Man, this thing is a monster of a phone! So much so that when it arrived I was quite hesitant to transfer my SIM over to it. But when I started to actually use the Xiaomi Blackshark 3 Pro it started to grow on me.
This is a response from Xiaomi to the growing market for mobile gaming and the early impression was that they did a pretty good job. That being said, if you’re not looking at a significantly larger than “standard” phone, or something for gaming you’re probably not going to be interested for a number of reasons that we’ll explore.
What’s in the box?
The phone box contents are exactly what you would expect with a modern phone. There’s the phone, charger with cable, case and some instructions. That being said, for a phone that costs $1,999.00, I’d probably be a bit disappointed in that. Throw in a decent set of Bluetooth Earbuds and accessories to at least give the perception of higher value… Well if you’re on the early buyer’s list, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
There’s a pile of optional extras you can get for the Blackshark 3 Pro, some are very useful and some are quite functional for your device. Let’s take a quick look at the options:
The Fun Cooler
If you’re going to be gaming then this is a must have, purely because the phone does get uncomfortably warm if you’re gaming without external cooling. Even games that aren’t the latest and greatest created quite a bit of heat. The fun cooler moves a surprising amount of air and makes a bit of noise, but depending on what sound output you’re using – that probably won’t matter anyway!
Bluetooth Earphones 2
The Bluetooth Earphones in the accessory pack are — to be brutally honest — good but not great. Now I’m possibly a little unusual in that my preferred headphones are over-ear vs in-ear, but that’s more for my want of better sound than anything else. That being said, in comparison to many other in-ear options I’ve had a bit of time with over the past 12 months or so, these produce pretty solid sound but are missing a bit of the lower register punch I’d like to hear. The mid-range sound is really good and that’s where you’ll get a lot of the audio detail from games, so it makes sense.
What made these a really useful addition to a daily-use kit is the battery life. It’s exceptional, so much so that I went for two days (I lost track of how much listening time) without needing to charge although it did get a brief top up while in the car. On paper, the manufacturer quotes 14 hours of playback, which is probably pretty close to the mark across a couple of weeks for me with listening while I go on walks and at the gym. The RGB lighting and adjustable sound mean you can — within reason — tune the sound to your liking and “look the part” while doing so.
Quick Charge + Audio Adaptor
This is a well thought out accessory, much like the Aero Active Cooler 3 in the ROG phone 3 review but it isn’t quite as polished. This adaptor and the fun cooler match the features of the Aero Active cooler. This is very simple and offers a charging option that doesn’t interfere with your grip while gaming and a place to plug in wired headphones.
10,000mAh quick charge battery
All of that’s great, but if you’re running it off the battery and don’t have access to power you’re in trouble. The 10,000mAh portable battery pack will cover the gap for you. It’s quick charge capable and will charge your phone twice over. It’s got the power output to charge almost anything — although my laptop recognised it as a power source it didn’t charge the battery, but absolutely extended the battery life of my laptop.
The specs are great, the design is subjective…
It’s already been said, but it’s worth saying again – This thing is an absolute monster, it’s huge! The physical dimensions are 177.8 x 83.3 x 10.1 mm which makes this even bigger than the ROG Phone 3, another gaming focussed device. It also weighs considerably more than other phones on the market at 253 grams without a case.
The speakers are good, both the earpiece for phone calls and the external speakers for media playback. In fact, the external speakers had significant power to them and — for a phone at least — the surprising depth of sound, even at relatively high volume.
It’s an interesting development to see some of the larger, gaming focussed phones that we’ve had some time with lately, carrying some fairly significant bezels. If you’re going to be using your phone in landscape mode, you’ll need them to avoid false touches. This use case also highlights the need for the quick charge and audio adaptor as the phone’s charging port is on the bottom — in portrait orientation — which would be blocked by your hand in landscape.
