Review cover Black Shark 4 Pro (Hardware)
Official GBAtemp Review

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Gaming phone manufacturer Black Shark recently launched a revamped version of the Black Shark 4, the Black Shark 4 Pro. With a Snapdragon 888 chipset, improved camera and a few new bells and whistles, how does this upgrade fare?

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Last year, Black Shark launched its latest gaming phone, the Black Shark 4. Performance-wise, it was among the most powerful phone out there at the time thanks to its beefy specs. The company recently launched the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-equipped Black Shark 5 in China and, in anticipation of the global release, the company launched the Black Shark 4 Pro in between as a stop-gap some months ago. We already checked out the Black Shark 4 when it launched last year and I would recommend checking our coverage to see how it compares.

Contents and specs

With the 8GB+128GB version currently retailing for $430 on the official Amazon Store, you will get the following items out of the box:

  • Black Shark 4 Pro
  • 120W Fast Charge Power Adapter
  • USB Type-C data cable
  • SIM Tray Ejector
  • Screen protector
  • Protective Case

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Of note, the included screen protector was already installed in my unit. I hope this is the case in every unit shipped as this helps heaps in preventing the hassle of trying to apply the protective film without trapping any bubbles.

Depending on your region, the package might include a 120W charger instead and I would highly recommend this for the seriously fast charging that it enables. You can easily get a full charge within 15 minutes, no joke. I found this very impressive when I tested the original Black Shark 4 and it still blows me away with the 4 Pro, given that I’ve been used to waiting for at least an hour for a full charge with smart devices until very recently. 

EDIT: Following the publication of this review, Black Shark reached out to confirm that all units of the Black Shark 4 Pro come with the 120W charger in all markets. That's great news as every customer will be able to enjoy from the dazzlingly fast charging speed it offers!

As for the specs, you can find them below:

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An incremental upgrade

Having used both the Black Shark 4 and 4 Pro, I can say that the 4 Pro is by-and-large an incremental upgrade.. While I’m personally not a fan of this approach, it is not uncommon in the smartphone business nor in the video game console market. The incremental bump in specs is even indicated in this model’s nomenclature, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The Pro version looks and feels the same as the 4, with the dimensions and port locations are virtually identical. It also bears similar dimensions and weights (163.83mm * 76.35mm * 9.9mm, 220g), making it quite a hefty phone. However, the 4 Pro does come with a few bells and whistles to tout the ‘Pro’ moniker.

For one, the Black Shark 4 Pro includes a new nice back light effect, aka the ‘Shark Eye’. With the dedicated preloaded app, the RGB lighting can be customised for calls and apps notifications. While a small addition, I found it to be quite handy to have a quick glance at your phone and know when a notification comes in, without having to switch on the phone. This is particularly handy for people like me who like to have their phones facing down while it’s not in their pocket.

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Another physical change that I noticed is with the included protective case. The one that comes with the 4 Pro is a rubber one that covers the back and sides of the phone and bears the Black Shark name tag and logo at the back. It will protect against minor falls and bumps and is quite handy to have. It also bears openings for the triggers, buttons and ports, so you can safely put it on and use the device as normal. However, I do miss the previous plastic bumper which gave the device a more singular look.

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The main camera also received a bump (64MP/8MP/5MP in the 4 Pro vs 48MP/8MP/5MP in the regular 4 model). Pictures are crisp and detailed and are easily used to take shots whether you are out travelling or for your Instagram posts. I myself use it to take pictures of products to review and it does a stellar job at that. Images of the JoyBuds in the 'Accessories' section below were taken with the phone's camera to give you an idea of the quality to expect.

Another new feature with the 4 Pro is that NFC is unlocked. This was not the case in the original model but a handy feature to have.

