Xiaomi Black Shark 2 Hands-on Review

Intro

A couple of years ago there was no such thing as a “gaming” smartphone. It was assumed that all high-end devices could game very well if needed. However, with the rise in quality of mobile games and also because of the increased popularity of PUBG Mobile and Fortnite Mobile, manufacturers soon started to offer devices that try to offer an advantage for mobile gamers. The latest device that tries to profit from this market is the Xiaomi Black Shark 2, a high-end smartphone with awesome specs and some gaming-related software and hardware features. Let’s take a closer look at what this device has to offer in our Black Shark 2 hands-on review.

Xiaomi Black Shark 2 specifications

When it comes to hardware, the Black Shark 2 offers the best internals that are currently available. You get the latest and greatest Snapdragon 855 CPU and it is paired with 8GB or even 12GB of RAM. You get 128GB or 256GB of internal storage, depending on the model you choose, and no microSD card slot. The 6.39″ AMOLED screen is bright, with good colors and comes with a FullHD+ resolution. You don’t get the 2K screen that can be found on other devices, but this is good for both performance and battery consumption. From my point of view, FullHD is enough on such a device, as long as you don’t plan to use the smartphone as a VR screen. The touchscreen is really fast and, according to Xiaomi, it is the one with the lowest latency on the market. Furthermore, it can detect multiple pressure levels, a feature that will come in handy for gaming (more on that later).

Xiaomi also chose to use an optical in-screen fingerprint reader for the Black Shark 2. It works really well, with accuracy at about 90%, however, it is slightly slower than traditional sensors from other high-end models. I’ve been using the OnePlus 5t as my main device up until now, and the difference in speed between the sensors is noticeable. Not a big deal, but it is worth to point it out.

On the back of the device, you get a two-camera setup that has a 48MP main sensor and a 12MP telephoto camera useful for achieving the 2x zoom. On the front, you get a single 20MP camera. More on picture and video quality in the following chapters.

From a connectivity point of view, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 is good, but not great. You get 4G+ connectivity on the smartphone on both SIMs and you get Bluetooth 5.0. Wi-Fi connectivity is also top-notch here, with Xiaomi going for a 3-part antenna that improves signal strength, with one antenna spanning the back of the device in an “X” pattern. This is great for gaming and downloads, however, it does have one downside. Because of this design, there was no room for an NFC antenna, so the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 can’t be used for NFC payments or quick pairing. Another downside is that, even though it comes with a USB Type-C connector, it only follows the USB 2.0 standard, not the more modern 3.1. This will result in slower transfer speeds via USB.

Other things that are worth mentioning is that the Xiaomi Black Sharl 2 battery has a 4000mAh capacity and it supports quick-charge 4. However, the included charger is only QC3 compatible, so charging speed is slightly slower than what the device can actually handle. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack but Xiaomi included an USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, no wireless charging and now infrared blaster. Also, to reduce temperatures during gaming, the Black Shark 2 comes with a liqud cooling system for the internal components, and I must say that it works really well.

Xiaomi Black Shark 2 Design

Looking from the front, Xiaomi’s Black Shark 2 does not look a lot different than what smartphones looked a year or two ago. You get a top and bottom bezel that are decent in size and very narrow bezels on the sides. The screen has very rounded corners, which may be a down-side for some and clearly visible front-facing speakers at the top and bottom. The metal frame has a green tint/accent under certain angles which offers a really nice drop of color to the all-black front.

If you turn the smartphone on the other side you can admire the metal and glass back. Gone is a dull back plate that you usually see on smartphones. Instead, Xiaomi replaced it with a really futuristic design that should be admired. The aluminum frame is painted with a mat black color. The back is partially covered with a transparent glass sheet that has the same green tint as the frame. Furthermore, the “S” from the Black Shark logo is engraved in the center of the device. To make things even more interesting, the logo is illuminated by RGB lights when the device is on and the pattern, color, and intensity can be changed from the OS.

