NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet and Controller Review - Android Gaming Makes a Move
A Tablet and Controller Worth Using
An interesting thing happened a couple of weeks back, while I was standing on stage at our annual PC Perspective Hardware Workshop during Quakecon in Dallas, TX. When NVIDIA offered up a SHIELD (now called the SHIELD Portable) for raffle, the audience cheered. And not just a little bit, but more than they did for nearly any other hardware offered up during the show. That included motherboards, graphics card, monitors, even complete systems. It kind of took me aback - NVIDIA SHIELD was a popular brand, a name that was recognized, and apparently, a product that people wanted to own. You might not have guessed that based on the sales numbers that SHIELD has put forward though. Even though it appeared to have a significant mind share, market share was something that was lacking.
Today though, NVIDIA prepares the second product in the SHIELD lineup, the SHIELD Tablet, a device the company hopes improves on the idea of SHIELD to encourage other users to sign on. It's a tablet (not a tablet with a controller attached), it has a more powerful SoC that can utilize different APIs for unique games, it can be more easily used in a 10-ft console mode and the SHIELD specific features like Game Stream are included and enhanced.
The question of course though is easy to put forward: should you buy one? Let's explore.
The NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet
At first glance, the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet looks like a tablet. That actually isn't a negative selling point though, as the SHIELD Tablet can and does act like a high end tablet in nearly every way: performance, function, looks. We originally went over the entirety of the tablet's specifications in our first preview last week but much of it bears repeating for this review.
The SHIELD Tablet is built around the NVIDIA Tegra K1 SoC, the first mobile silicon to implement the Kepler graphics architecture. That feature alone makes this tablet impressive because it offers graphics performance not seen in a form factor like this before. CPU performance is also improved over the Tegra 4 processor, but the graphics portion of the die sees the largest performance jump easily.
A 1920x1200 resolution 7.9-in IPS screen faces the user and brings the option of full 1080p content lacking with the first SHIELD portable. The screen is bright and crisp, easily viewable in bring lighting for gaming or use in lots of environments. Though the Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9 had a 2048x1536 resolution screen, the form factor of the SHIELD Tablet is much more in line with what NVIDIA built with the Tegra Note 7.
Also up front are a set of front facing stereo speakers, a feature that I desperately want to see other phone and tablet vendors adopt. For a media consumption device, be it gaming or video, the optimal way to get sound is through the same side that holds the display. Duh.
A pair of 5MP HDR capable cameras are installed on the SHIELD Tablet, one front facing and one rear facing. The back camera also includes auto focus.
NVIDIA's newest tablet is a bit thicker than the current generation of iPads or even the Nexus 7, but not to the degree that I really think it is going to cause a problem with portability. NVIDIA knows they have a rather hot SoC on its hands and was careful to build in enough heatsink dissipation area to limit any potential for thermal throttling or hot spots on the back.
On the left you'll find a USB port for charging and communication as well as a mini-HDMI connection for plugging into your TV. I will say the one physical flaw I found with the tablet is that these two ports are much too close together and if you use an HDMI to mini-HDMI adapter, getting power installed at the same time is...dangerous. It will work, but clearly NVIDIA is hoping you use a cable with the mini-HDMI connection already built in.
On the top of the tablet, or on the right side if it's held in portrait mode, there are the volume buttons, the sleep/power button as well as the microSD card slot for storage expansion. With the Wi-Fi model only shipping with 16GB of internal storage, you are going to need to utilize microSD storage if you intend on downloading a lot of games.
Also, the stylus makes a return! The NVIDIA DirectStylus 2 ships with the device and some new software called Dabbler enables some impressive water color effects. The stylus implementation is slightly improved over the Tegra Note 7, which had the best passive stylus implementation I have ever seen on a tablet. Check out our video review for a little bit more of a demonstration of that.
Even just looking at the back of the SHIELD Tablet, it looks more refined and professional than the Note 7 - sometimes less is more.