Gaming performance

Of course, the major upgrade with the Black Shark 4 Pro lies in its innards. While the original Black Shark 4 used a Snapdragon 870 (Octa-core GPU and Adreno 650 GPU), the Black Shark 4 Pro uses a Snapdragon 888 (Octa-core GPU and Adreno 660). These specs provide a pretty high score on GeekBench for the device, making it among the top-tier. However, compared to the original Black Shakr 4 in practice, it doesn’t make much of a difference, especially for single player games. For online multiplayer games, the regular Black Shark 4 games were already performing great; so games on the Black Shark 4 Pro plays as smoothly, if not better than in the regular model. 

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I could get popular titles like Genshin Impact to run at 60 fps and Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier to run at a steady 30ps (which it is capped at) at high graphics settings. Android ports of games like Half-Life 2 and Portal also fared well, running at 60 fps each.

With its 6.67” Super AMOLED display, games are a delight to view on the Black Shark 4 Pro. The colour palette across every scene is vibrant with crisp detail and colours that pop. 

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Of course, you likely won’t limit yourself to Android games but will also look at emulating retro consoles on the go; and on this front, this smartphone delivers. I tried AetherSX2, the PS2 emulator, for the first time on this device and was positively surprised to see games like Shadow of the Colossus and Zone of the Enders run steadily at 60fps. However, this performance on this emulator depends on the title as it is still being worked on. But what works according to the compatibility list is pretty impressive and you’ll have a whole host of PS2 games ready to run on the go on the Black Shark 4 Pro.

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Emulating other systems also fares pretty well. For PSP emulation via PPSSPP, I could get Ridge Racer running at 60fps and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker at 20fps (which it is capped at). GameCube emulation via Dolphin also worked flawlessly with Zelda Twilight Princess playing at 30fps (capped) and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes at 60fps.

As such, you can easily rely on the Black Shark 4 Pro to run the latest Android games as well as popular emulators, making it a portable gaming powerhouse. 

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The experience is also enhanced with the integrated speakers. The dual-symmetrical linear stereo speakers with high-power amplifiers deliver rich audio output which enables the user to enjoy the gaming experience with a soundscape that feels rich. The quality of the speakers are also more than adequate to listen music to or watch videos on.

The device also comes with the handy Shark Space app which acts as a games launcher of sorts where you can access your games and gaming settings such as adjusting the display refresh rate, enable ultra-high touch sampling rate (up to 720Hz) or the new Magic Press feature. 

This feature leverages the phone’s dual press-sensitive display technology to let users map a range of touch sensitivity (up to 7 levels). This provides you with more control over your games and is a handy feature to have, although it requires some getting used to.

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Through the Shark Space app, you can also customise the physical mechanical triggers to emulate touch controls when each is pressed. The triggers are Black Shark’s gaming phones signature touch and they are very much present in the 4 Pro. You will find two concealed on the top and bottom part of the right side of the device and you can pop them up individually with the dedicated sliders. More than just for gaming, they can be used to access apps that you choose quickly.

As a fan of physical controls myself, it is encouraging to see a company integrating physical controls in its gaming smartphone. However, I will never tire myself of saying this but gaming phones need actual physical controls concealed one way or the other. I haven’t found an appropriate replacement since the Xperia Play that doubles as a daily driver and a gaming device. The Black Shark 4 Pro comes close with the physical mechanical triggers but yet feels wanting with the lack fo D-pad and face buttons. 

This is particularly the case for emulators which are cluttered with virtual controls on-screen; but really this holds true for Android games as well with your thumbs blocking the screen on either side. Having full access to the screen and dedicated controls to game on would enhance the experience. I really hope that the company includes these in future iterations of their gaming smartphones as the demand is there, especially with the wave of retro handhelds and handheld gaming PCs entering the market that address those needs. Since Black Shark is going the extra mile to add features like the Magic Press or even customisable motion sensing to emulate physical controls, how about adding proper physical controls to those gaming phones?

But in absence of those coveted physical controls, Black Shark’s innovative spree with physical triggers and fancy tech is welcome. The phone does offer a compelling gaming experience whether it’s for Android gaming or running emulators.

