It wasn’t that long ago that NVIDIA released the Shield (read our review of it), a cool device with an attached screen that allowed you to play both Android and PC games. It had some drawbacks, namely being quite heavy and having a small display. To solve some of those problems, NVIDIA has released a full-size tablet version of the device – aptly named the NVIDIA Shield Tablet – and we’ve been playing around with one.
To keep it game focused, the company has also released a standalone controller that looks a lot like the one attached to the original Shield. We’ve been messing with that as well, and now it’s time to get to the big question: is the Shield Tablet and its standalone controller worth picking up? That’s just what we are going to answer today.
Best of all, we are giving away a $299 Shield tablet and a controller to one lucky reader! Keep reading this review to find out how you can enter the competition to take this device home for free.
NVIDIA is a company on the forefront of graphics. Its GPU chipset for PC is always one of the most used, and the same is true in the mobile space, where its Tegra line consistently puts forth some of the best performance in a wide range of tablets and smartphones. It only stands to reason that NVIDIA would want to use the power of its processors in order to make its own tablets, and that’s just what it did with the introduction of the Shield. Now, it’s taking everything a step further with the Shield Tablet, a device that brings the gaming focus of the first Shield to a traditional tablet, rather than a clamshell design. With that in mind, NVIDIA has also released a standalone controller, thus allowing gamers to achieve a more traditional gameplay experience.
When NVIDIA calls this a gaming tablet, high-end specs are probably the first thing you think of, and as such, it’s competing with the absolute elite on the Android tablet market. The two that best compare with it are the Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S — two beefy devices. Price wise, the Nexus 7 costs $229 (but it comes with a smaller screen compare to the Shield Tablet’s 8-inch), and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S costs $399. That puts NVIDIA’s extremely high-end tablet in a really good place with its $299 price tag, as spec for spec, it’s more powerful than both of its major competitors.
Unlike the original Shield, it’s not just about gaming, as this eight-inch tablet comes packed with an almost stock version of Android, so it does everything you’d expect. It’s not as thin and light as some other’s on the market though, which could prove a hindrance to it being used as an everyday device.
As gamers, we love specs and numbers. Ever since the days of SEGA screaming in ads about “Blast Processing” we’ve been excited about the actual hardware that powers our games. With that in mind, let’s take a look at just what’s under the hood of the NVIDIA Shield Tablet:
Processor: 2.2 GHz ARM Cortex A15 CPU
Graphics Processor: NVIDIA Tegra K1 Kepler GPU
RAM: 2 GB
Storage: 16 GB (32 GB model with LTE coming soon)
Connectivity: WiFi, microUSB, Bluetooth 4.0
Display: 8-inch, 1920 X 1080 full HD display
Cameras: Front and rear 5MP cameras
OS: Android KitKat
As you can see, this thing is a monster in the specs department, and it’s reflected in the benchmarks too. The Shield Tablet literally maxes out every benchmarking tool you could ever imagine. On MobileXPRT full benchmark tool, it scores a whopping 310, which is over 20 percent higher than the more expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab S. It’s really easy to be impressed with what NVIDIA has packed under the hood of this beast.
Of course, it’s not just about numbers (though in this case, the numbers do carry some serious weights), as the tablet needs to feel nice in your hand, and look good. Does the Shield deliver on that, and even more importantly, does it deliver a quality gameplay experience with those specs?
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, which is the design of the tablet itself. In a world where the main selling point of a device is how thin and light it is, NVIDIA threw all of that out the window and went with a device that’s a tad heavier and thicker in order to pack it with as much power as possible. The Shield Tablet weighs a total of 13.7 oz, which is a full 3.7 oz heavier than the Samsung Tab S 8.4, and you can definitely feel that difference when holding the device. The depth difference is pretty substantial, with the Shield Tablet measuring 0.36 inches and Samsung’s offering coming in at only 0.26 inches. While .10 inches doesn’t sound like a lot, relative to the total size, it’s a large percentage.
The Shield Tablet also has a larger than average bezel, but that seems to be done in service of giving you a little bit more to hold on to while playing games. Still, it goes further towards making the device larger than any of its competitors. If you are using the Shield Tablet primarily to play games, the size won’t be a big factor, but for portability, every little bit adds up.
The speakers on this device are quite impressive, and most importantly, they are front-facing, which means you can actually hear the output while playing games, listening to music, and watching movies and TV. They offer solid sound, and there’s even dual bass ports that make things bump a little bit harder.
From a pure aesthetics perspective, the Shield tablet is beautiful. It features a grippy plastic texture, with “Shield” written on the back in big beautiful letters. The screen is quite nice looking, but it does give off a pretty serious amount of glare, which is something to keep in mind if you’re going to be playing outside a lot.
One drawback of the device is that it has no built-in stand. Playing games with a controller means you can’t hold the tablet, so you need to set it somewhere in an upright position. NVIDIA offers a cover that also doubles as a stand, but it’s another accessory you need to buy to really make use of the device. Unfortunately, it was completely backordered when we got the controller, so we were forced to review the Shield Tablet without it.
All in all, this is a really well-designed piece of hardware. It’s a beautiful tablet and although it’s a little heavier than most modern devices, it makes up for it in power.
It seems like every time I review something with a controller, I hate it, or at least have some serious problems with it. Whether it’s the GameStick, and its revolting rectangular shape, or the OUYA and its controller that is just bad in every way; it seems like companies just can’t follow in the footsteps of the Xbox 360. Well NVIDIA did, because the Shield Wireless Controller is extremely similar to the Xbox 360, except the fact that it has parallel joysticks that are more in line with Sony’s design.
