Xiaomi Mi Black Shark 2 Review

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Following the demise of the Xperia Play gaming phones were seemingly gone for good, but it turns out they were merely regrouping before mounting another attack of the smartphone market. And they come in numbers this time – Asus, nubia, Razer and Xiaomi all have claims to the gaming smartphone throne and even Huawei is marketing the Mate X as the best gaming phone. Well, Xiaomi is ready to rock the boat with the new Black Shark 2 – a phone that aims to really make gaming phones mainstream.

The first Black Shark had the looks and the punch, but its plain LCD screen won him few favors. Then came the Helo, which patched exactly that. And now, with the Black Shark 2, we have the most refined Black Shark phone to date with a big AMOLED screen, the latest Snapdragon 855 with an advanced cooling system, more RAM and storage, and a new gaming-catering design with dynamic LED lighting.

Black Shark 2 review

The maker means business with the new Black Shark 2 – it has a 240Hz touch input for those playing with virtual controls, but there are also proprietary Black Shark hardware attachments for the most immersive gaming experience. The latter is an optional attachment that we’ll come back to later.

The Black Shark 2 has the two of the three cameras from the Xiaomi Mi 9, which is a nice treat. It can do flagship selfies, too, thanks to a high-end 20MP selfies shooter. One interesting bit is that the Black Shark runs stock Android 9 Pie, and the only proprietary thing is the Shark Space triggered with a hardware switch – that’s a dedicated game launcher with some neat options.

Black Shark 2 review

Black Shark 2 specs

  • Body: frosted metal and glass;
  • Display: 6.39″ AMOLED, 2,340×1,080px resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 402ppi; HDR 10 and DCI-P3 compliant; 240Hz touch input.
  • Dual rear camera: Wide – 48MP f/1.75, 1/2″, 0.8µm pixel size, PDAF; Telephoto – 12MP, f/2.2 aperture, 2x zoom; [email protected]/30fps.
  • Front camera: 20MP, 0.9µm pixel size, f/2.0 aperture; 1080p/30fps video recording.
  • OS: Android 9 Pie (vanilla); Gaming Shark Space with dedicated hardware switch
  • Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855: octa-core CPU (4×2.84 GHz Kryo 485 Gold & 4×1.7 GHz Kryo 485 Silver), Adreno 640 GPU.
  • Memory: 8/12GB of RAM; 128/256GB storage.
  • Battery: 4,000mAh Li-Ion (sealed); 27W charging.
  • Connectivity: Dual-SIM; LTE-A, 4-Band carrier aggregation, Cat.16/13 (1Gbps/150Mbps); USB-C; Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; dual-band GPS; Bluetooth 5.0.
  • Misc: Under-display fingerprint reader; front stereo speakers; dedicated game pad (sold separately)

The Black Shark 2 lacks a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot. The memory expansion can be forgiven with the ample storage options available, but the lack of the audio jack in a gaming phone is harder to swallow. An adapter goes some way towards fixing that, but if anyone would need to charge and use headphones at the same time it would be gamers.

The Shark 2 isn’t water-resistant like the ROG phone, but its price is half of what Asus asks for the ROG, so there is that. The Xiaomi offering can’t quite match the ROG’s accessory ecosystem either, but it still has the key ones covered – controller (with a case or a stand), a cooling case, and Black Shark-branded earphones.

Unboxing the Black Shark 2

The Black Shark 2 is available in two variants – 8GB RAM + 128GB storage and 12GB RAM + 256GB storage. Their retail bundles have just one difference – the 12GB/256GB model comes packed with a pair of the Black Shark Gaming Earphones (€19,90 MSRP), while the lesser model has no headphones in the box.

So, we have the high tier model and its box is unusually big. The first layer of the black box contains the phone itself, while underneath there are five compartments. The middle one contains some paperwork and a transparent silicone case, while around you’ll find the mentioned Black Shark Gaming earphones ending on a USB-C plug, a 27W-rated charger, and the USB-C cable. Oh, and a SIM ejection pin is also around.

Black Shark 2 review

At first, we thought there wasn’t a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter in the box, but as it turned out the tiny thingy was hidden pretty well within the USB cable. And since the Black Shark 2 lacks a 3.5mm jack, it is indeed a must, so we were relieved when we found it.

Black Shark 2 review

Finally, the Black Shark 2 has a thin screen protector applied in the factory, so if you need one – it’s already there and you won’t need to go shopping right away.

