Black Shark 4 Review: Bang-for-the-buck gaming phone!
As mobile gaming improves and becomes more exciting, so do the gaming smartphones we play it on. From custom RGB lighting to water-cooling and even customizable buttons, they just have things regular smartphones don’t. And last time, we were able to do a quick hands-on of the Black Shark 4. But now, we’ll be going a little bit more in-depth. Let’s get started.
Design and Construction
In hindsight, the Black Shark 4 isn’t as striking as most phones in this category. There’s no RGB, the design isn’t too flashy, and it doesn’t take a lot to notice it’s a lot more toned down than its predecessors. But if you look at it long enough, you’ll notice some reassuring features that make you realize that this is no ordinary phone like the angular triple camera module and an “X” design on the back panel with a holographic finish that pops out when subjected to enough lighting.
The color variants got us a little confused since we can only see the Pale Grey and Mirror Black on the global website. Still, on some other e-commerce sites, we do see it available in Illusion Black, so we’re not exactly sure which one of the last two is the right one. But as you can see, there is some color to it, coming with a subtle blue finish. There does seem to be a Plain Black version if you search hard enough, though.
Initially, we thought this had an extra layer of glass, but now we can confirm that this is made out of polycarbonate material. But despite that, it still does a strangely good job at keeping fingerprint marks at bay. The hard case that comes with the phone does have some extra cutouts for the camera and the Black Shark Logo, and apart from preventing scratches, it will still give the device a chance to boast a gamer aesthetic.
Holding the unit together is an all-metallic frame. It comes with a thickness of 9.9mm and has some good heft to it at 210 grams, which, if you’re wondering, is similar to how much an iPhone XS Max weighs.
We have the secondary microphone and speaker from the top, while over at the bottom is your primary microphone, a 3.5mm headphone jack, the Type-C charging port, and your bottom-firing speakers.
Next up on the left side, you will find the volume rocker keys. Alongside is a third microphone and a dual SIM tray with no provision for a MicroSD Card.
On the right, we have your power button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner, and finally, taking it home are those pop-up magnetic triggers that engage by sliding the mechanisms beside them. It also makes these cool gun cocking sounds when triggered, and I just really can’t get enough of that.
Display and Multimedia
The Black Shark 4 employs a 6.5-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED display, with a pixel density of 395ppi, a 20:9 cinematic screen ratio, HDR10+, and has a peak brightness of up to an impressive 1,300 nits. This is pretty much your top-of-the-line quality flagship-grade panel that you can find in similarly priced (and even more expensive) devices.
By default, the color profile is set to ‘Saturated mode,’ which explains why the display has been so punchy and vibrant. But you can always change that to standard contrast or leave it on ‘Auto mode.’ You can also change the color temperature to warm, cool, or custom.
It also comes with a 144Hz screen refresh rate and a crazy 720Hz touch sampling rate to tie everything together. So aside from a buttery smooth experience, this should be of great advantage when you play those competitive, fast-paced games—more on that in a moment.
As for audio quality, we’re quite impressed with what Black Shark likes to call their Symmetry Speakers. Not only do they have their separate output, but it’s also loud, balanced, and crisp, leaving you with an immersive multimedia listening experience. What’s not so immersive, though, is how they’re mounted at the top and bottom of the phone, which can easily get muffled when holding the device in landscape mode. We hope the next iteration of this comes with dual front-firing speakers instead, since not only does that solve being covered up by your hands, but it also keeps the sound pointed towards you and not anywhere else.
Down at the camera department, the Black Shark 4 is equipped with three cameras at the rear. That’s a 48MP f/1.8 primary lens, an 8MP 120° f/2.2 ultrawide, and a 5MP f/2.4 shooter for macro photography. The front employs a 20 MP f/2.0 selfie shooter.
