Wednesday, December 1, 2021
HomeTechA Value Gaming Phone Done Right – Phandroid

A Value Gaming Phone Done Right – Phandroid


We’ve reached a point in the year where you can really start finding some pretty great deals now that the “latest” processors are nearing their end of life. One great example of this is the Xiaomi Black Shark 4, which is an interesting and intriguing take on a gaming phone. But truthfully, the phone is much better than any of your “traditional” gaming phones.

After spending a couple of weeks with the Black Shark 4, there are some things that the phone does really well, along with a few annoyances.

Xiaomi Black Shark 4: Specs

Xiaomi Black Shark 4
Price $499 / $599
Screen size 6.67-inches
Resolution 2400 x 1080
Density 395 ppi
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 870
RAM 6/8/12 GB
Storage 128/256 GB
Battery 4500 mAh
OS Android 11
Rear camera Triple cameras:
48MP, PDAF, f/1.8, 0.8μm (main)
8MP, f/2.2, 120˚ (ultra-wide)
5MP, f/2.4, AF (macro)
Front camera 20P, f/2.0, 0.8μm
Bluetooth v5.2
NFC Yes
Dimensions 163.8 x 76.4 x 9.9mm
Weight 210g
Water Resistance N/A
Wireless Charging N/A
Special features 120W fast charging, 3.5mm headphone jack, side-mounted fingerprint sensor, physical pop-up shoulder triggers, 144Hz refresh rate, 1300 nits peak brightness

Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Review: Design and Features

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Unlike other gaming phones, like the RedMagic 6 and the ASUS ROG Phone 5, Xiaomi opted for a somewhat muted design with the Black Shark 4. You won’t find RGB anywhere (other than the display), but you will find some subtle Black Shark branding on the back.

The model we received is the Pale Grey version, and even though Xiaomi includes a plastic case in the box, we’re still thankful for that. There’s another color version available with the Mirror Black, but that would have surely been a fingerprint magnet. Meanwhile, the Pale Grey offers a matte finish that is comfortable to hold and doesn’t look like it needs to be wiped down constantly.

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Where the “gaming phone” aspects do arise is on the right-side of the phone. There are two switches placed on either side of the power button, which also doubles as your fingerprint scanner. But when these switches are activated, two shoulder triggers buttons emerge and snap into place.

This is not a new concept by any means, but instead of going the touch-capacitive route, Xiaomi opted for physical buttons. These, paired with the “Shark Space” game launcher, make it possible to use buttons while playing some of your favorite games like PUBG or Call of Duty: Mobile.

Around the rest of the phone, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the phone, placed next to the USB-C charging port. Another nice touch for a phone to include, and something we still are only seeing sporadically in phones. On the left side, there’s nothing to speak of other than the volume rocker and the SIM card slot.

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But the star of the show is the 6.67-inch Super AMOLED display with its 144Hz refresh rate and HDR 10+ compatibility. I’m not sure if Xiaomi sourced the panel from Samsung or what, but this screen is absolutely gorgeous. Before the Black Shark 4 hit my desk, my favorite display has been the OnePlus 9 Pro. But where the Black Shark takes the cake isn’t the faster refresh rate.

The panel is flat.

Obviously this isn’t earth-shattering or anything, but it’s a big vibrant display that is super-responsive and just looks fantastic. From watching YouTube or some shows on HBO Max, to firing up some Xbox Game Pass or Genshin Impact, everything looks crisp and clean. Plus, I don’t have to worry about the accidental touches or the video wrapping over the edges.

Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Review: Performance

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From playing games to getting some work done, the Black Shark 4 was able to handle everything that I threw at it. The Snapdragon 870 may not have the same clock speeds as something like the Snapdragon 888, but it can definitely keep up. Obviously, this is helped with the RAM combination being used (8GB in our model), but the CPU is enough of a horse to be more than sufficient for pretty much anything.

The Black Shark 4 has no problems with something like Call of Duty: Mobile and Dead Cells, which are optimized for pretty much any smartphone out there. However, Genshin Impact is one of the few mobile gaming titles that offers some flexibility in terms of customizing performance.

When going through and changing around the graphical settings, all I did was bump things up to 60fps and Genshin’s guide gave me a warning. This just lets you know if you might end up pushing your phone too hard, suggesting that you turn the graphics back down.

