Black Shark 2 hands-on review

BlackShark 2 is the unholy offspring of a smartphone and a Nintendo Switch

The Black Shark 2 gaming smartphone has some serious power, cool add-ons, and a reasonable price.
The Black Shark 2 gaming smartphone has some serious power, cool add-ons, and a reasonable price.
The Black Shark 2 gaming smartphone has some serious power, cool add-ons, and a reasonable price.

Highs

  • Has latest Snapdragon 855 chip for speedy performance
  • Reasonable price
  • Interesting screen technology
  • Stock Android experience
  • Controller add-on and big-screen mode to increase usability

Lows

  • No U.S. release date yet
  • Gaming aesthetic may put some people off
  • Large and heavy

When you want gaming hardware, whether it’s a computer, a mouse, or a smartphone, it’s wise to look at those made by gaming companies. Razer and Asus, for example, make smartphones with all the features gamers want, from special screens to fast processors. Black Shark is a relative newcomer, having only started making phones in 2017. But it not only has a wealth of industry experience behind it, the team from the top down are also gamers themselves.

What’s more, Black Shark will remain a gaming smartphone-maker, and doesn’t intend to make a mainstream smartphone. This focus makes a difference, and gives us confidence in the fledgling brand. The Black Shark 2 is the company’s second phone, and is packed with exciting tech at a very affordable price. It’s more in-line with the Honor Play, than the Asus ROG Phone, yet with specs that will make the Honor phone blush.

Gaming aesthetic

Black Shark hasn’t gone mad with the design — it’s still shaped like a traditional smartphone, just with a distinctive rear panel. With a combination of plastic, glass, and metal, the body is quite large, thick, and heavy. This isn’t a downside, as it feels solid and secure in the hand — essential for long gaming sessions.

It wouldn’t be a gaming device if something didn’t light up, and sure enough the S logo on the back glows and pulsates. The phone comes in two colors: A cool silver and a deep blue. Without a doubt, the silver looks best.

Turn on the Black Shark 2 and you’re greeted with an almost completely stock version of Android. It’s a welcome sight, after the extensive customization on the Asus ROG Phone, and a negative experience with the first Black Shark. Black Shark says the screen is very special. and uses technology called DC Professional Dimming, rather than Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM), reducing flicker and making it much easier on the eyes. Additionally, it’s claiming the screen has the world’s lowest latency rate, down to 43.5 milliseconds, which combined with human reaction times will give normal game players, pro-level reaction times, according to Black Shark.

The controller can actually be clipped to the sides of the phone, turning it into a Nintendo Switch-style handheld.

Android was smooth and simple to use, as expected from the OS without a custom interface, and we played an Asphalt racing game to test the speed. It played very well indeed, and was especially impressive when the phone was plugged into a big screen. Black Shark calls this Host Mode, and it requires a USB Type-C to HDMI cable to operate. The game looked excellent on the monitor, without any noticeable delay or frame rate drop.

That’s likely due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor powering the phone, paired with 8GB or 12GB RAM options (you get 128GB storage with the first option, or 256GB with the 12GB RAM model). The processor is the same one you’ll find powering flagship Android smartphones in 2019 such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus and the LG G8 ThinQ.

What made it even more playable was Black Shark’s handheld game controller.

Game-centric features

The controller comes in two parts and can be either clipped to the sides of the phone, turning it into a Nintendo Switch-style handheld, or snapped together separately to control the action wirelessly on a big screen. The controller isn’t too small, but it is quite light. One side has a D-pad, and the other a flat analog control as well as a wide variety of buttons. While I liked it, I’m a casual gamer at best, and it didn’t strike me as something a dedicated gamer would want to use often. I didn’t get the chance to try using it with different games either, or to map buttons to alternative controls. This can be problematic if it doesn’t have wide support, and can reduce the usefulness of a controller.

Black Shark 2 review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Along with the controller and Host Mode, the Black Shark 2 can stream its gameplay to a computer using a special cable, and it can do so with both audio and video. All this certainly increases the Black Shark 2’s appeal to game fans, provided the features are simple to use.

There’s also a massive case with two built-in fans you can add to the phone. It really is huge, but the company said it’ll wipe 10 degrees off the temperature in just 10 seconds. This is just part of Black Shark’s dedication to keeping things cool, as inside the phone is a copper cooling plate and a cooling pipe, ensuring key heat-generating components — the CPU, charging interface, and battery for example — don’t get too hot. Cooler temperatures mean increased stability and performance when running the CPU at 100% too.

Best of all, there’s a 4,000mAh battery inside to make sure you can game for extended periods of time.

Camera

The dual-lens camera on the back of the Black Shark 2 includes a 48-megapixel sensor, but the venue where I saw the phone was very dark, and didn’t show off any of its ability at all.

Cool price

The price? Just 480 British pounds (around $625) for the 8GB model, which is available in the U.K. and Europe now, or 560 pounds (about $730) for the 12GB model coming soon. Discussion of a U.S. release returned conflicting comments, but it doesn’t seem like a North American launch will happen immediately, if at all.

At several hundred dollars less than Razer Phone 2 or Asus’ gaming phones, and with the very powerful Snapdragon 855, the reasonably priced 8GB Black Shark 2 is seriously tempting. The design is going to put casual gamers off, as it’s very much aimed at people who want that gaming aesthetic. But the stock version of Android, a big 4,000mAh battery, and the special screen could earn the Black Shark 2 plenty of fans. In my short time with the phone, it left a good impression.

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