(Pocket-lint) - We're now up to the third-generation Black Shark phone. The brand was among the first to emerge as a 'gamer phone' maker, offering really powerful internals and hardware that's designed to give you the best mobile gaming experience.
What we've found in the past, however, is that such devices are just really good value high-performance phones. You don't have to be a so-called gamer to enjoy the speed, battery and media capabilities - and the same holds true for the Black Shark 3.
Business on the front, party at the back
- Dimensions: 168.72 x 77.33 x 10.42mm / Weight: 222g
- Programmable RGB LED icon
There's no escaping the fact that Black Shark's third-gen gaming phone is big. It's chunky, heavy and isn't all that comfortable in one hand for those reasons. Even by modern standards set by the likes of the Galaxy S20 Ultra or OnePlus 8 Pro, it's big.
With that said, it'll probably fit in your pocket, and its size is actually a part of what makes its performance possible. When you need extra components for cooling, a big flat screen and stereo speakers on the front, all those bits have to go somewhere.
From the front, the Black Shark 3 doesn't look all that different to any other Android phone. It has a long, flat display with relatively slim side bezels - and slightly thicker ones top and bottom, which is where you'll find the speaker grilles that let out powerful front-firing sound.
On the whole, the Black Shark 3 has a nice minimal look. It's not fussy or overly elaborate, and the fact the screen isn't curved is actually a good thing. It means you're less likely to suffer from accidental touches on the edges, which in turn means no mishaps during crucial moments when playing fast-moving games.
Turn the phone over and things get a little more exciting, although by gaming phone standards the Black Shark 3 is quite restrained here. It's nowhere near as eye-catching as the Mantis Shrimp colour option on the Red Magic 5G.
On our review model, the contrast between the matte anodised black metal framing and the glossy black glass is subtle enough that it adds the overall visual effect. It's all symmetrical too, which we love. There's a triangular protrusion on the top and bottom, with the camera system sitting in one, and a magnetic charging contact point in the other.
Then there's the X-shaped glass portion that's created by having that metal framing coming in from both sides, which form part of the X-antenna to help ensure the phone can keep a strong wireless signal even when being gripped by both hands.
Then of course, there's the light show. The 'S' logo on the back can be programmed to illuminate in different colours and pulse in different patterns, including gradients shifting from one colour to another. It's joined by two smaller, pill-shaped lights on the ends of those aforementioned triangular panels.
As for ports and buttons, there's everything you could need here. Although the placement does make things a little impractical at times. In order to leave space up the sides for accessories - like the external cooling fan - to grip onto, the power button has been pushed way up near the top of the right edge, making it difficult to reach. It's a similar story on left side with the volume rocker switch.
Still, wired headphone lovers will be glad to know there's a 3.5mm input port at the top. So plug in, play your music without having to mess about pairing any Bluetooth headphones.
- 6.67-inch AMOLED panel, 1080 x 2400 resolution
- 90Hz refresh rate with MEMC
- Stereo front facing speakers
- LDAC Hi-Res audio
As with so many of its features, looking at the spec sheet for the Black Shark 3 makes for exciting reading for any tech aficionado. It has a 90Hz screen for fast frame-rate games and smooth animation, plus Hi-Res audio support, which includes the ability to use wireless LDAC tech with compatible headphones.
The display is bright and vibrant. Despite its Full HD+ resolution - it's therefore not as crisp as a QuadHD display be - we have no complaints over its portrayal of details. It's plenty sharp enough. It's AMOLED, too, so naturally colours are vivid, contrast is high and blacks are inky and dark.
It's a great panel for gaming, because everything pops on screen. It's not the best panel for photo and video work, however, since even switched to its most natural and subdued calibration, the contrast is too high and nothing seems all that natural.
Despite being 90Hz, we didn't find the smoothness and speed of any animations to be as smooth and stutter-free as what you'd get on the OnePlus 8. At times, animations seemed to stutter a tiny bit - like those times when you let go after scrolling through a list. Still, for gaming it's responsive and fast, with very little in the way of problems there. And that's the important part.
Add to that sound that's detailed and in stereo, coming from those front firing speakers, you do get a decent multimedia experience. If we had any complaints about those stereo speakers it'd just be that the left side doesn't seem as powerful as the right, and that can skew the stereo experience somewhat. Plus, the bass could be a lot richer to help fill out a bit more.
The promise of Hi-Res wireless audio was quite enticing, so we loaded up our Tidal Masters playlist, paired up the Shure Aonic 50 headphones and ensured the LDAC wireless feature was enabled. Ultimately, however, we were a bit disappointed: for whatever reason, with LDAC switched on, over a Bluetooth connection we kept hearing unusual artefacts in the sound that tarnished the experience.
Speed, I am speed
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor
- 128GB/256GB storage (UFS 3.0)
- 8GB/12GB RAM (LPDDR5)
- Sandwich liquid cooling
- 270Hz response
Load up any game with the Black Shark 3 and there's a real sense that you're getting top notch speed and response. Whether you're chasing a fifth star in a level of Mario Kart Tour or trying to win a round in CoD Mobile, everything is responsive and smooth. A big part of that is down to the internal power on offer from the Snapdragon 865 processor, but there are other elements at play too.
Cooling is essential in a powerful phone, and Black Shark has used a sandwich cooling system which places a liquid cooling pip inside a copper alloy shelter on both sides of the printed circuit board, and then has a thermal graphite sheet above the top one. If you need more cooling, there are additional external fans you can buy (more on that later).