On the right side, there is a power button and a “Shark Space” switch that has the same green tint. On the left, there are two buttons for volume up and down. Also, on either side, there is an RGB strip that can be configured with multiple color patterns. They also act as charging indicators and notification lights. All in all, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 is not your traditional smartphone from a design point of view. It is not for everybody, but I consider it among the best-looking smartphones out there, and the only reason that I switched from the OnePlus 5t to this one for my daily driver.

JoyUI – some good, some bad. Still needs polish

When I turned the Xiaomi Black Shark on for the first time, I was expecting to be greeted with the MIUI Setup flow. However, this is not what happened. Instead, I got something very similar to stock Android. Once on the home screen, I got further confirmation that this is not MIUI, but something that is more close to stock Android. A quick look in the settings confirmed my suspicions: JoyUI. This is something new and I did not know what to expect. For the past 3 or 4 years, I used OnePlus’ OxygenOS and prior to that, I had a Nexus 4. I got really used to -close-to-stock experiences and Oxygen OS is really good.

After about a day of usage, I got a sudden reboot of the phone. There was no error or anything to indicate what happened. When it booted up again, I discovered that the two apps that I gave accessibility privileges no longer had it. I had another sudden reboot again two days after and the same thing happened. Then came an update that solved the reboot problems and did not experience any since then. However, on a manual reboot (by me), the privileges revocation still happens. Will probably be fixed in a future update as well.

Another thing that I can complain about are minor, but being spoiled by OnePlus for the past years, I can’t help it. There is no way to switch the position of the back and recent buttons and I could not find any gestures so that these buttons are completely removed. Also, even though I set the device theme to “dark”, the settings menu is still with a white background. Everything else is more or less stock and behaves as expected. There are no fancy themes like in MIUI, no bloatware like the Xiaomi Apps that are bundled with that version of the OS and everything runs smooth. Also, it does have a few nice features that I did not have on other smartphones. For example, if you are in a call and navigate away, the call has a chat-bubble (similar to Facebook’s chat heads) that makes it easier to interact with the call. Also, the settings menu having more colorful icons is something I appreciate. In the end, that is what is the most important aspect: does it run well.

Yes, JoyUI still needs some work. It is not as mature as MIUI or OxygenOS, but I am sure that Xiaomi will focus on adding new features that will improve user experience. So far it is OK, but I’ve seen better. Plus, they have some gaming functions build-in, which I am going to talk about on the next page.

This is a gaming smartphone, with some gaming features

The Xiaomi Black Shark 2 is a gaming smartphone. Yes, you can play all the games on all high-end devices, regardless of company or main intended use. From a performance point of view, you won’t see any differences or have any major drawbacks. But, there are a few extra features that may give you an extra edge if you use this device. Let’s start with the basic: the Game dock.

You can open this overlay while you are in-game to tweak certain aspects and to change some settings. From here you can add an extra overlay that will show you the framerate, battery temperature, CPU frequency, and current input. This way you can keep an eye on your device stats to know if something needs to be changed or if it is time to take a rest and let the phone cool/charge for a while. Build in this game dock are also a few other software features. The phone will improve framerate by using PixelWorks DSP, will optimize in-game voice chat and will lock the brightness so that there will be no fluctuations. Below are some screenshots of the settings from the “Gamer Studio” app, that can be easily opened from the game dock.

Another feature is “Shark Space”. This can be accessed using the dedicated physical toggle switch on the side of the device. When this is turned on, all background apps are killed, the phone is set to a do-not-disturb mode where calls and messages are ignored and the CPU is overclocked a bit to give you a little bit more power. Once in “Shark Space”, you can add new games to your list or start one of the games installed. Not all games are automatically detected by the software.

I kept the best, and most useful feature for last. The device has a touchscreen that can sense multiple pressure levels and Xiaomi used this hardware capability to offer the player a competitive advantage. You can configure two touch zones that, when you press harder, will trigger another action on the screen. For example, I can set it up in PUBG so that, when I press harder on the screen, it will simulate pressing the “fire” button. This is useful since it allows more actions to be done with one finger. This way, again using PUBG as an example, I can fire while also moving and adjusting aim, something that can’t be done under normal circumstance. The software also stores the setting on a per-game basis, so you don’t have to re-configure everything if you play more than one game.

