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Black Shark 5 Pro review: A level up

The latest Black Shark gaming phone has an updated processor and can top up in less than 15 minutes, much like every other 2022 flagship released in the East.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on
Pros
  • 144Hz AMOLED display with adaptive refresh rate
  • Retractable side triggers fit for gaming
  • 120W fast charging (65W in the US)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 under the hood
  • Side-mounted fingerprint sensor that's actually reliable
Cons
  • Back design is uninspiring
  • Mediocre battery life
  • No 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Ultra-wide and macro cameras are unusable

I reviewed the Black Shark 4 Pro back in March and two of my complaints were its outdated Snapdragon 888 processor and Android 11-based software. Being a 2022 flagship, let alone a gaming phone, the absence of the latest Qualcomm and Android version left me with an unsettling experience. 

Well, Black Shark is back for another swim. This time, the 5 Pro is equipped with a new Snapdragon and Android 12 at its core. There are some other minor updates to the new model, including its design and battery size, but that's about it. (I mean, what do you expect from two phones that launched three months apart?)

So, is the Black Shark 5 Pro worth picking up if you're a gamer at heart? Or should you even consider it if you already own a 4 Pro? All questions (and more) are answered in this review.  

Table of Contents

Specifications

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

Display6.67-inch OLED display with 144Hz

Storage

8GB RAM with 128GB or 12/16GB RAM with 256/512GB

Cameras

108MP wide, 13MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro, and a 16MP front

Battery
4,650mAh with 120W fast-charging (65W in the US)
ConnectivityUSB-C, Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Operating systemJoyUI 13 based on Android 12
ColorStellar Black and Nebula White

Unlike its value-driven predecessor, the Black Shark 5 Pro is a straight-up flagship. It starts at $799 in the US for the 8GB/128GB model, which puts the phone a couple of hundreds of dollars further than the $579 4 Pro. Contributing to the added cost are a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, a new 108MP camera system, and a larger 4,650mAh battery. (Perhaps inflation played some part in it, too.) Altogether, the 5 Pro is a more expensive but complete package than the short-handed 4 Pro.

Design

What exactly makes a gaming phone different from a regular smartphone? From my experience, hardware and design are the biggest differentiators. Unlike the traditional, monochromatic iPhones and Pixels that are meant for mass consumption, gaming phones are designed for a niche audience. That means that manufacturers can be more experimental, opting for sci-fi and future-themed aesthetics that you'd never find on a mainstream handset. 

Take the Black Shark 5 Pro for example. Its satin-finished backing is etched with gridlines and a small LED indicator that glows RGB. In various lighting conditions, the glass panel reflects in an elegant and subtle manner. This is definitely one of the more toned-down gaming phones that I've seen, but even then, the Black Shark is distinctively nothing but.

Also: Best gaming phones: Next level mobile gaming

blackshark-5-pro-backing
June Wan/ZDNet

Instead of keeping its predecessor's horizontal camera layout on the back, the 5 Pro's bump is just a generic square. (If Black Shark's goal was to blend in with the millions of other phones out there, then it's working.) While the design doesn't impact the camera performance per se, I'm a bit disappointed that the new model doesn't have as much flair as the old. 

On the topic of stylistic changes, the Black Shark 4 Pro had a 3.5mm headphone jack, but the 5 Pro doesn't. Even though one could make the argument that wireless headphones have become much more prominent and accessible, nothing beats the zero-latency audio that gamers need for high-level performance. 

At this point, you may be thinking, "Wow, June does not like this phone at all," but that's certainly not the case. I'm actually quite pleased with everything else that the Black Shark has to offer, including its signature retractable side triggers and comfortable hand feel. The right-side fingerprint sensor, which doubles as a power button, is one of the most consistent and responsive ones that I've tested. I love in-display fingerprint sensors and would take one over a side-mounted version any day, but the 5 Pro's did not make me miss the newer tech at all.

Display

On the front is a 6.67-inch OLED display that refreshes at 144Hz. The Black Shark gets plenty bright (up to 1,300 nits) which makes mobile gaming just as pleasurable in the sunlight as it is indoors. I was more so impressed by how natural the auto-brightness was when shifting between environments. The change is gradual and transitions in a way that doesn't surprise you when the display ramps up the luminance.

blackshark-5-pro-gaming1
June Wan/ZDNet

The Black Shark peaks at 1080p resolution which, for most users, is more than enough. While the panel is not as sharp as say the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, it's well-calibrated and the colors have just the right amount of saturation (see image above). There are display settings, of course, that let you dial the color settings to your liking.