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But after ignoring the warning and sticking with 60fps, while leaving everything else as it was, it was time to see how well it performed. Walking around and interacting with the environment was just as I expected it to be — buttery smooth. However, there were two things that I noticed.

The first of which is that the temperature of my phone continued to creep up, the longer that I was playing. And even just sitting on an interaction screen caused the temperature to go up. The second was that in some combat situations, there were some definite frame drops. So you’ll want to proceed with some caution here, depending on the game that you’re playing.

But of course, everyone’s mileage may vary based on the games they play, so we also performed a few benchmarking tests:

  • Geekbench CPU:
    • Single Core: 1021
    • Multi-core: 3366
    • Compute: 3697
  • 3D Mark Wild Life: 4347
  • 3D Mark Wild Life Stress Test:
    • High: 4353
    • Low: 4340
    • Stability: 99.7%
  • PCMark: 16,453
  • GFXBench:
    • Manhattan (offscreen): 143
    • T-Rex (offscreen): 233

All of these numbers may seem like a bunch of nonsense, but what it shows us is that the Black Shark 4 performs almost as well as the Snapdragon 888 flagships. And in some instances, it actually outperforms those devices. One example is in the Geekbench multi-core benchmark. The Galaxy S21 Ultra scored 3096 in our testing, while the Black Shark 4 reached 3366.

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It just goes to show that when it comes to comparing the Snapdragon 870 versus the newer Snapdragon 888, the differences are negligible. So you can get nearly the same flagship performance at less than half the (retail) cost.

Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Review: Battery Life

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Unlike the other gaming phones that we’ve seen released in 2021, the Black Shark 4 doesn’t try to pack an enormous battery. With a 4,500mAh cell and without playing super-intensive games, this phone will easily get you through the day. In our PC Mark Battery testing, it lasted for just over 10 hours, which is honestly just fine.

Instead, the “killer” battery feature for the Black Shark 4 comes via charging. Xiaomi is currently pushing the limits for how fast a smartphone battery can charge, and this innovation has made its way to its gaming phone. The Black Shark 4 is capable of charging at speeds up to 120W, with Xiaomi claiming you can go from 0-100% in “under 17 minutes”.

However, chances are that if you go out and buy this phone yourself, you’ll “only” get the 67W fast charger. If you want the fastest charging possible, Xiaomi does offer the 120W charger separately. Unfortunately, Xiaomi’s 120W charger isn’t available on Amazon, but there are other options that come close, and truthfully, you really won’t need your smartphone to charge that quickly.

Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Review: Cameras

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Turning to the cameras, Xiaomi includes a triple camera array with a 48MP primary lens, along with an 8MP ultrawide camera and a 5MP macro sensor. And this is another area where we came away impressed, for the most part at least. Compared to the recently-released Pixel 5a, the Black Shark 4 just can’t keep up. But that’s okay because the Black Shark 4 isn’t designed to be used like a “normal” phone all of the time.

The pictures that we took were, for the most part, pretty solid and really good considering the $500 price tag. There are a few different modes to choose from including a hi-res 48MP mode, Night Mode, and even Pro Mode. So you’ll be able to turn that “serviceable” picture into something that looks really great. Xiaomi also includes AI enhancement, as it can determine the scene and adjust the settings on the fly.

Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Review: Conclusion

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I’m firmly in the camp where I would LOVE to see more Xiaomi phones made available here in the U.S. Despite its “gaming focus” the Black Shark 4 is just the latest example of why. The phone offers an incredible value, along with solid cameras, near-flagship specs, and support for 120W fast charging. And that’s not even including the 144Hz AMOLED panel that is flat and looks fantastic.

All of this in a package that’s priced at less than $500, and it’s definitely one of the best phones of the year. So if you’re in the market for a phone that’s more powerful than what the Pixel 5a has to offer, get the Black Shark 4. You won’t be disappointed.

The Good

  • Beautiful 144Hz display
  • Up to 120W fast charging
  • Great gaming performance
  • Physical shoulder buttons are retractable
  • Incredible value

The Bad

  • Cameras could be better
  • Lacking water resistance
  • Battery life is just okay

The Bottom Line

If you want a new smartphone and want a near-flagship experience without paying flagship pricing, then the Black Shark 4 won’t disappoint.

 





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