Nvidia’s Shield Tablet reviewed

If you just glanced at Nvidia’s new Shield Tablet, you might mistake it for any other Android slate. They all sort of look alike—rectangular touchscreens surrounded by simple bezels and backed by slim bodies—and the Shield doesn’t break the mold. There’s barely even a hint of Nvidia’s trademark green on the exterior.

Upon closer inspection, however, the Shield reveals itself to be quite unlike any other Android tablet. Inside the nondescript frame lurks a Tegra K1 SoC whose integrated graphics is born from the same architecture that powers desktop GeForce GPUs. There’s a stylus tucked in there, too, complete with handwriting recognition, palm rejection, and a slick painting app. High-res IPS display? Check. Expandable storage? Uh-huh. Mostly stock OS? Damn straight.

And that’s just the tablet. The Shield has an accompanying gamepad with console-grade controls. It can also act like a gaming console when plugged into a big-screen TV, and you’re not just limited to Android titles. The tablet can stream PC games from local and remote machines, as well, allowing access to everything from AAA blockbusters to indie favorites.

I wrote my first appraisal of the Shield Tablet after just a few days with the thing, which is precious little time to evaluate a device with this many facets. Now that I’ve put the Shield through its paces, I have a better understanding of how it fits into the increasingly diverse tablet ecosystem. I also have a clear sense of why enthusiasts should give it more than just a cursory glance.

Introducing the tablet

The Shield Tablet’s Tegra K1 SoC is a big part of the appeal. Before you get too excited, note that this isn’t the 64-bit version of the chip with custom Nvidia cores. That Denver-based duallie has been missing in action since it was revealed at CES in January. Instead, the Shield uses the pin-compatible Tegra K1 variant with quad ARM Cortex-A15 cores. The off-the-shelf CPU components are clocked up to 2.2GHz and limited to 32 bits. They’re also pretty much the same as what’s found in the old Tegra 4, so they’re not terribly exciting.

The Tegra K1’s integrated graphics are far more interesting. They employ a single Kepler SMX unit with 192 DirectX 11-compliant stream processors, which is a heck of a lot for a mobile SoC. If you’re looking for a desktop reference, consider that the low-end GeForce GT 640 has dual Kepler SMX units. The high-end GTX 780 Ti, meanwhile, has 15 SMXes.

Processor Nvidia Tegra K1 (Quad ARM Cortex-A15 @ 2.2GHz)
Graphics Kepler-based GPU with 192 stream processors
Memory 2GB
Display 8″ IPS panel with 1920×1200 resolution (283 PPI)
Storage 16/32GB eMMC

Up to 128GB via Micro SD

Wireless 802.11n Wi-Fi (dual-band 2.4/5GHz)

Bluetooth 4.0 LE

4G LTE (32GB only)

Ports 1 Micro USB (host and device support)

1 analog headphone/microphone

Cameras 5MP rear, 5MP front
Battery 19.75Wh
Dimensions 8.8″ x 5.0″ x 0.36″ (221 x 126 x 9.2 mm)
Weight 0.86 lbs (390 g)
OS Android 4.4.2

In the Shield Tablet, the K1 SoC is combined with 2GB of memory and up to 32GB of internal storage. The base model has 16GB of flash and is already selling for $299.99. In a few months, it will be joined by a 32GB version with 4G LTE connectivity and a $399.99 price tag.

Rolling cellular connectivity into the higher-capacity model is a little odd, but you don’t have to pay for 4G in order to cram in more flash. The Shield Tablet’s Micro SD slot accepts memory cards up to 128GB. The external storage is well-integrated, too. Nvidia ships the tablet with a copy of ES File Explorer, which simplifies the process of shuffling files between internal and external storage. Unlike some other tablets, the Shield can store and run applications on external flash. Apps must be installed to the internal SSD first, but after that, they can be moved to Micro SD and run from there.

Both variants of the Shield Tablet have dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. They also pack the usual suite of sensors, a GPS receiver that works without Wi-Fi, and dual cameras. In an interesting twist, the front-facing camera has the same 5MP resolution as the rear shooter. Nvidia expects the front camera to be used by folks who broadcast gaming footage and commentary to sites like Twitch.tv. Indeed, support for Twitch streaming is integrated right into the system software.

