Black Shark 4 gaming phone hands-on impressions

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It’s not just PlayStation and Xbox nor retro handhelds that are battling it out for being the best next-gen device in their respective markets, but also gaming phones. The latter do so at a higher, yearly frequency and some of the major players in this “gaming phone war” are ASUS’ ROG Phone line, Nubia’s Red Magic (whose Red Magic 5S we reviewed last year) and Xiaomi’s Black Shark. To hash it out in this new generation, Nubia released its Red Magic 6 line last month while Black Shark’s worldwide launch of its Black Shark 4 premieres today, April 28th. I’ve been able to use the latter for some time prior to the international launch and I will share my hands-on impressions in this article.


Before diving in the article, you might want to take a look at the specs of the device below:

Specs:

CPU - Snapdragon 870 Kryo 585 CPU, 3.2 GHz + Adreno 650 GPUUFS3.1 + LPDDR5

Screen - 6.67" AMOLED Screen HDR 10+ DC dimming 4.0 Samsung E4 Screen, 144Hz Refresh Rate+720Hz Reporting Rate

OS - Android 11, JOYUI

RAM+ROM Storage - 6GB RAM+128GB ROM/8GB RAM+128GB ROM

Camera - Rear Cameras: 48MP Ultra HD lens +8MP HD wide-angle lens + 5MP telephoto lens; Front Camera: 20MP Ultra HD lens

Battery - 4500mAh(Typ), Standard 67W Charger(*120W Hyper Charge is possible with 120W quick charger that will be sold separately. Inbox Charger is 67W.)

Other features - Symmetry Stereo Speakers, WIFI 6, Bluetooth 5.0,Not support NFC

Network - Dual nano SIM Card

GSM/EDGE:B2/3/5/8

UMTS/WCDMA: B1/2/4/5/6/8/9/19

CDMA/EVDO:BC0

LTE TDD : B34/B38/B39/B40/B41

LTE FDD:B1/B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B8/B18/B19/B20/B26/B28

5G NR:N1/N3/N8/N28/N41/N77/N78

The model tested in this article is the regular Black Shark 4, which is based on the Snapdragon 870 processor and has 8 GB RAM and a storage capacity of 128 GB. There is also a Black Shark 4 Pro model which packs a Snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

However, both of them feature a 6.67" AMOLED screen and 720 Hz touch sampling rate (the number of times the screen can register a touch input in a second). This is a spec feature that Black Shark wants to highlight as it is better than what its competitors boast: 300 Hz for the ASUS ROG Phone 5 and 500 Hz for the Red Magic 6. Nevertheless, for most users, this difference will be barely noticeable - if ever - but it might still be a meaningful selling point for competitive mobile gamers.

Another selling point that Black Shark is pushing forward with is its new phone is support for 120W “hyper charge”. And this is a feature that non-competitive and competitive gamers alike will very much care about as this enables its built-in 4500 mAh battery to charge to 100% in a mere 17 minutes. I thought it was some gimmicky marketing lingo but I was left speechless when I experienced it myself for the first time. Planning on a late night gaming session, I put the phone to charge, left my room to brush my teeth and take out the trash, and when I was back, the phone was fully juiced up.Waiting for hours to charge a phone is a thing of the past with this feature. If there’s one thing that’s a game-changer with this phone, it is this so-called “ultra-fast 120W hyper charging” which lives up to its name. Unfortunately, what’s included in the retail box is a 67W charger, so you’ll need to purchase a 120W one separately if you want to enjoy its ultra-fast charging. But with the time it saves you, I would say that it’s well worth it.


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The third major feature of the device is its pop-up mechanical triggers which might be its most striking feature, at least aesthetically. These triggers stay flush with the device’s body when stored and can be popped up with the dedicated switches next to each (there’s even a satisfying clicking sound that accompanies the action!). They offer some nice physical feedback and control which isn’t common on gaming phones these days. The triggers stay up and can only be popped back in by toggling the switches again. The latter are conversely not flush with the body and protrude slightly, akin to a volume button. But they require some physical force to toggle, so there’s no need to worry about the triggers accidentally popping up in your pocket.

Those physical triggers are not only meant for gaming as you can also assign some functions of your phone to it. For instance, I’ve mapped the flashlight tool to the left trigger and enabled screenshots with the right one. Such snappy control brings a layer of functionality to the device which isn’t common in other phones.



