updated 08:04 am EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Nvidia delivers genuine differentiation with its Shield gaming tablet
Although it might look like just another Android tablet, the Nvidia Shield Android gaming tablet is one of the more interesting devices to come out in a segment that swamped with endless options, but little genuine differentiation. It tries to stand out from the crowd not with a heavily customized user interface, or even bold design, but rather tries to specialize in one particular area - Android gaming. It is also one of the first devices on the market running Nvidia's latest chip, the Tegra K1. While it still sports a 32-bit ARM Cortex A15 4+1 architecture clocked at 2.2GHz, its graphics capabilities are the real highlight. It sports 192 Kepler GPU cores, which is the very same architecture that powers Nvidia's vaunted discrete desktop and notebook GPUs.
The Nvidia Shield tablet retails from $299 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, which is not especially cheap compared to competing devices like the popular Google Nexus 7. However, its better than full HD 1920x1200 IPS LCD display is a larger at 8-inches, while its chipset is the most graphically advanced mobile SoC that has hit the market to date. In addition to graphics and gaming chops, the Nvidia Shield also comes with a deeply integrated second-generation DirectStylus helping to further distinguish it from the competition. The stylus is supported by a 3D paint application and some note taking software. Nvidia also includes a special version of Evernote that allows you to lasso images and annotate them before sharing them or saving them directly to Evernote's servers.
The Nvidia Shield is slightly thicker and slightly heavier than you would expect for a new-generation tablet of this size, coming in at 0.36-inches (9.2mm) deep and weighing a shade over 13 ounces (390 grams). However, this is a necessary (and relatively minor) compromise as the GPU can be clocked up to over 800MHz requiring the integration of a heat shield into the chassis as well as a special thermal system designed to keep things cool. It also packs a larger than average 19.75 Watt hours battery that helps to keep you gaming for up to 10 hours, which is impressive if the claim stacks up in real world usage. Connectivity includes a mini-HDMI output that will support the Shield's ability to output native 4K Ultra-HD video files, while the meager inbuilt storage can be supplemented via the microSD card slot.
We will cover off on the rest of the specs in our upcoming full review, but in the meantime we couldn't wait to get acquainted with the gaming performance of the Nvidia Tegra K1 chip. In short, its impressive. As a yardstick, early benchmarks show that the Tegra K1 is twice as powerful as both the quad-cluster PowerVR GPU in the Apple A7 chip, as well as the new Qualcomm Adreno 330 GPU. This translates into near PC-like performance, with Nvidia understandably tossing around the term 'console-level' graphics to describe its performance. The Nvidia Shield Hub app gets you pointed in the right direction for games optimized for the platform, although the Shield ships with the excellent Trine 2 preinstalled to get you started.
You will find iOS and Android hits among the collection including titles like Dead Trigger 2 , The Walking Dead, Asphalt 8, and Leo's Fortune among them. But you will also find a tie-up with Valve, which worked with Nvidia to port across its class PC classics including Portal and Half Life 2. However, to be able to play these particular titles, you will need the optional Nvidia Shield wireless controller. This retails for $60, but is an interesting piece of technology itself. Among its capabilities are voice control (thanks to a built-in mic), as well as a touch pad for cursor control. Although Nvidia does not currently sell the Shield in a bundle with a controller, it really is an essential part of the whole experience. Portal and Half Life 2 play beautifully with the controller (thanks to its use of ultra-low latency Wi-Fi Direct) and really stretch the legs of the device.
As a gaming tablet, the Nvidia Shield has exceled in our early testing. The availability of Portal and Half Life 2 give gamers a truly in depth and immersive gaming experience. Graphics look as crisp and responsive as they would have on a decent PC gaming rig from back in 2004 when Half Life 2 was released - to think that this much gaming power has been packed into a device the size of the Nvidia Shield just a decade later still manages to amaze. Given that the Shield, but as device supports a better than full HD native resolution, they scale across to full size full HD TVs perfectly as well. In this context, the full power of the Nvidia Shield tablet intrigues as it is equal parts Android gaming tablet and Android gaming console.
The Nvidia Shield tablet also has a few other tricks up its sleeve, including the ability to stream PC games making it one of the most interesting Android tablets on the market. Keep an eye out for our full review of the Nvidia Shield Tablet, which is coming soon.
By Sanjiv Sathiah