I reviewed the Black Shark 3 in early May finding it to be a superb gaming phone thanks to its superb pricing.
The Black Shark 3 Pro bumps up the pricing by 48%, costing an extra £260 at £799. This then puts it up against premium-priced phones, with the OnePlus 8 Pro being the obvious comparison.
The extra £260 gets you a massive 2K display, and two pop-out shoulder buttons making it much more gaming-centric, but are they worth the extra cash?
- Display: 7.1 inches 3120 x 1440 pixels 90Hz refresh rate (no notch)
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
- RAM: 12GB
- Storage: 256GB UFS 3.0 not expandable via microSD
- Rear Camera: 64MP, 13MP ultrawide, 5MP depth
- Front Camera: 20MP
- Battery: 5000 mAh with 65W charge, 18W magnetic charge
- Other: 3.5mm jack, NFC, no IP rating
Black Shark 3 vs Black Shark 3 Pro
As previously mentioned, there is not a huge difference across the board:
- Display: Increased to 7.1 inches 3120 x 1440 pixels from 6.67 inches 1080 x 2400 pixels
- RAM: Increased to 12GB from 8GB
- Storage: Increased to 256GB from 128GB
- Battery: Increased to 5000 mAh from 4720 mAh (though battery life has declined due to display size and resolution.
- Added physical pop-out shoulder buttons which is a unique feature compared to any other phone
Design and Display
The overall design and display is one of the big changes vs the more affordable model, the 7.1-inch screen is quite unwieldy and certainly not something that is easy to use with one hand.
However, the added size and increase display resolution improve productivity use, gaming and many other aspects. Things like browsing the internet and social media are just more pleasant on a larger screen. Also, if you watch a lot of media on your phone, you will love the extra size.
The onscreen keyboard is also massive, so while one-handed use is not eas easy, two hand typing becomes far more natural.
The overall design remains largely identical. The three rear cameras are arranged into a triangular shape at the top of the phone, the symmetrical triangle on the bottom of the phone having the four pins for the magnetic charging.
As for the magnetic charging, Black Shark has opted for this over wireless charging as it allows you to game without a cable in the way on the USB-C port, or alternatively, it gives you the option to use the cooling fan while charging and gaming.
My review sample came in a polished silver colour vs black of the normal phone. It is much more eye-catching, and I feel like the LEDs used on the rear of the phone seem brighter.
Sadly, the included case is still black rubber, rather than see-through, so you end up hiding colour anyway.
The other significant change to the design is the physical pop out shoulder buttons. As far as I am aware, no other phone has this, though the RedMagic 5G has touch-sensitive options. With the Black Shark, they work either as touch-sensitive (when retracted) or as normal push down buttons.
To extend them, you need to be in Shark Mode, the dedicated gaming mode enabled via the side switch. You then pull in from the corner and press little key new the shoulder. You can also have them pop up automatically in games.
In-Display Fingerprint Scanner & Facial Recognition
I won't go into too much detail here; performance is identical. Fingerprint scanning works well, and the phone is quick to unlock. Face unlock also works well, but with the singular selfie camera, it won't be as secure as other options with depth sensing.
The camera has an identical spec and from what I can tell equal performance. Considering the price hike, it would have been good if they had bumped up the spec a bit, but overall the camera is good for a phone isn't trying to be a camera phone.
In good light, the main camera can produce superb shots with excellent natural bokeh and bright, vivid colours.
Switching to the ultra-wide mode dulls down the colours a lot but still decent.
The lack of a telephoto lens means zoom is generally poor with you being reliant on digital zoom.
Performance and Benchmarks
Same spec means the same benchmark results. I thought the increased resolution may reduce things a little in some benchmarks, but this was not the case.
Antutu scored fractionally higher at 574860 vs 572437 which is a 0.4% difference and likey just the normal variation between running the same benchmark.
Looking at my previous review, the Geekbench result only scores 672/2245 while this scored 903/3338. Redoing the benchmark on the Black Shark 3, returned 907/3340 so I am not sure what I did to mess up the first result. However, they offer identical performance.
In PC Mark there was a bit of a difference, with the normal Work 2.0 performance test the phone managed 11020 vs 10652 giving a small 3.45% performance advantage.
Gaming was already good on the Black Shark 3. With the added screen size and shoulder buttons, the gaming experience is even better with the Black Shark 3 Pro.
It is a lot of money to pay for what seems like two small changes, but I found it does make a big difference in my performance. You get much more visibility with the increased screen size and your fingers, not in the way. With the shoulder buttons, they keep your fingers off the screen but then also provide a quicker response, as you don't really have to move your finger to trigger whatever you have mapped.
Throughout my time with it, I have been playing COD a lot and have used the left-hand gaming attachment extensively with it. I use that with the analogue controller for walking around, then use the pop-out shoulder button to zoom in, this then leaves the screen almost entirely free from my fingers.