Personally, I found those mechanical triggers (which Black Shark also included in its previous phones) to be particularly interesting as, truth be told, I was never enticed by the contemporary approach of “gaming smartphones”. They mostly focus on the specs over the functionality of the device and in so doing, forgo what most gamers are used to and what really makes a gaming device one: physical controls.

Practically all of those recent gaming smartphones rely on the touchscreen for controls; meaning your thumbs will be blocking part of the screen throughout the gameplay and not really delivering the console/handheld experience. Since the gorgeous Xperia Play, it seems like the industry only went backward rather than forward in terms of design. The closest thing we got to a proper successor to the Play was the MOQI i7S but that one doesn’t have the most up-to-date specs, is bulky in design and as such can’t really be used as a daily driver. Phone-sized “gaming phones” rely on add-ons like telescopic Bluetooth controllers rather than integral features of the phone to give back those coveted physical controls.

For me, this is why Black Shark 4’s mechanical triggers are interesting. It might be a stretch but it shows that major players in the gaming phone market are showing interest again in physical keys integrated, yet concealed, in the phone. It is “only” triggers with the Black Shark 4 but it still delivers that satisfying physical feel rather than the “air” or “touch” or “capacitive” triggers (or however you cool kids call them these days) found in the likes of Red Magic. Maybe these mechanical triggers will pave the way for Black Shark to consider including a full gamepad concealed with a popup, sliding or flip up mechanic. Whichever way it is integrated, a physical gamepad would make the phone stand out way ahead of its competitors and be more enticing; and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one with this sentiment.

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Now, enough with my rambling and let’s get on to the meat of this article: performance. The good side of gaming phone manufacturers focusing on specs means that their devices will strive to be at the cutting-edge of that generation’s performance and the Black Shark 4 delivers on this front. It ran any Android games that I had time to throw at it flawlessly. Genshin Impact plays beautifully at 60fps on the 6.67" E4 AMOLED screen (from Samsung) where the colors pop and feel vibrant; and it really helps do justice to the game’s universe. I also got the Android version of Half Life 2 and Portal running fine on the device as well and was left with a similar sentiment, especially considering how these two titles would only work on NVIDIA devices a couple of years ago. From my test, Portal would cap at 40fps which is still very much playable, especially as I didn’t encounter audio issues.


Of course, next up, it was time to check out how the Black Shark 4 handles emulation. Here as well the phone was up to snuff with the systems I had time to test. Dreamcast games on Redream played at a constant 60 fps. Going to more recent generations, I was impressed to see how much phones have progressed to handle those systems. Gamecube and Wii games also ran at a smooth 60fps at default settings, and often exceeding that cap too! It would be interesting to see how or if it handles Egg NS, the Nintendo Switch emulator for Android, but I don’t have the compatible controller to test it with.

Where I did come across some “issues” is with PSP emulation as Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker ran at a more modest 20 fps via PPSSPP. But it still delivers very playable performance as it doesn’t stutter and the game’s audio isn’t distorted either.


From what I’ve experienced with the games and emulators I’ve tried, the Black Shark 4 is a very competent gaming phone, performance-wise. There are no lags or audio issues with Android games, and emulation of the systems that I’ve tried also work well. The overall experience is enhanced by the vibrant screen but I still feel like a built-in, physical controller should be a must in a gaming phone. The Black Shark 4’s mechanical triggers give a taste of “what could be” with physical controls and this still leaves wanting for more. Hopefully, those physical inclusions indicate a path for more integrated physical hardware in future iterations of Black Shark’s gaming phones.

What can also enhance the gaming experience is the USB-C that supports video output. This enables the phone to be paired to a portable monitor like the Vinpok Split to game on a bigger screen while using the phone as a controller.

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In the videos above, you’ll see a nifty feature of Black Shark phones called “Shark Space”. It works as a game launcher which can be accessed from the app drawer or by holding down both of the triggers at the same time. It not only lets you browse your game list, adjust settings like blocking calls, touch sensitivity, refresh frequency and performance while gaming, but also enables you to see stats in-game like FPS, battery temperature and CPU frequency. It also lets you create macros so that you can perform repetitive actions at the press of only one key, configure what action the triggers perform (I’ve assigned the left one to jump and right one to attack in Genshin Impact) and also map some actions to motion controls. The latter indicate a solution to keep your smudgy fingers off the screen; but wouldn’t it be better to just include physical keys for that?