Going from 120Hz to 144Hz is no revelation, but the higher refresh rate is greatly appreciated for mobile gaming. Animations and graphics appear buttery smooth, and the extra hertz matches that of high-end gaming monitors. I'm particularly excited to see that the Black Shark lets you lower the refresh rate down to 90Hz. Most manufacturers like to keep the pegs at 120 and 60, but I think 90 is the perfect middle-ground, offering similar smoothness at a more power-efficient rating. 

Also: Best gaming monitors: A world of hertz

blackshark-5-pro-display
June Wan/ZDNet

Gaming features

This is a gaming phone after all, so here's a rundown of its best features for play.

Pop-up triggers

Arguably the most beneficial feature is the magnetic trigger buttons on the side of the phone. With a flick of the top and bottom switches, two physical buttons pop up from the Black Shark and can be mapped to virtually any function. That includes in-game controls like aiming, to standard phone features like a shutter button or screen capture. 

blackshark-5-pro-triggers1
June Wan/ZDNet

The button switches on the 5 Pro are much tighter this time around. When reviewing the 4 Pro, one of my problems with the shoulder triggers was how easy they were to pop up. With the latest version, more pressure is required to prompt the buttons, which means fewer accidental presses.  

Also: Black Shark 4 Pro review: Gaming flagship killer

Most gaming phones have capacitive buttons, not physical ones, and rely on small vibrations to mimic the feel of actual presses. I've always found those to feel cheap and overly sensitive, so I'm glad that Black Shark is keeping things real here.

Shark Space

Joy UI 13, Black Shark's skin over Android 12, comes bundled with features that are meant to enhance your gaming experience. (That's on top of all the other colorful and overwhelming software quirks that stock Android enthusiasts will roll their eyes at.) Most notably, Shark Space is a pre-installed app that serves as a gaming portal (think Explore Feed on Playstation or Dashboard on Xbox), centralizing all of your installed titles and external accessory settings.

Once you're in-game, Shark Space turns into a settings overlay that can be opened with a swipe in from any corner of the display. The UI (see below) reveals gaming-centric stats like your frames per second (fps), internet strength, and battery percentage, and has toggles to mute notifications and calls. I mainly used the feature to track the performance of the Black Shark under different graphic settings. 

mihoyo-genshinimpact-black-shark-space
June Wan/ZDNet

Liquid cooling

Black Shark isn't relying on physical fans to keep its engines running, but instead uses what are called "Anti-gravity Dual VC Liquid Cooling" plates. The copper alloys that lay over the internals of the phone help with heat dissipation by neutralizing the warmer temperatures typically generated by the battery and processor. During my two weeks of using the phone, it never felt hot enough to warrant putting it aside. Unless you're running 3D benchmarks or games at ultra graphic settings, the vapor chambers do a sufficient job of preventing much overheating.

Also: Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro review: The "coolest" gaming phone

Performance

My day-to-day experience with the Black Shark 5 Pro has been a smooth ride, which is to be expected from a phone with 12GB of RAM and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 at the helm. The usual apps for social media, emailing, and work load with ease, and I've been fortunate enough to not have encountered any crashes.

For gaming, I put the Black Shark 5 Pro through the paces with titles like Genshin Impact, Call of Duty Mobile, and some Diablo Immortal. (I know, Diablo isn't the most "graphic" game, but there are plenty of moving elements and AIs that add up to a power-draining application.) At medium/high settings, the phone handles all the games like a champ; maintaining a stable 60fps for about 5-7 minutes before any throttling or heating. Only in ultra/max settings will you start to notice the occasional jitter and intensive battery drain. Even then, the Black Shark sticks to an impressive 60fps output. 

blackshark-5-pro-gaming2
June Wan/ZDNet

To add a little more perspective, see below for a comparison between the 5 Pro and competing phones in Geekbench and 3D Mark Wild Life Extreme tests.

benchmark-scores-compared-black-shark-5-pro
June Wan/ZDNet

While the Black Shark 5 Pro essentially ties with the similarly-priced RedMagic 7 Pro, it beats out the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Black Shark 4 Pro in nearly every regard. I'm particularly impressed by the 3DMark Wild Life Extreme result, which is a testament to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1's processing power and efficiency. Clearly, the upgraded chipset is impacting where it matters the most for gaming phones: graphics and rendering.  