Design, LEDs, haptics

If it’s gaming-centric, it has to come with RGB LEDs – that’s been the PC industry’s mantra for years now and the Black Shark 2 follows along. It comes with LEDs around its sides, and also a LED-backlit logo on the over-designed back.

Black Shark 2 review

Of course, the centerpiece of the new Black Shark is its screen and the panel indeed looks promising. It has razor-thin bezels on the sides and finger-friendly strips on top and bottom. In addition to providing resting places for your fingers for those long gaming sessions the full bezels also mean there are no cutouts on the screens. If we don’t count the rounded corners that is, but those are the norm these days.

The 6.39″ AMOLED screen features 1080p+ resolution at the tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio. QHD resolution makes little sense when talking gaming phones as it puts extra strain on the GPU.

Not quite as gamin-friendly is the Black Shark 2’s 60Hz screen, which means it caps any content at 60fps. High-refresh rate screens are one of the key differentiator to gaming phones and even the mainstream OnePlus 7 Pro does 90Hz, so it’s disappointing that the Black Shark 2 misses one. Admittedly, Android games that support 90Hz or 120Hz screens aren’t that many, but if phones like this one doesn’t provide the incentive to developers then who will.

Black Shark 2 review

Xiaomi has partially made up for the lack of a high refresh rate screen with one of the best touch panels in the industry – within that OLED is a net of sensors with a report rate up to 240Hz for an extremely low touch input latency. And we could indeed feel it even in mundane Android operations – the instant responsiveness is a nice touch that many a flagship is missing.

Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review

   
Black Shark 2

The top bezel houses a couple of sensors, the 20MP selfie shooter, and a thin grille for the earpiece, which also doubles as a speaker. There is a symmetrical grille at the chin for the second speaker. Xiaomi promises excellent loudness and quality and we’ll make sure to check those claims in a bit.

Black Shark 2 review

There is also an optical under-display fingerprint scanner around the bottom of the screen. It seems to be the same sensor used on the Xiaomi Mi 9T, meaning it’s blazing fast and very accurate – almost as good as the conventional ones and we can only praise its performance. It works even through the smudge-covered screen protector, too.

Black Shark 2 review

The Black Shark 2 also features an excellent taptic engine that comes close to the ROG’s. It generates subtle yet deep vibrations on the exact places you tap, but also responds very well to compatible games.

The back of the Black Shark is an over-designed piece in typical gaming fashion, but it’s very pretty in its own way. It’s a single piece of frosted metal and it extends towards the screen to form the sides of the phone as well. The frosted finish is not that prone to fingerprints, very grippy, and adds for a nice softness on touch.

Black Shark 2 review

You’ve probably noticed the glass piece that interrupts the metal back. It boosts the industrial looks, sure, but it’s also needed so the host of antennas doesn’t interfere with each other.

Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 - Black Shark 2 review

   
Black Shark 2

At the center of the X-like glass is the illuminated S-logo. Just like the side LED strips, its light is highly customizable – you can choose patterns and colors and whatnot.

The two cameras on the back are protruding slightly – rather odd given that the Black Shark 2 is 1.2mm thicker than the Mi 9 from which it borrows them. The top one has a 12MP sensor behind f/2.2 telephoto lens for zoomed photos, while the regular snaps are shot with the bottom 48MP snapper that’s behind f/1.75 28mm lens. There is no optical stabilization available on either of those.

Black Shark 2 review

You’ve probably noticed the green accent visible around the glass. It is also painted over the chamfered edge around the screen and while it is just a static paint, it reacts somehow to ambient light and looks like it’s flashing. It’s really cool and we thought for quite some time that actual LEDs are involved before we discovered that’s it’s just cool reflective finish.

Black Shark 2 review

Also, we want to praise Xiaomi for taking the extra step and protect the rear glass piece from scratching. The metal at the center of the glass is bulging just enough to prevent the glass from touching your desk or table.

The handling of the Black Shark 2 is great. The frame is part of the single frosted metal piece that covers the back though is a double chamfer. The frosted finish is best for grip, while the rather sharp edge between those two chamfers makes it feel even more secure in hand.

Then there are the two RGB LED strips on the longer sides of the frame. Those can be used for notifications and low battery reminder, they also flash dynamically during music and video playback, and the most important – they do the same during gaming. You can choose between various patterns and colors in the LED settings, or you can opt out of some or all triggers.

Black Shark 2 review

The left side of the Black Shark 2 has only the volume rocker and one of the LED strips. The bottom is where the dual-SIM and USB-C slot are. On the right you’ll find the other RGB LED, the power key, and a special switch for the so-called Shark Space. It’s a dedicated game launcher and this hardware slider is the only way to enter and exit the Shark Space.

