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Tech Review: Black Shark 2, the best phone you've never heard of

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For the past few weeks, I've put aside my current phone, the Google Pixel 3 XL, to review the Black Shark 2 from Chinese company Xiaomi. In short, this is probably the best phone you've never heard of. 

During my time testing the device several people asked me what phone I was using, and no-one had heard of Xiaomi. Until the last few years, the company had not had a major international presence.

Image credit: George Simister

The look of the Black Shark 2 is unique. The screen is a beautiful 1080 by 2340 pixels 6.39 inch AMOLED display and to my delight has no notch or camera cutout, so no annoying lines or interruptions on the screen. The back of the Black Shark features two camera bumps and a two-toned glass/metal design with a green accent.

Image by George Simister

What's uncommon about this phone is that the logo is an RGB light which you can customise in the settings, as well as two light strips down both sides of the device. The phone also comes with a case included which is a nice bonus.

Image by George Simister

Performance on the Black Shark is no problem, with the Snapdragon 855 CPU and Adreno 640 GPU. Depending on the model you can have up to 12GB of RAM (which may be more than your computer) and up to 256GB of storage. The first thing I enjoyed was the in-display fingerprint scanner which allows you to unlock the device even when it's flat on a surface. However, once discovering the face unlock feature, I only needed to use the fingerprint scanner in low light conditions when the camera couldn’t see me. 

Image by George Simister

When it came to the camera functionality I had a love/ hate relationship. By default it comes with a watermark which plasters “Shot On Black Shark 2 AI Dual Camera” across the bottom of your photos - while this can be turned off, it should be off by default as you may not realise until you have taken your first photos. I would also turn off the AI mode and the beauty mode, which also should not be on by default. There are two cameras on the rear of the Black Shark, a wide and a close-up.

Image by George Simister

In my testing, I found that both cameras are not created equally, as soon as you go to 2x zoom onwards you get a worse image. My advice for anyone using the camera would be to not zoom in past 1.9x zoom. The photos I took were sharp and clear. I was impressed by how quick and accurate the portrait mode was on the front camera.

'Black Shark 2 Camera at 1.0x zoom' Image by George Simister

'Black Shark 2 Camera at 1.9x zoom' Image by George Simister

'Black Shark 2 Camera at 2.0x zoom' Image by George Simister

The video quality on the Black Shark was better and can record really good looking 4k video. The only thing which let the video down was the lack of video image stabilisation which can result in shaky footage when playing back. 

Battery life on the Black Shark is one its strongest features, with a 4000mah battery that during my testing would last all day with around 30% leftover. Topping up is no problem as the phone supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4.0 charging technology. I did not get to experience this as the charger that is included with the phone only supports Quick Charge 3.0 - which is still fast.

Let’s talk gaming performance, as the Black Shark 2 is entirely focused on gaming. The phone has a dedicated switch which launches “Shark Space”, a special game-optimised mode. A simplified interface presents you with all your games, the option to add the Black Shark gamepads and access the gamers' studio. 

Image by George Simister

Gamer Studio gives you options to enhance your gaming experience and can be also accessed in any game. It allows you to block calls, clean your RAM, and monitor your performance. I tested the phone on Motorsport Manager Mobile 2, Temple Run 2, Dead Trigger 2, Asphalt 9 Legends, Minecraft (maximum graphics) and SimCity BuildIt. In short, the Black Shark 2 could handle any game I threw at it and perform it well. You can even purchase separately a cooling case, stands and games controllers for the phone from Black Shark’s website if you want the ultimate gaming experience.

Image by George Simister

One of the very few issues I found with the device is that you can’t lock your phone and have the flashlight still on. I would appreciate it if Black Shark pushed a software update which allows for this, so you can use the flashlight for an extended period of time. 

Image by George Simister

In summary, I was really impressed with my time with the Black Shark 2. I was even more pleased when I found it retails for £479, which makes the phone good value, especially when compared to more pricier flagship phones from other companies. The only thing letting it down is the photo performance, which could be improved in a future software update. 

If you're interested in the device you can pick it up directly from the Black Shark website here - make sure to check out the student discount!




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