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.
Introduction and Design
The next candidate in our barrage of ThinkPad reviews is the ThinkPad Yoga, which, at first glance, might seem a little bit redundant. After all, we’ve already got three current-gen Yoga models to choose from between the Yoga 2 11- and 13-inch iterations and the Yoga 2 Pro top-end selection. What could possibly be missing?
Well, in fact, as is often the case when choosing between well-conceived notebook models, it isn’t so much about what’s missing as it is priorities. Whereas the consumer-grade Yoga models all place portability, slimness, and aesthetics in the highest regard, the ThinkPad Yoga subscribes to a much more practical business-oriented approach, which (nearly) always instead favors function over form. It’s a conversation we’ve had here at PC Perspective a thousand times before, but yet again, it is the core ThinkPad philosophy which separates the ThinkPad Yoga from other notebooks of its type. Suffice it to say, in fact, that really the only reason to think of it as a Yoga at all is the unique hinge design and affiliated notebook/tablet convertibility; excepting that, this seems much closer to an X240 than anything in Lenovo’s current consumer-grade lineup. And carrying a currently-configurable street price of around $1,595 currently, it’s positioned as such, too.
But it isn’t beyond reproach. Some of the same questionable decisions regarding design changes which we’ve covered in our recent ThinkPad reviews still apply to the Yoga. For instance, the much-maligned clickpad is back, bringing with it vivid nightmares of pointer jumpiness and click fatigue that were easily the biggest complaint about the T440s and X240 we recently reviewed. The big question today is whether these criticisms are impactful enough to disqualify the ThinkPad Yoga as a rational alternative to other ThinkPad convertibles and the consumer-grade Yoga models. It’s a tall order, so let’s tackle it.
First up, the specs:
While most of this list is pretty conventional, the astute might have already picked out one particular item which tops the X240 we recently reviewed: a possible 16 GB of dual-channel RAM. The X240 was limited to just 8 GB of single-channel memory thanks to a mere single SODIMM slot. The ThinkPad Yoga also boasts a 1080p screen with a Wacom digitizer pen—something which is clearly superior to our X240 review unit. Sadly missing, however, are the integrated Gigabit Ethernet port and the VGA port—and the mini DisplayPort has been replaced by a mini-HDMI, which ultimately is decidedly inferior.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 24, 2014 - 10:04 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: shield tablet, shield, nvidia
Just a small note to continue with our SHIELD Tablet coverage. It turns out that the $299 (16GB) SHIELD Tablet, its cover, and its wireless controller are all available for pre-order on Amazon. The unit will actually be available on July 29th, but we were not aware that pre-orders would be possible until now.
While Ryan wrote a preview for the SHIELD Tablet, he is not giving a final word until he gets it into his lab and is capable of giving a full review. Also, we do not know how many units will be available. Whether you should pre-order, or wait for Ryan's final word, is up to you.
Thanks to our fans for alerting us of this availabilty in the IRC during TWiCH.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 24, 2014 - 02:32 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Intel, microsoft, netbook, Bay Trail
According to DigiTimes we may see a resurgence of netbooks, this time powered by Bay Trail which will make them far more usable than the original generation. There are three postulated tiers, the $200-250 range of 10.1-15.6" models and $250-400 or $400-600 in 11.6-17.3" which will make them larger in size than the original generation which failed to attract many consumers. They are currently scheduled to ship with Bay Trail-M with future models likely to have Braswell inside in a mix of transformer style 2 in 1's with touchscreens and more traditional laptop designs. You can expect to see a maximum thickness of 25mm and a mix of HDD and SSD storage on these and we can only hope that the estimated pricing is more accurate than the pricing on Ultrabooks turned out to be.
"For the US$199-249 notebooks, Intel and Microsoft's specification preferences are 10.1- to 15.6-inch clamshell non-touchscreen models using Intel's Bay Trail-M series processors or upcoming Braswell-based processors, which are set to release in the second quarter of 2015."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- GOG.com Announces Linux Support @ Slashdot
- FCC Reminds ISPs That They Can Be Fined For Lacking Transparency @ Slashdot
- Apple to become largest client for TSMC, say sources @ DigiTimes
- Oracle releases its 'unbreakable' homebrew Oracle Linux 7 @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft: We're making ONE TRUE WINDOWS to rule us all @ The Register
- FRIKKIN' LASERS could REPLACE fibre-optic comms cables @ The Register
SHIELD Tablet with new Features
It's odd how regular these events seem to come. Almost exactly one year ago today, NVIDIA launched the SHIELD gaming device, which is a portable Android tablet attached to a controller, all powered by the Tegra 4 SoC. It was a completely unique device that combined a 5-in touchscreen with a console-grade controller to build the best Android gaming machine you could buy. NVIDIA did its best to promote Android gaming as a secondary market to consoles and PCs, and the frequent software updates kept the SHIELD nearly-up-to-date with the latest Android software releases.
