To review a gaming phone like the Black Shark 5 Pro is to dip your toes into some shark-infested waters. You've already got the fierce Asus ROG Phone 6 and 6 Pro, the chunky Red Magic 7s and 7s Pro, and Lenovo's angry-looking Legion Phone line.
The Black Shark family sits below the ROG Phone line in terms of price and positioning. Missing out on the very latest specs, the flashiest RGB lights and the full accessory suite Asus' phone packs, it still looks mighty competitive for the price though.
Specifically, the Black Shark 5 Pro packs a 10-bit OLED display with a sky-high 144Hz refresh rate for some super-smooth gaming and scrolling. The practical gaming highlight is its physical shoulder triggers, which offer a refreshingly mechanical interaction compared to all the touch-triggers on other gaming phones.
With best-in-class charging for a gaming phone (120W, powering up in under 20 minutes), Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 power, and an impressive-sounding 108-megapixel camera, will the Black Shark 5 Pro sink or swim?
Black Shark 5 Pro review: Price and availability
While the Zenfone has pocketability, and the 10T packs world-beating fast-charging, the Black Shark 5 Pro sports gaming grunt. There are also higher-capacity options, with the 12GB RAM 256GB storage option costing £729/$899, while the 16GB RAM 256GB storage option is £809/$999.
Black Shark 5 Pro review: Design
The Black Shark 5 Pro is a weighty phone at 220g, as it's loaded up with clever cooling elements. That means it isn't much lighter than the heaviest phone around, the 240g iPhone 13 Pro Max. Despite its weight, the 5 Pro is still relatively elegant-feeling with its curved back and rounded sides.
Available in black and white, I've been using the white version, which has a glorious pearlesque diffused sheen to it when light hits it in just the right way. The back is far from plain white, though. Glyphs are laid over a hairline thin grid pattern that spans the whole glass back panel. This helps add a real sense of dimension to the phone and keeps the gaming phone styling relatively tasteful.
The matte back is contrasted with the polished metal sides and frame elegantly, and the phone's front is all about a flat, 6.67-inch screen. There's a pre-fitted screen protector on the front, and Black Shark ships a case in the box, however, don't expect IP68 dust- and water-resistance.
On the right side of the phone, in addition to a power and fingerprint scanner button, are two sliders. These release the physical left and right triggers, which rise a few millimetres when unlatched.
Before I even started gaming on the Black Shark 5 Pro, I was compulsively sliding the buttons up and down, and pressing them with reckless abandon. They feel great, with excellent tactility, from the slider function to the click feedback of the buttons themselves.
At the base of the Black Shark 5 Pro is a USB-C port, a dual-SIM slot, and there are loudspeakers on the top and bottom, while a volume rocker lives on the left side.
This is much more of a traditional take on smartphone design than alternatives like the Red Magic 7s Pro or the Asus ROG Phone 6. There's just one USB-C port, so it doesn't scream gaming phone anywhere near as loudly as the competition, and its RGB lights are seriously subtle, with a tiny flourish to the right of the main camera. Nevertheless, if undercover-gamer is your brand, and you don't want to spend the earth on your next smartphone, the Black Shark 5 Pro could be a great shout.
Black Shark 5 Pro review: Display
The Black Shark 5 Pro’s display is very good for the price, made up of a quality OLED screen with a sky-high refresh rate of 144Hz, so it checks a lot of gaming phone boxes, despite not doing anything groundbreaking.
Measuring 6.67-inches, it's about the same size as the Realme GT2 Pro, but features a slightly less crisp display, with its Full HD resolution means 1080 x 2400 pixels. This might sound underwhelming given some phones like the Sony Xperia 1 IV pack a 4K display (3840 x 1644). But, games aren't generally rendered above Full HD on Android phones, so the Black Shark 5 Pro is exactly where it needs to be.
With a pixel density of 395 pixels-per-inch (PPI), the phone's significantly sharper than the 326PPI iPhone SE, but falls behind the iPhone 13's 460PPI panel. So beyond gaming, whether reading or swiping through social media, you won't spot any pixels, even if the Black Shark doesn't sport best-in-class clarity.
Thanks to a 10-bit display and HDR10+ capabilities, the Black Shark 5 Pro showcases everything between black and white with nuance and pizzazz, and it's also punchy and bold, with zingy colours. Climbing up to 1300 nits in brightness, while things don't get Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra bright, it still shines brightly enough for comfortable outdoor viewing – even in sunny climes.
Black Shark 5 Pro review: Cameras
Gaming phones aren't known for their cameras, but on paper the Black Shark 5 Pro's triple camera setup doesn't look too bad at all. In fact, with its 108-megapixel main and its sizeable 1.52-inch sensor, it should take some fine-looking photos. That camera's fitted out with an f/1.8 aperture lens, though there's no optical image stabilisation (OIS) to keep things steady.
As for the secondary cameras, the ultra-wide is an f/2.4, 13MP camera. There's also a 5MP macro camera. Now, macro cameras are usually pretty rubbish, but Xiaomi's telemacro camera examples, as introduced on the Xiaomi 11 and Redmi Note 10 Pro are great. The 5MP camera in the Black Shark packs autofocus and an f/2.4 aperture, and focuses as close as 4cm from the lens. For fans of selfies, there's a 16MP, f/2.45 front camera that captures up to Full HD video as well.
Despite being one of the more affordable gaming phones, we'd go out on a limb and say the Black Shark 5 Pro has one of the best, if not the best camera around in its category.
