Black Shark 5 Pro review: This gaming phone helps you win all your Apex Legends Mobile games
The Black Shark 5 Pro is the new flagship gaming smartphone from Black Shark, the brand supported by Xiaomi (but not owned by Xiaomi). Its specifications put everything on performance while being cheaper than most "normal" high-end Android smartphones. But can the Black Shark 5 Pro make it in the niche market of gaming smartphones? I share my opinion with the world in this full review.
- Well-calibrated 144 Hz screen
- Retractable triggers are very well implemented
- Solid performance and stable framerate
- Ultra fast 120W charging!
- Lots of useful gaming customizations
- Great Magic Press mode
- Massive design and a bit bulky
- Disappointing night photos
- Ads in the user interface
- Limited software update policy
- No IP rating, microSD port or 3.5mm jack
The Black Shark 5 Pro in a nutshell
Like many gaming smartphones, the Black Shark 5 Pro is positioned as a mid-range flagship in terms of price. It is cheaper than most "normal" high-end Android smartphones, and comes in three memory configurations of 8/128 GB, 12/256 GB and 16/256 GB priced at $799, $899 and $999, respectively. The Black Shark 5 Pro is available from June 9, 2022, on the official Black Shark store as well as also on Amazon and AliExpress.
Its specification sheet oozes with performance as it is powered by a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC and boasts up to 16 GB of LPDDR5 RAM, liquid cooling and retractable physical triggers, just like on the Poco F4 GT that I reviewed recently.
The Black Shark 5 Pro also has some prime features that can make it a good daily smartphone: its MIUI 13 (Android 12) based interface and Xiaomi's HyperCharge 120 watts fast charging.
Design: Retractable triggers that are fun to use
The Black Shark 5 Pro has a gaming-centric design that is quite aggressive but also very neat. The coating at the back is particularly pleasant to the touch and even seems to "isolate" your hands from the heat produced by the SoC. The retractable physical triggers are also very nice to use. But some of the features that one would expect to be in a supposedly high-end smartphone are missing.
What I liked:
- Matte coating is soft and offers heat protection.
- Excellent grip.
- Stellar Black color is nice.
- Physical retractable triggers are fun to use (yes).
What I disliked:
- Imposing form factor (220 g).
- The fingerprint reader under the power button is responsive, but placed a little too high.
- No IP rating for waterproofing, no microSD slot, and no 3.5 mm jack.
I find the look of the Black Shark 5 Pro to be very nice. The design is clearly gaming oriented, while silkscreens at the back remind me a bit of the Pioneer plate.
You know, the kind of bottle in the sea sent by NASA to communicate with an extraterrestrial civilization to explain to them what humanity is and to show them the location of the Earth? This is a rather consistent theme with the space-like feel picked by the manufacturer this year.
It is especially the coating at the back of the Black Shark 5 Pro that I really like. It is matte and soft to the touch. But it also seems to be "insulating", a bit like the sheaths on a pair of pliers for the lack of a better example. I feel like it provides extra protection against overheating for the hands.
The triggers are very nice to use. The mechanism is far smoother than on the Poco F4 GT. The switches that you have to slide to pull the triggers are so smooth, I had a hard time restraining myself from playing with them like with a fidget spinner.
Screen: 144 Hz and a great Magic Press feature
The Black Shark 5 features a 6.67-inch OLED display with Full HD+ resolution, or at 1800 x 2400 pixels. The panel has a refresh rate of up to 144 Hz and a touch rate of 720 Hz. The maximum advertised brightness is 1300 nits, but this is only achieved at its peak.
What I liked:
- 144 Hz refresh rate.
- Very bright screen.
- Fantastic Magic Press mode.
- Extremely customizable sensitivity.
What I disliked:
The Black Shark 5 Pro's screen ticks all the boxes for a gaming experience. The variable refresh rate can go up to 144 Hz and the touch sampling rate up to 720 Hz. The latter number isn't really impressive in 2022, the OnePlus 10 Pro can hit 1,000 Hz, for example.