Next to a 7-incher like Asus’ Memo Pad ME176C, the 8″ Shield looks a little bit chunky. The larger screen obviously affects the footprint, but that’s not all. The 0.36″ body is a little thicker, and at 0.86 lbs, the Shield also weighs noticeably more. I don’t find the weight too onerous to tote, though. To be fair, I also toss kettlebells around my garage on a reasonably regular basis.

Instead of being a burden for me, the extra heft makes the Shield seem more substantial. Part of that may be due to the build quality, which appears to be very solid overall. The frame is stiff, the panels barely flex, and everything fits together nicely. I also dig the soft-touch panel on the back, which has a nice feel and keeps fingerprints and smudges to a minimum.

The exterior isn’t perfect, though. The power button barely sticks out of the chassis, forcing me to practically dig in my fingernail just to actuate it. Applying lots of pressure with the tip of the finger works, too, but it shouldn’t be this difficult to turn on the tablet. The volume rocker next to the power button sits a little higher, and it’s much easier to use as a result.

While having the Micro SD slot is great, installing cards is a little tricky. The slot is recessed so deeply into the body that I have to use the tip of a ballpoint pen to push cards in all the way. The upside of this arrangement is that cards sink in deeply enough to be covered by a protective door that should prevent accidental ejection. That’s a reasonable trade-off given that most users will likely pop in one memory card and leave it installed.

Up front, the Shield is all screen and speakers. Before we get to the display, I should take a moment to laud the integrated audio. It’s surprisingly… not horrible. That sounds like faint praise, but most tablet speakers are really awful. I can barely tolerate them for more than a few minutes. However, I’ve listened several hours of music on the Shield without throwing it against the wall. The sound quality isn’t great, but it’s better than on any other tablet I’ve used.

Having dual front-facing speakers definitely helps. So does using the tablet in a landscape orientation. Each speaker has an associated bass port along the edge of the chassis. Holding the tablet by those edges effectively cups one’s hands around the ports, producing noticeably fuller, richer sound. Too bad the folding stand accessory, which we’ll cover later in the review, lacks speaker cups to replicate the effect. You can probably whip up your own using a toilet paper roll or something, though.

On the next page, we’ll bust out our fancy colorimeter and take a closer look at the display.

 

An alphabet soup of high-PPI, IPS, and sRGB

On paper, the Shield Tablet’s display ticks all the right boxes. It uses IPS panel technology, has a reasonably high 1920×1200 resolution, and stretches across a relatively spacious eight inches. The difference in screen size versus 7″ tablets is definitely noticeable, and I much prefer the larger viewing area. The whole area is usable, too, thanks to a full-screen mode that hides the Android notification and navigation bars that usually letterbox the screen. (Swiping from the top or bottom edge brings those bars back into view.)

To be fair, the Shield’s longer diagonal results in a lower pixel density than the latest Nexus 7, which spreads the same resolution over a 7″ display. Good luck seeing individual pixels from anything approaching a reasonable viewing distance, though. Text and images look crisp and clear even with the Shield Tablet a few inches from my nose. My contact lenses lack a macro mode, so my eyes can’t even focus on anything closer than that.

This time of year, I’m always tempted to take tablets outside. And I’m always disappointed. The reflective coating on most tablet displays is a nightmare in direct sunlight. Even with the backlight cranked to full brightness, reflections in the screen are more visible than what’s actually on it. The Shield Tablet isn’t really any better or worse than other contenders in this regard.

Indoors and in the shade, the backlight is bright enough to overpower the screen’s inherent reflectivity. The light-sensitive auto-dimming mechanism works pretty well in those environments, too.

At peak intensity, the screen pumps out 413 cd/m² according to our colorimeter. The brightness is very consistent across the extent of the display, though there are a few brighter spots around the edges. To capture those, I took a picture of a black screen with the backlight turned all the way up.

