After Razer introduced its gaming phone, the Razer Phone, a trend for gaming-oriented smartphones was started. Now how would Xiaomi stay away from it, right? The Chinese giant recently rolled out its own take on designing a smartphone for gamers, the Xiaomi BlackShark. The device comes with a price tag of 2999 Yuan (~Rs. 31,000) in China, but you can buy it online via Chinese retailer Banggood for a price of Rs. 36,000. Now, while the device does come with flagship hardware and promises an experience like none other. But, is it actually that good? Well, I have been using the Xiaomi BlackShark for more than a week now, so here is my in-depth review of the device, Beebom-style:
Note: Our review unit was bought from China directly. In case the phone sees a global release in the future, certain parts of the review may seem irrelevant at that time.
Xiaomi BlackShark Specifications
Before starting off with the actual review of the device, how about we discuss the kind of horsepower that the BlackShark device comes with. The Xiaomi BlackShark comes with top of the line hardware, which you can check out below:
|Dimensions||161.6 x 75.4 x 9.3 mm|
|Display||5.99-inch Full-HD+ LCD IPS|
|Primary Camera||Dual 12MP (f/1.8) + 20MP (f/1.8)|
|Secondary Camera||20MP (f/2.2)|
|Operating System||Android 8.0 Oreo-based JoyUI 1.0|
|Sensors||Fingerprint, Accelerometer, Proximity, Compass|
|Connectivity||Hybrid Dual Nano-SIM, Wi-Fi 802.11 A/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, -GPS, GLONASS|
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with the actual review of the device.
Design and Build Quality
The design of the Xiaomi BlackShark is something that definitely sets it apart from the herd. The front of the device looks like any standard device, some sensors and a camera on the top, a display panel, followed by a home button at the bottom. However, it is on the back side that you really see the exquisitiveness of the device.
The Xiaomi BlackShark uses a sports design with a very classy body. Thanks to the black metal and green light bar it all looks amazing. The back panel of the device has a glass section on the upper and lower sides, as opposed to an otherwise metallic body. The upper side carries a dual-camera and flashlight, while the lower part carries the phone’s name of ‘Black Shark’. The central area diverges outwards and gradually decreases in area, creating a nice diffuse feel. It also houses the S logo, surrounded by a pattern of grooves that really add on to the grip of the device. Speaking of the logo, it flashes when there is a message or a call notification, which looks absolutely beautiful.
On the left-hand side of the device, you get the SIM tray followed by the Shark key, which is used to toggle the SharkSpace mode (which we will be discussing later on). On the right side, you get the volume rockers accompanied by the Power button. While there is nothing on the top, you get a USB-C port on the bottom part sandwiched between two speakers.
For me, the Xiaomi BlackShark is a thing of beauty, designed, or shall I say, crafted for an exquisite in-hand feel.
For anything related to gaming, the display is going to matter a lot. Thankfully, Xiaomi understands that, and the BlackShark features an absolutely stunning display. The Xiaomi BlackShark features a 5.99-inch screen with a Full HD+ (1920×2160) resolution. The panel is LCD IPS, which isn’t bad either.
Yes, it is not an AMOLED display, but the colors produced on this thing are nothing short of remarkable. The colors are natural, and the blacks look decently deep. The display also gets fairly bright and remains quite usable even in the direct sunlight.
For me, the Xiaomi BlackShark has a great display, something that gaming enthusiasts would definitely look forward to. The device ships with a standard screen protector as well, which should be good enough for most users.
The User Interface of the Xiaomi BlackShark is quite disappointing, to be honest. I’ve never been a fan of MIUI, but I’ve never hated it either. However, with the BlackShark, Xiaomi has provided with an utter crappy UI, that is not that, unlike its name, not a joy to use.
The JoyUI in itself is similar to your standard MIUI, offering no app drawer with all the apps right in front of your face. The UI seems like they’ve attempted to give MIUI a Razer-like look, and then failed miserably, but decided to release it nonetheless. Yes, for the most part, you can get used to the UI, but the fact that some of the essential things about the device are still in Chinese really disappoints.
