices, ranking, delivery time and costs possible. Prices last updated on 23.10.2018