Accessories

Black Shark also released a couple of new accessories to accompany its line of smartphones. We’ll also take a look at some of the new ones here, namely the Black Shark Magnetic Cooler and Black Shark JoyBuds

Black Shark Magnetic Cooler

The Magnetic Cooler is a sleek add-on that, as its name suggests, clips to the phone via a magnetic attachment. You’ll have to stick the included double-sided tape to your phone and then stick the magnetic pad to it. The Magnetic Cooler will then attach to the phone via the magnetic pad. 

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It’s a handy accessory for mobile gaming as the phone can warm up considerably for power-hungry games and the Magnetic Cooler can cool the device by up to 23°C thanks to its  5-blade fan packs a spinning speed of 7200 RPM; and the effect is noticeable.

The fact that it attaches magnetically rather than through clips makes it less conspicuous but it will still add a noticeable bump and weight to the device while in use.

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In addition, I have some gripes with the fact that you’ll need to permanently stick the magnetic pad to the back of your phone. This will add a bump to the device as well as an extra weight; and the extra bump might make the device not fit in other accessories like a telescopic gamepad.

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At £50 at the time of writing, it’s mostly a nice-to-have than a must have. You could consider getting it if you game extensively on your phone and the heat bothers you. But if you can bear with the heat, this accessory isn’t a necessity. 

In fact, the Black Shark 4 Pro packs an effective “sandwich” liquid cooling system which helps dissipate heat while gaming. 

Black Shark JoyBuds

Weighing 4.5g, the Black Shark JoyBuds are one of the lightest earbuds I’ve tried and this makes them very comfortable to wear for long stretches of time. Of note, you cannot adjust the eartips as none are included but I found the JoyBuds to fit well in my ear.

I’m also quite fond of the flat design of the sticking ends that give them a rather inconspicuous, minimalist look. For gaming-branded earbuds, they are also not too flashy and I really appreciate this aspect of it. 

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They take around 1.5 hour to charge and last up to 6 hours at a go, with the charging pod providing a total of 28 hours of use time. Of course the exact mileage will vary depending on the use case but it’s safe to say that you can get a couple of day’s worth of battery life out of those earbuds.

When it comes to the audio, the JoyBuds lean on the bass. This makes them more adequate for gaming and by pairing over Bluetooth 5.2, it ensures a stable and low-latency connection while gaming. However, I would rather have them deliver a more balanced soundscape, rather than one leaning on the bass, for more versatile use. You can switch on the ‘music mode’ but I still found it to lean on the bass in either modes. That said, the output is crisp and clear whether you use it to game, watch movies or listen to your music playlist.

You can also use the JoyBuds to make calls thanks to the dual mic integrated. They pickup the user’s voice to deliver a decent output for the reciever, making them serviceable for wireless voice calls.

attachFull307924For controls, the JoyBuds feature touch panels to let you pick up/reject calls, switch modes (gaming/music), skip tracks and adjust volume. I was positively surprised to see the latter feature as it is often left out in earbuds’ touch controls.

All in all, the Black Shark JoyBuds are a well-designed pair of earbuds that lean on the bass for a more game-y experience. But my main complaint is with the charging pod which are curved on all sides and won’t stand, so you’ll need to keep them lying flat (or lean them against something else).

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Closing thoughts

Make no mistake, the Black Shark 4 Pro isn’t a full upgrade as its name suggests. I’d myself rather see the company focus their resources on new phones than push phones with incremental upgrades but that’s the state of the industry for now.

This model is more targeted to users who want something more powerful right now rather than wait for a pricier and beefier new gen phone. And while there are Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones already on the market like the Red Magic 7, none have Black Shark’s standout features: the physical magnetic triggers and the new Magic Press function. These are handy additions that feel welcome for mobile gamers and Black Shark offer these at a competitive price.