There’s a little bit of backlight bleed in the top right corner, plus hints of it in the bottom right. I didn’t notice that when using the tablet for day-to-day tasks, though, and not even when watching letterboxed videos in a dark room. The backlight uniformity is really very good overall.

The display can be configured in two modes: native or sRGB. We measured the color gamut of each using our colorimeter, and you can compare the results below. For reference, we’ve also included gamut plots from a selection of other tablets and mobile machines. The native Shield config and all the other devices are superimposed against the NTSC color gamut, while the sRGB config is matched up with an sRGB reference. You can click the buttons below the image to switch between the various setups.

Shield Tablet

The white triangles represent the range of colors produced by the display, while the darker triangles define the reference gamuts. As you can see, the Shield Tablet is short of a full deck in both modes. Although it covers most of the green end of the spectrum, it falls short with reds and more so with blues. The iPad 3 has much more complete coverage, and even the budget Memo Pad offers a greater range of tones than the Shield.

At least Nvidia nailed its corporate color. The green vegetation in my vacation pictures looks appropriately lush on the Shield. My eyes don’t notice any obvious deficiencies in reds or blues, despite what the gamut plots show. The colors look good overall, just not exceptional.

Our colorimeter also lets us quantify the Shield’s color temperature across multiple gray levels. Ideally, that temperature should be close to 6500K, which corresponds to typical daylight.

Shield Tablet

The Shield tablet is off the mark in both modes, but the native config gets closer to the daylight illuminant as the gray level increases. The sRGB setup is slightly more biased toward warmer tones. Neither mode is as accurate as the iPad 3, which comes close to the ideal pretty much across the board. The old Nexus 7 from 2012 has a more neutral color temperature than the Shield, too.

Again, however, the screen looks fine to my eyes. Whites have perhaps a slight yellowish tinge, but that’s true of a lot of the tablets I’ve used; the tint is really only noticeable if you’re looking for it.

The fact is that most high-res tablets have pretty good displays nowadays. The differences between them are usually only apparent when comparing competing models side by side.

Since Nvidia already has its hooks deep enough into the OS to offer multiple color modes, it would be nice to see additional screen adjustment options in the future. We’ve already tested one Android slate with color temperature, hue, and saturation sliders that enable users to tweak the display to suit their personal preferences. Surely, Nvidia could offer something similar—or perhaps even more advanced calibration options for artists and photography buffs.

 

A GPU-accelerated stylus

One of the most intriguing elements of the Shield Tablet is its integrated stylus. Dubbed the DirectStylus 2.0, this writing implement doesn’t rely on an active, Wacom-style digitizer. Instead, it pairs a passive, capacitive stylus with a little help from the Tegra SoC. According to Nvidia, the system “uses Kepler GPU’s compute capabilities to analyze data from a standard touch sensor.” It’s supposed to perform as well as an active stylus without the associated cost. I haven’t used enough active implementations recently to verify that claim, but I can tell you the Nvidia stylus works. Mostly.

The tip of the stylus is squishy to provide a measure of pressure sensitivity. Pressing harder causes more of it to make contact with the touchscreen, resulting in thicker lines. Heavier lines can also be drawn by using the broad edge of the nub rather than the pointy end. However, some applications seem unaware of the shaped tip and pressure sensitivity. Autodesk’s SketchBook Express, for example, draws lines of the same weight regardless of the orientation of the tip or the force behind it.

The stylus grip has a squarish profile with rounded edges, and the stylus itself is long enough to sit naturally in one’s hand while writing. At only 5.5 mm thick, though, it’s a little awkward to hold for extended periods of time. Standard pencils are closer to 7 mm thick, which feels much more comfortable in my hand. Too bad making the stylus beefier would prevent it from sliding so elegantly into the chassis.

Nvidia has done a great job of integrating the stylus into both the chassis and software. The tablet detects when the stylus slides out of its sheath and automatically opens a launcher utility with shortcuts to applications and stylus settings. Users can customize the launcher’s selection of apps, have another app launch when the stylus is removed, or simply have the tablet go about its business undisturbed. The settings menu provides left- and right-handed options in addition to toggles for a couple of stylus-specific shortcuts in the Android navigation bar. One of those shortcuts invokes a stylus-only input mode, while the other launches Nvidia’s Lasso Capture annotation utility. More on those in a moment.

