With mobile esports being one of the fastest growing trends in the region, it's no surprise that more and more gaming phones are flooding the market. Apart from powerful innards and a superior cooling system, gaming phones also usually come with a slew of accessories to enhance the mobile gaming experience.
The Black Shark 3 certainly hits all of the above points, and comes with a interesting array of accessories to boot. Today, we'll be reviewing the Black Shark 3 along with the FunCooler Pro and GamePad controller accessory - of which we only have one side, but should work well enough for demonstration purposes.
An exterior that screams 'Gamer'
Starting off with the exterior, the Black Shark 3 is a well-built phone with an aluminium and glass chassis that weighs in at a whopping 222g. Hefty phones tend to feel more premium and sturdy, but as this is a gaming phone, too much weight can make your wrists tire out quickly. so it's definitely something to keep in mind.
On the black, you'll find an edgy "X" shape incorporated into the pleasantly symmetrical design which looks good both horizontally and vertically. 2 hexagonal sections house the triple camera array and 18W magnetic charging contacts respectively. The logo has RGB lighting of course - else we can't really call it a gaming phone eh?
The unlock button is placed on the right side, a little too high up for comfort - and I already have pretty large hands. It's understandable though, as Black Shark probably wanted to make space for the FunCooler to clamp onto the phone without pressing down on any buttons. This is also probably why the volume rocker is placed on the left, instead of next to the unlock button like it typically is.
Beneath the screen lies the fingerprint reader, which is situated at a perfectly comfortable height to make up for the less-than-ideal position of the physical unlock button. Unlocking does take a second, which isn't as prompt as I'm used to, but isn't a huge hindrance.
And of course, 3.5mm jack lovers will be pleased to find one on the bottom, next to the USB-C charging port.
Flagship specs and performance
Being a gaming phone, the Black Shark 3's specs certainly don't disappoint. Leading the charge is Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 865 processor, accompanied by a "Sandwich" liquid cooling system that flanks both sides of the mainboard to keep things cool and maintain performance. While things do heat up after an hour or so of gaming, it was still well within comfort range (I'm not the type to get sweaty hands though), which bodes well for even longer gaming sessions.
The version we have on hand packs 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM along with 128GB of UFS3.0 storage for super speedy data transfers. It's also running on JOYUI 11 which is based on Android 10, and supports both 5G and Wi-Fi 6, placing the Black Shark 3 firmly in this generation.
Side note: To make sure that the phone's 5G is compatible with Malaysian networks, do remember to pick up a local set and not the China version.
We ran both 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme as well as GeekBench's benchmarks, and the Black Shark 3 performed outstandingly on both, surpassing other popular devices such as the HUAWEI P30, Google Pixel 4, and OnePlus 7T.
Real world testing also backed up the results of the synthetic benchmarks, with gameplay being crisp and smooth at their maximum settings, accompanied by speedy touch response and loading times.
Battery life was a treat with the massive 4,720mAh dual battery, which lasted for days on idle, and up to a full day with multiple lengthy gaming sessions throughout the day. If you accidentally let the battery run down, the 65W Hyper Charge will top it back up to full at an insane speed - a mere 12 minutes to 50% and 38 minutes to 100%, so you'll never be left with an empty tank for long.
Splendid display and rich audio
The 1080 x 1400 resolution 6.67" AMOLED screen was a joy to behold. Thanks to HDR10+, the colours were vibrant while blacks were deep, and the 90Hz refresh rate made it even more of a pleasure to play games and even browse Facebook on. Do note that the unit ships with 60Hz as the standard setting, so you'll have to go into settings to crank it up to the sweet, sweet 90Hz. I'm slightly disappointed that it didn't come with a 120Hz display that's becoming more and more common now, but that's just me being spoiled.
Forward-facing speakers are a common design choice in gaming-oriented phones, largely to avoid obscuring the grilles while gaming in landscape mode. The Black Shark 3's speakers are located on the forehead and chin of the display; while the sizes are asymmetrical, there was no noticeable effect on the audio quality, which by the way was pretty impressive.
Be it during gaming or music listening sessions, the audio was well-rounded and rich; the bass isn't very heavy but packed an acceptable amount of punch for its size.
Decent camera with great video capabilities
If you're looking for a snapper, Black Shark probably wouldn't be the first choice that comes to mind - it's targeted towards gamers after all. However, it still does a pretty decent job with its 64MP triple camera array, which consists of:
13MP ultra-wide snapper – f/2.25 aperture
5MP camera for bokeh – f/2.2 aperture
64MP super clear camera – f/1.8 aperture, 1.6μm 4 in 1 super pixel
Zoom goes up to 5x only, which is nothing compared to the 30x or even 60x that some phone cameras boast nowadays, but to be honest, unless you're planning to spy through that condo window a few km away, do you really need it?
Seeing is believing, so here is a slideshow of photo samples to gauge the camera's capabilities for yourself:
Ultra-wide has some typical distortion around the edges, while the 1x zoom fared well. 5x zoom was noticeably blurry with a paint-like quality. It did well indoors with both natural daylight and indoor lighting, while night mode was a tad artificial and oversaturated with an exaggerated HDR effect.
