The Black Shark 3 Pro is the current flagship in the Xiaomi mobile gaming subsidiary’s lineup.
It sits above the regular Black Shark 3 and comes with a number of custom design features you won’t find in any other smartphone. Chief of which is custom “Master Trigger” inputs.
The controls aren’t perfect, but coupled with the phone’s sizeable, high refresh rate screen and competitive starting price, they add up to make the Black Shark 3 Pro one of the best phones around, and an ideal choice for “hardcore” gamers.
Its marmite design and heft will put off many regular phone users, who will be better off investing in the OnePlus 8 or one of Xiaomi’s non-gaming handsets, however.
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Design – For the gamers
Gaming phones are never subtle. But the Black Shark 3 Pro takes things to a new level. The 7-inch device would have been classed as a tablet half a decade ago – held back-to-back it’s nearly the same height as first-gen Nexus 7.
The phone otherwise looks a lot like its smaller sibling, the Black Shark 3, featuring a custom “X Core” design. This brings with it the best and worst of gaming hardware design tropes. Specifically, it means that the back of the phone has a distinctly ROG like accents and two diamond-shaped housings on its back.
The latter houses the phone’s triple sensor camera array and a magnetic connector for the phone’s optional magnetic charge cable. This, plus the RGB lighting Black Shark’s coated the phone with means the Pro is about as unsubtle as a phone can get.
Sadly, like the regular Black Shark 3, despite being very solidly built, and suitably durable to survive an accidental drop onto a hardwood floor, the handset doesn’t have any formal IP rating. This is a common compromise on £400-£600 handsets as getting the certification is an expensive process that ramps up the phone’s final RRP. But it means you’ll want to avoid any aquatic adventures, or using the handset in the pouring rain.
Due to its size, the Pro also doesn’t work with most non-Black Shark peripherals, like the stellar Razer Kishi. Though considering how good Black Shark’s own gamepad and cooler add-ons are this isn’t a huge deal.
Outside of this the Pro ticks all the right boxes you’d expect a flagship gaming phone to..
Like the regular Black Shark 3, there’s a custom switch on the phone’s side that lets you activate the firm’s Shark Space 3.0 software. This is to all intents a custom game mode where you can customise RGB light patterns and create custom profiles for specific games. This is particularly important on the Pro as it also activates the phone’s most unique feature: its Master Triggers.
These are pop up shoulder buttons that are housed in the phone’s top long side. They may sound like a gimmick, but paired with the Shark Space software they’re actually pretty awesome. The controls have a wonderfully tactile feel and pleasing click mechanism when you hit their actuation point.
They’re also an outright boon when playing online competitive shooters like PUBG and CoD Mobile, thanks to their easy to setup software. In Shark Space all you have to do is activate the Master Trigger control menu and drag on-screen icons to the input you want them to register for the game you’re playing.
The Pro’s custom cooling system and atypical antenna placement round off its gamer focussed feature set.
It has the same “Sandwich Liquid Cooling” system as the regular Black Shark 3. This places two super long cooling pipes in a doubled sided structure that the firm claims is 100% larger and 50% more efficient than the one seen on the Black Shark 2.
The “dual X” antenna design litters ten antennas around the phone’s sides in a custom setup the firm claims improves connectivity when using the phone in landscape.
As before, the two systems work well. During testing, I’ve never noticed any CPU throttling, even when playing games on GeForce Now for hours at a time and I’ve not had any serious signal dropouts. The only downside is that, due to the ongoing lockdown, I haven’t had a chance to test the Black Shark 3 Pro’s 5G connectivity.
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Display – One of the biggest phone screens around
The Black Shark 3 features a giant 7.1-inch AMOLED 4120 x 1440 resolution screen. Like the regular Black Shark 3 the screen features a 90Hz refresh rate and HDR10+ support.
The 90Hz rate doesn’t match the 120Hz seen on Samsung’s current Galaxy S20 line, but like the regular Black Shark 3, it’s still a serious boon for games and a massive step forward on the 60Hz seen on most regular phones.
The key selling point for games will be its 270Hz touch reporting rate and 24ms touch latency, however. For non-techies, the combination of refresh and polling rate, means the Black Shark 3 and Black Shark 3 Pro have two of the most responsive screens on the market and are brilliant for gaming. Moving from the Black Shark 3 Pro back to a Galaxy S20 Plus, the latter felt a fraction slower playing PUBG. This is a serious achievement, albeit one only gamers will enjoy.
