Just like gaming laptops, gaming smartphones are now a thing. The same devices that were made with the sole purpose of communication, are now being tailor-made to run heavy games. We’ve seen gaming smartphones from the likes of Razer, and that’s understandable. However, Xiaomi is now being added to the mix with its Black Shark 2.
As you can tell by the name, the Black Shark 2 is the second iteration of the new gaming smartphone lineup from Xiaomi. While the previous phone was okay, it failed to beat the Razer Phone to the gaming phone throne. The Black Shark 2 is here all set up to challenge Razer once again for the top spot in this niche market. Let’s see what it has in store for us.
Design & Display
The Xiaomi Black Shark 2, in its natural state, resembles a gaming laptop. You get sharp angles, weird lines, and an overall sturdy build. Unlike most flagship smartphones coming out this time around, the Black Shark 2 does not feature a glass construction. Instead, you get a nice aluminum unibody with the glass only at the front, where you get the display.
Speaking of the display, it is a 6.39″ 1080×2340 AMOLED panel. I’ll be honest that I’m a little disappointed with the display. In a time where flagships are coming with 1440p displays and, in Sony Xperia 1‘s case, even 4k, 1080p just isn’t good enough. Regardless, you won’t be able to tell the difference while looking at it with your eyes. I do wish they upped the refresh rate to 90 or even 120Hz.
Thankfully, there isn’t any notch or a hole-punch in the screen which makes sure that your viewing experience is seamless. You do, however, get a slight chin and forehead below and above the display respectively. On the latter, you’ll find the single selfie camera. You also get dual front firing stereo speakers, which is always nice to have in a gaming device.
Move to the back and you’ll find sturdy aluminum instead of the fragile glass in every other flagship. The angular lines that you see on the back aren’t just for style. They have a function as well and that is to house the antenna banda. This ingenious design makes sure your phone gets Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Data signals regardless of the way you hold it.
On the top-left, you get the oddly placed dual-camera setup with an LED flash. However, my favorite design element in this device is the large Black Shark logo in the center that glows. That’s right. On this device, you get a backlit logo and I can’t think of anything more inclined towards gaming than this.
The Black Shark 2 might be competing with flagships but it’s important to note that its sole priority is gaming. This means that the cameras won’t be as impressive and it shows. As mentioned earlier, you get a dual-camera setup at the back. It includes a 48MP main camera with f/1.8 aperture. The second shooter is a telephoto with a 12MP sensor and f/2.2 aperture, which can give you 2x optical zoom. On the front, you’ll find a 20MP selfie camera with an f/2.0 aperture, which is decent.
Video recording on the Black Shark 2 is, as you all expected, standard. The back cameras can record 4K@30fps, 1080p@30/60fps, and 720@120fps slow-mo. You don’t get additional options as you get in most other devices. Similarly, the selfie camera can record 1080p@30fps and that’s it. It’s also important to note that none of these cameras are optically stabilized so your footage won’t be as smooth.
If you think about it, the camera department on the Black Shark 2 may seem disappointing. However, you also need to understand that this isn’t the prime focus of this device. The niche customer, that this device is aimed at, is not expected to use this device for some serious photography. If we look at it that way, the camera specs don’t seem to be that bad and we can forgive the Black Shark for not delivering here.
Unlike the camera department, however, the performance is what the Black Shark 2 was aimed to excel at and I’m happy to say that it does deliver. Under the hood, you will find the latest and greatest 7nm Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 855 CPU with the Adreno 640 GPU. If you’ve been keeping up, then you’ll know that this is the best you can get in terms of raw power.
That’s not where it ends as with all that performance, comes heat and with that, thermal throttling. To combat that, the Black Shark 2 comes integrated with Liquid Cooling 3.0. In case that’s not enough to satisfy your gaming needs, you can also buy a separate OEM battery-powered cooling case that has an actual fan inside, which makes sure your device never goes over ideal temperatures. Other add-ons include gaming controllers similar to the ones on the Nintendo Switch.
As far as RAM and Storage are concerned, the Black Shark 2 has got you covered. You can either have an 8 GB or 12 GB of ram. The latter option is the highest you can currently get on any smartphone. Storage options include 128 GB or 256 GB. Unlike the RAM, the storage numbers are nowhere near as extreme as other flagships but they don’t need to be. Even the base 128 GB variant will have enough space to store all your games without breaking a sweat.
I’m glad Xiaomi didn’t cheap out on battery, as most manufacturers often do. On the Black Shark, you get a 4000 mAh unit, that isn’t the best but will get you over 48 hours of normal usage. What’s better is that you get a 27W fast charger with Quick Charge 4.0 included in the box that charges via USB-C. This, paired with the liquid cooling we talked earlier, will make sure you get amazing charging speeds even while playing games.
Software & Security
The Xiaomi Black Shark 2 runs on Android 9.0 (Pie), which happens to be the latest so far. Xiaomi does use a custom UI on top of it, which is different from MiUI in its other devices. In fact, the software on the Black Shark oddly resembles the one on the Google Pixel phones. However, it does have some additional features that set it apart.
The first thing that you need to know about is Shark Space. With the flick of a switch on the side, that is strikingly similar to the alert slider on OnePlus devices, you activate this mode. When Shark Space is activated, your phone turns into a portable gaming console that clears up all additional apps in its memory to give all its resources to the game you’re playing.
The next thing is Ludicrous Mode. Like the one found in the Tesla cars, Ludicrous mode turns everything up to 11. The CPU runs with full force at 2.84 GHz and the advanced cooling system, that we talked about earlier, has your back in making sure no thermal throttling takes place.
As far as security is concerned, you get an optical, in-display fingerprint scanner, which is neither the fastest or the most secure.
Price & Verdict
Starting at just under $600, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 is a performance bargain. Sure, you don’t get the best cameras or the best display but that’s not the main focus of this device. It’s intended for pure gaming and it does that rather well. The top-tier spec would cost you $720, which isn’t cheap but it gets you 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which is class leading. I think it’s safe to say that if I were in the market for a gaming smartphone, this would be my choice, no question.