Handwriting recognition is included, but you have to switch the Android keyboard into stylus mode manually. It would be nice if there were a launcher option to change keyboard modes automatically whenever the stylus is removed.

Once activated, the recognition engine is reasonably fast and accurate. My penmanship is pretty awful, likely due to years of neglect in favor of keyboards, but the Shield Tablet still translates the bulk of my chicken scratch accurately. Mistakes can be corrected with relative ease, too, and predictive suggestions help to avoid them in the first place.

Although the handwriting recognition works well overall, the palm rejection is unreliable. The tablet is supposed to ignore palm contact when the stylus is in use. It also has a stylus-only mode that completely ignores finger contact. However, even in that mode, my palm still manages to generate phantom touches while writing and drawing when my hand is resting naturally. That contact can activate on-screen buttons, like those in the Android navigation bar, and leave unintentional marks in notes and sketches. Check out the debris left behind when I scrawled a few notes using Nvidia’s own Lasso Capture tool:

And that’s with the tablet in stylus-only mode!

To be fair, the palm rejection at least keeps up if I’m drawing a single, unbroken line. The experience is also much better than with passive styluses that lack palm rejection intelligence. But it’s not consistent enough to rely on stylus input for longer writing sessions.

While I’m griping, I should also note that the stylus has some perceived latency attached. I noticed this delay immediately when using the thing, and I managed to capture it on my high-speed camera. The videos below were shot at 240 FPS. They show Synaptics’ TouchExplorer software tracking touchscreen input for straight and wavy lines generated by the stylus and by my fingertip. I recorded multiple runs for each test and then selected the ones with my hand moving at roughly the same speed. Click the buttons below the videos to switch between stylus and finger input.



The stylus is tracked using the same sensors as all other touchscreen input, so it’s no surprise that both methods have comparable latency. The thing is, the stylus can look slower because the fine tip results in a wider visual gap between the contact point and touch cursor. My fat fingertip is large enough to cover some of that distance, which messes with how I perceive the latency.

At the same time, my finger obscures the actual contact point, making the stylus much more accurate. The passive pen slides more easily across the screen than my fingertip does, too, and I can draw much smoother lines with it. I really need to compare the Shield to a tablet with an active stylus, though. So far, my attempts have been thwarted by local electronics retailers that keep easy-to-steal styluses away from their demo units.

 

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…

 

Performance

We ran a handful of benchmarks on the Shield Tablet to see how it stacks up with some other mobile devices we’ve tested recently. Most of those systems run Android, but there are a few Windows machines in the mix. Let’s start with a couple of JavaScript benchmarks running in Chrome.

The Shield Tablet is the fastest of the bunch in the Kraken benchmark, and it holds down second place in SunSpider. In both cases, Nvidia’s latest is slightly faster than the old Shield handheld, which is based on a Tegra 4 SoC with a similar CPU design.

Notice that the Shield Tablet has a substantial lead over the 2013 edition of the Nexus 7, which is easily one of the best Android slates around.

Next, we’ll look at graphics performance in 3DMark’s “Ice Storm” test. To compensate for devices with different resolutions, this benchmark renders scenes off-screen at 1280×720 before scaling the output for the target display.

The Shield Tablet easily beats the rest of the field in 3DMark. More impressively, it nearly doubles the performance of its handheld predecessor, which isn’t bound by the thermal constraints associated with a slim tablet. And it’s almost three times faster than the latest Nexus 7. No wonder Android games run so smoothly on the thing.

Load times

For this next batch of tests, we recorded application load times with a high-speed camera capturing 240 frames per second. We used popular apps and tried to avoid ones that grab a lot of Internet content on startup.

Although it doesn’t win every test, the Shield Tablet comes close. All three games load a couple of seconds quicker than on the next closest competitor. The non-gaming application load times are much shorter overall, and the competitors are more closely matched in those tests, but the Shield still comes out on top in half of them. In the remainder, it’s only 0.2 seconds out of first place.