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Purchase links

You can grab a unit of the Black Shark 4 Pro of your own from the official store links below:

Official Black Shark Online Store

Official Black Shark Amazon Store

Verdict

What We Liked ...
  • Powerful mobile gaming experience
  • Shark Space app provides handy gaming customisation options
  • Mechanical triggers
  • 120W fast charging
  • Handy new notification backlight
  • All-round good phone as a daily driver
What We Didn't Like ...
  • Incremental upgrade
  • Weight
8.3
out of 10

Overall

Even as an incremental upgrade, the Black Shark 4 Pro offers a powerful mobile gaming experience that easily serves as a daily driver at a competitive price.
I have BS2 and BS3 and they're great devices. My only complain is the lack of support and zero sources, so none scene whatsoever on XDA.

The latest fan is very cool, compared to the previous clamp ones, and even having less blades, it works better. For my devices I just ordered some magnetic stickers from eBay, 8 stickers ~3€. The official stickers are cool, but they're stupidly overpriced.
 
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If the phone does not have physical buttons, analog sticks or D-pads, this is not a gaming phone, it's just a phone like the others.
It actually has physical triggers, it has vastly better cooling than a regular phone, better nand speed, better screen refresh rate and touch detection, an actually working gaming zone (and not just a gimmick) and many other things: it's a gaming phone.

If you wish you can get the Black Shark Joycons, which are actually better Joycons than the Switch ones and have a touch pad zone like the Steam Controller. But of course they are only good for touch to buttons wrapping, since controller support on Android is a disaster.
 
It actually has physical triggers, it has vastly better cooling than a regular phone, better nand speed, better screen refresh rate and touch detection, an actually working gaming zone (and not just a gimmick) and many other things: it's a gaming phone.

If you wish you can get the Black Shark Joycons, which are actually better Joycons than the Switch ones and have a touch pad zone like the Steam Controller. But of course they are only good for touch to buttons wrapping, since controller support on Android is a disaster.

Yeah, but actual gamers need the physical buttons and for the UI clutter to be gone, which is why mobile gaming has been sucking hard since the beginning for traditional games.

I have no doubt this phone is optimized for gaming, but it fails at it at a basic level, just like 99% of all other mobile phones, since they are first and foremost communication devices, not gaming ones.

I personally think we'd have more luck if someone thought of a handheld gaming device design that can be a phone, instead of a phone that can be used for gaming.
 
I've regularly looked into getting a black shark. However they have seemed to always be a step behind in terms of latest chipset. I'll stick with my red magic as my mobile gaming device.
 
If you hadn't explicitly stated that the affect from the magnetic fan thing was noticeable, I would have immediately pegged that thing as being total bullshit. Not saying that it's a deal breaker by any means but how that could not be anything more than a gimmick is beyond my understanding. Seriously though looking at it again, it's a giant fan stuck to the outside of the device. How can that possibly cool the device. If anything it must output heat from just running and I would bet that it might even increase the temperature. But whatever I am stupid
 
I'm still using the original Black Shark 3 since it released. I love the device, although the support is pretty lacking tbh.
Will probably change next year, but the phone itself is still good and runs everything smoothly (12gb/256gb version).
 
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If only these phones worked on Verizon. AFAIK, most don't... It'd be more enticing than any of the mainline offerings from Samsung and Apple.
 
I'm still using the original Black Shark 3 since it released. I love the device, although the support is pretty lacking tbh.
Will probably change next year, but the phone itself is still good and runs everything smoothly (12gb/256gb version).
Those specs are great. My phone has 4GB RAM / 64GB Storage and as it's not for use with heavy apps (emulators), it runs smoothly.

Don't like gaming with a touchscreen, anyway.
 
Those specs are great. My phone has 4GB RAM / 64GB Storage and as it's not for use with heavy apps (emulators), it runs smoothly.

Don't like gaming with a touchscreen, anyway.
I use controllers to play on android.
Just ordered a Razer Kishi the other day.
 
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