• February 8, 2023

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With the continued rise in complexity of mobile gaming going hand in hand with the increased capability of smartphones, the rise of the “gaming smartphone” handset class allows manufacturers to focus on specific details important to gamers. That has led to some powerful handsets with radical and diverse choices to accommodate specific needs.

Black Shark, has taken a slightly different approach by building gaming handsets that might not reach the bleeding edge but offer above-average gaming experiences in phones that are almost, but not unlike, regular smartphones.

I’ve spent time with the latest handset, the Black Shark 5 Pro, to find out how well subtle works as a power-up.

What I find interesting about the Black Shark 5 Pro is that while it is a gaming phone, it is not going crazy with the gaming aspect. Instead, this is a sensible high-end phone that is optimised towards gaming, as opposed to a gaming phone that goes all out and sacrifices features not 100 per cent focused on the game.

To that end, you do have specs that you expect to see in a gaming phone from the first half go the year. That means you have a SnapDragon 8 Gen 1 powering the system. With the 8+ Gen 1 featuring in new smartphones shortly, the Black Shark 5 Pro is going to be slightly behind the processor curve as of next month… right now, it’s one of the leading handsets.

The phone also uses the Adreno 720 for its graphics. Pair these core specs with up to 16 GB of RAM and up to 512 GB of storage; you have a device that will comfortably offer 60 fps on demanding games such as Genshin Impact, PUBG and Call of Duty Mobile.

Running these high-end games with high graphical output (which the 144 Hz fast refreshing OLED screen can cope with) comes with the usual cost, namely heat and power usage.

On the former, Black Shark has added two vapour chambers to the Snapdragon chipset to help wick as much heat away as possible. Unlike the hardcore gaming phones, which can offer more venting, fan-assisted airflows, and radiative surfaces inside the casing, the Black Shark 5 Pro has turned away from the more esoteric options to stay with some tried and tested methods.

In general, they do work well, although the handset does heat up and the heat is pushed out in the same location as the palms of your hand. With an offset camera island unbalancing the smartphone’s rear, something doesn’t quite click when holding the handset. It’s a little awkward, which is magnified in a long gaming session.

The Black Shark 5 Pro makes tiny compromises throughout the system… you have an OLED screen and not an AMOLED screen, and the touch sampling of 720 Hz is high but not the highest. The cooling system remains subtle and mostly effective but not assisted by any active technology. The selfie camera and the ultra-wide camera lens are fixed focus lenses (although auto-focus is curiously present in the macro camera.

The battery is slightly smaller than other handsets in this generation, sporting 4650 mAh, but the Black Shark 5 Pro has an advantage… it has impeccable fast charging capabilities and the 120W charger comes in the box with the phone. That offers an empty to 91% charge time of fifteen minutes and thirty minutes to go from empty to 100 per cent.

Long gaming sessions will mean more access to the fast charger. Is that a deal-breaker? That depends on how mobile you are when you use the phone. If you are out and about, commuting, and far away from a recharge, the Black Shark 5 Pro could come up short. Gaming around the house shouldn’t be a problem.

Design wise, this does not look like a gaming phone. There are some nods towards the excess and vibrancy of the idea of a gaming phone, but from a short distance this looks like a pretty run of the mill Android smartphone.

The key concession, and one that many gamers will enjoy in the more action-based landscape-orientated games, is the two shoulder buttons. Found at the top right and top left of the handset when held in landscape, these shoulder buttons stay tucked away in the handset until you activate them with two switches – at which point they pop up and can be triggered as needed, usually by the index fingers.

They are programmable for each game, so you can tweak the settings you like, and in normal phone use you can allocate specific functions to them, such as taking a picture, turning on the flashlight, or opening a specific application.

Then there’s the notification light. The rear of the smartphone has some subtle inking that looks like wiring around a circuit board, not in any huge quantity but enough to be seen. Part of those lines have an LED underneath that will glow a set of user-defined colours for a number of defined actions such as playing music, charing, and incoming calls.

The Black Shark 5 Pro is not brash, and it does not wear its gaming credentials where it can be seen. But they are there. The hardcore professional gamers are going to look elsewhere, but for those who enjoy “a good game” and want both the hardware to cope with those demands and provide a solid and sensible smartphone experience for the rest of the time, the Black Shark 5 Pro deserves consideration… Albeit the sort of consideration that one would have over any handset that fits the “flagship killer” mid-priced genre.

Now read the latest smartphone headlines in Forbes’ weekly Apple Loop…


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