Black Shark 4 Pro Review: 2021 Spec, 2022 Performance
Almost a year after the initial announcement of the Black Shark 4 Pro in China, the smartphone is set to come to UK shores.
Touting gaming-focused features like a 144Hz AMOLED display, magnetic pop-up triggers, RGB lighting and 120W HyperCharge support, the Black Shark 4 Pro sounds tempting, but can the early 2021 spec hold its own against 2022 smartphones? Well…
Design and build
- Big and bulky, but not unwieldy
- Clean design with minimal RGB
- Built-in triggers are a game-changer
The Black Shark 4 Pro is a gaming phone, and that means that it’s not the thinnest or lightest in the market – likely down to the beefed-up internals and larger cooling components than standard flagships. If that’s not your thing, you’d be better off elsewhere.
But while the Black Shark 4 Pro is a chunk at 9.9mm thick and 220g, it’s not unwieldy thanks to the narrow 20:9 aspect ratio of the 6.67in display – although the trade-off is that it’s hard to reach the top of the display when using the phone one-handed.
Size aside, Black Shark 4 Pro is an evolution in the design of the Black Shark, keeping the same X-antenna rear as its predecessor but switching out the combination of metal and glass for an all-glass affair. The glass rear is matte to help resist fingerprints with the familiar X pattern visible beneath, with interesting light refraction effects that give it a premium, but not so ‘in-your-face-gamer’ look.
A gaming phone it most definitely is though, complete with RGB lighting on the rear – although it is a bit lacklustre compared to most gaming peripherals that come packed with bright lights. Instead, you’re treated to a single triangular RGB panel that sits just beneath the rear-facing cameras, customisable to display different colours and patterns when you’re gaming, getting calls and more.
It’s handy for notifications when your phone is face-down on a table, but it doesn’t really benefit gamers – and it’s a fairly basic iteration compared to the lighting on the Asus ROG Phone 5S and Red Magic 6S Pro.
It’s not the most impressive gaming-focused feature though; that award goes to the magnetic pop-up triggers, found on the right-side of the smartphone (or the top left and right when gaming horizontally). Hidden when not in use, the triggers simply pop out by flipping the switches that sit next to each, providing a more console-esque gaming experience without the need to carry around accessories.
The feature has been improved compared to its predecessor, with just 160g of pressure required to activate, a 1m+ click trigger life and a more responsive, tactile feel when using them.
It’s something I’ve found myself using a lot during my time with the Black Shark 4 Pro, and because the triggers can be remapped for use in any game – not just those with controller support – it’s better than a dedicated controller for some games.
There are also smaller design features that improve the gaming experience, including a more centrally placed volume rocker on the left side to keep it out of the way when holding the phone horizontally, and the X-shaped antenna helps reduce interference when held horizontally too.
Elsewhere, the Black Shark 4 Pro features a USB-C port for charging, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a fingerprint scanner built into the side-mounted power button, and it’s available in three colours: Shadow Black, Misty Grey and Cosmos Black. Keep it away from the rain though; there’s no official water resistance rating here.
- Best-in-class display with 144Hz refresh rate and 720Hz touch sample rate
- E4 AMOLED tech is bright, vivid and detailed
- Magic Press tech can trigger custom in-game actions
One area where the Black Shark 4 Pro excels is in the display department. The FHD+ (1080 x 2400) display measures in at an impressive 6.67in, with E4 AMOLED tech providing a vivid, bright and detailed visual experience perfect for mobile gaming and movie watching alike.
There’s HDR10+ support with peak brightness at a claimed 1300nits that makes those Netflix shows look great – and the 20:9 aspect ratio nearly perfectly matches the 21:9 aspect ratio of Hollywood movies, although it does mean that standard 16:9 content has larger black bars than usual.
The tall aspect ratio is also why the top of the display is so hard to reach one-handed, as mentioned earlier.
The bezels have been shrunken down on all four sides for a more premium look, and although there is a centrally placed holepunch camera cutout intruding on the full-screen display, it’s not as noticeable as some cutouts at 2.8mm-wide – even when gaming.
It’s when you delve into the nitty-gritty that the display really begins to shine; it offers a 144Hz refresh rate to match the popular refresh rate used by PC gamers for a buttery-smooth visual experience, but what’s more impressive is the 720Hz touch sample rate.
That means that touch input is detected much more quickly than traditional smartphone displays, resulting in lower latency and faster response times – especially crucial when playing competitive online games.
In fact, Black Shark claims that the tech means there’s only an 8.3ms touch delay, and if true, that’s among the best in the market – even in 2022, a year after its release.
It certainly feels responsive in everyday use, especially in online shooters like Call of Duty Mobile where I’m able to instantly respond to incoming threats – sometimes even when I’m already in the enemy crosshair – and I’m not even what I’d describe as a ‘pro’ player.
The display is also pressure-sensitive using Black Shark’s ‘Magic Press’ tech, with the aim of being able to press down onto the display to trigger specific game functions like reloading or using a melee weapon. Though it’s a niche feature that not even all gamers will use, it’s a handy option for the power users among us.
