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Black Shark 2 review: a powerful gaming phone that won’t break the bank

With not many serious gaming titles available for smartphones, and most flagships able to handle any available game with ease, I never saw the point of investing in a dedicated gaming phone. However, brands like Black SharkASUS and nubia are now on track to make gaming phones mainstream with their stellar offerings. Black Shark debuted in India earlier this year, with the launch of the Black Shark 2. I received the smartphone for the purpose of this review and after using it extensively, it’s changed my opinion on gaming smartphones. Read on to know why.

Design

The Black Shark 2 features a subtle design while still retaining gaming aesthetics. While the phone flaunts a metal and glass chassis, it’s not your typical glass-sandwich design. You get a bevelled metal island in the centre and an X-shaped glass panel running all around it. According to the brand, the X-shaped panel is designed to enhance the signal reception during gameplay and streaming, as well as improve cooling.

The phone weighs 205g (thanks to some seriously heavy-duty metal) but is just 8.77 mm thin. This means that while being large and heavy, the phone is not chunky and I found it to be extremely slippery as well. If you have small hands, you will have a hard time holding the phone for an extended period of time, which means gaming for longer sessions will be an issue. Additionally, the mammoth frame of the Black Shark 2 means it will won’t fit in your pocket easily either.

The colour combination is the same as every Black Shark Phone from the past i.e. Black and Green. You will find a shiny green trim running along the entire length of the fascia and the glass inset on the back, which can only be seen when the light hits it. There is the signature graffiti-esque ‘S’ logo of the brand with RGB LEDs in the center of the metal island on the back, and two RGB LED bands running along the sides as well.

This time around, the illuminated logos and bands support the full spectrum of RGB colours and light up for notifications, incoming calls and while charging the device. The RGB illumination can be fully customised from settings, including the glow pattern, colour combination and more. Unfortunately, the RGB illumination (both the logo and bands on the sides) died on me quite a few times, and I had to restart the phone to get them to work again.

Other elements on the Black Shark 2 include the power button and dedicated Shark Space key with green highlights on the right, and volume keys on the left. The top edge is bare, while the bottom edge is home to a single noise-cancelling mic and a USB Type-C port. There’s no 3.5mm audio jack, which is surprising for a gaming phone, but thankfully there is a USB Type-C to 3.5mm dongle in the box.

Display

The Black Shark 2, like every other gaming phone, comes with substantial bezels surrounding the display, especially on the top and bottom. If you’re a gamer, you won’t mind this since the bezels help with a proper grip to prevent accidental touches while gaming. The display is a 19.5: 9, 6.39-inch AMOLED screen with a resolution of 2,340 x 1,080 pixels. While some might complain about the use of FHD+ resolution, bear in mind that we have a long way to go before enough 4K games find their way to the mobile platform.

Unfortunately, the refresh rate on the Black Shark 2 is capped at 60Hz. The reason provided by the brand is that increasing the refresh rate on the AMOLED panel would have increased the cost. Black Shark has made up for this omission by providing a 240Hz touch polling and a touch latency of just 43.5ms, which is the lowest in the smartphone industry right now. The low touch latency and Master Touch pressure-sensitive display technology along with Black Shark’s Gaming AI, ensures that the gaming experience on this display was nothing short of excellent. Additionally, as expected from an AMOLED display, the screen has vibrant colour production, sharp text and is also sufficiently bright indoors. However, you might find the brightness to be on the lower side in sunlight.

Other display features include HDR, TrueClarity MEMC processing, real-time SDR-HDR conversion, an in-display fingerprint scanner and more. The fingerprint scanner offers attractive animations, however, I found it struggling to recognise my digit several times. The face unlock, on the other hand, is pretty fast and accurate unless you use it in the dark.

Gaming features and experience

I mentioned how the display is ideal for gaming earlier, and now I’ll talk about the actual gaming performance of the device. The dedicated Shark Key mentioned above opens up the gaming space with your games being shown as a carousel. As soon as you toggle the Shark Key, it disables all incoming notifications and calls, and clears the memory to facilitate a smooth gaming experience. In Shark Space, you can access the Gamer Studio interface by swiping down from the top right corner. From here, you can fine tune your gaming experience by tweaking various settings including game visuals, audio, RGB light settings and more.

I received the Gamepad accessory along with the Black Shark 2. Playing PUBG, Call of Duty: Mobile and other games was that much more convenient with a dedicated joystick and directional keys on the Gamepad. You will need to turn on Bluetooth and pair the Gamepad with the phone before you can start using it. Pressing the triangular button with green lighting on the controller will show you the button mapping, which can be changed from the Gamer Studio option in the game. All in all, the controller definitely improves the gaming experience by leaps and bounds.