The Black Shark 2 measures 163.6 x 75 x 8.8 mm – about 5mm taller than the Mi 9T, which has the same 6.39″ OLED and 4,000mAh battery, and those extra millimeters come from the bezels. The Shark weighs 205g, 14g heavier than the Mi 9T, probably due to the metal back and the advanced copper and metal cooling parts we are going to talk about later on.

The Black Shark 2 is one very solid smartphone – not the most convenient for carrying about, but arguably the perfect size and shape for gaming. The lack of ingress protection and a 3.5mm jack are our main gripes with its design, but overall we are pretty happy with what it is.

Display

The Black Shark 2 shares the 6.39″ diagonal of its AMOLED panel with the Mi 9 and Mi 9T. It is a gaming phone, so a cutout of any kind would have been a huge blow to usability, but with a full bezel there was an easy way around that.

Black Shark 2 review

In the abscence of high refresh rate or extra high resolution, the only screen treat that the Black Shark 2 gets is the 240Hz touch input. It lowers the touch latency and the phone feels more responsive than a bunch of recent flagships including the Mi 9 series, which have the same panel underneath It’s not a big difference, but it’s there. The iPhones have had 120Hz touch input for a while, and we can compare the Black Share 2’s responsiveness to X and XS.

The measurements we took on the Black Shark 2 screen match those of the Xiaomi Mi 9T. The maximum brightness you get in manual mode is 430 nits and there is a sunlight boost switch for the Auto brightness mode, which lets you go to 620 nits.

The screen could be very dim, too, with just 1.8 nits of minimum brightness.

Display test100% brightness
Black, cd/m2White, cd/m2Contrast ratio
Black Shark 20428
Black Shark 2 (Max Auto)0616
Xiaomi Mi 90428
Xiaomi Mi 9 (Max Auto)0620
Xiaomi Mi 9T0449
Xiaomi Mi 9T (Max Auto)0646
Samsung Galaxy S10+0385
Samsung Galaxy S10+ (Max Auto)0793
Samsung Galaxy S10e0389
Samsung Galaxy S10e (Max Auto)0803
Asus ROG Phone0458
Asus ROG Phone (Max Auto)0542
Huawei Mate 20 X0459
Huawei Mate 20 X (Max Auto)0655
Apple iPhone XS Max0653
OnePlus 7 Pro0436
OnePlus 7 Pro (Max Auto)0616
OnePlus 70443
OnePlus 7 (Max Auto)0642
Razer Phone0.2513001195
Razer Phone 20.401380948
Razer Phone 2 (Max Auto)0.4034261057
Sony Xperia 10391
Sony Xperia 1 (Max Auto)0665

The AMOLED panel is HDR10-compliant and supports DCI-P3 color space. Xiaomi offers three different Contrast settings. The Cinema Mode (default) fully covers the DCI-P3 color space and we measured an average deltaE of 3.4.

The Natural Contrast corresponds to sRGB and we recorded an average deltaE of 4.7 for the color accuracy, meaning it’s slightly worse but still fine in the grand scheme of things.

The third one is the Eye-care mode, which limits the blue hues and is best for nighttime and when planning to read text on the phone for long periods of time.

A so-called True View option is available, too, and it’s similar to True Tone on the iPhones. It optimizes the colors and contrast depending on the surrounding light.

The Black Shark 2 also comes with a proprietary video enhancer (lifts video frame rate) and a separate option for SDR to HDR upscale, when possible, but those are of very limited use at best.

Battery life

The Black Shark 2 is powered by a beefy 4,000 mAh battery. It supports both Quick Charge 4+ and USB-PD and the phone comes bundled with a proper 27W charger. It refills 65% of a dead battery in 30 mins, while it takes about 100 mins for a full charge – both solid achivements.

The Black Shark 2 posted an excellent endurance rating of 93 hours and achieved great scores across the board. The screen-on-times are 12 hours of web browsing and 17 hours of video playback. Note that we tested the video playback with the default enhancer on (Super Cinema Mode), but left the SDR-to-HDR upscaler off.

Black Shark 2 review

Our battery tests were automated thanks to SmartViser, using its viSerDevice app. The endurance rating above denotes how long a single battery charge will last you if you use the Black Shark 2 for an hour each of telephony, web browsing, and video playback daily. We’ve established this usage pattern so that our battery results are comparable across devices in the most common day-to-day tasks. The battery testing procedure is described in detail in case you’re interested in the nitty-gritty. You can check out our complete battery test table, where you can see how all of the smartphones we’ve tested will compare under your own typical use.