The phone also has special features for the dedicated controllers that they sell separately. I won’t get into details about them here but will have a follow-up review for them soon.

The best hardware there currently is?

The Xiaomi Black Shark 2 comes with the latest Snapdragon 855 CPU and we expect it to have among the best results in benchmarks. I am happy to say that the phone does not disappoint. It got excellent scores in all the tests we ran and did not encounter any CPU throttling or slow-downs between runs. This is because Xiaomi used a special cooling mechanism that keeps the components at a good temperature even under high load.

Talking about actual numbers, it managed to get a whopping 346556 score in AnTuTu while not even reaching 50 degrees Celcius. The read and write speed for the internal storage are also very good at 709MB/s respectively 188MB/s and the RAM is among the fastest there is currently on a mobile device, at 20770MB/s access speed.

Moving over to 3DMark, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 managed to get a 5710 score in the Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL test and a 4989 score in the Vulkan one. This proves again how potent the GPU is on the SD855 and I can guarantee that you won’t have any problems in gaming for at least two years. All this while not even exceeding 30 degrees, which is really awesome.

Moving to PCMark and the Work 2.0 performance tests, the device got 8339 points and managed to be among the top devices there is.

Xiaomi Black Shark 2 cameras

I admit that I am not good at photography. It is my weak point and probably I am not the best to review the photo capabilities of this phone, but will try and do my best. I took the phone out for a walk in the park and shot a few pictures in a partially cloudy day. It was raining a bit, but the light conditions were good. I even took a few selfies (not my thing) and uploaded everything to my Google Drive so they don’t get compressed or altered. Downloaded everything on my PC and looked at the results. I left everything on ‘auto’ since I believe the AI inside is a better photographer than I am. And yes, I took two photos from each position, one for 1x zoom and another for 2x zoom.

The 48MP camera takes really good pictures. It is very hard to say if they are better than, let’s say the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3, but under good lighting conditions, the Black Shark 2 manages to snap really good photos. It does not have OIS, so make sure that you keep your hand still while using the cameras, but other than that I could not find anything to complain. For a device that does not have photography as it’s main selling point, the Black Shark 2 does well, on-par with other similarly priced smartphones.

I also took a few photographs inside. Got a toy from my boy and snapped a couple of images under normal livingroom interior lights. I intentionally took the images while it was night outside so that natural lights will not influence the final result. Again, I also made a few selfies. For almost all front-facing camera pictures, I left the “beautify” to default (3), but I could not see any differences between the disabled and 3 settings. Here, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 performed really well as well. It managed to capture all the details and had good color reproduction. Yes, it is not at Huawei’s P30 or Pixel 3s level, but again, they do not advertise this as a photo-centric smartphone.

Next, it was time to take the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 out for a night walk. After a few beers with some friends, on the way back home I took the phone out. It was just after midnight in one of the town big squares with street lights illuminating everything. Again, I took two photos, one at each zoom level, for every shot. If during daytime the difference in quality between 2x and 2x zoom was negligible, at night it is a completely different story. At 1x zoom, when the phone is using the 48MP sensor, the picture quality is quite good. There are details in the objects, pretty good sharpness, and little noise. When using the 2x zoom and the phone switches to the secondary camera, the quality decreases a lot. There is much more noise, fewer details and more motion blur if you are not holding the phone completely still. During night shots the lack of OIS is noticeable when compared to smartphones that have.

All images uploaded here were resized. To see them at full resolution, you can download them from here.

Sensors, Connectivity and Battery Life

First thing I noticed when I started my Black Shark 2 was that it only got 4G connectivity in the same place where my OnePlus 5t managed to get 4G+. This, however, turned out to be a temporary problem and after about 10 minutes the phone got 4G+ plus as well. Still, after using the phone for two weeks, I eventually found concluded that the mobile data connection was slightly better on my OnePlus. Don’t get me wrong, it still managed to reach great download speeds and did not encounter signal loss, but there was the occasional drop back to 4G instead of 4G+, something that did not happen on the OP5t in the same locations. This could be because the OnePlus 5t has more frequencies accepted compared to what the Black Shark 2 has, but I may be wrong.