You’ll find the standard array of buttons – four shoulder, four face, two joysticks, and a d-pad. Aside from that, you’ll find a tap-sensitive center, back and start button. On the very bottom of the controller is are plus and minus buttons, perfect for controlling volume without having to interrupt your gameplay.
The best way to sum up the controller is just to call it great. The buttons feel nice, the joysticks have just the right amount of stiffness, and the d-pad is precise. It’s a little on the heavy side, much like the original Shield, but that also makes it feel solid and well-built. NVIDIA is a company that gets gaming, and it delivered an awesome controller with its knowledge of what gamers are looking for. At $60 for the controller, it’s priced right along with controllers for current generation game consoles, so it doesn’t feel like you’re spending too much on it.
Playing Android Games
You’re not going to find a standard Android game that you can’t play well on the NVIDIA Shield Tablet. If you just want to use it as a touchscreen gaming device, it will do the job. And it will play everything you throw at it beautifully, but that’s not what really makes this device special. It’s the ability to play Android games without feeling like you’re playing a game built for a mobile device that makes this beast stand out.
To start with, you can jump over to the Shield Hub and download all kinds of games specifically made to be played with a controller. Some are games you won’t expect to find like Valve’s incredibly popular Portal, and others that you’re used to seeing on traditional game consoles and PCs. Many of those games are good, and they alone make the device worth a look.
Another awesome feature is the ability to map custom controls to Android games that traditionally only support touchscreen, thus allowing you to play them with the controller. The process is incredibly easy, and it allows you to play a whole slew of Android games in a way you never thought you could. And even better, some popular games are already in NVIDIA’s control mapping database, so once you boot them, it will automatically import optimal controls.
To make it really simple, I will just say that this is the best tablet for playing Android games on the market. Whether touchscreen or with the controller, you aren’t going to find a better gameplay experience from a tablet. Yes, that includes those made by Apple as well.
Playing PC Games
All Android tablets can run Android games, and many can do it with a controller, but what really makes the Shield Tablet stand out is the ability to stream PC games, both from your own PC over a local network, and from the new NVIDIA Grid streaming service. That, along with the monstrous specs, are the main reasons to purchase this one, provided of course that streaming service actually works well.
A key thing to note about both of NVIDIA’s game streaming services is that a strong connection is required in order for them to work. When playing games over a network, latency is always something to be concerned about, and when the entirety of the game is streaming, you need solid a solid Internet connection to make it happen. If you don’t, you can still use the Shield Tablet to play games locally, but you’ll be missing out on the streaming features.
So let’s start with local streaming, which we talked about in our original Shield review. Since then, the technology behind it has improved, and I actually found myself forgetting that I was streaming my games at all. While running Tomb Raider, I was thoroughly impressed with the visuals put forth on the Shield Tablet’s screen, and latency appeared to be a non-issue. However, when I moved up a floor in my home, thus getting further from my router, the connection dropped repeatedly, so it’s still not perfect. However, if you are close to your router, it’s a very solid experience, and one that rivals playing it right on the PC itself.
There’s also NVIDIA Grid, a service akin to OnLive that allows you to stream your games from NVIDIA’s servers in San Jose, California, USA. I was testing the device from Connecticut, completely on the opposite side of the United States, and it still worked with only a bit of latency. For games like Street Fighter, it’s not optimal, as timing and precision are required, but for games like Saint’s Row 3 and The Witcher 2, it was not a terrible way to play. The service is still in beta, and it gives Shield owners free access to the games on offer, so it’s hard to complain about any latency issues, and it will be interesting to see how it works once it’s considered final.
Both of these features give the Shield a huge edge on all other gaming tablets on the market. The ability to escape from the realm of what we consider “mobile games” to play the same things we play on PC is quite impressive. Of course, you are limited to playing in places where WiFi is available, so for some users this could end up being more of a novelty. However, for those who want to play their games without being tied to a PC, these features are both really fantastic.
Whether playing Android or PC games, the console mode on the Shield is an awesome feature to have. It allows you to hook the device to the TV through an HDMI port and play games as you would a traditional game console. This means you could be playing your PC games from your home office on your living room TV using just the tablet and the Shield controller.
You can set it to turn off its own screen, close all apps, and just function as a console in 1080p, or you can simply mirror whatever is on the screen. However you do it, the games look fantastic blown up on the big screen, and for users who don’t want to hook up a PC directly, this is a fantastic way to expand the games that can be played on the TV.
Other Tablet and Entertainment Functions
The Shield Tablet is an extremely powerful Android tablet, and as such, it is able to run all of your entertainment apps with ease. Whether it’s watching Netflix or YouTube, you’ll have no problem with the Shield.
There is one thing it does that other tablets don’t — it doesn’t involve consuming media, but rather, it involves broadcasting. Twitch streaming is integrated directly into the Shield Tablet, which allow gamers to broadcast their gameplay quickly and easily with just a few taps. You can also record locally, as you can see in the footage of us testing the tablet recorded in the video review above.
All in all, there isn’t much to say about the Shield Table as an entertainment device. It does everything you’d expect from an Android tablet, though the extra weight does come into play, as it’s not as portable as other small tablets. It all comes back to the fact that this device is built for performance, and if you only want a tablet to watch movies on, you might want to look elsewhere.
All in all, the $299 Shield Tablet is just a fantastic piece of hardware. NVIDIA has taken great strides to improve its game streaming technology, and that really makes this device quite a bit more usable than the original Shield. On top of that, NVIDIA has pushed the hardware to the absolute limit, packing an insane amount punch under the hood.
Throw in the additional purchase of a controller, and you have a really solid gaming device. If you want a tablet to use for gaming, this is absolutely the one to buy. However, if gaming is secondary, and you want the thinnest and lightest device you can get, you might want to look elsewhere, as this one is aimed at performance first.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it if gaming is your first priority.