Speakers

The Black Shark 2 has front-facing stereo speaker behind two grilles on its shorter sides. Naturally, one of these also acts as an earpiece, and as it happens more often than not nowadays, it is not as loud as the bottom one.

The top speaker is better at the high notes, while the bottom one has deeper bass, so some balance is eventually achieved. And depending on how close to your face the phone is the uneven sound may or may not bother you too much.

Black Shark 2 review

Xiaomi says the Black Shark 2’s speakers are 25% larger than the standard smartphone speakers and should be more powerful. We are not sure what constitues a “standard” smartphone, but the setup scored a Very Good mark in our loudness test, some way behind the best we’ve seen.

Speakerphone testVoice, dBPink noise/ Music, dBRinging phone, dBOverall score
Black Shark 267.773.682.9Very Good
Sony Xperia 169.874.581.0Very Good
Xiaomi Mi 970.174.281.6Very Good
Xiaomi Mi 9T70.674.881.2Very Good
Apple iPhone XS Max70.574.084.7Excellent
Samsung Galaxy S10+74.474.283.6Excellent
Razer Phone69.375.090.5Excellent
Asus ROG Phone79.077.584.9Excellent
Razer Phone 278.278.886.9Excellent
OnePlus 7 Pro79.677.787.2Excellent
Xiaomi Mi 9 SE86.279.087.0Excellent

Audio quality

The Xiaomi Black Shark 2 did very well in with an active external amplifier, posting the expected perfect scores for clarity, while still maintaining a high loudness to its output.

Plugging in a pair of headphones dropped the volume to average and added a moderate dose of stereo crosstalk. Some intermodulation distortion appeared as well although that would hardly be noticeable in real life usage. Still, the second part of the test hardly won the Black Shark 2 any bonus points.

TestFrequency responseNoise levelDynamic rangeTHDIMD + NoiseStereo crosstalk
Xiaomi Black Shark 2+0.02, -0.02-90.792.50.00210.0076-93.4
Xiaomi Black Shark 2 (headphones)+0.20, -0.10-89.791.50.00540.198-64.3
Xiaomi Mi 9+0.02, -0.01-93.993.10.00150.0066-91.9
Xiaomi Mi 9 (headphones)+0.05, -0.04-92.693.50.00260.072-58.7
Asus ROG Phone+3.31, -3.68-93.893.60.00150.013-62.5
Asus ROG Phone (headphones)+3.06, -3.96-93.893.70.00650.041-91.3
OnePlus 7 Pro+0.03, -0.01-93.092.60.00230.021-89.6
OnePlus 7 Pro (headphones)+0.10, -0.05-92.091.40.00340.106-74.8
Xiaomi Black Shark 2 frequency response

Xiaomi Black Shark 2 frequency response

Vanilla Android with some Black Shark enhancements

Xiaomi opted for a near-stock Android ROM called Joy UI on the Black Shark 2. The Android OS is the latest publicly available version – Pie and has just a couple additions to make your gaming experience better.

Black Shark 2 review

There is the Pie notification shade, quick toggles area, the new Pie task switcher and its multi-windows capabilities, and even the list of recent apps in the task switcher that can be expanded to reveal the full app drawer.

The Black Shark 2 launcher - Black Shark 2 review
The Black Shark 2 launcher - Black Shark 2 review
The Black Shark 2 launcher - Black Shark 2 review
The Black Shark 2 launcher - Black Shark 2 review
The Black Shark 2 launcher - Black Shark 2 review

    
The Black Shark 2 launcher

The Black Shark 2 supports an always-on mode – Ambient display – and oddly you can’t turn it off. It’s either always-on or shown only when you pick up the phone if Lift to Wake option is on.

You can unlock the screen via the improved under-display fingerprint scanner. The reader is very quick to set up and works snappily after that. The accuracy is superb, too, and overall, it’s great for your daily unlocking.

Fingerprints - Black Shark 2 review
Multi-tasking - Black Shark 2 review
Multi-tasking - Black Shark 2 review
Multi-tasking - Black Shark 2 review

   
Fingerprints • Multi-tasking

You can also set up face unlock in addition to it – it’s equally fast as the Black Shark 2 wakes up the moment you pick it up, but not as secure. Note that the face unlock option may not be available in all regions.