Performance and spec
- Performance is great, especially when gaming
- Snapdragon 888 is outdated compared 888+ and 8 Gen 1
- Latest connectivity options include Wi-Fi 6E and 5G
The Black Shark 4 Pro had top-of-the-line specs when it was initially revealed back in March 2021, but almost a year later, those specs aren’t quite as enticing.
The Black Shark 4 Pro sports Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 alongside either 8 or 12GB of LPDDR5 6400MHz RAM, and you’ve got either 128- or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage to play with, putting it in likes with the likes of the Asus ROG Phone 5 and Red Magic 6 which were also released around the same time.
So, how does that translate to real-world performance? Despite not having the latest and greatest tech by 2022 standards, the combination of a Snapdragon 888 and 8/12GB of LPDDR5 RAM provides a solidly high-end gaming experience that’s sustained over long periods thanks to the company’s ‘sandwich’ liquid cooling system.
It’s certainly more than enough for casual mobile games, and even the most demanding AAA mobile games like Call of Duty Mobile or PUBG Mobile run at the highest graphical settings with additional extras enabled without issue. It’s also just as smooth when scrolling through Instagram, using the camera and just about anything else, as you might expect.
The problem is that with the upgraded Snapdragon 888 Plus readily available and next-gen Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-equipped phones rolling out, the Snapdragon 888 chipset is starting to show its age. While it doesn’t make a difference right now, as developers lean into the extra power on offer from the latest chipsets, you may see a drop in performance.
With that being said, the gaming phone is able to outpace most other Snapdragon 888-equipped smartphones in both our CPU and GPU benchmark tests – although I’d be interested to see how it compares to the 888 Plus-equipped ROG Phone 5S, but we’re yet to get that in for testing.
For reference, here’s how the Black Shark 4 Pro with 12GB of RAM stands up against similarly-specced smartphones:
While you could argue that the Snapdragon 888 is simply not as powerful, energy-efficient or ML-capable as the latest chipsets on paper, Black Shark has done an admirable job at squeezing every last drop of power from the year-old chipset. While it’ll still bother gamers that feel they need the latest and greatest, it’s perfectly acceptable for the vast majority.
Performance aside, you should expect the latest in connectivity including 5G connectivity and support for Wi-Fi 6E in regions where it’s certified, providing fast internet speeds ideal for multiplayer games and cloud gaming too. There’s also Bluetooth 5.0 for connecting headphones, controllers and other accessories, and there’s NFC for digital payments too.
- Rear triple camera setup
- Only the main 64Mp camera is usable
- Poor low-light performance across the board
Camera performance is important on any smartphone, but if there’s any category of smartphone where it doesn’t matter as much, it’s gaming phones – at least, that’s what the manufacturers seem to believe. Though the Black Shark 4 Pro does improve on its camera offering compared to its predecessor, it’s still not what most would consider flagship.
On the rear, you’ll find a main 64Mp sensor alongside an 8Mp ultrawide lens and a 5Mp macro lens.
The main sensor is what you’ll be using most of the time, with specs that far outperform the other two lenses, with headline features including a fairly decent f/1.79 aperture. With good lighting, stills have a decent amount of detail, vibrant colours and great dynamic range, making it a good snapper for everyday shots.
It’s in low-light conditions that quality begins to tail off, with images looking much softer with a more noticeable anti-noise algorithm at play – and there isn’t much of a difference when shooting in the dedicated night mode either.
It’s a limitation of the stabilisation more than anything, with the electronic image stabilisation (EIS) not able to correct the wobble as you hold the phone in place as well as optical image stabilisation (OIS) would.
The performance of the 119-degree ultrawide is fine in good lighting conditions, although there’s still a clear difference in detail when compared to shots from the main lens, and that difference only becomes more apparent as light levels begin to drop. The ultra-wide is great for scenic shots or group photos, but only in the very best lighting conditions.
The less we say about the 5Mp macro lens the better, partly because it took us so long to find the mode in the Camera app that it feels purposefully hidden by Black Shark. It performs about as well as most macro lenses on the market, and that’s to say it doesn’t work very well. It’ll be something you use once or twice, but no more than that.
Flip the phone over and you’ll find a 120-degree ultra-wide 20Mp camera that’s more than wide enough for group selfies, though the f/2.45 aperture means it’s worse than the rear-facing wide camera in low-light conditions, so you’d better turn on a lamp or head outside for video calls and selfies.
- JOYUI 12 has great gaming-focused features
- Poor UI design, can be confusing to use
- No commitment to future Android updates
The Black Shark 4 Pro ships with JOYUI 12, which itself is based on Xiaomi’s MIUI 12, which is based on Android 11, so it’s a custom UI based on a custom UI of stock Android 11 – got that? Great.
Based on Xiaomi’s MIUI 12, it should come as no surprise that the JoyUI 12 experience is about as far from stock Android as you can get – for better, and for worse. It certainly has that gamer aesthetic, with custom icons, cool gamer-focused backgrounds and a bunch of themes to choose from, including third-party options that bring it closer to the stock Android look if that’s what you prefer.
The main hook of JOYUI 12 is, of course, Shark Space 4.0, the company’s hub for gaming on the smartphone.