As we approach the one year anniversary of SHIELD, NVIDIA is preparing to release another product to add to the SHIELD family of products: the SHIELD Tablet. Chances are, you could guess what this device is already. It is a tablet powered by Tegra K1 and updated to support all SHIELD software. Of course, there are some new twists as well.
The NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet is being targeted, as the slide above states, at being "the ultimate tablet for gamers." This is a fairly important point to keep in mind as you we walk through the details of the SHIELD tablet, and its accessories, as there are certain areas where NVIDIA's latest product won't quite appeal to you for general purpose tablet users.
Most obviously, this new SHIELD device is a tablet (and only a tablet). There is no permanently attached controller. Instead, the SHIELD controller will be an add-on accessory for buyers. NVIDIA has put a lot of processing power into the tablet as well as incredibly interesting new software capabilities to enable 10-ft use cases and even mobile Twitch streaming.
The First with the Tegra K1 Processor
Back in May a Chinese company announced what was then the first and only product based on NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 SoC, the Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9. Since then we have had a couple of other products hit our news wire including Google’s own Project Tango development tablet. But the Xiaomi is the first to actually be released, selling through 50,000 units in four minutes according to some reports. I happened to find one on Aliexpress.com, a Chinese sell-through website, and after a few short days the DHL deliveryman dropped the Tegra K1 powered machine off at my door.
If you are like me, the Xiaomi name was a new one. A privately owned company from Beijing and has become one of China’s largest electronics companies, jumping into the smartphone market in 2011. The Mi Pad marks the company’s first attempt at a tablet device, and the partnership with NVIDIA to be an early seller of the Tegra K1 seems to be making waves.
The Tegra K1 Processor
The Tegra K1 SoC was first revealed at CES in January of 2014, and with it came a heavy burden of expectation from NVIDIA directly, as well as from investors and the media. The first SoC from the Tegra family to have a GPU built from the ground up by NVIDIA engineers, the Tegra K1 gets its name from the Kepler family of GPUs. It also happens to get the base of its architecture there as well.
The processor of the Tegra K1 look very familiar and include four ARM Cortex-A15 “r3” cores and 2MB of L2 cache with a fifth A15 core used for lower power situations. This 4+1 design is the same that was introduced with the Tegra 4 processor last year and allows NVIDIA to implement a style of “big.LITTLE” design that is unique. Some slight modifications to the cores are included with Tegra K1 that improve performance and efficiency, but not by much – the main CPU is very similar to the Tegra 4.
The focus on the Tegra K1 will be on the GPU, now powered by NVIDIA’s Kepler architecture. The K1 features 192 CUDA cores with a very similar design to a single SMX on today’s GeForce GTX 700-series graphics cards. This includes OpenGL ES3.0 support but much more importantly, OpenGL 4.4 and DirectX 11 integration. The ambition of bringing modern, quality PC gaming to mobile devices is going to be closer than you ever thought possible with this product and the demos I have seen running on reference designs are enough to leave your jaw on the floor.
By far the most impressive part of Tegra K1 is the implementation of a full Kepler SMX onto a chip that will be running well under 2 watts. While it has been the plan from NVIDIA to merge the primary GPU architectures between mobile and discrete, this choice did not come without some risk. When the company was building the first Tegra part it basically had to make a hedge on where the world of mobile technology would be in 2015. NVIDIA might have continued to evolve and change the initial GPU IP that was used in Tegra 1, adding feature support and increasing the required die area to improve overall GPU performance, but instead they opted to position a “merge point” with Kepler in 2014. The team at NVIDIA saw that they were within reach of the discontinuity point we are seeing today with Tegra K1, but in truth they had to suffer through the first iterations of Tegra GPU designs that they knew were inferior to the design coming with Kepler.
You can read much more on the technical detail of the Tegra K1 SoC by heading over to our launch article that goes into the updated CPU design, as well as giving you all the gore behind the Kepler integration.
By far the most interesting aspect of the Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9 tablet is the decsion to integrate the Tegra K1 processor. Performance and battery life comparisons with other 7 to 8-in tablets will likely not impact how it sells in China, but the results may mean the world to NVIDIA as they implore other vendors to integrate the SoC.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 20, 2014 - 03:41 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: shield tablet, shield 2, shield, nvidia
In Europe, NVIDIA set up a simple, official page. Its title is "THE ULTIMATE IS COMING | NVIDIA". On it are the words, "The Ultimate Is Coming" as well as a countdown to 9 AM EDT on Tuesday, July 22nd. At the same time, North Americans get "Ultimate Quest", a text adventure game which ends on -- surprise -- Tuesday with a giveaway of "something big" for the first players who finish.