Outside of this, the screen is fairly good, albeit not best in class. Colours out of the box are a little overcooked, but not to the point that it’s a massive problem and the HDR10+ support, coupled with the screen’s giant dimensions, make it great for binge-watching Amazon Prime and Netflix content, if you turn its video upscaling off that is.
This is an annoying feature that’s also on the regular Black Shark 3. It forces content to play at 90Hz. This creates a soap opera effect that makes Oscar-worthy movies look like early 90s sitcoms or an episode of neighbours. Thankfully you can easily turn it off in the phone’s “cinema mode” settings menu.
The two front facing stereo speakers also perform admirably. They don’t have the same bass extension as the ruling Razer Phone 2, but they’re loud and powerful enough to watch movies and play games with. Though as always a decent set of headphones or Bluetooth speaker will be the way to go if you want a truly immersive experience.
Performance and Software – The Black Shark 3 is blazing fast
The Black Shark 3 Pro runs using the same Snapdragon 865 chip found in most of 2020’s flagships, including the regular Black Shark 3. Backed up by 8/12GB of RAM this means the Black Shark 3 is blisteringly fast and easily matches the performance of competing flagships.
After three weeks with the handset I’ve not noticed any slow down and been able to run every game I’ve tested with their graphics maxed with no issue.
Webs and apps open in milliseconds and, all-in-all, I haven’t noticed any performance issues using the Black Shark 3 Pro as my main phone.
The handset’s synthetic benchmark scores mirrored my real-world findings.
Gaming phones software usually mirrors their physical designs. In general, they feature horrible Android skins full of duplicate apps and garish icons that aren’t anywhere near as elegant or pleasant to look at as Android’s native versions. This largely remains the case on the Black Shark 3 Pro which features the same JoyUI 11 skin loaded over Android 10 as its non-pro sibling.
The skin adds a few useful gaming features, like Shark Space and is a lot less intrusive than the ROG Phone’s custom skin. But it still makes more superfluous UI changes than I’d like. It’s also guilty of loading duplicate apps and needlessly changing icons.
Camera – Great for a gaming phone
The Black Shark 3 Pro comes with the same triple camera setup as its smaller sibling. This means round back you’ll find 13-megapixel ultra-wide, 5-megapixel bokeh and 64-megapixel clear (main) lenses.
The app also remains unchanged and features the same selection of modes. These include auto, portrait, pro, night and panorama. There’s also a custom 64-megapixel option that lets you capture outright gigantic photos.
Performance is great by gaming phone standards and average for flagships as a result. Out of the box photos taken on any lens are a step up on what you’d get from the ROG Phone 2 or Razer Phone 2. They’re sharper, feature better autofocus, contrast levels and more realistic colours. All-in-all they’re more than good enough for sharing on social media.
But, they don’t match the quality of the OnePlus 8 or Galaxy S20. This is particularly true in low light. Even using the bespoke low light mode, the Pro’s autofocus is noticeably longer than its non-gaming rivals. Noise creeps in and it overexposes light sources in dim conditions. Like the non-pro version the 64-megapixel setting also has a tendency to overprocess shots compared to its non-gaming competition.
You can see a selection of photos taken on the Black Shark 3 Pro below.
Battery life – Huge cell and fast charging
The Pro’s powered by a sizeable 5000mAh battery and supports lightning quick 65W fast charging.
Black Shark claims the phone’s also more stable than competitors thanks to a custom “dual battery system and chipset, which let it go from 0-100% battery in 38 minutes and 50% charge in 12.
With real-world use battery life is solid. Using the Black Shark 3 Pro as my main phone it easily lasted between one to two days of regular use.
This entailed constantly checking the internet and incoming alerts, taking a few Zoom calls, listening to music through the workday and playing some games over GeForce Now for an hour in the evening.
Multimedia performance is particularly impressive. Streaming video over Wi-Fi on Netflix with the screen on 50% brightness the Black Shark 3 Pro lost an average of 6-8% of its battery per hour.
Playing games, the phone lost between 12-18% of its charge per hour. Both results are impressive and make the handset a great option for regular mobile movie streamers and gamers.
Should you buy the Black Shark 3 Pro?
If you’re an avid gamer, early GeForce Now subscriber or regularly use you phone to stream videos then the Black Shark 3 Pro is a solid handset. Its giant 7.1-inch screen and custom “Master Controller” shoulder buttons make it feel more like a mobile console than a traditional handset, especially when you pair it with the firm’s optional gaming peripherals.
Its pure heft and distinctly 90s gamer design will put off regular buyers however. These people will be better off investing in a non-gaming phone like the OnePlus 8 or Galaxy S20, which both have better cameras.