It acts much like a console UI would, providing you with quick access to all installed games on the smartphone in one handy place, along with advanced settings like network status, performance, display settings and notification blocks to keep you from distraction when gaming.
It also allows for game macros – something not found on most gaming phones – that allow you to trigger repetitive actions with a single tap of a button, further aligning the PC and mobile gaming experiences.
It’s also where you can customise the magnetic triggers and any other Black Shark accessories you might have, so it’s something that users will find themselves using fairly often.
Gaming focus aside though, it has the same complaints that many western users have of MIUI 12, including a confusing Settings menu, hit-and-miss notification support and a range of pre-installed apps – some of which can’t be uninstalled.
There’s also the confusing Camera app UI which, for some reason, hides the Macro lens within the hamburger menu (not in the mode selector) and also splits the ultra-wide-angle from the main sensor switch toggle – a place where you can browse through all lenses on practically any other Android smartphone.
While most of these issues can be overcome by learning the quirks and intricacies of JOYUI 12, it’s certainly not the most intuitive, feature-packed or smoothest software experience available when compared to Samsung, Google or even Apple, and unlike most Android manufacturers, there’s no commitment for an upgrade to Android 12 let alone future OS upgrades.
- All-day battery life generally, but drains faster when gaming
- 120W HyperCharge provides 90% charge in just 15 minutes
The Black Shark 4 Pro features a 4,500mAh battery that – on paper at least – can’t quite compete with the 6,000mAh battery on offer from the likes of the Asus ROG Phone 5S, and even non-gaming phones like the 5,000mAh Moto G200.
In real-world tests, however, I found the Black Shark 4 Pro would comfortably get me through a day’s use without getting battery anxiety, with a mix of casual gaming, texting, tweeting and calling, although that will depend on what you’re up to.
If you want to run AAA mobile games at the highest textures with the max 144Hz refresh rate enabled, it’s likely that the battery will die much quicker – I noticed a 10-15% drop in battery life after playing Call of Duty Mobile at the highest settings possible for around 25 minutes.
The saving grace is that the charging experience is incomprehensibly fast, with support for Xiaomi’s 120W HyperCharge technology – and unlike many rivals, the full speed charger comes as standard in the box. It really is impressively fast too, with our tests showing a 0-90% charge in 15 minutes, and it reached 100% charge within 30 minutes.
So, even if the battery does drain faster than some rivals, it’ll be ready to go again in no time – although I’d be interested to see how much charge the battery holds after a year of such extreme charging speeds.
The Black Shark 4 Pro is set to come to UK shores from 23 February 2022, almost a year after its China reveal. It’s available in two configurations – 8GB/128GB and 12GB/256GB – costing £489 and £569 respectively.
Though that does sound like a tempting offer, it’s worth pointing out that you can get more recent gaming-focused smartphones – like the 888 Plus-equipped Nubia Red Magic 6S Pro – for around the same price, and the likes of the Moto G200 costs even less at £399. If you are tempted, you can pick up the phone from 23 February from Black Shark and retailers like Amazon.
It’s also set to be released in the US at $579 and $679 respectively.
If you want to see how the Black Shark 4 Pro compares, take a look at our pick of the best gaming phones.
The Black Shark 4 Pro is a capable gaming phone, even with a 2021 spec.
While the gaming phone’s Snapdragon 888 is beginning to look old compared to 2022 gaming phones, benchmarks show that the manufacturers have squeezed every drop of power possible for chart-topping benchmark results, even when compared to phones with the upgraded Snapdragon 888 Plus.
It really is an impressive feat of engineering, and that translates to a high-end mobile gaming experience devoid of freezing or lag.
It is worth mentioning that it’s not technically the fastest Black Shark, with the follow-up Black Shark 4S range – with a Snapdragon 888 Plus – readily available in China. But, given the delay with the Black Shark 4 Pro, it’ll be a while before that graces UK shores (if ever).
If you’re more focused on the core gaming experience than the specs, the Black Shark 4 Pro is still a tempting option. The magnetic pop-up triggers are a game-changer, allowing for a truly console-esque gaming experience without the need for additional accessories, and Shark Space has some great software features that help improve your game performance too.
There’s also the 144Hz AMOLED display with 720Hz touch response rate to consider, which remains one of the better gaming displays in 2022, so there is still a lot to appreciate – it’s just not the fastest Black Shark around.
Black Shark 4 Pro: Specs
- 163.8 x 76.4 x 9.9mm
- 6.67in AMOLED display with 144Hz refresh rate, 720Hz touch sample rate and HDR10+ support
- FHD+ (1080 x 2400) resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
- 8GB/12GB of LPDDR5 6400MHz RAM
- 128/256GB of UFS3.1 storage
- 4,500mAh battery with 120W Hyper Charge
- Rear camera: 64Mp f/1.79 main, 8Mp f2.2 ultrawide and 5Mp f/2.4 macro lens
- Front camera: 20Mp f/2.45
- Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.0 & NFC
- Fingerprint scanner (power button)
- Shark Eye lighting effects
- Magnetic pop-up triggers