The Black Shark 3 gaming phone from Xiaomi has a lot to live up to: we were very impressed by the Black Shark 2, and this new 2020 model aims to be better in every way. If you want a phone packed with power and built for gamers, it's well worth considering.
There's the top tier Snapdragon 865 CPU on board here, as well as 5G connectivity, so you're going to struggle to find a smartphone that will outdo it in terms of specs anytime this year. There's a big screen, and a big battery, and a triple-lens camera on the back.
It's very much a gaming phone though, and that means the Black Shark 3 might struggle to appeal to phone buyers outside of those who are specifically focused on gaming. In this thorough review we'll explain why you might want to pick it up – and why you might not.
Despite the high specs on offer here, you can pick up the Black Shark 3 gaming phone from Xiaomi for a reasonable price – check the widgets on this page for the latest deals and cheapest offers, but the phone launched for £539 and up direct from Xiaomi itself.
Xiaomi Black Shark 3 review: design and screen
If you want to do some serious gaming on your phone, of course you need a serious screen to do it with, and the 6.67-inch AMOLED panel here does the job very well indeed. It runs at a very respectable 1080 x 2400 pixels, and can go up to a refresh rate of 90Hz when needed (for less intensive tasks, it sticks with 60Hz). The 270Hz touch reporting rate is worth mentioning too, which should mean super-snappy responses every time you press on the display.
We like the look of the Black Shark 3, though it's not going to be for everyone – this is definitely a gaming phone, no doubt about that. It has sharp angles and a choice of bold colour schemes, and it's relatively chunky too. It's 10.4 mm (0.4 inches) thick and weighs in at 222 grams (7.8 ounces), so don't buy this if you want something small or light.
Assuming you do like the gaming aesthetic, the bezels are pleasingly thin (there's no notch here, and an in-display fingerprint sensor). Part of the thickness is down to the 'Sandwich' liquid cooling system that's been deployed here, with two liquid cooling pipes, two copper alloy shelters, and a thermal graphite sheet designed to keep everything running cool even when the most demanding games are running.
Around the back there's some bold styling in the form of ridges (maybe so you can better hold the phone while gaming), and three LED lights (including the Black Shark logo) that can be customised to notify you about calls and texts. You can also just have the back cover lights glowing continuously in shades of your choosing – very gamer-y. You don't get any shoulder buttons for extra game control as you do on some other handsets though.
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Xiaomi Black Shark 3 review: camera and battery
Xiaomi hasn't given the Black Shark 3 a best-in-class camera, but you'll still be able to take some good-quality photos if you can pull yourself away from your gaming. The phone comes with a triple-lens, 64MP wide + 13MP ultrawide + 5MP depth rear camera, and a 20MP wide selfie shooter on the front – both offer quick shutter speeds and HDR processing to balance out dark and light areas of a scene.
It's a shame there's no optical zoom here but the ultrawide lens is handy for getting more into a shot. We were able to get some bright and clear landscape and macro shots, with just a bit of blurring and noise occasionally creeping in around the edges. As usual for a phone at this price point, low light introduces more noise and more muddiness in the photos. There is a night mode that brightens up shots considerably, without really adding much clarity (and the shot takes longer to take too).
Shots taken in the evening and at night are still usable, on the whole, and will be fine for social media – but you can see the noise when you zoom in on them. Considering the price of the phone, the rear camera is actually a bit better than you might when you weigh up the amount you're spending, but we reckon the Google Pixel 4a will take better snaps for less money when it appears – it really depends what you prioritise in a smartphone, camera quality or gaming grunt?
The 4720 mAh battery impresses, dropping just 4 percent from a full charge in our test of an hour's streaming video at maximum brightness. Even with some gaming, we had plenty of juice at the end of each day, and we reckon the Black Shark 3 could even manage a couple of days between charges if you were careful. There's a nice nod to gamers as well in the magnetic charging sockets at the back, so you can keep it plugged in while gaming.
Xiaomi Black Shark 3 review: other specs and features
We've already mentioned some of the specs of the Black Shark 3: the Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB or 12GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of storage (which is non-expandable, unfortunately) are certainly enough to make mobile gamers sit up and take notice. You do get a 3.5mm audio jack here for wired headphones, which we like, but there's no wireless charging or serious waterproofing.
The 65W quick charging feature is worth mentioning – Xiaomi has added some smart tech inside the phone to juice up the battery quicker than ever. It claims a full charge can be had in under 40 minutes, which actually matches up with what we were seeing. It's another reason you might want to think about picking this up besides the gaming prowess of the phone.
It comes with some cool optional extras too, which we were able to have a play around with. The GamePad 3 adds a Bluetooth controller option for those games that support it (like Call of Duty Mobile), and is much better than using touchscreen controls. Meanwhile the FunCooler Pro adds even more cooling protection on the back of the phone, though to be honest the built-in cooling system seemed to work just fine for us.
There's support for 5G connectivity here, for when it eventually arrives in your area, and it's good to see Wi-Fi 6 compatibility too – making sure you're ready for the next generation of routers and Wi-Fi speeds. While the Black Shark 3 might not have every feature you're looking for in a smartphone, it definitely has a lot of the ones that matter.
Xiaomi Black Shark 3 review: price and verdict
What do you want from your next smartphone? If it's plenty of power, combined with hardware and software features that put mobile gaming to the fore, then you're going to love the Black Shark 3. Previous phones in the series have always been obvious inclusions for our best gaming phones list, and this third incarnation is the best one yet.
It doesn't have everything though – there's no wireless charging, no expandable storage, and no waterproofing. The Android skin is a bit hit and miss, as tends to be the case with Chinese-based manufacturers, and if you want the very best photos that you can get on a camera you'll probably want an iPhone, Samsung phone or Pixel phone instead.
The competition is stronger than ever in the gaming phone space, with dedicated handsets like the Nubia RedMagic 5G and phones with broader appeal like the OnePlus 8 all worthy of your consideration. The Black Shark 3 can definitely hold its own though, and comes in at a price point that doesn't do it any harm. Bear in mind that a bigger Pro version is also going to be available very soon.
If you like the styling of the Black Shark 3, and the look of the optional accessories you get with it, then this could well be the gaming phone for you. We found it ripped through every mobile game we played without breaking a sweat – staying cool to the touch, showing no lag or stutter, and providing one of the best mobile gaming experiences out there.