Battery life

We tested battery life twice: once running TR Browserbench 1.0, a web browsing simulator of our own design, and again looping a 720p Game of Thrones episode. (In case you’re curious, TR Browserbench is a static version of TR’s old home page rigged to refresh every 45 seconds. It cycles through various permutations of text content, images, and Flash ads, with some cache-busting code to keep things realistic.)

Before testing, we conditioned the batteries by fully discharging and then recharging each system twice in a row. We also used our colorimeter to equalize the display luminosity at around 100 cd/m².

Impressive. The Shield Tablet ran our browsing simulation for well over 10 hours before the screen went dark. It fared even better with video playback, which continued for nearly 14 hours on a single charge.

I haven’t tested battery life while gaming, but I have used Portal to discharge the unit, and I can tell you that it’s very effective. Even sitting stationary in one of the game’s levels is taxing enough to drain the battery in a few hours.

Portal also causes the back of the tablet to get quite warm—42.6°C according to my infrared thermometer. That’s definitely toasty, but it’s not unbearable unless you have the thing resting in your lap. Running the Epic Citadel demo for an hour only pushed the tablet’s exterior to 35.8°C, suggesting that Portal stresses the hardware much more than some 3D applications. After an hour of web surfing, the Shield’s surface temperature was a comparatively cool 28.2°C.

 

Actually using the thing

The Shield has been my primary tablet since it arrived a couple weeks ago, and boy does it feel fast. There’s a distinct sense of speed with everything: loading applications, rendering web pages, responding to touchscreen input, and popping up predictive keyboard suggestions. The tablet even glides through heavy multitasking. I haven’t experienced any slowdowns with loads of applications running or a stack of tabs open in Chrome. This is definitely the most responsive tablet I’ve used to date.

That said, there are times when the on-screen keyboard almost feels too responsive. If I’m typing really quickly on the thing, the occasional keystroke ends up registering as a double tap. I’ve never encountered that on a touchscreen keyboard before. I’ve also never typed this quickly on one. The 8″ display deserves some of the credit, since the resulting keyboard size in portrait mode is just right for my thumbs.

The Android 4.4.2 operating system is mostly stock, with no garish skins or unnecessary widgets. Unlike with some tablets, it doesn’t feel like there’s a layer of junk between you and the OS. Nvidia seems to have a good track record of keeping up with newer Android versions, too. The old Shield handheld and Tegra Note tablet have both been updated to the 4.4.2 release.

Nvidia has tweaked the operating system in a few ways, but the changes are mostly limited to configuration options and widgets for the Shield’s extra goodies. And they’re all pretty useful. The enhanced power management settings, for example, offer a few pre-baked profiles along with a configurable one that lets users cap the CPU frequency, the number of active cores, and the graphics frame rate. Users can also choose whether to have the tablet switch into power-saving mode if the battery drains past a certain point.

Some of the stylus-specific software is pretty cool. Lasso Capture is great for adding notes to anything on the screen, especially since it can be launched directly from the Android navigation bar. Then there’s Dabbler, a GPU-accelerated painting program designed to simulate how paints actually react to different surfaces and lighting.

As you can see, Dabbler can’t make up for my lack of artistic talent. But it can transform crudely drawn geometric shapes into perfect circles, squares, triangles, and the like. It’s also kind of neat to watch watercolors soak into the canvas and trickle down the page. Impressively, the speed of that trickle depends on the tablet’s angle of inclination. My only complaint is that the Dabbler UI doesn’t rotate in portrait mode. Everything else works in that orientation, including the simulated gravity.

The other stylus-friendly apps are nice enough. Nvidia includes copies of Evernote, Write, and JustWrite. You also get ES File Explorer, which is arguably the best Android file manager around. This app is great for managing local files and connecting to remote sources like networked Windows shares, FTP servers, and all sorts of cloud-based services.

All of the gaming

Nvidia bills the Shield as the “ultimate tablet for gamers,” and I’ve gotta agree. Between native Android titles and PC games streamed from local and remote machines equipped with GeForce graphics, there’s certainly no shortage of options. You can either play on the tablet itself or pipe the output to a big-screen TV via the Mini HDMI output. With an external display attached in what Nvidia calls “console mode,” the Shield effectively becomes an Android set-top box.