However, sensitivity is far more customizable on the Black Shark 5 Pro. You can adjust the overall sensitivity, stability, or even precision so that the screen identifies subtleties and the different speeds at which you scroll your fingers over it.
The colorimetry of the Black Shark 5 Pro's screen is faithful as long as you opt for the Standard color mode. I don't have any measurement tools to see this precisely, but the tones seemed a bit too cool with the Vivid mode enabled by default. This is an observation I've made on quite a few other Xiaomi smartphones, such as in my Redmi Note 11 Pro+ review.
But it was one feature that stood out to me in particular - the Magic Press mode. The Black Shark 5 Pro is able to recognize different levels of pressure for each touch on the screen. And you can associate actions with each pressure level on a specific part of the screen.
It's hard to explain. But in practical terms, I can make it so that when I press a key in my game with a force of level 2 out of 7 (7 being the maximum), the smartphone will perform an action. For example, I can decide that a press on the "shoot" key in a FPS is repeated 5 times in a row. In Apex Legends Mobile, my game of the moment, I can shoot 5 times in a row with my semi-automatic rifle by pressing the "shoot" button only once.
In otherwords, you have a macro of sorts. Does that equal cheating? You decide. Imagine that a virtual button that you never use is very badly placed on your screen. To avoid accidental presses in the middle of a game, you can make it activate only if you press it with level 7 force. Then you'll have to really want to activate the button to do so.
But I've made a video to illustrate it, I think it will be easier. In any case, it's a great advantage in terms of ergonomics. I'm a big fan of this feature. Especially since there are so many modes and functions to explore to further enhance the experience. Really, Black Shark, bravo!
OS: MIUI 13 with gaming options (and ads)
The Black Shark 5 Pro runs on JoyUI 13, a custom version of MIUI 13 that is based on Android 12. The manufacturer does not offer an official upgrade guarantee.
What I liked:
- Similar customization options as in MIUI 13.
- A very practical Shark Space menu.
- Gamer Studio optimizes your gaming experience in real time.
- Not too much bloatware.
What I disliked:
- Ads in the interface.
- No guarantee of software updates.
JoyUI 13 looks almost exactly like MIUI 13. If you are a Xiaomi user, you will not be lost at sea here. Unfortunately, we find the same problems as on MIUI such as ads in native applications (even the file manager). Black Shark informed me that there should be no ads in the global ROM and that the teams will work on removing them.
The manufacturer does not provide an official guarantee for software and security updates. So expect the bare minimum of one to two Android releases and three years of security updates.
On the other hand, I liked the Shark Space menu that lets you create presets for each of your games (performance level, screen sensitivity, etc). And the Gamer Studio menu allows you to see your in-game performance in real-time as well as to access several settings without leaving your game. There are very nice features to have with a neat and readable UI design!
Performance: Framerate is still good
The Black Shark 5 Pro packs Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC and an Adreno 730 GPU mated to 128 or 256 GB of UFS 3.1 storage and 8, 12 or 16 GB of LPDDR5 RAM. The smartphone also features a liquid cooling system called Anti-gravity Dual VC Liquid Cooling.
What I liked:
- Solid raw performance.
- No overheating in real-life use.
- Very non-aggressive thermal bridging.
What I disliked:
- Overheating during benchmarks.
With a few months to go, the Black Shark 5 Pro could have incorporated the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 that was recently announced by Qualcomm. But the 8 Gen 1 brings home the bacon anyways. In benchmarks, the smartphone obviously performed very well and shows an average framerate of 59.50 FPS in 3DMark's Wild Life benchmark, which simulates gaming usage for one minute.
|Black Shark 5 Pro||Poco F4 GT||Redmagic 7|
|3DMark Wild Life||9928||
|3DMark Wild Life Stress Test||Best loop: 9821
Worst loop: 8358
|Best loop: 9813
Worst loop: 4531
|Best loop: 10143
Worst loop: 8395
|Geekbench 5||Single: 1213
In everyday use, I was able to run the game Apex Legends Mobile at a constant 60 FPS with graphics and framerate set to 4 out of 5. Apex Legends is a not very well optimized game, so it is very resource intensive. But with the Black Shark 5 Pro, the experience was much smoother than on my OnePlus 10 Pro, for example.