Allegedly leaked slide - Not Official!
All images credit: Videocardz (and they have more).
What is it? It is very likely the rumored SHIELD tablet, especially considering Videocardz has convincing slides which are definitely made in NVIDIA's style. What made SHIELD so unique was its controller form factor (and NVIDIA's software support). According to the slides, the controller will now be a wireless accessory to the base tablet. What will come standard is a stylus, the "DirectStylus 2 with 3D Paint". This seems like an odd addition, unless they have already planned use cases.
Allegedly leaked slide - Not Official!
As for the tablet? The slides claim Tegra K1, 2GB of RAM, 1920x1200 display, 5MP (HDR) front and rear cameras, and a MicroSD card slot. Previously, leaks suggested a 640x480 front-facing camera, which did not make sense to me. With the original SHIELD lacking a camera, it seemed very odd to relaunch with a bad one. 5MP, especially if it is a good sensor, is much more reasonable (especially for the front-facing one).
Allegedly leaked slide - Not Official!
The leaks also suggest interesting price points, especially for such a powerful tablet. These details can change at a moment's notice, though, so I won't really acknowledge it (apart from embedding the slide below). They do seem to be targeting the end of the month for North America, or middle August for Europe, which is a very quick launch. Then again, it is ready enough to be a prize for a contest which ends on Tuesday.
Allegedly leaked slide - Not Official!
I except we will see how much of this, if anything, holds up on Tuesday.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Mobile | July 19, 2014 - 03:29 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, geforce, maxwell, mobile gpu, mobile graphics
Apparently, some hardware sites got their hands on an NVIDIA driver listing with several new product codes. They claim thirteen N16(P/E) chips are listed (although I count twelve (??)). While I do not have much knowledge of NVIDIA's internal product structure, the GeForce GTX 880M, based on Kepler, is apparently listed as N15E.
Things have changed a lot since this presentation.
These new parts will allegedly be based on the second-generation Maxwell architecture. Also, the source believes that these new GPUs will in the GeForce GTX 800-series, possibly with the MX suffix that was last seen in October 2012 with the GeForce GTX 680MX. Of course, being a long-time PC gamer, the MX suffix does not exactly ring positive with my memory. It used to be the Ti-line that you wanted, and the MX-line that you could afford. But who am I kidding? None of that is relevant these days. Get off my lawn.
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 16, 2014 - 01:30 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: win8 mobile, win 8.1, nokia, lumia, skype, microsoft, cyan
If you own a Nokia Lumia phone which runs Win 8.1 then there is an update with quite a few interesting features available. US customers will see a Cortana update while all users will gain the ability to search their phone with Bing, an IE11 update, encrypted S/MIME and improved VPN support. There are quite a few app updates and users of the 1520 and Icon get Nokia Rich Recording and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 which improves both audio and video options. Check out Cyan at The Register but don't stop there because according to The Inquirer you will no longer need to be a Premium Skype member to make group calls from your mobile device as it is now a free feature for all.
"Nokia is rolling out Windows Phone 8.1 as an over-the-air update that comes bundled with "Cyan," a special feature package that's exclusive to Lumia devices."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- The Linux Supercomputers We Secretly Fear Will Become Sentient @ Linux.com
- Linksys WRT1900AC Dual Band Smart WiFi Wireless AC Router Review @ Legit Reviews
- Can nothing trip up the runaway cash monster that is Intel? Well... @ The Register
- ASMedia, Asustek executives suspected of insider trading @ DigiTimes
Subject: General Tech, Mobile | July 16, 2014 - 04:11 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: google, google play, Android, android l
If you have looked at Google's recent design ideologies, first announced at Google I/O 2014, you will see them revolve around skeuomorphism in its most basic sense. By that, I do not mean that they want to make it look like a folder, a metal slab, or a radio button. Their concept is that objects should look like physical objects which behave with physical accuracy, even though they are just simulations of light.
Image Credit: Android Police (and their source)
Basically, rather than having a panel with a toolbar, buttons, and columns, have a background with a page on it. Interface elements which are affected by that panel are on it, while more global actions are off of it. According to Android Police, who make clear that they do not have leaked builds and readers should not believe anything until/unless it ships, the Google Play Store will be redesigned with this consistent, albeit broad, design metric.
Basically, if you are navigation bar, pack your desk and get out.
If true, when will these land? Anyone's guess. One speculation is that it will be timed with the release of Android "L" in Autumn. Their expectation, however, is that it will be one of many updates Google will make across their products in a rolling pattern. Either way, I think it looks good... albeit similar to many modern websites.