More detailed gaming impressions can be found on this page of my initial look at the Shield Tablet. I haven’t played too many more games since that early take, but I’ve spent enough time with the accompanying software to have a greater appreciation for the tightly integrated package. Nvidia’s Shield Hub utility sits at the center of it all, serving as a gateway to local and remote games, plus titles in the Google Play store that are optimized for the wireless controller. Loads of Android games support the controller already, and Nvidia’s custom mapping software can be used with those that don’t.

On the PC side, Nvidia has an extensive list of GameStream-ready titles. Games that are absent from that list can still be added manually, though there may be controller mapping issues, especially with titles designed for a keyboard and mouse. The Shield’s streaming software includes a pop-up virtual keyboard that can work around some of the kinks. The controller’s integrated touchpad helps a lot, too, but it’s too small for much more than menu navigation.

Portal looks this good on the Shield Tablet

The Shield Tablet has easily handled every Android game I’ve thrown at it to date. Some titles, like Trine 2 and Portal, look especially stunning, and they all run smoothly at the tablet’s native resolution.

The Android games are fun and all, but streaming PC titles really blows my mind. This isn’t a new trick—the Shield handheld has been pulling it off for a while now—but it’s still pretty amazing to fire up Battlefield 4, Batman: Arkham Origins, and other big-name releases on a tablet. Despite the visuals not quite measuring up to the native PC experience, games still look fantastic with the quality turned up.

Yep, that’s Battlefield 4 with the details cranked at 1080p

Nvidia supports streaming at resolutions up to 1080p at frame rates as high as 60 FPS. You’ll need a fast network connection to keep up, though. Wired Gigabit Ethernet is recommended for the highest quality level (the Shield Tablet supports USB network adapters), but I haven’t had any issues with the 802.11n Wi-Fi link provided by Asus’ dual-band RT-N66U router. There’s no glitching, hitching, or noticeable lag. I did encounter responsiveness issues when streaming games over Wi-Fi using the single-band 802.11n router provided by my ISP, however. If you’re interested in streaming PC games over Wi-Fi, you probably want a router from Nvidia’s list of Shield-approved networking gear.

 

Conclusions

Nvidia’s Shield Tablet isn’t just another Android slate. It has the heart of a game console and the soul of an enthusiast PC.

To be fair, the silicon heart beating inside this beast can’t go toe-to-toe with the chips inside the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. But for a tablet SoC, the Tegra K1 has formidable graphics horsepower and plenty of pep in the CPU department. The chip is efficient enough to deliver long battery life, too, provided you don’t hit it with something like Portal.

The fact that you can even play a game like Portal on an 8″ tablet is kind of awesome. So is the ability to stream PC titles, drive big-screen TVs, and capture game footage to stream or share. Add the excellent wireless controller, and you’ve got a compelling gaming rig squeezed into a mini tablet.

Even if you don’t play games, the Shield is one heck of a tablet. I get a distinct sense that decisions were made to empower users rather than restrict them. The expandable storage is as robust as we’ve seen in this class of device, the software is unobtrusive and highly configurable, and the stylus provides a built-in conduit for creation. All in all, it’s kind of what you’d expect from a PC graphics company that made its name catering to enthusiasts.

The passive pen has some limitations, and so does the display, but it’s difficult to find flaws otherwise. Even the asking price seems reasonable considering everything that’s included. Heck, you can get the base model, wireless controller, and folding cover all for the same price as an equivalent iPad Mini—by itself.

The Shield Tablet’s subtleties might be lost on some, and its horsepower will probably be overkill for most, but discerning enthusiasts should appreciate both. I certainly do, and mini tablets aren’t even really my thing. This one punches well above its weight, though, and it’s a truly unique offering in the tablet world. It’s also good enough to be TR Recommended.

Comments closed
    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 5 years ago

    This is a very desirable device!