The Gamer Studio option also lets you turn on Ludicrous Mode for the maximum gaming boost. Turning on this mode allows the phone to overclock to an extent, and use all of its processing power for the game being played. This ensures that the game you are playing stays at the highest framerate throughout the session. PUBG which usually plays at 40Hz in normal mode, stayed on 60Hz in Ludicrous mode throughout the session. The drawback here is that I found Black Shark 2 heating up considerably in the Ludicrous mode. However, the phone also cooled down quickly thanks to the Direct Touch Liquid Cooling 3.0. Black Shark claims that the direct touch multilayer liquid cooling system reduces core temperatures by up to 14°C, and while I cannot attest to the percentage of reduction, I can vouch that it works. At no point did the Black Shark 2 slow down due to the heat being generated while gaming.

Performance, software and battery

Speaking of the performance, the Black Shark 2 ships with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, which is a 7nm octa-core chipset clocked at 2.8Ghz.  The phone is being offered in two variants – 6GB + 128GB and 12GB + 256GB. I received the former and got around 110GB out of the box. As expected, the Black Shark 2 blazes through day-to-day tasks without breaking a sweat.

As for software, the Black Shark 2 boots Android 9 Pie with Joy UI interface garnished on top. Despite being a custom software from the brand, the interface is close to pure vanilla with green accents replacing blue ones to stay consistent with the green and black colour theme of the brand. And staying true to the character of stock Android, the phone doesn’t have any bloatware as well,  further helping the performance of the phone.

Coming to the battery, the Black Shark 2 features a 4,000mAh cell which might sound a little underwhelming compared to other gaming phones in the market. However, during my three week sojourn with the phone, I routinely got a screen-on-time between 5-6 hours, which is an impressive number, to say the least. Black Shark is providing a 27W fast charger with the device and the phone charges to 60 percent in just 30 minutes, while charging to 100 percent takes around 1.5 hours.

Cameras

The Black Shark 2 flaunts a dual-camera setup on the back including a Sony IMX586 48MP primary sensor with f/1.75 aperture, accompanied by a 12MP telephoto sensor with f/2.2 aperture. For selfies and video calling, there is a 20MP shooter on the front. The camera app is loaded with features like slow motion, portrait, pro mode, HDR, AI-backed scene recognition, 4K video recording at 30fps and more.

The cameras miss out on a few aspects, including the lack of a 48MP mode, OIS and a dedicated night mode. The pictures taken by the primary camera are by default shot in 12MP pixel binning mode, and video recording is also capped at 30fps. That being said, in daylight the camera managed to capture plenty of detail and good dynamic range. The AI-backed scene recognition manages to accurately detect the scene and adjust contrast, sharpness and saturation accordingly. The resultant pictures are tad oversaturated, which many users now prefer for social media usage.

In low light, you can witness noise creeping in, but the camera doesn’t soften details or crank up the brightness to the extent of overexposing the shot. However, a dedicated night mode would have taken care of other issues like glare around light sources. The portrait mode worked impressively, but close-up shots leave a lot to be desired as the camera struggles to lock focus.

Coming to the selfies, I was pleasantly surprised by the 20MP shooter on the front. The camera retains a lot of details and also manages to capture the skin tone accurately, but with a light saturation pop. In portrait mode, there is a slight halo effect but the overall picture is quite aesthetic and insta-ready.

The competition

The Black Shark 2 was launched for Rs 39,999 and is currently retailing for Rs 29,999. It goes up against the likes of the Redmi K20 Pro (review), OnePlus 7T (review) and ASUS ROG Phone 2 (first impressions). The Redmi K20 Pro price in India starts at Rs 27,999, and it offers the same Snapdragon 855 chipset, along with a triple camera module, elevating selfie camera and more. The OnePlus 7T starts at Rs 37,999 and offers a more powerful Snapdragon 855+ SoC, 90Hz display and triple camera setup, among other features. Both these devices are capable gaming phones in their own right, but lack the gaming specific features that the Black Shark 2 brings to the table.

Taking this into consideration, the main competitor for the Black Shark 2 is the ASUS ROG Phone 2, which starts from Rs 37,999 but adds features like a massive 6,000mAh battery, Snapdragon 855+ chipset, 3.5mm audio jack and 120Hz display.

Verdict

At its current starting price of Rs 29,999, the Black Shark 2 is a gaming smartphone you cannot ignore. The phone delivers raw power, a clean interface, good battery life and capable cameras for the price it commands. If you are looking for an affordable flagship phone that can perform like a champ in day to day usage, and turn into a gaming beast with just the toggle of a key, the Black Shark 2 is the way to go.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10

Pros:

  • Ludicrous mode is unparalleled for gaming
  • Excellent performance
  • Great battery life
  • Stock Android interface

Cons:

  • In-display fingerprint scanner isn’t very accurate
  • No 3.5mm audio jack
  • Display features standard 60Hz refresh rate

Photos by Raj Rout

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