On WiFi though, it is a completely different story. Xiaomi Black Shark 2 has the best Wi-Fi signal off all the devices I’ve tested. The triple antenna configuration helps a lot at this chapter. This is great news for gamers since the change of losing connectivity is pretty low and you get good download speeds. Xiaomi Black Shark 2 also comes with Bluetooth 5.0 which is great for pairing with the controller accessory that is being sold, however, the lack of NFC may be a dealbreaker for some. I got used to using NFC for payments and rarely used by card, and now that I switched to the Black Shark 2, ai kinda miss this feature.

The optical fingerprint reader that is under the display of the phone is good, but not perfect. It manages to recognize my finger about 80%-85% of the time and it is slightly slower compared to traditional ones. Also, the area where you have to place the finger is rather small, about the same size as a normal fingerprint reader. I would love to see this area increase in the future, as Vivo has done for one of their devices. Still, the fact that this is placed on the front of the device makes things easier for when you gave the phone just sitting there on the table. Also, since the Black Shark 2 support double-tap-to-wake as well as lift-to-wake, it is easy to unlock the phone.

Battery life is decent. The phone manages to last me about a day and a half and I am a heavy user, with Bluetooth on all the time (and connected to my smartwatch), Wi-Fi and mobile data on as well. I got about 5-6 hours of actual screen-on time. The best part, however, is the charging speed. It takes about an hour and 20 minutes to fully charge the Xiaomi Black shark 2 using the included charger.

Conclusions

Xiaomi Black Shark 2 is a very powerful device. It can run any game currently available and I don’t expect this to change for at least two or three years. It has a really good design, with RGB lights on the side and on the back as well as premium materials. It will definitely stand out when you place it on the table since it does not look like most other smartphones out there. This, however, does not mean everybody will like it. It is less conventional dues to its futuristic aesthetic.

The software still needs a bit more work, not being as mature as OnePlus’s OxygenOS or Xiaomi’s MIUI. But I expect this to change in the future since Xiaomi is known for good software updates. The gaming features that are available on the device are nice and will help any mobile gamer out there. Plus, if you buy the controllers that are being sold, you can get even more out of this device from a gaming point of view.

The cameras are good, but not the best. Photography is not the main selling point here and this is fine. Battery life is good, Wi-Fi signal is strong and stable, but the lack of NFC may be a dealbreaker for some. Still, the top-end hardware that Xiaomi included in the Black Shark 2 paired with the low price when compared to other similarly speced devices on the market, make this a really good smartphone for anyone that does not put photography first, but raw power and gaming features.

If you have any questions related to this, don’t hesitate to write in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Pricing

When this review was written, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 was officially available only in the EU and the UK. For others, I posted the official link to the global page, but the product is not yet available on the official website. If you are interested, you can get it from other stores by importing it from China. My suggestion is to use the appropriate store for your location (just click on the links provided). Otherwise, you may encounter problems with shipping. Also, by using the link provided, you are also supporting this site.

 Black Shark 2 Shadow Black (8GB/128GB)Black Shark 2 Frozen Silver (12GB/256GB)
EU Store€549,00€649,00
UK Store£479.00Not available at this moment
Global storeNot available at this momentNot available at this moment
Unofficial store (import from China)$685.99$1015.99

2 thoughts on “Xiaomi Black Shark 2 Hands-on Review”

  1. “A couple of years ago there was no such thing as a “gaming” smartphone.”

    Uh huh. Sony Xperia Play wants to have a word with you. Came out 8 years ago.

    1. Indeed, that was a gaming smartphone and honestly I completely forgot about it. I think most people did since it did not really got any traction. After that experiment from Sony, there were no other such phones until the razer and Asus Rog phones. With those releases the gaming smartphone trend was actually started.

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