Players Under Battleground (popularly known as PUBG) made its way to smartphones just last year, and the popular game has reportedly made over $1 billion (for both desktop and mobile editions) for its maker Tencent in 2018. However, mobile gaming has been around for a long time. Remember Angry Birds? or Pokemon Go? Perhaps PUBG was an inflection point for the same. And maybe that’s why phone brands are now waking up to the potential of the segment. Most handsets these days come with dedicated game modes, but what if a brand takes the idea to the extreme? Well, that brings us to the Black Shark 2 (first impressions) – a top-of-the-line smartphone that boasts several interesting features to appease gamers. But does that make it worthy of the Rs 39,999 sticker price? Well, that’s what I’m here to find out today. Let’s begin.
Specs at a glance
|Resolution||1080 x 2340 pixels|
|CPU||Single core, 2.84 GHz + Tri core, 2.42 GHz, Snapdragon 855|
|Internal memory||128 GB|
|Capacity||4000 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable|
|Primary camera||48 MP|
|Secondary camera||20 MP|
|Network support||Dual SIM 4G|
|Other options||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|Operating system||Android 9.0 Pie|
For the love of the game
Considering the Black Shark 2 is out and out a gaming phone, this review will follow a slightly unusual format, and I’ll be highlighting everything that the brand has incorporated to offer a great experience to gamers…
Starting with the design, the Xiaomi-backed company has done a great job in ensuring that its offering stands out from the sea of similar-looking smartphones. While the phone hasn’t opted for a bezel-less fascia, that works in its favour as you get a good grip to hold it from both sides while using in landscape orientation. With a green trim running along the edges, the handset looks quite appealing too. The 6.39-inch display on the Black Shark 2 is accompanied by an earpiece and a front-facing snapper above, with the space below being devoid of any functional elements.
While the button placement is nothing out of the ordinary – there’s power switch on the right and a volume rocker on the left – it’s worth noting that you get a Shark Key which takes you to something called ‘Shark Space’ (to be discussed in the performance section). Interestingly, unlike other gaming phones which have fancy RGB lighting towards the back, the Black Shark 2 features just an illuminated ‘S’ logo and lighting along the left and right edges. These strips light up while playing music or when notifications arrive.
Flip to the back, and the Black Shark 2 will catch your attention. That’s because it has a different-than-usual design ethos, which is quite interesting. The mix of matte and glossy mirror finish ensures that the phone remains easy to hold for long sessions, without being slippery. To protect the phone, you can use opt for a case (available for purchase separately), and if you worried that using the case will take away the charm of the handset then fret not. For, the case also comes with angular cuts, and thus adding to the attraction quotient. Having said that, it does make the handset bulkier since the device itself tips the scales at 205g.
The 6.39-inch screen on the Black Shark 2 is a full HD affair. Thanks to AMOLED tech, the display is vibrant and offers good viewing angles. I didn’t struggle in reading it outdoors either. A layer of Corning’s Gorilla Glass protects the screen against scratches and minor nicks. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t offer a higher-than-usual refresh rate, unlike other gaming-centric handsets. It does however, come with 240Hz touch sensitivity, which is quite handy while playing first-person shooters. You can also get virtual buttons on the device, which the brand refers to as Master Touch, allowing you to trigger various actions, ala the iPhone’s 3D Touch. Since the phone has an AMOLED panel, it also offers an always-on display feature.
Inside the Black Shark 2 ticks Qualcomm’s top-notch Snapdragon 855 chipset. With its tri-cluster architecture, the 7nm chipset offers a perfect balance between performance and power efficiency. With the prime core clocked at 2.84GHz, the device can handle anything thrown its way. The handset ships with 6GB RAM and Adreno 640 graphics processor. If you are willing to shell out more, then the handset can be had with monstrous 12GB RAM.
Multitasking is a smooth affair which ensures that there’s no lag while switching between apps. But I’m sure you’re curious about the gaming experience, and I’m glad to say that the Black Shark 2 lives up to the expectations. I often lost track of time, playing games such as Asphalt 9: Legends, the current favourite PUBG Mobile and the zombie killing game Dead Trigger 2. The Shark Space feature takes the Game Mode to the next level by not only blocking calls and messages, but also offers a Ludicrous mode. One thing to note however, is that if you go into the Shark Space, you’ll actually need to exit the mode to go back to normal use. Additionally, Shark Space doesn’t support all the games out there.
Unfortunately for all its gaming prowess, the Black Shark 2 isn’t able to keep thermals under control. The phone starts heating up after 30 minutes of gaming, and sometimes becomes so hot that you’ll need to end the game. This is despite the handset offering Liquid Cool technology to handle thermals.