The primary camera captures photos that are packed with detail. While it has a 108MP resolution, pictures are downsampled to 12MP by default. Even at that resolution, you can pinch into a picture, and there's plenty to love. In brilliantly-lit environments and outdoor shots, switch to 108MP mode to eke out even more nuance, and capture shots that you can crop right into.
Low-light performance from the phone is respectable, too, considering it misses out on optical image stabilisation – usually a pre-requisite for good quality night photos and video. It automatically activates night mode, however, so artificially brightens up scenes and boosts shadow detail through processing.
Some of the best ultra-wide cameras pack autofocus, but the 13MP ultra-wide camera on the Black Shark 5 isn't one of them. It's a fixed-focus module, though still takes a good picture in most lighting conditions. More impressive is the 5MP telemacro camera, which captures close-up shots loaded with detail, and, thanks to autofocus, doesn't constrain you to a specific distance from your subject.
Video from the Black Shark 5 Pro is recorded at up to 4K resolution, with frame rates as high as 60fps. It generally looks impressive, specifically in good to fair light. We're similarly impressed by the selfie camera, which captures good-looking, flattering, yet detailed images. In low light, the screen flash kicks in and helps things along.
Black Shark 5 Pro review: Performance
You expect power from gaming phones, and the Black Shark 5 Pro delivers just that with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 internals, so apps run brilliantly on it, and games play smoothly.
The Black Shark isn't the mightiest phone around though. It doesn't sport the latest Snaprdragon 8+ Gen 1 internals (the all-important 'plus' there), found in the Asus Zenfone 9. Nevertheless, it's still powerful enough for smooth, nippy gameplay.
The phone we reviewed has a healthy 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, though the 5 Pro is also available with up to 16GB RAM and 256GB storage. That said, there's no SD card slot in sight, so if you think 128GB will be too tight, buy the higher-capacity model.
Running Android 12 with Black Shark's JOYUI over the top, if you've used a Xiaomi phone before then you'll know what to expect. It's virtually a carbon copy of MIUI on the Xiaomi 12 line, though it does have a few gaming twists.
The first is the most ridiculous gaming highlight, though is stupidly satisfying. Every time you slide up the left or right trigger, the phone makes a gun cocking sound from the speaker on the trigger's side. Each side has a slightly different sound, and we applaud the attention to detail on that front.
Shark Space is the gaming portal. Import games into it, and you can access game-specific highlights from the Shark Space UI. These include controlling interruptions, from calls to general notifications, locking brightness and toggling the in-game menu on and off. It's this in-game menu where the real power lies.
Swipe in from the top corner of the screen, and the gaming menu is loaded with options, from trigger allocation – so you can decide what your left and right triggers do, to macro recording so that you can capture a sequence of on-screen presses and more. This console also displays the strength of your WiFi signal, frame rates and general performance load.
Gaming on the Black Shark 5 Pro is a great experience. While Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones tend to get hot under the collar, Black Shark does a better job than most when it comes to heat management. Half an hour of Injustice 2 barely warmed things up. A long bout of 5G downloads and Genshin Impact at max graphics settings upped the temperature a fair bit more, but it was still more manageable than phones like the Xiaomi 12 Pro.
The Black Shark Pro's screen is responsive, and I also like how the left and right triggers feel. Black Shark tries to load them up with multiple inputs – hard press, regular press, and so on, which was a bit overkill for me. At a base level, though, there's a mechanical retro-nature to them that was very satisfying.
While the phone's refresh rate climbs up to 144Hz, most games won't play back at higher than 60Hz. This was even the case with titles that play back at higher refresh rates on other phones like the ROG Phone 6, so it's clear that the Black Shark 5 Pro isn't as well catered for from an optimisation point of view.
General app support is impressive on any phone that supports the Google Play Store, and the Black Shark 5 Pro is no different, though its interface is heavy and has a few clumsy gremlins. For example, in Shark Space, some selectable text falls off-screen. Not mission-critical stuff, but there's a slight lack of polish.
Black Shark 5 Pro review: Battery and charging
The Black Shark 5 Pro's battery life is fine, though not great. I thought its medium-sized, 4,650mAh cell would perform badly, given the power-hungry processor under the hood, but it's about on-par with the Honor Magic 4 Pro – lasting a day with moderate use, but no more.
While there's no wireless charging, thanks to 120W fast wired charging speeds, Black Shark takes the title of the fastest charging gaming phone brand, powering up in under 20m. That's pretty amazing, right?
Black Shark 5 Pro review: Verdict
The Black Shark 5 Pro is a very good gaming phone for the price. It features premium styling, has some meaningful gaming phone features, showcases games brilliantly on its high-refresh-rate display, has fun physical triggers, and even its camera mix impressed us.
While battery life could be better, very fast-charging takes the edge off, charging the phone from zero to 100 per cent in less than 20 minutes.
There's no getting around the fact Xiaomi's gaming interface lacks a bit of polish, and is generally heavy. Still, if you're a gamer looking for a great option that undercuts much of the competition, the Black Shark 5 Pro is a fierce competitor. It more than keeps its head above water in face of the best gaming phones competition.
If you like the look of the Black Shark 5 Pro but don't fancy any of its compromises, the ROG Phone 6 and 6 Pro are still the best gaming phones on the market. With Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chips, they're more power-efficient, and thanks to huge 6,000mAh battery power, last a lot longer.
If you don't want a gaming phone but want to game, you could opt for the OnePlus 10T, which packs slightly faster charging and more generic styling with 8+ Gen 1 power.
For a cheaper, more fully-featured phone with less focus on gaming, the Nothing Phone (1) gets wireless charging and some flashy Glyph lights, costs less than the Black Shark 5 Pro, though features less mighty internals – and it's battery life is much, much worse.