A closer look at the specs
The specs more specifically for this Android 10 device are:
- Snapdragon 865 and Adreno 650
- 256GB storage and 12GB memory
- Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity
- Triple rear camera: 64 MP f/1.8 aperture wide angle, 13 MP with a f/2.3 aperture ultrawide lens and 5 MP f/2.2 aperture depth sensor
- 20 MP with f/2.2 aperture wide angle selfie camera
- 5,000mAh battery
- 5G compatible
That’s a lot of hardware to drive, particularly when you’re playing games, streaming media or other power-intensive application through your phone. What’s impressive is the continued battery delivery, through the daily grind and even when you’re hammering the device and — as earlier mentioned — the 5,000mAh battery plays a huge part in that.
The OS is “Joy UI” which, to be fair is essentially MIUI on steroids. Those steroids though are worth checking out a bit closer, with a number of custom screen gestures, IoT compatibility and Shark space for controls – there’s a lot to check out over time.
There’s plenty in the Blackshark’s hardware to really like. Their engineering is excellent and they’ve delivered a pretty solid user OS with very little bloat or B.S. built-in. It’s essentially MIUI with a few tweaks to cater to the gaming market. I’m pretty happy to say that, while it’s not “stock, it’s only got a few noticeably intrusive apps and most can be disabled. It was also really pleasing to see an updated as soon as I turned the device on, it gave me some confidence that this $1,999.00 monster will see updates during its lifetime.
The screen is very nice, offering high resolution and high refresh rate – a combination that makes using the phone very easy on your eyes even for longer periods of time.
The Camera – It’s good, but unremarkable
While it’s not a bad camera, the Blackshark 3 Pro doesn’t have a show-stopping camera either which in some respects makes it a disappointment. Other phones in this price range including the Samsung Note 20 Ultra, S20+ and the Huawei P40 Pro all had exceptional cameras.
I’m exceptionally pleased to say that Xiaomi hasn’t tried to do anything “flashy” with the camera software. There are phones that have a great camera with terrible software which ruins the whole user feeling. The software on the Blackshark Pro 3 is very much point and shoot with auto-detection for scene and lighting; meaning it will automatically switch to macro, landscape or even night mode if required.
As is fair to expect with phone cameras in the current era, there’s a number of modes to choose from. Multiple video modes: Slow motion, short video and video. The photography options include photo, portrait, night, panorama and Pro mode.
Can it game?
The short answer is a resounding yes, it delivers very well when it comes to a gaming experience on a mobile device. There’s plenty of phones that have attempted to make it in a gaming world and failed. The Blackshark 3 Pro has a well thought through combination of hardware which presents and performs exceedingly well.
The problem I really had with the Blackshark is that it feels like “too much” phone. But when you look at it as a mobile gaming device, it quickly steps up to the plate and delivers.
I spent some time with multiple games including Asphalt 9, Warpath and NBA Live mobile. The Blackshark performed admirably through all of them, with no lag in graphic intensive games as well as online play which pushes connectivity as well.
Who should buy one of these phones?
There’s a lot of potential buyers who are going to give this a really wide berth, and with good reason. For many of them it’s going to be too big, too heavy, too expensive and specs that are so high they’ll just never utilise them. I only had one of my female friends or family not baulk at the physical size of the device, this stood true of men who have small hands.
For this to be a viable purchase for many users, they need to be gaming a lot; probably as a primary function of their mobile device. You also need to be someone with a couple of grand in the bank to spare.
So with all of that in mind perhaps In some ways that size and weight are justified, with the huge screen that displays at a liquid-smooth 90Hz and high specs; the reality is you need the physical space in the device to fit the gear. But that does come at a price because, despite the specs and how good the hardware is, I’ve found myself questioning constantly throughout the review if this is just too much phone?
Would I buy one?
Honestly, no I wouldn’t and there’s a couple of reasons for that. It’s not that this isn’t a really good device for gaming and as a phone, but it’s just a touch too big and heavy. That makes it cumbersome to carry around all day long and it’s at least $400 too expensive to be a competitive option.
While the software and general behaviour is essentially MIUI, they’ve toned down some of that intrusive behaviour to a point where it’s pretty tolerable. I investigated the gaming modes but honestly, with the punch that this has from hardware: it wasn’t really necessary.
So like I said, what it really comes down to is: It’s a really good device and can really deliver on a gaming front.
But, unless you’re using it for gaming heavily and daily it will fall short in some other areas leaving off many shopping lists.