I've put a gameplay snippet below, captured in 2400 x 1080p resolution at 30 FPS with a 24 Mbps bitrate.
On the other hand, I noticed a serious overheating problem on 3DMark's Wild Life Stress Test benchmark, which simulates gaming usage for 20 minutes. The temperature rose to 60°C and the smartphone was burning hot. But the smartphone managed to maintain a framerate with 85% stability, oscillating between 30 and 74 FPS.
I conducted a second test session, but this time using the fan provided by the manufacturer (which is sold separately) that is magnetized to the back via a very artisanal process using stickers. With the fan, the temperature was limited to 48°C on the Wild Life Stress Test benchmark from 3DMark. The framerate remained stable at 97.5%, ranging from 40 to 74 FPS.
In everyday use, I was obviously able to play all my games with the graphics at maximum level. Apex Legens Mobile ran perfectly in 60 FPS. And apart from benchmarks, I never felt the phone overheat, even without the fan (which is really efficient, but must be connected via USB-C...).
Audio: Quality DTS stereo sound
The Black Shark 5 Pro features dual stereo speakers with DTS and Cirrus Logic technology to enhance the audio quality. It also has three active noise-cancelling microphones for the clearest possible recording of your voice, which comes in handy for talking to your teammates while you play.
What I liked:
- Quality sound.
- Dynamic bass and accurate mids.
- Good spatialization.
What I disliked
- Poor speaker placement.
What does it mean in concrete terms? DTS or Digital Theater Systems is an audio codec system, like Dolby Digital, but with less compression. Cirrus Logic is a renowned manufacturer of semiconductors that are widely used in audio.
Personally, I found the sound of the Black Shark 5 Pro good. The spatialization of the sound is particularly good, which is very useful for hearing the footsteps of your opponents when playing a multiplayer game. I found the bass to be generous and dynamic. But even for SVOD (streaming video on demand), the mids are heard audible and the sound doesn't saturate even at high listening volumes.
On the other hand, I deplore the placement of the stereo speakers. They are located along each edge, at the top and bottom of the smartphone. When I hold it in landscape mode to play, I irremediably block the outputs with my hands. And it's even worse when I use the retractable triggers.
Cameras: A 108 MP triple module
The Black Shark 5 Pro has a triple rear camera module powered by a primary 108 MP main lens and coupled with a 13 MP ultra wide angle lens and a 5 MP macro sensor. The front selfie camera has a resolution of 16 MP.
What I liked:
- Effective main lens.
- Satisfactory level of detail at wide angle.
- Faithful and consistent colorimetry in wide angle and ultra-wide angle.
- Correct night mode.
What I disliked:
- No optical stabilization (OIS).
- Very clear loss of details as soon as you go to 2x zoom.
The wide angle main lens performs very well in daylight. The level of detail is sufficient and the colorimetry rather natural, especially when you disable the AI mode.
Even with automatic HDR, the latter only rarely activated. The dynamic range is overall quite wide. However, as soon as you switch to 2x zoom (digital), the loss of quality is very noticeable. The macro is not as bad as I expected, I was surprised by the beauty of some close-up shots.
I didn't notice any inconsistency in rendering in ultra wide-angle compared to wide-angle, which is good. On the other hand, the distortion along the edges of the image is quite present. Portrait mode photos are quite flat since the smartphone lacks depth sensors, but the crop remains quite clean.
At night, the Black Shark 5 Pro did not impress me with the dedicated night mode called Super Night Scene. When it comes to video, you can shoot up to 4K at 60 FPS with the main lens, 4K at 30 FPS with the ultra wide-angle and 1080p at 30 FPS with the selfie camera.