With that cooling, plus a powerful processor, and the speedy LPPDR5 RAM and UFS 3.0 solid state storage, there's more than enough in the phone to ensure it's quick and snappy. But that's not even the whole picture. The touch panel on the display is designed to offer 270Hz touch response rate, which means it's really responsive. Oh, and it's a 5G phone too, so if you're in a 5G network area with the relevant SIM, you get really fast downloads too.
On the software side, Black Shark has moved away from that stock Android-like interface in favour of JoyUI - which seems very much like a fork of Xiaomi's MIUI, but with an additional layer of gaming-focused options. One of the physical switches on the side of the phone launches Shark Mode which is a dedicated space for loading purely games.
In this interface you can choose which games appear, and whether or not you want to be disturbed by notifications when gaming. You can also choose various settings to adjust the phone's performance, like adjusting the screen refresh rate, touch screen response rate and various other settings. This includes managing any of the connected gaming add-on accessories.
- Gamepad for physical controls
- RGB cooling fan
With any so-called 'gamer phone' there has to be some form of additional hardware you can buy, whether it be a physical controller or additional performance booster. The Black Shark 3 certainly has those.
First, there's the Gamepad 3 - which is essentially a clip-on joystick and d-pad combination, along with some additional trigger and shoulder buttons. It fits to the top edge of the phone, so doesn't have any physical connector for plugging into the phone. It connects via Bluetooth, and requires you to map the desired onscreen controls within compatible games.
Sadly, we found that our most played game (or one where a controller would be useful) - CoD Mobile - doesn't support external physical controllers. That's to keep the game fair for all touchscreen users.
The controller is supported by some games, and does mean you can keep at least the left side of the screen free from your thumb which can otherwise block important visuals. However, having it only on one side does make it feel a bit unbalanced. Often we just ended up using the touchscreen.
Similarly, the additional FunCooler Pro fan - which clips onto the back to keep the phone cool - requires being plugged into power source in order for it to work. It doesn't have a battery inside, and that can obstruct a little. Still, it does a great job of cooling the phone, and has the added bonus of featuring RGB lighting inside to make it look interesting.
All day long
- 4,720mAh dual cell battery (2x 2,360mAh)
- 65W Hyper Charge fast-charging
- 18W magnetic charging
When it comes to pure longevity and charging convenience there aren't many phones out there that can match the Black Magic 3. Its battery design is similar in theory to the technology Oppo uses in its super-fast charging phones. Its 4,720mAh total capacity is split up into two 2,360mAh cells, which enables the 65W charging to do its thing.
For light to moderate users who use their phones for a couple of hours each day to play a few games, catch up on social media and so on, the hefty battery is likely enough to get you through about a day and a half or more. But even if you're going to be pushing this handset to its limits and gaming for a good chunk of the day, you'll still struggle to drain a fully charged battery in a single workday.
Once it is flat, you can plug it into its powerful 65W Hyper Charge adapter, and it'll fill up again in now time. With a completely depleted battery, you can charge almost the whole battery in about half an hour. Yep, 30 minutes. It's stupidly quick.
It also means you'll never really have to plug your phone in overnight (which potentially causes the battery to degrade quicker anyway). Instead, you can just plug it in when it's empty, and before you know it you'll have enough battery juice to get you through the day.
But let's say for instance you're in a long gaming session on your phone and you want to make sure your battery isn't draining fast, then you have another charging method: the magnetic clip-on charger point on the back. Using the additional accessory for charging, you can deliver up 18W of power through that magnetic port, which is easily enough to charge while gaming, and the flat profile of that charger ensures it doesn't get in the way of your grip. Which is entirely its raison d'etre: it means you can hold your phone as normal, without a USB cable sticking out of the bottom edge of the phone.
The other positive here is that - unlike some other brands that use their own proprietary fast-charging tech - Black Shark's phone is also compatible with the universal Power Delivery fast charging. And so you can plug it into your laptop/MacBook charger and get fast charging speeds.
- Rear triple camera system
- Main: 64-megapixel sensor, f/1.8 aperture
- Wide-angle: 13MP, f/2.25
- Macro: 5MP
- 20MP front-facing camera
The Black Shark 3 is a gaming focused phone that's designed to outperform anything else in its price range, that much is evident. So it's no surprise that the camera system on the back isn't exactly market leading. Still, it's useful and works just fine in good lighting conditions.
The triple camera system has a primary camera and ultra-wide camera alongside an additional camera for better close-up macro shots.
The two focal lengths do at least grant you some versatility and the ability to expand the field of view with a simple press of an icon on the screen.
The photos generally come out looking good enough to share on social media, but they do look a little lacking in dynamic range and detail, plus there's a little image noise in most photos. It's not worth being overly critical of a phone's photography when it's clearly not trying to be a photographer's weapon of choice. It's good enough, and it'll do.
This big, powerful gaming phone has stupendously fast-charging to ensure you'll never go short. If you're after a phone that's always fast and responsive, this is definitely that. For a 5G phone with top-notch internals, it's affordable too.
Perhaps that's it's biggest selling point: you're getting the high-end performance without the price tag to match. Put aside the fact it's branded a 'gamer phone', and just enjoy the long battery life, speedy charging and the media experience, and it goes to show the potentially wide appeal of this device.
Red Magic 5G
It's safe to say the Red Magic 5G is the direct counterpart to the Black Shark 3. Spec for spec it's quite similar, but offers a different software experience, and a 144Hz display.