One thing that gamers would fancy, however, is the SharkSpace feature. It is the mode, that is activated by the Shark Key on the left side of the device, and the mode basically allows you to add games to their list. The software will then optimize the game for best performance. Additionally, one can use the SharkSpace to customize the gamepad controller that they use. Now, once again, while this feature is pretty good, parts of it are still hardcoded into Chinese, which again, is disappointing.
Pretty sure you’ve all been waiting for this section, right? In a nutshell, the Xiaomi BlackShark is a beast. You could throw practically anything at this device, and it would tame it like it was its little puppy. Yes, the user interface is crappy, but thanks to the flagship Snapdragon 845 SoC and a whopping 8GB of RAM, one would experience absolutely zero lags, no matter what.
Normal day to day tasks such as Instagram, Facebook, and SoundCloud are not something that would test this device, right? So I brought out the bigger guns – the games. And that too, the graphics intensive ones. I tried playing PUBG, Shadow Fight 3, PES, Asphalt 8, and what not, and the device handled it all without breaking a sweat. What’s more is I didn’t even have to clear out the memory for these games, I could keep them all in the background and switch to and fro whenever I felt like.
Now, I’ve said it previously and I’ll say it again, I am not a benchmark guy. But for those of you who are, hang on tight, coz this one is gonna blow your minds away! The Xiaomi BlackShark scored a massive 2,90,499 on Antutu Benchmark and attained a multi-core score of 8,528 on GeekBench. Yes, you read that right! This thing is a maniac and can manage literally anything.
Another thing that is worth pointing out is the temperatures on this device. I played PUBG on it continuously for about 2 hours, with everything set to high, and the highest mark I managed to achieve on this thing was 38-degrees Celsius, which is just amazing. The liquid cooling inside the device certainly works, which was evident by the fact that it managed to keep the device cool despite such heavy usage.
If you’re a performance enthusiast, this is the device for you. Period.
Sorry to burst that bubble for you, but the GamePad is not included in the box, but is available as a standalone accessory. But, truth be told, you don’t *really* need this accessory. Hear me out.
So I tried playing all the games, especially PUBG, on the Xiaomi BlackShark, with and without the gamepad add-on. It does take a minute or so to get accustomed to it, but if you’ve ever used a console before, or just about any controller, to be honest, the gamepad isn’t that tough to use. However, having a stick on just the left-hand side is weird to start with. Also, when you use it, there is hardly any massive improvement in your gameplay.
I’m a player who is very much into FPS titles, even on mobile, and when I first heard about the BlackShark controller, I was pretty excited to try it out. However, a couple of hours of gaming spent on it, I am of the opinion that you can pretty much do without it. It isn’t stupid, but it isn’t something extraordinary either.
Personally, the GamePad isn’t something extraordinary, and you can pretty much do without it as well.
The Xiaomi BlackShark comes equipped with a dual rear camera setup with a 12MP f/1.8 primary sensor along with a 20MP f/1.8 secondary sensor for depth effect. On the front, there is another 20MP f/2.2 shooter. As for videos, the BlackShark has the ability to record videos in 4K@30fps as well, so that’s another great point. Now that we’re past the numbers part, let’s dig into the actual performance of the cameras on this device.
For me, the camera performance from the device was sublime. It isn’t bad or anything, but nothing that you would expect from a device of its price. But then again, one must keep in mind this device is designed to provide the best gaming and performance experience, as you have already seen in the previous sections. As for the camera quality, the camera manages to capture images with decent details and slightly off-the-mark color quality. There is a good amount of color reproduction, but nothing to boast about.
Thanks to the dual camera setup on the rear end, the Xiaomi BlackShark also features a portrait mode. The results produced are decent, at most. The depth effect is there, but the blurring feels mostly unnatural. Also, the edge detection is highly unstable, managing to sometimes highlight the subject almost perfectly, and at times, just blurring everything in front of the camera, including parts of the subject.
As for low-light performance, the camera is just not able to justify including two sensors with a f/1.8 aperture. There just the bare minimum amount of light existing there and most of the images captured are full of grains. The noise is slightly less as opposed to other cameras, but the graininess is off the charts. The overall tone of the image is also too soft, and all in all, it is just bad.