    • ferdinandh
    • 5 years ago

    I have seen horror stories of bad wifi, cracks in the sides and bad battery life. Can anybody comment on that?
    I have a nexus 7 2012 so I could wait a bit but I want a good speedy tablet. Should I wait for K1 denver?

    • mono
    • 5 years ago

    I thought the LTE version was due out this month? Any word on that release date? I’m hyped for it, but need something w/ connectivity during my commute.

    • fredsnotdead
    • 5 years ago

    “a GPS receiver that works without Wi-Fi”

    What exactly does that mean? GPS and Wi-Fi are completely different services. Are there some GPS implementations that refuse to run without a Wi-Fi connection? My Nexus 7 2012* works fine as a GPS device if I remember to store the area beforehand in Google Maps. Or at least it did the last time I tried it, Google likes to tinker with software and messed with the map storage, but I think that capability is back. On the other hand, it won’t give directions unless I start with a Wi-Fi connection, is that what you mean? That doesn’t bother me so much.

    *Poor little Nexus 7 2012, getting beat up by the performance of all these new devices.

      • Palek
      • 5 years ago

      Some phones and tablets have a proper GPS receiver, while others rely on Assisted GPS, WiFi Positioning System or a mixture of all of the above.

        • superjawes
        • 5 years ago

        This is my guess. I think “a GPS that works without Wi-Fi” is a bit of a miswording. I suspect that it means, “The Shield Tablet has a genuine GPS receiver, as opposed to a Wi-Fi workaround.”

        That might not be a good description, either, but it does capture the fact that cellular and Wi-Fi can effectively do positioning without the need for a satellite system (which is what “proper” GPS receivers use).

    • scribly
    • 5 years ago

    I like it, but I’d prefer it if it was 2 inches bigger (not twss)

    • albundy
    • 5 years ago

    “Nvidia supports streaming at resolutions up to 1080p at frame rates as high as 60 FPS.”

    cuz playing on a 70 inch tv just wont do? i dont get it. they could have at least used a 10″+ screen.

      • willmore
      • 5 years ago

      You can hook this up to a TV, you know.

      • Voldenuit
      • 5 years ago

      [quote<]cuz playing on a 70 inch tv just wont do? i dont get it. they could have at least used a 10"+ screen.[/quote<] I'm quite happy with the 8" screen. It's big enough to be comfortable to use, and the tablet is small enough that I can pick it up and carry it by the edges with one hand. Course, if they would ship the cover quicker, I wouldn't have to worry about smudges on the screen when I'm carrying it.

    • bandannaman
    • 5 years ago

    Great review.

    [quote<]My only complaint is that the Dabbler UI doesn't rotate in portrait mode. Everything else works in that orientation, including the simulated gravity.[/quote<] Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you meant, but how would you get the paint to flow upward or sideways if the app auto-rotated? Gravity would always point "down" toward the bottom of the painting.

      • Voldenuit
      • 5 years ago

      [quote<]Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you meant, but how would you get the paint to flow upward or sideways if the app auto-rotated? Gravity would always point "down" toward the bottom of the painting.[/quote<] You can turn off auto-rotation in the quick settings menu accessible by swiping down from the top right of the screen. But as Geoff says, Dabbler always runs in landscape mode.

      • Dissonance
      • 5 years ago

      My point is that most of the app adjusts when the screen is rotated into portrait mode–that’s why gravity still works as expected–but the UI doesn’t. The interface sticks to a landscape orientation regardless of how the tablet is positioned.

        • Voldenuit
        • 5 years ago

        Geoff, nvidia says they are still working on adding features to Dabbler (pressure sensitivity gets brought up a lot) so hopefully portrait painting will be an option in the future?

    • nizer
    • 5 years ago

    What at great review TR, and what a great gaming tablet Nvidia – I just ordered one as I write this!

    • trek205
    • 5 years ago

    I would get one but some games such as Deus Ex The Fall and Mass Effect Infiltrator are not even compatible with Tegra products. It is pretty stupid when other phones and tablets can run all the games from the play store but Nvidia’s “gaming” tablet cant.

    EDIT: oops it was my phone not the tegra tablet or shield that was not compatible with Mass Effect Infiltrator.