The launcher does also include an optional Google feed screen on the far left and lends itself to a certain degree of customization, like editing number or rows and columns and toggling things like notification dots, app suggestions and home screen rotation.

Music, Movies, Files, Drive – everything is handled by Google’s default apps. There is no FM radio on the Black Shark 2.

The only traces of Xiaomi’s addition to Android are in the Settings menu. There are two new sections in there – Light Settings and Game Dock.

The Light Settings controls the two LED strips on the frame and the illuminated S-logo at the back. Here, you can configure the effects on that S or disable it completely. Then there are a few available scenarios. Basic is for power, call, notification, and charging effects. Entertainment is for effects during music playback. And then there is Shark mode, which is to enable the LEDs in that mode.

Settings - Black Shark 2 review
Light effects - Black Shark 2 review
S-logo - Black Shark 2 review
Different effects - Black Shark 2 review
Choose colors - Black Shark 2 review

    
Settings • Light effects • S-logo • Different effects • Choose colors

Game Dock is the settings menu for the Shark gaming mode. Here you can opt for FPS optimizations, floating windows, in-game voice optimizations, and brightness lock.

Game Dock - Black Shark 2 review
Viewing options - Black Shark 2 review

 
Game Dock • Viewing options

Aside from those two new sections in Settings, you’ll find no other traces of Black Shark proprietary stuff. That’s because everything else is available only in Shark Space and this mode can only be activated via the hardware slider on the side – you get no icons or gestures for it. You can then only exit by sliding it the other way.

Shark Space - Black Shark 2 review
Shark Space - Black Shark 2 review
Shark Space - Black Shark 2 review
Shark Space - Black Shark 2 review

 
 
Shark Space

Shark Space is a game launcher, which automatically recognizes your games and adds them to its library. In case it fails to add a game, you can do it manually. It has an integrated DnD mode for not allowing calls and notifications to pass through, and it also cleans RAM upon launch.

Shark Space - hardware controls - Black Shark 2 review
Shark Space - hardware controls - Black Shark 2 review

 
Shark Space – hardware controls

The Shark Space is the place where you can configure the accessories for the Black Shark 2, if you bought some. Those are connected via Bluetooth and snap easily on the Shark’s sides.

The Space does more than meets the eye, though. For starters it handles and repurposes resources on the go, for maximum performance and framerate. It also keeps track of misbehaving background apps, temperatures and signal strength.

The game bar - Black Shark 2 review
game bar - Black Shark 2 review
keep track of your resources - Black Shark 2 review
keep track of your resources - Black Shark 2 review

 
 
The game bar • game bar • keep track of your resources

When you are in a game launched through the Space, you can swipe on the upper right corner and invoke the dedicated Gamer Studio. It’s a row or two with different options. You can restrict more things from here, clean RAM, optimize resources, or even enter the so-called Ludicrous mode.

This Ludicrous allows you to boost the CPU, GPU, and Touch Panel temperature thresholds and thus enjoy the maximum performance your phone can offer for a longer time. This may and will overheat the Black Shark 2 though if used continuously without the cooling case that is sold separately and has an active fan within.

Performance - Black Shark 2 review
Ludicrous mode - Black Shark 2 review
Touch control - Black Shark 2 review
Sound control - Black Shark 2 review

 
 
Performance • Ludicrous mode • Touch control • Sound control

We tried the Ludicrous mode for benchmarks, and it provided a small boost in CPU and GPU intensive tests. It did raise the AnTuTu score with 3,000 points, but we just can’t believe you will be able to feel this in real life scenarios.

In Gamer Studio you can assign different touch sensitivity levels to different areas of the screen. You can adjust the LEDs behavior, set different audio effects and equalizers for each game, assign network priorities – there are really more options than anybody will ever need, but then again you can opt to use as many as you want or even none whatsoever.

Even more settings - Black Shark 2 review
Even more settings - Black Shark 2 review

 
Even more settings

Game Pads

Xiaomi offers an optional Black Shark 2 Pro Kit that costs €89.90. It contains a special Black Shark inspired case and two game pads (left and right) that you snap on either side of the phone.

Black Shark 2 review

The case is made entirely of plastic and is needed to provide the phone with rails so you can attach the game pads. It also provides for even more secure grip, and it does look cooler.

Black Shark 2 review

The left gamepad has an analog stick, four directional keys, and a function key. Then the right pad has a round touch area, four action keys (X,Y,A,B), and another function key. Both gamepads have a pair of triggers on their top sides, while each of their bottoms has a power switch, LED indicator, and a USB-C port.

