Xiaomi's Black Shark phones used to launch with nearly stock Android with a couple of added features but since 2019, they get a UI of their own. In this case, we are dealing with JoyUI 12.5 based on Android 11.
Similarly to the Poco launcher, which is ever so slightly altered MIUI for Poco phones, JoyUI is an adapted version for Black Shark phones. From what we gathered, there are only a couple of themes, wallpapers and gaming-related features that set it apart from the original MIUI.
The home screen, lock screen, app drawer and recent apps are business as usual for a typical MIUI-powered device, but this time around, the app drawer is set as a default option instead of the simplified home screen arrangement. There's also the revamped notification shade or should we call it Control Center.
Swiping down from the home screen near the left edge of the display will bring down the notification cards and stacks. Which in turn can be customized further by switching over to MIUI style notification cards instead of the default Android ones. Swiping near the right edge will bring down the so-called Control Center - four highlighted toggles for the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular and flashlight, while the rest are the usual toggles that can be rearranged. There's the brightness slider too. The highlighted toggles have a small triangle icon in the lower-right corner, tapping on it will show a context menu allowing you to manage your connections on the fly without having to open up the settings menu.
Another highly customizable feature is the always-on display. There are tons of clocks, animations and even a customizable theme for the always-on panel. The behavior of the always-on is also adjustable - scheduling, raise-to-wake, double-tap-to-wake.
Speaking of the display, on top of the usual options, you get а Sunlight mode that boosts the brightness even further when the brightness control is set to manual mode. Quite useful for people not liking the automatic adjustment. There's also the Anti-flicker mode that prevents the screen from flickering at lower brightness levels. And to our surprise, Dark mode is set by default as you switch the phone on for the first time. A list of apps on which you can force Dark mode is also available.
MIUI's version of notification bubbles that are native to Android 11 are called Floating notifications. Aside from the slightly different aesthetics of the bubble and the floating window, the Floating window feature does exactly what Messenger's Chat Heads do. Other Android 11-intrinsic features include one-time permission management for apps as well as notification cards grouping in the notification shade keeping your ongoing conversations from chat apps separate from the rest of the app notifications.
We had no issues with unlocking the device itself. The power button doubling as a fingerprint reader seems to be doing its job very well. In fact, it's one of the fastest fingerprint readers we've used. And to prevent accidental readings, you can set the unlock method to be press-to-unlock instead of tap-to-unlock.
Unlike the rest of Android phones, including the other MIUI branches, the battery menu is tucked away in the Performance manager section. In addition to the standard Battery menu, you have a Process manager, Network assistant and Endurance optimization assistant at your disposal. The names of the features are pretty self-explanatory, but they also give you quite a bit of nerd stats such as CPU and RAM usage in real-time, network connection quality and detailed battery usage stats.
Strangely, charging options are moved to the Additional settings menu, where you can toggle the charging animation on and off and the so-called Intelligent charging, which learns from your charging habits to preserve the battery health in the long run. After all, if you are doing overnight charging, you don't really need those 120W pumping juice into the battery. Supposedly, it would stop charging at some point and wait until the last few minutes before you wake up to fill up the remaining battery charge.
The one-handed mode is a mixed bag since the gesture requires swiping across the navigation buttons to activate it, and that works okay if you are not using full-screen gestures. Even if you leave the navigation pill, the gesture for one-handed mode doesn't work. It just switches between recently used apps, which in turn is the default behavior of the pill.
The Special features menu holds a couple of other neat tricks like a lighting effects for incoming calls (just like edge lighting on other phones) and lighting effects for music playback. Switching off the screen while playing something on your phone will show the those lighting effects.
Lastly, we have the so-called Magic window. This feature seems to be getting pretty popular on custom UIs and what it does is offer quick access to certain apps or tasks just by sliding out a small panel over other apps or menus. You can move it around the edges to your liking.
Since the Black Shark 4 is a gaming phone, there are a handful of gaming-related features. The so-called Shark Space is in the center of it all. There's no dedicated physical button to start the Shark Space so you have to either open the app itself or press and hold both shoulder triggers. The app allows you to manage your game collection, sync your accessories to the handset and set global settings such as locking the brightness level, toggle on the mistouch prevention feature, reject an incoming call automatically, mute notifications, etc.
You can do so in each game, too, by summoning the Game assistant by swiping from the corners of the display. Enabling or disabling some of the corner gestures in landscape and portrait mode is also possible.
Probably one of the best features to have on this phone is the ability to read notifications on bullet banners while in-game. Those bullet notifications can be customizable as well - position, speed, style, opacity, number of allowed lines.
In case you are in a game with a buddy, using the loudspeakers can sometimes interfere with the call quality, meaning you won't be able to hear the other side. The Game voice mono feature aims to solve this issue by temporarily disabling the top speaker so you can hear your friend's voice clearly.
Arguably, the best feature on this phone is the physical shoulder triggers. While the Black Shark 4's competitors go for the touch triggers, the Black Shark 4 keeps it simple and effective. And physical buttons are undoubtedly the best solution when it comes to gaming - they provide better tactile feedback, control and possibly, a faster response time.
But the triggers are useful outside of gaming too. You can assign different tasks to each trigger - the bottom one, for example, launches the one-handed mode by default. You can even set them up to work with the screen off.
And paired with the excellent haptic motor, you can count on a great gaming experience. Seriously, Xiaomi really outdid themselves with the haptic feedback of the Black Shark 4. Effects while interacting with UI elements or typing on the keyboard is one thing, but elevating the gaming experience using the vibration motor and tuning it to be precise and strong at the same time, is a whole other challenge. Xiaomi seems to have done a great job of it.