Instead of a waterdrop or punch-hole front camera, Black Shark has opted to tuck the selfie cam into a slim, barely-noticeble bezel instead, which is a choice that I wholeheartedly applaud due to its minimal presence.
Video-wise, it's capable of recording up to a whopping 4K 60fps, and can take up to 1920fps slow-mo shots, which is a huge step up from the usual 960fps of most other phones. Whether you'll use these features is another question altogether, but they're extremely nice to have just in case you spontaneously decide to dive into amateur videography.
Gaming features that elevate your experience
If you're buying a gaming phone, you'll surely be on the lookout for gaming-specific features. Unfortunately, the Black Shark 3 does not have physical triggers; for those, you'll have to pony up a little more dough for the Black Shark 3 Pro. What it does have is Master Touch 3.0, which allows you to bind two pressure sensitive hotkeys to the screen area, effectively turning the entire left and right halves of your screen into giant buttons.
Binding it is a breeze - all you have to do is slide from the corner of your screen to open the game menu, tap the MasterControl button, and drag the 'L' and 'R' icons to the button you want to bind each half of the screen to, and you're done! The Master Touch hotkeys are extremely responsive, and have extremely realistic haptic feedback that responds to pressure.
Shark Space can be turned on via a physical toggle located on the bottom right of the phone, which can be very unwieldy in normal circumstances, but since most games are played in landscape mode anyway, this wasn't an issue. Turning it on closes all background apps and functions, and mutes notifications to ensure that your phone dedicates its full power and attention towards your game. You can also easily access all your games from here - if your game isn't automatically added to the list, you can manually add them with just a few clicks.
However, it appears that the physical Shark Space toggle is the only way to enter or exit the mode, so you're shit outta luck if you already have the GamePad controllers attached as they will definitely obstruct the button.
Accessories are nice to have, but cumbersome
And now, it's finally time to talk about the fun stuff - gaming phones tend to come with an arsenal of accessories to enhance the gaming experience, and Black Shark is no exception.
First, let's talk about the FunCooler Pro. For the initiated, this device is a handy little fan that clamps onto the back of your phone to keep it cool - but aha, it's not merely a fan in the traditional sense of the word. The FunCooler Pro is more of a fridge that cools via contact, and it is extremely effective at its job. After removing the cooler from the phone, you'll notice a thin layer of condensation on the back of the phone, much like when you remove a cold plate from the fridge.
The heat produced by the fan isn't all that bad either, it pumps out a toasty warmth that I'm happy to put up with as long as it keeps my phone icy cold. One downside is that it has no internal battery and has to be powered up via USB-C, creating a rather messy cable situation if you're playing on the go. And of course, the Pro version has RGB lighting too - if you can do without it and want to save some dough, you can go for the basic FunCooler model instead.
Another issue with it is that it's pretty cumbersome as you either have to curl your fingers to rest on either side of the cooler, or wrap your fingers around it entirely - neither positions feels very natural or ergonomic, but can be easily circumvented by using the GamePad controllers.
The GamePad controllers are pretty much Joycons for your phone. First, you'll have to clamp an attachment onto your phone, then slide the controllers on exactly how you would with a Nintendo Switch. Flip the 'on' switch, hit the pair button while your phone's Bluetooth is activated, and you're good to go. The process of binding the buttons is the same as binding your MasterTouch hotkeys - just drag the onscreen icons onto the functions you want to bind each button to, and you're ready to play.
Although not particularly comfortable, it still does a decent job at providing a proper grip and physical buttons, and is definitely much comfier than using the FunCooler Pro attachment without it.
One caveat however, is that the controller's clamp is somewhat obstructive when you're trying to tap a button located near the edge of the phone with your thumb - you'll have to adjust by using the tip of your thumb, which is pretty unwieldy if you have long fingernails.
Also, managing all these accessories can be done via Shark Space, which is extremely convenient.
The Black Shark 3 does what it set out to do excellently, providing a stellar gaming experience with features and optimisations that take it to the next level. Its unfettered power is complemented by a gorgeous display and rich audio. The camera takes a back seat compared to the rest of the package, but despite the fact that the Black Shark 3 was never intended to be a champion in photography, it still served up pretty decent photos and a surprising array of video capabilities.
The accessories performed their intended functions well and are definitely nice to have, but are a little cumbersome in practice. Also, if you're planning to pick up the FunCooler, it's better to get the GamePad controllers to go along with it just for ergonomic purposes. The FunCooler itself is worth shelling out extra for, especially if you're a hardcore mobile gamer who indulges in long gaming sessions.
The Black Shark 3 (8GB + 128GB) is priced at RM2,799 and is currently available in Midnight Black with more colour options to follow. You can purchase one either as a standalone unit, or with several different accessory bundles.
The accessories, including the FunCooler Pro, GamePad, and magnetic charging cable are also available as separate add-ons on their official Shopee store.