NVIDIA Shield Tablet Review
I love my SHIELD Portable, let’s just get that out of the way. It has completely changed the way I play PC games. Before getting my SHIELD Portable, my PC gaming time was held to a bare minimum since I stay home to take care of my two kids on a full time basis. I could pretty much forget about playing anything on the computer. At least with the SHIELD tablet, i can still keep an eye on my kids during lunch and make sure no one’s choking on a grape while I fire up a game of Bioshock.
It also gives me the opportunity to introduce my young ones to gaming, as I can sit them in my lap and play Super Mario World via an emulator. It sure beats sitting them at my computer, where all my daughter wants to do is watch episodes of Caillou in German.
I was honestly surprised when the successor to the SHIELD was announced to be a tablet. To me, that’s taking away the one thing that made the original SHIELD unique; the fact that it had a built-in controller and screen. Breaking those components apart into a separate screen and separate controller seemed like a step backwards, but it turns out that the experience of the SHIELD Tablet is not as bad as I initially thought. Sure, a bit of convenience and portability is now taken away since you have more parts to carry around, but overall, the SHIELD experience is better (give or take a couple of bugs here and there).
The SHIELD Tablet is an extremely powerful device. Clearly this was created as a gaming machine first, and a daily use tablet second. It’s no surprise that Nvidia has branded this “The Ultimate Gaming Tablet.” If you can find me another tablet that can do what the SHIELD Tablet can do, then by all means, have at it.
Basically, you should have no trouble running any Android game, or any PC game via Gamestream with this device (unless you run into some of the bugs that we’ll discuss in a bit).
If you’re coming from a tablet that makes a point of being as thin as possible (think iPad Air), then the SHIELD is going to feel really bulky. The edges are much thicker and less curved than something you might find in a Nexus, for instance, and overall the SHIELD just looks more angular. Interestingly enough, my Nexus 7 actually appears to be thicker than the SHIELD, but because the backing is not curved, the SHIELD feels more bulky. Take into consideration that the SHIELD is also an 8 inch tablet, so any comparisons with my Nexus 7 are slightly unfair since it IS a larger tablet overall than the Nexus. It’s just that sharp angles and lack of curves make the SHIELD seem larger than it actually is. For those with big hands (like myself), this shouldn’t really be much of a problem, but those with daintier hands might struggle with one-handed usage.
My SHIELD Tablet review unit came with the optional SHIELD Wireless Controller and the SHIELD Tablet Cover. Both are not included with the tablet itself, and if you want the full gaming experience that the SHIELD can offer, then both are pretty much necessary. One of the unfortunate outcomes with breaking apart the screen from the controller means A) you have to have a separate controller to carry around where the Portable had one built in, and B) unless you fork over $40 for the Cover, there’s no way to prop the tablet up into a workable viewing angle for gaming. Once again, much of the portability of the SHIELD Portable is lost in this iteration.
The SHIELD Wireless Controller is going to set you back $59.99, but considering the features you get and the fact that current-gen console controllers cost the same, I can justify buying one, and will insist that anyone who wants a SHIELD Tablet pick one up. The controller is essentially the same size and feel as the one that was built into the Portable, meaning it’s basically an Xbox “Duke” controller with a Dualshock analog stick layout (no staggered Xbox sticks here). However, Nvidia did not stop at simply pushing out a wireless controller, they made sure that this controller has as many functions as possible so you don’t have to swap between the controller and touchscreen.
Along the bottom of the controller is a touchpad. It’s almost unnoticeable if you aren’t looking for it since it just looks like part of the controller design. Along the bottom edge of the touchpad is a volume rocker. The top middle of the controller consists of the Back, Start, Home, and Nvidia buttons, all assembled on a triangular touchpad. When the controller connects, the Nvidia logo glows green, and the other three buttons glow white. Along the top of the controller is a mic port and a micro-USB port for charging. Overall, it’s a very attractive and sturdy controller, and even better yet is the fact that it will also pair with the Portable for your Console Mode gaming needs.
While I can justify the purchase of the controller, the tablet cover is a bit on the steep side. At $40 a pop, you need to realize that the name is accurate; this is a COVER and not a case. All it is is a magnetic front cover that snaps into two included holes along the side of the tablet, and covers the screen. Think of the official Apple iPad Smart Cover, and you’ll get the idea. While it DOES serve some functions and is convenient to have, it’s hard to look past the price.
The cover is magnetic, so it will wake and put your device to sleep when you open and shut it. Like most other “smart” covers out there for tablets, it also serves as a stand, with a variety of positions and angles for your viewing pleasure. The outside of the cover is a bumpy, textured, black matte design while the inside is a soft black microfiber. Truth be told, it is an extremely good looking cover and pretty much a necessity if you have no other means of propping your tablet up to game. I got the cover about a week after the tablet and controller, and for that first cover-less week, I was either propping the tablet up against a few books, or setting it flat on a low coffee table and hunching over it to game, which led to my neck and back protesting after a little while. I was so happy to finally get the cover, and if you can look past the price, it’s a must for comfortable gaming sessions.