The shoulder buttons do take a little getting used to, they are not placed as naturally as you get on a normal controller. My index fingers would normally sit on the back of the phone propping it up a little, so you need to adjust the way you hold the phone to make use of them.
Also, with the with controller accessory in use, this restricts access to the left shoulder button.
HDMI Out via USB-C
The Black Shark 3 Pro lack the ability to output to a display via the USB-C. It is not something I pay attention to much with phones, but with a premium priced gaming phone it is perhaps something you would likely want.
While the battery is larger, you have more pixels and a physically larger display to drive; this, therefore, gives you a lower overall battery life
Using the synthetic PC Mark 2.0 battery test with the resolution set to 2K, refresh rate at 90Hz and screen brightness at 50% the phone managed 13h 37mins vs 16h 49m.
To be honest, I can't say I noticed that much of a difference in real-world usage. Day to day use both phones easily get to the end of the day with plenty left in the tank. With gaming, I don't remember noticing a big difference with battery drain, but most of the time I am close to a charger anyway, and I don't often game for multi-hour sessions.
Connectivity & Wi-Fi 6
Just like my last review, there is no 5G where I live, so I have not tested 5G performance. Most SD865 phones will perform about the same, antenna design will play a roll in performance though.
Similarly, the Wi-Fi 6 performance is identical. With the SD865 you can only connect at 1200Mbps vs 2400Mbps on Kirin 990 based devices such as the Huawei P40 Pro, due to the phone being limited to 80Mhz channels compared to the super-wide 160Mhz.
The software is identical to the Black Shark 3; however, for some reason, the two phones have different security patch levels. The Pro has a new one dated back to March 2020, while the Black Shark 3 is February.
Some reviewers using imported models complained that the security patch was dated back to December, so the global variants appear to be better supported.
Accessories – Controller, Magnetic charger and FunCooler Pro
You have all the same controller options with he BlackShark 3 Pro as you do with the standard model. The fan attachment and controller both use an extendable grip attachment allowing them to work with the two different widths.
I did moan a little in my last review about the controller using this clamp style attachment vs a custom case, while it is still a valid point, I have got used to it now. With this style, you have the option to use any case you want, and there is not much difference between carrying out the grip/controller vs just the controller.
It would be good for them to launch a controller compatible case, though, just to give you that option.
As previously mentioned, the controller blocks pop out shoulder button, there are shoulder buttons on the controller itself, but it is not always easy to map them button presses vs the master touch/press option for the built-in buttons.
Pricing & Competition
There are no real like for like comparisons to be made here, no phone has such a large screen nor do any have physical pop up shoulder buttons. This is likely why Black Shark can justify the price for the phone.
The bog-standard Black Shark 3 costs just £539 for the base model, but if you want 12GB/256GB that matching the spec on the Pro model, you will have to pay £649. This means the bigger screen and shoulder buttons cost you an extra £150, which seems reasonable.
The RedMagic 5G is just £539 for the base model, it is a smaller display, but they have touch-sensitive trigger buttons. Not quite the same effect as a pop-out button, but it is definitely worth considering for an affordable alternative. The 12GB/256GB option jumps up to £599.
It is hard to ignore the OnePlus 8 Pro too, priced the same, it has a 6.78 inch 120Hz AMOLED display, so larger than the Black Shark 3, but still quite a bit smaller than the Pro model. You get less RAM and storage, you certainly don't get shoulder buttons, but it regarded as one of the best all-round phones on the market with a superb camera. Gaming performance won't be much different, but you won't get as many customisations the Shark Space offers. However, the similarly specced 12GB/256GB model costs £100
The Black Shark 3 Pro is a beast of a gaming phone, and there are significant benefits to having this over the much more affordable Black Shark 3. The size and shoulder buttons make this an actual gaming phone too, whereas many gaming phones (including the standard model) don't seem that much different than a normal flagship phone.
The original Black Shark 3 had a bit more universal appeal being smaller and one of the most affordable SD865 phones on the market. The unwieldy size and premium price of this means you very much want to buy a gaming phone.
How good this phone is, really depends on how much you play games. If it is only a few hours here and there, you may as well opt for the much more attractively priced Black Shark 3. For serious gamers that can justify the cost then the Pro model is excellent, the shoulder buttons are the star of the show, and the extra screen size makes a big difference to gaming. My performance in COD is considerably better with this phone vs the relatively small Realme X50 Pro.
So if you are an avid gamer wanting the best gaming experience possible on Android, the Black Shark 3 Pro should be at the top of your list for considerations.
Black Shark 3 Pro Review Rating
Overall - 90%
A true gaming phone, the huge display and shoulder buttons make this the best overall gaming experience I have had from a phone.
Flagship performance for both gaming and everything else
Massive display which is great for both gaming and productivity
Pop-out shoulder buttons genuinely improve gaming performance
Strictly a gaming phone, other phones offer better all-round appeal
Very large for daily carry around and one-handed use
Shorter battery life vs normal Black Shark 3
Last update on 2021-01-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API