A battery that lasts long
The Black Shark 2 features a 4,000mAh battery, which makes sure that you don’t have to look for a charging socket in the middle of gameplay. In day-to-day usage, the phone lasts the entire working day with ease. In our battery loop test, the phone was able to playback an HD video for about 16 hours and 30 minutes. Thanks to fast charging support, the device can charge up from 10 percent levels to 100 within 90 minutes using the bundled wall adapter.
Cameras: more than just a gaming phone
For a gaming-oriented smartphone, the Black Shark 2 will definitely floor you with its imaging prowess. Yes, it’s that good, and not just in terms of specs. They’re certainly top-of-the-line, as you get a primary 48-megapixel IMX586 sensor which is accompanied by a secondary telephoto shooter. This allows you to get optical zoom-like capabilities for going up to 2x and of course measure depth info for the realistic portrait effect.
In terms of the camera app, the viewfinder is quite user friendly. As soon as you open it, you are greeted by the large circular shutter key, which is sandwiched between the toggle for the selfie camera and a preview gallery. Above it, you’ll find various modes such as portrait, panorama, pro, video, slow-mo video, etc. Right above these modes, there’s the one-click button to zoom into 2x. Up top, there’s a toggle for flash, HDR, AI, real-time filters, and more options such as tilt-shift and self-timer.
Quality-wise, the shots taken by the Black Shark 2 offers an immense level of detail and reproduce natural colours. This remains the case in all sorts of situations, be it landscape, macro shots or even low-light images. AI ensures that the device is able to adjust settings depending upon the ambient settings. I usually kept HDR to auto and AI switched on, as the smartphone ensured pleasing output without making it seem too artificial. Portraits are quite good too with the subject properly in focus, and the background nicely blurred. However, the phone seems to struggle in low-light conditions with a significant amount of light flare issues and a lot of noise in the images. Selfies are quite impressive though, all thanks to a 20-megapixel sensor up front. Here’s a gallery of camera samples of the Black Shark 2.
To put the Black Shark 2’s image quality in context, here’s how it competes with the likes of the OPPO Reno 10x Zoom, OnePlus 7 and nubia Red Magic 3 – all of which are priced under Rs 40,000. The handset seems to have an edge as compared to the OnePlus 7 duo and Red Magic 3, and while it does manage to match the Reno 10x Zoom in terms of raw image quality, it can’t compete with zoom or ultra wide-angle capabilities of OPPO’s offering.
The Black Shark 2 comes with an optical fingerprint sensor embedded inside the display up front. It works quite well, though it’s certainly not as fast as traditional fingerprint readers. Face unlock is quite fast too, and is secure as well.
Android purists will love the Black Shark 2 as it comes with a stock iteration of the latest 9.0 Pie. Even though the company is dubbing its skin as Joy UI, there’s no bloatware, and that also ensures a smooth user experience.
On the storage side of things, the handset ships with 128GB memory onboard (the higher-end version offers 256GB storage). Out of that, you will get around 114GB out of the box. Sadly, you can’t expand the storage further.
Speaking of which, the Black Shark 2 offers the usual connectivity options, including 4G VoLTE, Bluetooth and NFC. The stereo speakers somewhat make for the lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket as the sound output is pretty good.
As a gaming phone, you can also make use of several accessories. Prime among them is Gamepad 2.0, which lets you attach console-like controls on the left and right side of the handset in the landscape orientation.
The Black Shark 2 isn’t a regular, run-of-the-mill smartphone, and hence it’d be wrong to judge it in a similar vein. If an affordable flagship is what you’re after, then you could go for lower-priced options such as the ASUS 6Z (review), Honor 20 (review), or the OnePlus 7 (review). Even at the Rs 40k mark, there’s a loaded smartphone in the form of the OPPO Reno 10x Zoom (review), which comes with versatile camera capabilities.
But if you are a gamer, then you can’t ignore the Black Shark 2. It’s a great smartphone, ticking all the boxes that you might be looking for. From display to hardware, and from dedicated gaming mode to a good battery life. Yet, it’s not the only option that brings all this to the table. There’s the nubia Red Magic 3 (review), which offers similar functionality along with a smoother 90Hz display, and a beefier 5,000mAh cell, while being priced lower at Rs 35,999 for the base model. That said, where the Black Shark 2 gets a clear advantage is in the camera department.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Great design
- Gorgeous display
- Powerful cameras
- A good battery with fast-charging capabilities
- No headphone socket
- Heats up
Photos by Raj Rout