Since the gaming smartphone segment is still in its early stage, competition isn't big, but there are still some alternatives to consider. The vanilla Black Shark 4's main advantage is its price. By providing a sub-flagship SoC, the handset manages to undercut the competition by few hundred bucks, in some cases.
The Black Shark 4's direct competitor is undoubtedly the OnePlus 9R. The only issue is that the latter's availability is quite limited. It's available in India where the Black Shark 4 is yet to launch but something tells us that pricing won't be all that different from the 9R's. Anyway, they both run on the same Snapdragon 870 chipset but the 9R "settles" for a less impressive 120Hz OLED panel, which is also smaller in size too. But the camera setup is more competent and offers shoulder triggers too. On the other hand, the Black Shark 4's limited HRR control doesn't make good use of the full 144Hz OLED. So this leaves the considerably faster charging, and the physical, clickable shoulder triggers as its only advantages.
Spending around €100 more for the nubia Red Magic 6 ensures a true flagship SoC - Snapdragon 888 and an even faster, more responsive 165Hz display. Taking advantage of the HRR display on the Red Magic 6 in games seems to be an easier task too. Nubia's contender runs more games above 120fps than the Black Shark 4. It also has a built-in cooling fan, which although a bit noisy, does the trick during long gaming sessions. The shoulder triggers are touch-capacitive but are just as responsive and recognize different pressure levels.
And an honorable mention would be the Asus ROG Phone 5 just because there aren't many gaming-oriented smartphones, to begin with. The pricing is way above the three phones mentioned above but it provides undoubtedly the most uncompromised gaming experience. It can run more games at 144Hz than the rest, offers gives the user much more control over the hardware and the accessories' ecosystem is unbeatable. It all comes at a price premium, of course, as the current price of the vanilla ROG Phone 5 starts at around €750, which is €250 above the entry price for the Black Shark 4 and €150 more than what the Red Magic 6 asks.
On paper, the Black Shark 4 seemed like an easy recommendation. It offers an excellent price/performance ratio, it has a unique set of physical shoulder buttons for gaming, a fast and bright 144Hz OLED panel, great-sounding stereo speakers, insanely fast charging and dependable camera performance.
But as we dug deeper, the 144Hz display turned out to be a gimmick in a large portion of the games. Running at 144Hz wasn't even possible in simple menus and apps. Support for HRR gaming is also extremely limited, beating the purpose of buying the Black Shark 4 solely for gaming. And when you add the not-so-great battery life and the lack of 4K video stabilization to the cons list, it makes it hard for us to give the handset a higher score.
Special thanks to ZBanx for providing the review unit.