Black Shark 2 review

All keys but the function are used when playing games. The function button will allow you to map all virtual keys to the hardware onse. It’s rather easy, you need to enter mapping mode from within the Gamer Studio and follow the instructions.

The pads slide easily in the case and they go along well with the Black Shark 2 design. Both are made of black plastic with matte finish and have very nice grip. Their keys have excellent response and feedback, while the integrated batteries should allow for up to 12 hours of non-stop gaming.

We tried a couple of games and indeed our experience was very positive. Unlike other Xbox-like controllers where you snap the phone on the top, these are very compact and look like a part of the phone rather than some oversized appendix. We would definitely prefer to carry and play with those while commuting, rather than something bigger than the phone itself.

Black Shark 2 review

Xiaomi is also selling these two with a standalone console-style piece instead of a case in what it calls Black Shark 2 Portable Gaming Kit. If you prefer to attach your phone to your big TV and use it as a gaming console and these as a wireless controllers, that’s the way to go.

Black Shark 2 review

To us that seems like a less viable option, but some might find a use case for it.

Performance, cooling, benchmarks

The Black Shark 2 employs the latest Snapdragon chip available from Qualcomm right now – the Snapdragon 855. It has an octa-core processor with 1+3+4 configuration – there is a single Kryo 485 Gold core (a Cortex-A76 derivative) clocked at 2.84GHz; three more Kryo 485 Gold cores clocked at 2.42GHz and a cluster of four Kryo 485 Silver cores (Cortex-A55 derivative) ticking at 1.79GHz.

The GPU is Adreno 640 and it’s Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line graphics processor that can handle pretty much everything you throw at it. And we already know that it aces everything on 1080p screens such as the one on the Black Shark 2.

The Black Shark 2 has either 8GB or 12GB of RAM depending on the storage option you get – 128GB or 256GB.

The Black Shark 2 has the regular Snapdragon chip with no overclocking options available – so its processing power isn’t superior to most 2019 flagships.

Black Shark 2 review

However, it aims to let you use that power for longer thanks to an advanced cooling system. Starting from the battery and up to the screen the Black Shark 2 has a nanocomposite graphene, an independent liquid cooling pipe (vapor chamber), then there is a whole metal piece for heat dispersion, followed by some sort of a coldplate, and finally a copper plate (looking more like a film though).

Black Shark 2 review

The picture is not telling much, so without a proper disassembly we can’t be sure which cools what. But what we know is that the Black Shark 2 is indeed the coolest (literally) Snapdragon 855-powered smartphone we’ve handled to date. It does get warm, sure, but nowhere near the other S855 phones we’ve tested. Even after an hour of non-stop benchmarking, we kept enjoying the same level of performance, and warm but not hot backplate. And if that’s not enough for you, Black Shark 2 there’s the optional cooling case we mentioned.

Now, we ran the usual bunch of benchmarks, and spoiler alert, the Black Shark 2 aces all of them. Just to be on the safe side, we tried launching those apps from the Shark Space and then from the regular app drawer, and we found no difference in the scores.

The Geekbench test once again crowns the Snapdragon 855’s CPU as the fastest Android processor when it comes to multi-core processor, although in the single-core test the latest custom core by Samsung does much better. Ironically that makes the Exynos the better chipset for gaming, but Samsung isn’t selling that one to its competitors so Xiaomi just got the best they could.

GeekBench 4.1 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Black Shark 211192
  • Xiaomi Mi 911181
  • OnePlus 711075
  • Sony Xperia 110985
  • OnePlus 7 Pro10943
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+10387
  • ASUS ROG Phone9230
  • Razer Phone 28923
  • Razer Phone6728

GeekBench 4.1 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy S10+4522
  • Black Shark 23515
  • Xiaomi Mi 93503
  • OnePlus 73461
  • Sony Xperia 13447
  • OnePlus 7 Pro3402
  • ASUS ROG Phone2514
  • Razer Phone 22424
  • Razer Phone1931

Then we have the GPU benchmarks, which also bring us no surprise. The Adreno 640 is a very powerful GPU and matched with the 1080p resolution it delivers impressive framerates even when put under pressure.