      • JoJoBoy
      • 5 years ago

      I’ve had my Tegra Shield Tablet for nearly 2 weeks now and it has zero issue running Deus Ex: The Fall or any other game for that matter. I am still waiting for the controller and cover to be available, think that many games including Deus Ex would be more fun with the controller.
      Edit: Anyone have some suggestions for other great android games? Currently have:
      Walking Dead season 2, Deus Ex: The Fall, Trine 2, Bard’s Tale, Threes, Mines Of Mars, Combo Crew, Duet, Lone Wolf (last 5 are from the humble bundle), Plague Inc, World of Goo, and Great Little War Game.

        • Voldenuit
        • 5 years ago

        Another day one shield tablet owner here, and I’m just as happy with it.

        As for Android games, my recommendations are:

        Monument Valley – short and sweet but hauntingly memorable.
        Cytus – great if you love rhythm games, jpop and/or eurobeat
        Rymdkapsel – great minimalist strategy game
        Plague, Inc – paid unlocks aren’t worth spending money on but the custom diseases and modes are

        Checked out Adventure Time Card Wars, seems like a great adaptation of the in-show card game in the vein of MTG and Hearthstone, but not sure if it’s worth buying or recommending yet.

        Of the games you’ve gotten from Humble Bundle 6, I’ve been playing Threes and Duet Premium a lot, although I’m having second thoughts in Duet after reaching the invisible blocks level (eeeeevilllllll).

        • trek205
        • 5 years ago

        it says right there on the store page that its not compatible with my note 7 or shield when I check. in fact I saw thread about it in other forms asking if that game as well as some others would even be compatible with shield devices. I would love to see some proof that you’re running that game on there.

      • renz496
      • 5 years ago

      My N7 2012 (T3) work just fine with Mass Effect Infiltrator.

      • BabelHuber
      • 5 years ago

      The problem is that devices with low market share don’t get too much love from developers.

      Lots and lots of good devices have the Snapdragon 801 SoC, so most games are optimized for it.

      This is the main reason why I switched from an Nvidia-tablet to a Qualcomm-tablet, from an Asus TF700 to a Sony Xperia Z2 tablet. I use the Sixaxis controller app to connect a PS3-controller as native gamepad.

      If you are rooted you can try out GLTools from the PlayStore. With this tool you can select the SoC your device shows the game – it is hit and miss, but always worth a try.

    • esc_in_ks
    • 5 years ago

    That’s some fantastic performance there in Kim Kardashian Hollywood. I see the pain that a TR reviewer has to go through to get the metrics us readers need to make a purchasing decision. Geoff, we wish you a speedy mental recovery after that.

    • Prestige Worldwide
    • 5 years ago

    The Next Nexus tablet is rumoured to have the same guts. Both could be good options! I look forward to getting them both at work 🙂

      • nico1982
      • 5 years ago

      This run on the quad core Cortex-A15 version of the K1, while the next Nexus is rumoured to use the Denver implementation. If Nvidia claims on Denver performances are even remotely true, it is going to be quite a different beast.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 5 years ago

        Either way it seems like a false rumor. Nexus devices don’t use high-end internal components.

          • BoilerGamer
          • 5 years ago

          Nexus 5 had S800 when S800 (MSM8974) was the top of the line phone SOC(Q4 2013)
          Nexus 4 had Snapdragon S4 Pro(APQ8064) when it was the top of the line phone SOC(Q4 2012)
          Nexus 10 had Exynos 5250, one of the first mobile SOCs featureing A15(Q4 2012)

          Care you explain your ” Nexus devices don’t use high-end internal components”?

            • derFunkenstein
            • 5 years ago

            Even the Nexus 7’s “Snapdragon S4 Pro” is what was all the rage when it released (based on specs) – Snapdragon 600.

    • chuckula
    • 5 years ago

    Looking pretty good overall. That’s a high-performance tablet part that does pretty well for battery under light usage. It looks like Nvidia should be able to do pretty well with the K1 parts based on those characteristics.

      • jessterman21
      • 5 years ago

      Just imagine the battery-life with a Maxwell part, though.

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