The main camera produces pretty commendable results, with punchy colors and good contrast. It uses Sony’s IMX582 Exmor RS sensor, and in normal shooting mode, it takes 12MP photos to save on storage. Using the 48MP mode feature stitches 4 12MP photos together to give not just better quality but enable you to pinch and zoom more without losing any detail. Night mode is also a thumbs up on this one as it can bring out some detail in low-light situations. It’s not the best out there, but still pretty good.
The 8MP ultrawide can be accessed by pressing the tab on the lower left rather than having it alongside the rest of the camera’s features. When taken in well-lit environments, photos don’t stray too far from the quality of the primary shooter, especially if you don’t plan to zoom in on them anyway. And with a field of view of 120°, it leaves you with a pretty wide frame to work with.
As for the front camera, we get detailed shots thanks to its high megapixel count, and because of that, this one definitely passes the infamous hair slash beard test (if only I had one).
The 5MP macro lens on this one is thankfully very usable and is refreshing to have compared to the usual 2MP macros that we see so often. With 3,000 more pixels available, we get better sharpness, more consistent colors, and just compliments well with the rest of the phone’s cameras.
As for video quality, the Black Shark 4 is capable of recording up to 4k at 60fps. No built-in OIS, but we do have EIS. It’s very apparent when recording from 720-1080p at any frame rate, but you lose that stabilization when recording at 4k at 30fps. For some reason, switching to 60fps brings in all that stabilization back. This can be fixed in a future software update, but overall we’re pretty happy here.
OS, UI, Apps
Running the software department is Android 11 skinned with JOY UI 12.5, which is essentially Xiaomi’s MIUI interface but has been stripped down and is more focused on gaming. One of the main features here will be the dedicated Shark Space App, which can be activated by either tapping on the icon, or if you want to be extra cool, you can also hold down the left and right triggers for a few seconds. It’ll open up as well with that lovely Shark Space animation.
Now, this is the 4th iteration of their software, and what this does is give you a one-stop-shop to access all your games, customize or choose CPU presets, and if you just want to zone out without any interruptions, you can do that as well by using the Dive Mode feature.
Checking out Shark Arsenal will show you all the Black Shark accessories you can connect to, including the Shark Cooler, which, unfortunately, we don’t have with us to try.
If you’re in a game, you can also swipe on the corners to activate ‘Gamer Studio,’ which leaves you with many customizable options. And when I mean a plethora, I mean several different configurations like mute calls and notifications, the ability to add custom crosshairs, instant replay with Shark Time, Clean up RAM with one tap, view CPU and FPS stats, and so much more. This is where you also configure the Master Triggers, and by hovering the buttons to where you want them placed, it makes it almost effortless to set up. If you’re not playing games, they also serve as shortcut buttons that can be customized to different functions. By default, one will be for taking a quick screenshot, and the other triggers one-handed mode.
Other Black Shark features include ‘Video Toolbox,’ letting you quickly save and share anything you’re watching with your friends, a pretty cool Lighting Effect that comes on when you’re playing music or if someone is giving you a call, ‘Magic Window’ that acts as a quick short-cut tab you can pull from the side, letting you access apps and floating windows for multitasking, and of course the familiar second space that we see in Xiaomi phones as well if you need more than 1 account for some apps.
Performance and Benchmarks
Underneath the hood, the Black Shark 4 is not to be underestimated, packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 870CPU paired with an Adreno 650 GPU and comes with either 6, 8, or 12GB of RAM. It shares similar hardware specs to Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 10s and the more recent Mi 11X series. In addition, it’s a slightly tweaked version of the Snapdragon 865+, packing a Prime Core clocked at 3.2GHz that takes care of all the hard work, 3 additional A77 performance cores at 2.42 GHz, and 4 efficient cores clocked at 1.8GHz.
It’s currently at 17th place in Antutu’s global ranking scores and is positioned right above the OPPO Find X2 Pro. Needless to say, this high-end Soc can handle virtually any game you throw at it, with everything running on practically the highest preset available.