GFX 3.1 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Black Shark 257
  • Xiaomi Mi 956
  • Sony Xperia 155
  • ASUS ROG Phone54
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+37
  • Razer Phone 233
  • OnePlus 7 Pro33
  • Razer Phone22

GFX 3.1 Car scene (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Black Shark 236
  • Xiaomi Mi 935
  • Sony Xperia 133
  • ASUS ROG Phone31
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+23
  • Razer Phone 222
  • OnePlus 7 Pro19
  • Razer Phone15

3DMark SSE 3.1 Unlimited

Higher is better

  • OnePlus 76388
  • Black Shark 26330
  • OnePlus 7 Pro6093
  • Xiaomi Mi 95816
  • Sony Xperia 15792
  • ASUS ROG Phone4875
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+4632

Not surprisingly then, the Black Shark 2 fared well in the compound AnTuTu test. But the fact that it only matched its Snapdragon 855 peers was somewhat of a surprise to us.

AnTuTu 7

Higher is better

  • Xiaomi Mi 9372006
  • OnePlus 7367812
  • Black Shark 2367354
  • OnePlus 7 Pro364025
  • Sony Xperia 1356734
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+333736
  • ASUS ROG Phone290975
  • Razer Phone 2285051
  • Razer Phone190271

The Black Shark 2 is able to match the most powerful smartphones today and thanks to its cooling it can sustain that level of performance for a longer time. It won’t go hot and it won’t throttle whatever the task at hand.

Xiaomi has the advantage of being the first gaming phone with the new Snapdragon 855 chipset and thus the only other phones that can match or beat its cooling simply don’t have the raw power to complete with it. Things might change in a couple of weeks when the new ROG phone comes out, but that one will be placed in an entirely different market segment, so the Black Shark 2 will live on as the most powerful sub-€600 phone for a while longer.

A familiar dual-camera

The Black Shark 2 may be a gaming phone, but it is well equipped to handle photos and videos, too. It has the same main and zoom cameras as the Mi 9, with the ultra-wide snapper being the one missing.

Black Shark 2 review

So, the there is a huge 1/2″-type 48MP sensor behind f/1.75 lens on the back that spits 12MP images – this is your main shooter. Then there is a 12MP telephoto snapper for 2x optical zoom. A single-LED flash is also around.

Phase-detection autofocus is available on the Black Shark 2, but the is no optical stabilization on either of the snappers.

The default camera app is the one thing lifted from MIUI and hasn’t changed one bit. Swiping left and right will shuffle through the camera modes and you will find additional settings in the tab above the viewfinder. It lets you adjust some settings like beautification, HDR, AI, video mode and picture quality.

Oddly, the Black Shark 2 lacks Night Mode and 48MP option – both are available on the other Xiaomi phones we’ve handled in the past couple of months.

There is a Pro mode though, where you can switch between the two cameras and shoot at low shutter speeds down to 32s.

Camera app - Black Shark 2 review
Camera app - Black Shark 2 review
Camera app - Black Shark 2 review
Camera app - Black Shark 2 review
Camera app - Black Shark 2 review

    
Camera app

Image quality

The default photos come from the 48MP Quad-bayer sensor, and after the Black Shark 2 has finished processing them, they will end up in 12MP resolution. There is no 48MP mode as on other Xiaomi phones.

Before we continue with our usual pixel peeping, we have to point out that our unit seems to have a lens issue as the lower right and upper left corners have pronounced softness. We are unsure if it affects all unit or if it’s limited to a certain set, but it’s something to keep in mind. It’s not a huge deal with most scenes, but the uneven sharpness can still be noticeable and irritating in some cases.

That aside, the images come out very good with plenty of detail, great dynamic range and lively but still reasonably accurate colors. Processing is a bit heavy-handed at times, particularly with finer detail like foliage, but overall the Black Shark 2 has admirable performance when the lighting is good.

Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 98, 1/6074s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 100, 1/7360s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 101, 1/6736s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 98, 1/6074s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 102, 1/6256s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 96, 1/9052s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 100, 1/7925s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 97, 1/7581s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP photos - f/1.8, ISO 103, 1/7146s - Black Shark 2 review

  
  
  
Black Shark 2 12MP photos

The 12MP telephoto camera isn’t quite as good – its images are slightly less detailed and noisier, but at least they retain the same good color rendering. Dynamic range is more limited here too, but that’s the case with just about every telecamera on smartphones these days.

Xiaomi has an AI toggle, which is a simple scene recognition and doesn’t do much in daylight. But it can offer suggestions for which camera you should use in some scenes, so if you are new to this multi-camera stuff, you might what to keep it on just for that.

Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 99, 1/866s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 99, 1/960s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 99, 1/1049s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/1065s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/919s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 99, 1/439s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/479s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 99, 1/1019s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos - f/2.2, ISO 100, 1/946s - Black Shark 2 review

  
  
  
Black Shark 2 12MP tele photos

The low-light performance is about average with the large sensor doing well to maintain decent sharpness and noise levels. There is no optical stabilization, but the shutter speed doesn’t drop below 1/17s, which combined with the good grip of the phone meant we didn’t get many blurry photos at night.

Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos - f/1.8, ISO 1016, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos - f/1.8, ISO 2128, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos - f/1.8, ISO 628, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos - f/1.8, ISO 2192, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos - f/1.8, ISO 5088, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos - f/1.8, ISO 800, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review

  
  
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos

Sadly, there is no Night Mode on the Black Shark 2 – a pity given that other Xiaomi phones have it. If you leave the AI on, it will trigger a Night Scene, but that hardly makes a big difference – a minor improvement in dynamic range is the best you can hope for.

Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos with AI - f/1.8, ISO 956, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos with AI - f/1.8, ISO 2096, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos with AI - f/1.8, ISO 609, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos with AI - f/1.8, ISO 2160, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos with AI - f/1.8, ISO 5088, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos with AI - f/1.8, ISO 838, 1/17s - Black Shark 2 review

  
  
Black Shark 2 12MP low-light photos with AI

You can’t use the zoom camera for night shots. If you switch to 2X, the Black Shark 2 would snap a photo with the main camera and then digitally zoom it.

Once you’re done with the real world samples, head over to our Photo compare tool to see how the Black Shark 2 stacks up against the competition.

Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool
Photo Compare Tool

  
12MP: Black Shark 2 against the Asus ROG Phone and the Razer Phone 2 in our Photo compare tool

Portraits

The Black Shark 2’s portraits don’t get a lot of customization options and are average in quality. Subject separation is okay most of the time, although it will completely fail on some occassions . Shooting portraits is not a fast process either and it gets a bit frustrating in time.

Black Shark 2 12MP portraits - f/2.2, ISO 146, 1/100s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP portraits - f/2.2, ISO 291, 1/33s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP portraits - f/2.2, ISO 142, 1/100s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 12MP portraits - f/2.2, ISO 99, 1/626s - Black Shark 2 review

   
Black Shark 2 12MP portraits

Selfies

The Black Shark 2 features a 20MP f/2.0 snapper with fixed focus for selfies at the front and it can do portraits. Unfortunately, the quality is rather disappointing. The 20MP selfies are lacking in detail and shoot blurry faces quite often. There are beautifications effects that you should turn off as quickly as possible or the images will turn from bad to abysmal.

Black Shark 2 20MP selfies - f/2.0, ISO 99, 1/157s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 20MP selfies - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/422s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 20MP selfies - f/2.0, ISO 99, 1/104s - Black Shark 2 review

  
Black Shark 2 20MP selfies

The portrait mode relies entirely on the processing to figure out where you face is and so its subject separation is rather poor. If you don’t have a particularly messy hair it can be good enough for social networks, but otherwise it’s best avoided.

Black Shark 2 20MP selfie portraits - f/2.0, ISO 99, 1/157s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 20MP selfie portraits - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/422s - Black Shark 2 review
Black Shark 2 20MP selfie portraits - f/2.0, ISO 99, 1/102s - Black Shark 2 review

  
Black Shark 2 20MP selfie portraits

Overall, we can’t say the Black Shark 2 is doing a good job in the selfie department despite the impressive numbers on paper. It’s just one of those cases where marketing materials took precedence over acutal performance.

Video recording

The Black Shark 2 captures video up to 4K @ 30fps as well as [email protected] and [email protected] There is no 60fps option at any resolution, and you can’t shoot videos with the telephoto camera.

The video bit rate is 40-42Mbps in 4K and about 20Mbps in 1080p at 30fps. Audio is recorded in stereo with a 96Kbps bit rate.

We found 4K videos from the main camera to be reasonably detailed, although their colors came off a little cold. The noise is kept under control and the dynamic range is very good too.

The 1080p capture at 30fps is excellent across the board – resolved detail, contrast, colors, dynamic range.

EIS is available only when shooting at [email protected] The digital stabilization does a great job smoothing the camera shake at the expense of minor loss of FoV.

Here’s how the Black Shark 2 compares to rivals in our Video compare tool. Head over there for the complete picture.

Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool
Video Compare Tool

  
2160p: Black Shark 2 against the Asus ROG Phone and the Razer Phone 2 in our Video compare tool

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