A console-grade controller and other extras
Thus far, we've only discussed elements of the Shield Tablet that are included with the device. Nvidia has also cooked up a couple of complementary accessories, including a game controller that sells for $59.99. That might seem like a lot to spend on a gamepad, but this is a really good one, and it's key to tapping into this tablet's gaming potential.
Nvidia describes the plainly named Shield Wireless Controller as a "console-grade" device, and it's hard to disagree with that assessment. Apart from rumbling force feedback, this thing has everything you get in a modern console controller—and more.
Dual analog sticks dominate the top of the controller. They're joined by a four-way directional pad, a cluster of Xbox-style buttons, and triggers and shoulder buttons around the front. Volume and Android-specific buttons are included, as well, and that silver triangle at the bottom is a clicky touchpad. Like I said, this thing is stacked.
The Shield gamepad is only slightly larger than the venerable Xbox 360 controller, and it's just as comfortable to hold in the hands. It seems pretty durable, too, based on the button mashing I've done so far. I like the matte exterior, which has just the right amount of grip. Unfortunately, the D-pad, triggers, and most of the buttons are covered in glossy plastic that quickly shows fingerprints and smudges. Seems like a poor choice of finish for surfaces that will be touched constantly.
Android's voice-activated functions are available through the controller's built-in microphone. Users also have the option of attaching their own headset. There's no need to compromise audio quality, either. Nvidia says the controller's Wi-Fi Direct link to the tablet is fast enough to handle uncompressed audio streams. The wireless connection peaks at 24Mbps, while typical Bluetooth links offer only 3Mbps. All that extra bandwidth allows the Shield to support up to four controllers simultaneously.
Unlike Bluetooth connections, which are limited to the 2.4GHz band, the Shield's Wi-Fi Direct link can switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz modes if congestion is detected. The Wi-Fi connection is also better equipped to deal with network traffic in general, according to Nvidia, and it's supposed to have lower latency overall.
Folks who are leery of wireless controllers can connect the gamepad directly to the tablet with a Micro USB cable. I didn't detect any latency in the controller response, so I haven't tested the wired mode. You'll need a micro-to-micro cable to make it work, though. The Micro USB cables included with the controller and tablet have full-sized ports on one end.
Nvidia claims the controller's battery can fuel 40 hours of wireless gameplay on a single charge, which seems plausible based on my experience thus far. In another example of slick integration, the controller's battery gauge is displayed alongside the tablet's in the Android notification bar (but only when the controller is connected, of course).
The Shield also has Game Mapper software that enables custom mapping for Android titles that don't support the controller natively. The customization options are quite extensive, and user-created profiles can be shared and rated through a cloud-based repository.
The other official Shield Tablet accessory is a simple folding cover priced at $39.99. This item has a couple of plastic nubs that line up with portals in the edge of the tablet. One set of magnets holds the cover's spine tightly against the tablet's edge. Another set, located on the edge of the folding cover, sticks to a couple of different points on the back of the tablet. Those secondary magnets let the device sit at one of two angles. The whole arrangement can also be tipped over so that the folded cover props up the top of the tablet instead of anchoring the bottom. That configuration adds two shallower angles of its own.
Being able to prop up the tablet is especially useful while gaming with the controller and drawing with the stylus. Surprisingly, though, Newegg says the cover won't ship until August 31, more than a month after the tablet's release.
Before we move on to performance, here's a picture of the Shield's power adapter.
The wall wart is bulky enough to block two adjacent plugs (one on each side) when plugged into a standard power bar. Ugh. I suppose that's better than getting just the Micro USB cable. A cable is all that comes with the controller, which lacks its own wall plug.
Now, about the Shield Tablet's performance...
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