Now, I am pretty active on my Instagram channel, and for me, the front camera plays a very important role. So if you’ve been following me and have lately noticed just a few selfies, that’s because I’ve been using the Xiaomi BlackShark as my daily driver. The front camera is decent, but once again, nowhere does it manage to meet the expectations of a selfie enthusiast. The camera is good and does balance out the light evenly, but that’s about it. There is a substantial lack in detail, and once again, the images turn out to be extremely soft. Also, there is no portrait mode available on the front camera, which again, is a disappointment.
All in all, the camera on the Xiaomi BlackShark is like any other Chinese device out there, decent, but not for photography enthusiasts, despite its flagship price tag.
Telephony and Audio Quality
Considering the call quality, there were no complaints with the Xiaomi BlackShark. Calls sounded clear on both sides as the phone brings very good noise cancellation. The speakers on this thing are pretty loud as well and are good for loudspeaker calls as well as decent media consumption. In fact, they are one of the loudest speakers I’ve used on a smartphone in recent times, which is pretty good. And moreover, it’s not just the overall volume, but also the fact that the levels are managed on this device.
The Xiaomi BlackShark comes with the USB Type-C port for connectivity, something that I appreciate a lot, considering this is 2018. However, I do dislike the fact that the BlackShark pulled off a Razer with this device, by omitting a 3.5mm audio jack. I can understand its removal since many manufacturers are doing it as well, but if you’re making a gaming phone, it’s hard to justify the removal of the audio port.
Apart from that, as for the SIM tray, the BlackShark sports a hybrid SIM tray, so you can choose between using two nano SIM cards, or pair one up with a microSD card.
The Xiaomi BlackShark packs in a non-removable 4,000mAh battery, which is great for a device that’s meant for heavy usage. In my testing, the device easily managed to last an entire day of heavy usage, which involved playing a lot of PUBG, checking my emails, adding loads of stories on Instagram, and listening to some music on SoundCloud.
Also, when it comes to charging, thanks to the Type-C port, it does support fast charging. I was able to completely charge the phone in under 100 minutes, which is pretty impressive. It may not be as fast as OnePlus’ Dash Charge, but then again, Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 does the trick.
Xiaomi BlackShark Review: Should You Buy It?
The 6+64GB variant is priced at 2999 yuan (Rs. 31,000), while the 8+128GB model costs 3499 yuan (Rs. 36,500). This puts it against the likes of the Honor 10 and the OnePlus 6. Honestly, if gaming and performance are what matter to you, the Xiaomi BlackShark offers a better value for money than the other two. However, the average cameras are a big let down, something where both the Honor and the OnePlus would impress you. Also, the BlackShark might never see a global release, so you may have to resort to Chinese retailers like Bangood, which are offering the device for a hefty price tag of Rs. 36,300 (6+64GB) and Rs. 42,000 (8+128GB), which is just a lot!
Now, while the device certainly seems to be great, does it really make a lot of sense to buy it if you’re living outside of China? Truth be told, it doesn’t. Apart from the liquid cooling, there is practically nothing special about the device that a mobile gamer would benefit from. The gamepad is good, but once again, nothing that would give you a major advantage. As such, opting for a device such as the OnePlus 6 poses a higher value for money, since you get the same hardware with a much better and cleaner Android skin as well. Or, you can go for the Honor 10, and save a couple of thousand bucks as opposed to the OnePlus 6, and once again get similar performance.
- Unbeatable Raw Performance
- Great Build Quality
- Nice Display
- Cameras are average at best
- User Interface is crappy
- Most of the menus and apps are still in Chinese
Xiaomi BlackShark Review: The One For Gaming Enthusiasts
If you can look past the cameras and the doubtful warranty on an international purchase, the Xiaomi BlackShark offers a lot to its users, for an amazing price. You get the top-of-the-line processor, with a massive amount of RAM, and a device that is crafted for gaming and pure performance. The liquid cooling inside the device does wonders and certainly helps in keeping the temperatures down. It isn’t for anyone – but the fact that it is a gaming phone signifies who this device is meant for.