Also: How Microsoft and Samsung may finally take cloud gaming mainstream

Camera

My expectations are never the highest when testing the cameras of gaming phones. By putting all the emphasis on gaming features, camera quality is usually an afterthought. That partially holds true with the Black Shark 5 Pro. This model is equipped with a new 108MP main lens, a 13MP ultra-wide, and a 5MP macro. Before you get your hopes up by the massive 108MP count, know that more megapixels do not always mean more quality. (Computational or digital processing play just as big of a role.)

In the case of the Black Shark 5 Pro, I found the images captured to be decent, but nothing more. For basic point-and-shoot scenarios, the camera uses AI smarts to tune the colors and lighting, giving subjects like food a warmer hue (see sample below). This comes at the cost of shutter lag, requiring a few milliseconds' time in between shots. Even though the scoop of ice cream is what should be in focus here -- and the camera clearly knows that -- there's a lack of sharpness at the center.

blackshark-5-pro-camera-1
June Wan/ZDNet

I applaud the Black Shark 5 Pro for managing to distinguish subjects from backgrounds and tastefully blur what's behind. But no matter what lens I've tested, the inconsistency is in the sharpness. 

Things only get worse with the ultra-wide and macro lenses, both of which are mere placeholders that give Black Shark the power to tout a "triple camera array" in its marketing. The image below was captured in broad daylight with the 13MP ultra-wide. Besides a lack of detail, the image is undersaturated. For example, the person sitting in front of me was wearing a blue polo, but it looks grayish and washed-out in the photo.   

blackshark5pro-ultrawide-camera
June Wan/ZDNet

Overall, I wouldn't recommend any gaming phone if you're in search of a reliable shooter. But for casual flicks and sharing images with family and friends, the Black Shark 5 Pro will be good enough.

Battery

On average, the Black Shark 5 Pro's 4,650mAh battery gave me four hours of screen time (SOT) per charge. For reference, a typical day included social media browsing, emailing, streaming videos, and about one hour of gaming. With more emphasis on playtime, which you'll probably have if you're reading this review, I can see the Black Shark nearing 3 hours of SOT per charge. It's unfortunate that the 5 Pro only sees a 150mAh upgrade from its predecessor; a 5,000mAh makes more sense for the $799 listing price. 

To alleviate the pain of middling battery life, Black Shark bundles a proprietary 120W charging brick that can juice up the 5 Pro from 0 to 100% in just 15 minutes. Well, those are the numbers that the company advertises. In reality, it takes about 19 minutes to fully top up the 4,650mAh cell. Still, I can't complain about that. Black Shark's Hyper Charge tech remains leaps and bounds ahead of mainstream smartphones -- especially in North America -- and makes you question your preexisting, slow-charging lifestyle.

Also: The healthiest way to charge your smartphone

Bottom line 

The Black Shark 5 Pro is undeniably the best from the phone maker, and worthy of a spot on our best gaming phones list. The retractable shoulder triggers are essential to mobile gamers and there's no skimping on internal hardware either. 

Three months ago, I titled the Black Shark 4 Pro a "Gaming flagship killer". But with the 5 Pro's step-up in specs and pricing, Black Shark has become the one thing that it once sought to kill. That's not a bad thing per se; you now have a top-of-the-line smartphone that's just as capable for gamers as it is for power users. In sacrifice, Black Shark no longer has the value appeal that it once did. Would I still recommend the 5 Pro? Only if you want the best of the best.

Alternatives to consider

If you're still weighing out options, here are some formidable alternatives to the Black Shark 5 Pro:

If it hasn't been made clear yet, the Black Shark 4 Pro offers nearly 80% of what the 5 Pro does, but at a significantly lower cost. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a back design that, in my opinion, is superior to the newer model. Read more about it in our full review.

Another Android that has hit the global market, Nubia's RedMagic 7 Pro is packed to the gills with flagship specs and gaming horsepower. It, too, has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 that's paired with physical cooling fans, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 5,000mAh battery, and up to 16GB of RAM. Read more about it in our full review

Want something a little more mainstream but still capable of running the latest titles? Check out the Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus, which occasionally sees discounts that bring the latest Samsung down to $799 -- the same price as the Black Shark 5 Pro. Read more about it in our full review.

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