Battery life: From 0 to 100% in 15 minutes
The Black Shark 5 Pro is equipped with a 4,650 mAh dual-cell battery that supports Xiaomi's HyperCharge fast charging system with 120 Watts of power. Moreover, it offers a mode to boost the charging speed and go from 0 to 100% battery life in 15 minutes.
What I liked:
- The very efficient HyperCharge 120W fast charging.
- A Speed flash charging mode to go from 0 to 100% in 15 minutes!
- The 120 Watt charger is included in the box.
- Quick Charge and USB Power Delivery compatible.
- The battery utility is very complete.
What I disliked:
- The battery is a little too small (come on, 5000 mAh or bust!).
- USB-A to USB-C cable.
- No wireless charging support.
For a high-end gaming smartphone, a 5,000 mAh capacity should be the standard in my opinion, especially since the Black Shark 5 Pro logically proves to be rather power hungry. I ran the PC Mark battery life benchmark with the screen set to 200 nits brightness and adaptive refresh rate. The Black Shark 5 Pro took 9:21 hours to go below 20% battery life.
This is an average score considering that I rate battery life to be very good when the smartphone lasts at least 10+ hours on this benchmark.
But in everyday use, I easily lasted a full day or more before falling below the 10% remaining battery life mark. With more gaming and intense use, setting the performance level to the maximum level (Ludicrous) and forcing the refresh rate to 144 Hz, I lasted less than 10 hours. But in this scenario, I was really abusing the battery, so it's a pretty unrealistic usage scenario.
As for the Black Shark 5 Pro's fast charging, it's very effective. The 120 Watts are really a killer feature. Especially since Black Shark offers a feature called Dual-mode Charge that allows you to choose from two fast charging methods.
The first one, known as Constant temperature charging, adapts the charging power according to your usage pattern to preserve the health of the battery and avoid overheating. It allows you to go from 0 to 100% in 24 minutes. The second, Speed flash charging, allows you to recover all your battery life in 14 minutes by loading the watts without worrying about the health of your battery.
In both cases, the times touted by the manufacturer proved to be accurate. This is a really major strength of this Black Shark 5 Pro.
|Black Shark 5 Pro|
|Product||Black Shark 5 Pro|
|Design & Colors||Stellar Black, Nebula White|
|Screen||6.67-inch OLED display, Full HD+ 1080 x 2400, 1300 nits peak brightness, 144 Hz refresh rate, 720 Hz touch rate|
|CPU & GPU||Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 | Adreno 730|
|OS||JoyUI 13 based on MIUI 13 based on Android 12|
|Video||4K at 60 FPS | HDR 10+ | slow motion 1080p at 120/240/960 FPS|
|Battery||4650 mAh | HyperCharge 120W fast charging | Quick Charge and USB Power Delivery compatible | No wireless charging | 120W charger included in box|
|Audio||Dual stereo speakers | HD codecs (LDAC, LDHC, aptX HD) | No 3.5 mm jack|
|Connectivity||5G | Bluetooth 5.2 | Wi-Fi | NFC|
|Dimensions & Weight||163.83 x 76.25 x 9.5 mm | 220 g|
|Price||$799 (8/128 GB) | $899 (12/256 GB) | $999 (16/256 GB)|
The Black Shark 5 Pro scores very well in my opinion. The 120 Watts fast charging is really one of its best features. The fact that you can fully charge your smartphone in just 15 minutes is pretty crazy!
The design is also very nice and the retractable physical triggers have an excellent finish. Add to all these the different modes like Magic Press and all the options for customizing the display, performance and screen sensitivity, and you have a very nice gaming experience.
On the other hand, the Black Shark 5 Pro lacks some key features for a gaming smartphone. Why not allow us to expand the storage via a microSD slot? Why not let us connect a headset or wired headphones, especially when the smartphone's speakers are so poorly placed?
The gaming smartphone market is a dog-eat-dog world. Against the RedMagic 7 and RedMagic 7 Pro or the Poco F4 GT, the Black Shark 5 Pro has its chances. But I'm thinking that the ROG Phone 6 from Asus will arrive soon, powered by the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor. The competition is going to be tough this year.