It even managed to “Max Out” 3D Mark’s Sling Shot Extreme test, so firing up graphically intensive titles such as Genshin Impact will not only run smoothly as intended but should also leave you visually satisfied; which is usually one of the harder things to accept when playing this demanding title from a lower specced device.
It does heat up, though, and maybe after playing for a few hours straight at room temperature, it does get noticeably warm, and this is where the Black Shark cooler would be a great pair for these types of situations, but unfortunately, we didn’t have that to try out.
We do have these satisfying and tactile triggers that should give you a great advantage when playing competitive shooters such as Call of Duty Mobile, or PUBG Mobile. In addition, they’re quite comfortable since the placement of the buttons will be right where your fingers naturally rest.
We’re not going to go through every single game, but if you’re interested in benchmark scores, check them out below:
• AnTuTu – 589,464
• Geekbench – 1,005 (Single-core), 3,344 (Multi-core), 3,699 (OpenCL)
• 3D Mark – Maxed Out! (SSE – OpenGL ES 3.1), 1,235 (SSE – Vulkan), 4,232 (Wild Life)
• PCMark – 16,423 (Work 2.0)
• AndroBench – 1,593.22 MB/s (Sequential Read), 750.43 MB/s (Sequential Write)
Connectivity and Battery Life
Keeping everything running is a 4,500mAh capacity battery, and initially, we thought it was going to be a problem for this device, seeing that this is a pretty power-savvy phone.
But specs are one thing, and results are another, so we put this in our usual video loop test (1080p video, 50% brightness, 50% volume, headphones-in), and we were still able to get a respectable 18 hours and 21 minutes before running out of juice, while the PC Mark Battery Test puts it at 8 hours and 9 minutes. As for connectivity, the Black Shark 4 supports Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, and has 5G capability for both sim cards.
Big battery, small battery, it doesn’t hold much of a difference for this phone in practice; That’s because it comes with a 120W fast charger that Black Shark touts can charge a full battery in just a crazy 17 minutes. We noticed that some people got the smaller 60W charger, but thankfully ours came with the right one for us to be able to do an actual test.
From a completely drained battery, we got a mixed set of answers for our battery test. On our first try, we reached 50% in 8 minutes and 23 seconds and fully juiced up in about 24 minutes. While on our second attempt, it took relatively longer to reach 100%, with a total of around 35 minutes.
Nevertheless, these are still respectable results. I still remember when 50W charging was already considered fast, so to charge this in such a short period is a big plus, especially if you’re frequently out and about. Of course, this might just be the new normal for phones in the future, but for now, we’re quite satisfied with the results we got.
To wrap things up, it’s no longer surprising to see how mobile gaming is slowly but surely getting better recognition. And if you just so happen to be looking for a bang-for-buck gaming phone, then the Black Shark 4 might just be your answer to that. You’re getting flagship-grade specs, those physical pop-up triggers right by the shoulders, a very acceptable camera, and incredibly fast charging, all encapsulated together at a comparatively more affordable price.
As of this article, the Black Shark 4 is priced at PHP 22,950 (from PHP 24,950) for 6+128GB, PHP 25,950 (from PHP 26,990) for 8+128GB, PHP 27,990 (from PHP 29,990) for 12+128GB and PHP 34,990 for 12+256GB of storage.
Black Shark 4 specs:
6.67-inch (1080 x 2400) AMOLED display
144Hz refresh rate, 720Hz touch sampling rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 CPU
Adreno 650 GPU
6GB, 8GB, 12GB LPDDR5 RAM
128GB, 256GB UFS 3.1 storage
Triple rear cameras:
• 48MP F1.79 (main)
• 8MP F2.2 (ultra-wide)
• 5MP F2.4 (macro)
20MP F2.0 front camera
GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, Beidou, QZSS, A-GPS
JOYUI 12.5 (Android 11)
4,500mAh battery w/ 120W fast charging
163.83 x 76.35 x 9.9mm
Mirror Black, Mirror Blue, Illusion Black, Pale Grey, Plain Black