Indeed, gaming with the Black Shark 4’s mechanical triggers really highlights the superior experience of having built-in physical keys as they help free the screen (at least part of it). Black Shark does sell a split gamepad attachment which could help extend this advantage of physical controls but these are unfortunately sold separately.

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What is also sold separately is the $30 “Fun Cooler 2 Pro” which I had the opportunity to test with the phone. It is literally a mini fan that you clip to the back of the device and pairs to the latter via Bluetooth. It sounds like a ridiculous concept but phones do heat up when gaming and this add-on really helps in dissipating the heat. The phone itself packs a "sandwich liquid cooling system” but this add-on literally gets cold to the touch. There’s a temperature indicator on the fan and you can also check the phone’s temperature with the Shark Space app to see that it actually works. The Fun Cooler 2 Pro is said to use a “thermal electronic cooling system” and its 7-blade fan boasts a spinning speed of 6200 RPM. This accessory has the GAMER appeal to it with its RGB lighting effect that can be controlled via the Shark Space app when paired via Bluetooth. However, for the fan to function, it needs to be plugged in a power source which is less than ideal given that it is meant for mobile gaming.

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That said, the Black Shark 4 by itself doesn’t scream GAMER with an aggressive design or RGB lighting. It looks like a regular phone with a premium feel to boot thanks to its classy metal frame and thin bezels with a punch-hole camera design. At the back of the phone is what Black Shark calls a “holographic backplate” which is really more of a lenticular image. It is subtle enough to not feel obnoxious but still gives the phone a unique look.

This regular-phone look makes the Black Shark 4 easily usable as a daily driver while still doubling as a mobile gaming powerhouse. There’s also lots to like about it for actual phone use like triple back cameras for some quality shots, a 20MP Ultra HD front camera for pretty selfies, the increasingly elusive headphone jack and its dual speakers. It uses the Android 11 OS with the JOYUI skin, which is a modded version of Xiaomi’s MIUI 12, and the UI is easy to navigate with if you’ve used an Android device before.​

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While the speakers do sound great, I found myself to occasionally cover them with my index finger on either side, especially when my finger is resting on the trigger. Front-facing speakers or even speakers placed on the sides (rather than on the top and the bottom) would have fixed this issue but might not be feasible due to the internal architecture.

A downside to the global version of the Black Shark 4 is that it lacks NFC and wireless charging. These aren’t deal-breakers per se but aren't ideal if you’re used to those features on a phone. The inclusion of the ultra-fast charging somewhat makes up for the lack of wireless charging and is really a game changer whether it’s for gaming on the device or using it as a daily driver.​
Another hiccup with the device is that you are not able to increase storage as the phone does not support microSD expansion. This can be a bummer if you are looking to carry your retro ROMs library on the device rather than select titles. If the 128GB version doesn’t sound enough for your needs, you could consider the 256GB option.

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Even with those downsides (and probably because of them), the Black Shark 4 is better priced than its competitors. The 8GB/128GB model is currently selling for $515 on its official AliExpress store (or less if you use the discount code at the end of the article), while the 8GB/128GB Nubia RedMagic 6 is priced at $600 and the 8GB/128GB ASUS ROG Phone 5 goes for $596.

Whether you need to buy such a phone is up to you. It’s a rather pricey investment but if you’ve been looking for a new one, the Black Shark 4 is worth considering. It is easily usable as a daily driver, has up-to-date specs and is really a gaming powerhouse whether it’s for Android gaming or emulation. The mechanical triggers are also a great addition as it brings some of that much sought-after physical goodness to the mobile gaming experience. While it doesn’t quench my thirst for full physical controls on a phone, the Black Shark 4 does offer a good gaming experience as a contemporary Android device.

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:arrow: Product links

You can purchase the Black Shark 4 either on the official AliExpress store or through the official Black Shark website and can benefit from some discounts and free gifts as follows:

On AliExpress:

Product link

AliExpress Coupon Code (valid until May 11th): 30BSSELL (Get 30$ off 479$):

Note: The first 200 orders will get 1 free original Black Shark 4 Fluorescent Case while the first 300 orders will get 1 free Black Shark Gaming Finger Sleeves.

Price: 6+128G: $419
8+128G: $449 after coupon
12+128G:$519 after coupon
12+256G:$569 after coupon

On Black Shark official site:

Promotion time : Starts as from April 28th 12:00 UTC time

Product link

Note: The first 100 orders will get 1 free original Black Shark 4 Fluorescent Case and 1 free fun cooler.
 
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