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Black Shark 2 Pro: We go hands-on with the gaming phone and its bonkers specs

The powerful Black Shark 2 Pro gaming phone from Xiaomi makes a rare US appearance at CES, and I got to spend a little time with it.

This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

In a packed ballroom at the Mirage hotel at CES 2020, a neon green logo beckoned me toward it like a siren calling to sailors in The Iliad. Fortunately for me there were no treacherous rocks waiting to send me to a horrible death. Instead there was just the Black Shark 2 Pro, a gaming phone with a glowing logo on the back. 

Gaming phones are right at home in the flashy confines of CES, but they also signal a subtle shift in the phone market toward more niche audiences. The Razer Phone launched in 2017, bringing with it a new category of phones built with features geared toward gaming. These features included an LCD display with a 120Hz refresh rate (instead of the standard 60Hz), a top-of-the-line Snapdragon processor and a logo on the back that glowed.

In 2020, you can find a dedicated gaming mode on mainstream flagship phones such as the Google Pixel 4 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus. The OnePlus 7T and 7 Pro both have 90Hz high refresh rate screens. And there are now three phones that are built from head-to-toe for gamers: The Asus ROG Phone 2, the Nubia Red Magic 3S and the Black Shark 2 Pro.

The Black Shark 2 Pro was originally announced in July 2019, but will be available in the US at some point starting at $599 (£539 or about AU$1,030). Unfortunately Xiaomi, which makes the Black Shark, couldn't say when. The Black Shark 2 Pro is almost identical to the Black Shark 2. The major difference is that the new Pro version has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus processor instead of the regular 855 variant. 

Read more: Best gaming phone for 2020

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The Black Shark 2 Pro comes in a vibrant metallic blue and orange color.

Angela Lang/CNET

The 855 Plus processor features 15% faster graphics and a CPU clock speed of up to 2.96GHz as opposed to the regular 2.84GHz speed of the 855. This means the Black Shark 2 Pro is at the top of the Android performance food chain alongside the ROG Phone 2, Red Magic 3S, OnePlus 7T, Nubia 20 and Meizu 16s Pro.

The beefy processor also means you'll be able to get the absolute best sustained performance out of your phone during long bouts of gaming. And to keep that processor cool, the Black Shark 2 Pro implements a direct touch multilayer liquid cooling system. Xiaomi claims it can reduce the temperature of the CPU by 14 degrees. For comparison, the Red Magic 3 phone has a built-in fan to keep it cool.

The Black Shark 2 Pro has a 6.39-inch AMOLED Samsung screen with a 60Hz refresh rate. By comparison, the refresh rates on the Red Magic 3 is 90Hz and the Asus ROG Phone 2 is 120Hz. But there aren't tons of Android games that take advantage of that rate.

The Black Shark Phone 2 Pro's screen has a 240Hz touch-report rate, however. That refers to the number of times per second the screen updates where you've touched. This could in theory lead to a lower latency rate. In fact Xiaomi says that the Pro has a response speed of 34.7 milliseconds, which would put it ahead of any other gaming phone.

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The Black Shark 2 Pro in a Nintendo Switch-style case.

Angela Lang/CNET

Another unique feature to give mobile gamers more of an edge is a touchscreen feature called Master Touch 2.0, which lets you resize both left and right touch zones and the pressure-sensing value. So you can have a light button touch in one game and pound the crap out of your screen in another.

Like the original Black Shark phone, there's a Sharkspace slider button that will put your phone into a gaming mode that optimizes performance, clears your phone's memory and minimizes outside interruptions.

Another wonderful aspect of the Black Shark 2 Pro is the accessories Xiaomi makes for it.

We're looking forward to testing the Black Shark 2 Pro phone. But for now, here's how its specs stack against other leading gaming phones.

Black Shark 2 Pro specs vs. Black Shark 2, Asus ROG Phone 2, Nubia Red Magic 3S


Black Shark 2 Pro Black Shark 2 Asus ROG Phone 2 Nubia Red Magic 3S
Display size, resolution 6.39-inch AMOLED Samsung display with 2,340x1,080 pixels; 60Hz refresh rate; 430 nits 6.39-inch AMOLED Samsung display with 2,340x1,080 pixels; 60Hz refresh rate; 430 nits 6.59-inch AMOLED display; 2,340x1,080 pixels; 120Hz refresh rate; 600 nits 6.65-inch display; 2,340x1,080 pixels; 90Hz refresh rate; 377 nits
Pixel density 403ppi 403ppi 391ppi 387.5ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.44x2.95x0.39 inches 6.44x2.95x0.39 inches 6.73x3.06x0.37 inches 6.97x3.09x0.38 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 163.6x75x10 mm 163.6x75x10 mm 170.99x77.6x9.48 mm 171.7x78.5x9.65 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.23 oz; 205 g 7.23 oz; 205 g 8.47 oz; 240 g 7.58 oz; 215 g
Mobile software Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie Android 9 Pie
Camera 48-megapixel wide-angle, 12-megapixel telephoto 48-megapixel wide-angle, 12-megapixel telephoto 48-megapixel wide-angle, 13-megapixel ultrawide-angle 48-megapixel wide-angle
Front-facing camera 20-megapixel 20-megapixel 24-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 8K
Processor 2.96GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus, Qualcomm Adreno 640 GPU 2.84GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Qualcomm Adreno 640 GPU 2.96GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus, Qualcomm Adreno 640 GPU 2.96GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus, Qualcomm Adreno 640 GPU
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256GB 512GB, 1TB 128GB, 256GB
RAM 8GB, 12GB 8GB, 12GB 12GB 8GB, 12GB
Expandable storage none none none none
Battery 4,000-mAh 4,000-mAh 6,000-mAh 5,000-mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen (optical) In-screen (optical) In-screen (optical) Rear
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No Yes Yes
Special features Dual-SIM, 240Hz touch-sensing display; comes with case, left gamepad, left gamepad stand Dual-SIM, 240Hz touch-sensing display; comes with case, left gamepad, left gamepad stand Dual-SIM, second USB-C accessory port; comes with AeroActive Cooler 2 Dual-SIM, built-in fan
Price off-contract (USD) $599 (8GB RAM, 128GB storage), $699 (12GB RAM, 256GB) $519 (8GB RAM, 128GB storage), $619 (12GB RAM, 256GB storage) $900 (512GB storage), $1,110 (1TB storage) $479 (8GB RAM, 128GB storage), $599 (12GB RAM, 256GB storage)
Now playing: Watch this: First look: Black Shark 2 Pro impresses with performance
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