But enough about the hardware and accessories; how does the SHIELD Tablet perform? In short, pretty darn well, and it would perform even better if not for some weird quirks that mess with the experience a bit. First let’s get the bad out of the way. Since I got the tablet a few months after it launched, all those wifi connections issues that were flooding the internet are pretty much gone. I can’t speak for anyone else, but after installing the most recent OTA update, I rarely ran into any wifi connection issues, though I did have some trouble connecting on a few occassions. It was kind of annoying, but didn’t happen enough times for it to be a real issue.
The actual issue that I had was with battery life. I was losing battery life at a tremendous rate at first, and I could not figure out why. I had tweaked the settings and was left wondering why my tablet was losing sometimes up to 5% battery per hour while in sleep mode. I was perplexed. After poring through various online forums and finding out that I was not the only one with this problem, I realized that as many settings as I had tweaked to be power saving, there were even more to tweak. First off, I had to enable a feature that turned off the wifi when the tablet was put into sleep mode. Second, there is a setting called SHIELD Power Control where you can change the Processor Mode to either Max Performance, Optimized, Battery Savings, or a custom setting. Obviously having it at the highest Max Performance setting at all times with the wifi going strong in sleep was eating through my battery. These quick fixes have pretty much solved my issues with battery life; I just wish the solution was a bit more clear out of the box rather than me having to search online.
That’s pretty much all the bad. Overall, I love this tablet. The Tegra K1 is a beast of a processor and pretty much any Android game you can think of, including the graphical heavyweights like Portal, Half-Life 2, Real Boxing, etc. run with no hitches. In fact, even day to day use with stuff like e-mail, Facebook, etc. runs fast and snappy. In terms of raw processing power, the SHIELD does not play around and is an extremely capable device.
Of course unless you are a dedicated Android specific gamer, chances are you will be using the SHIELD Tablet for its Gamestream, Console Mode, and GRID Beta features. As with the original SHIELD, the tablet is at its best as a portable Steambox, so to speak. Using the Gamestream feature (with a compatible Nvidia GPU), you can stream most games from your PC to the SHIELD. Steam, Origin, and Uplay are all supported, and any games that aren’t supported can be used with Steam’s Big Picture Mode (hit or miss, you’ve been warned). On its own, you can Gamestream your PC games to the tablet, prop it up with the tablet cover, and kick back with the controller, playing Bioshock Infinite to your heart’s content. Or, get yourself a cheap HDMI to mini-HDMI cable, hook the tablet up to your TV, and enjoy all your PC games from your couch. With a stable wifi connection, you can stream games up to 720p. Opt for an ethernet OTG adapter, however, and you can stream your PC games in all their 1080p glory. Coupled with the excellent SHIELD Wireless Controller, you basically have a Steambox ready to rock. Just keep in mind the quality of the streaming is entirely reliant on the strength of your internet connection. I ran into some issues with artifacting in some of my games even though I have a very strong and stable wifi connection. Not really sure where the problem lies with that, but it’s not something that happens every time.
As a daily use tablet, the SHIELD performs about as well as one could expect. Having a built-in stylus is nice for those of us who are OCD about finger smudges, and the included stylus-specific apps are fun to use, though not the most functional of things. Being able to draw/paint and write on the tablet is fun and quirky, but I doubt it’ll ever become anything beyond being just fun and quirky. Still, it’s a nice way to show off the stylus functions.
Running your standard apps like Gmail or Facebook is a very smooth experience. I rarely experienced any slowdown or lag (other than when wifi issues popped up), and being able to jump from Half-Life 2 directly to my Gmail with no stutter truly shows off the power of the K1 chip. I would have liked to see more multitasking functionality like what you might find in the Note, but I understand that’s not the focus of the SHIELD. This is all about the games, and gaming performance is where it shines.
Price-wise, you’re not going to see anything too out of the ordinary here. A 16GB WiFi only version will set you back $299, while a 32GB WiFi/LTE version will cost $399. Honestly, it’s hard to manage the 16GB version as your storage will fill up rather quickly. My Android games collection includes games like GTA III, Vice City, Portal, Half-Life 2, Real Boxing, etc. It didn’t take long for even 32GB to get to nearly full. Luckily, expandable storage is included, and tossing in a MicroSD should help alleviate your storage woes.
The SHIELD Tablet is a powerful gaming tablet for those who are looking specifically for a tablet to play games on. The type of person that would buy this tablet would have no issues spending the additional $60 for a controller and $40 for the cover because they want nothing less than the best overall experience for gaming. This person already has that HDMI/Mini-HDMI cable ready to go, and intends to rock Assassin’s Creed IV all night.
This tablet is NOT for the casual gamer. This is not the tablet for Candy Crush or Angry Birds (though both will work with no issues). You don’t need something this expensive or powerful to play Temple Run on. You will be just fine with a $100 Acer tablet for those purposes. If you’re someone who builds their own PC, for example, and wants nothing less than the most powerful system you can get your hands on, then the SHIELD Tablet is waiting for you. Oh, and it will get Android 5.0 Lollipop this month.