A first taste of Lollipop on Nvidia’s Shield Tablet

The Android 5.0 Lollipop update for Nvidia’s Shield Tablet starts rolling out today. The 16GB Wi-Fi version has first dibs, but its 32GB LTE twin won’t get a taste until “a little later.” Carriers have to certify the update before Nvidia can push it to devices. Our 16GB review unit was updated early, and I’ve spent some of the past few days poking around the new OS to see what it’s like on Nvidia’s flagship slate.

The most noticeable difference is easily “material design,” a new interface doctrine that permeates the OS in addition to most of Google’s key applications, such as Gmail, Inbox, Calendar, and Keep. Material design is all about simplified graphics and layered surfaces. Lighting and shadows are used to project a subtle sense of depth onto the otherwise flat aesthetic.

White is everywhere in Lollipop

The revamped design looks a little barren for my tastes, especially given the stark white backgrounds and extra white space that dominate the UI. The worst offender is probably the default keyboard, whose borders have been erased in favor of a naked character array:

While the borderless design doesn’t seem to affect my accuracy, I still don’t feel confident using it. Mercifully, the old keyboard theme can be resurrected via the settings menu.

To Google’s credit, material design looks great in motion. The animations seem even faster and more fluid than with Android’s previous Kit Kat iteration, which wasn’t exactly a slouch in the smoothness department. Quicker visual transitions may explain why the Shield Tablet feels a little more responsive with Lollipop installed.

Android multitasking is now handled by an “overview” interface that resembles a stack of cards. Swiping cards to either side removes them from the list, just like on Kit Kat. Applications can also be closed by clicking the “X” in the upper-right corner. In another fresh twist, the overview remembers which apps were running prior to a reboot, so users can pick up where they left off.

Scrolling through active applications is incredibly smooth even when traversing a full deck at high speed. Some of that silkiness can probably be attributed to each card being a static shot of the last time the app was used—the contents aren’t updated in real time. Selected apps quickly fill the screen, but it sometimes takes a moment for them to display the latest content. The duration of that delay seems somewhat dependent on the individual application and how much time has passed since it was in the foreground. Most recently run apps respond to input instantly after switching, even if they’re still waiting for content updates.

Changes to the notification system are another big-ticket item in Android 5.0. Instead of being confined to the main drawer, notifications can now be displayed on the lock screen. Lollipop can strip “sensitive” content from these lock-screen alerts automatically, which is probably a good idea for folks with nosy spouses, siblings, or roommates.

Notification preferences are controlled on a per-application basis. Users can block apps from pushing notifications to the lock screen or providing alerts anywhere in the OS. They can also dictate whether notifications are allowed to interrupt Android 5.0’s do-not-disturb mode, which only permits alerts from “priority” apps. A shortcut in the volume UI invokes the interruption-free mode manually, while a scheduling system activates the filter during user-defined time windows. The scheme is pretty slick, but I wish it could filter notifications by contacts instead of just applications.

Notifications for the lock screen (left) and main drawer (right)

Lollipop’s settings shortcuts are integrated into the main notification drawer, an arrangement that’s much more convenient than the separate pull-down menus on Kit Kat. Nvidia’s Shield-specific shortcuts are joined by a screen-casting option of Google’s creation. This feature should work with Chromecast dongles and Android TV devices, but it’s not functional in the preview build loaded onto our Shield sample. Nvidia tells us screen casting requires the Shield’s public Lollipop build to work properly.

Like notifications, the settings shortcuts are accessible on the lock screen. Android’s old lock-screen widgets are nowhere to be found, though. My Google Now scoreboard will be missed.

Android 5.0 includes a couple of built-in sandboxes that should prevent other users from messing with your setup. The first is a temporary guest session that can be launched with just a few taps on the shortcut menu. This session provides a clean-slate Android environment that’s completely compartmentalized. It doesn’t have access to the data, accounts, or applications associated with other profiles.

Guest sessions take several seconds to initiate, but Lollipop’s second sandbox is much quicker to access. The overview interface includes a “pinning” option that instantly locks the device to the selected application. Holding the back and multitasking buttons simultaneously releases the application lock, returning the system to normal. The exit mechanism is simple enough action for mischievious children to imitate, so it’s a good thing releasing the lock requires the device’s unlock code (if one is set).

Speaking of security, encryption is arguably one of the most important and controversial features in Android 5.0. Scrambling the contents of our Shield sample took less than 15 minutes with the automated conversion routine. We haven’t run any tests to see if there’s an associated performance hit, but the tablet certainly doesn’t feel any slower in day-to-day use. The only baggage associated with the encrypted config seems to be a slightly longer cold boot time.

Lollipop’s support for 64-bit hardware isn’t applicable to the Shield Tablet, which is based on the 32-bit version of Nvidia’s Tegra K1 SoC. However, Android 5.0’s new runtime environment should be an improvement on all devices. Dubbed Android Runtime, or ART, the environment relies on pre-compiled code rather than the just-in-time compiling favored by the old Dalvik VM. Google expects ART to perform better in most cases. It also says the runtime’s new garbage collection routine reduces UI lag and stuttering. Perhaps ART deserves some of the credit for Lollipop’s lightning-fast interface transitions.

Dabbler’s material, layer-infused UI

Outside of Google’s own stable, the Shield Tablet is one of the first devices to be upgraded to Lollipop. Credit Nvidia’s virtually stock Android install for the timely update. The tablet’s smattering of custom OS tweaks remain, and the pre-loaded Dabbler painting app and Shield Hub game library have been given interface makeovers to match the material theme. Shield Tablet owners in North America (and with a good enough connection to Nvidia’s servers) also have access to a preview of Nvidia’s Grid game streaming service, which has previously been restricted to a closed beta test.

Before signing off, I should mention that the palm rejection algorithms tied to the Shield Tablet’s integrated stylus seem improved since the tablet’s initial release. The touchscreen’s propensity to register unwanted and double taps has been reduced, too, but the changes don’t appear to be related to the latest Android release. Instead, they seem to be products of the string of incremental patches released before Lollipop. Those updates demonstrate Nvidia’s tendency to support its Shield devices with frequent software patches even between major OS revisions, which is a lot more than can be said for most Android device makers.

Comments closed
    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    You are correct, but the implementation is lame. You have to hold down on the app icon in the upper left corner of the [i<]recent app icon[/i<] to do this. Which is dumb. It should be so that you can hold your finger down anywhere on the recent app icon.

    • timbits
    • 8 years ago

    Short supply also means hassles for any RMA issues, if I get unlucky and have to deal with that

    • MadManOriginal
    • 8 years ago

    I specifically meant on the Nexus 7 since that is the device in your post. I had heard about lockups with Youtube on the Nexus 7.

    • limitedaccess
    • 8 years ago

    You could try Memory Express since I believe they allow 7 day returns with no restocking (unlike NCIX) if you’re worried about not liking it after using it.

    • timbits
    • 8 years ago

    I’m really interested in the Shield tablet, mostly because of the good reviews I’ve read on TR. BUT, I can’t find anywhere in Vancouver that has one of them on display. Talked to a guy at NCIX and he was saying there’s limited supply since it’s Nvidia’s first tablet. For around $400, I want to at least try it out before I throw down the cash.

    • aceuk
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]In Lollipop the app icons are now ridiculously enormous, they now display in rolodex fashion instead of list fashion (OK, fine, not better or worse), and what is particularly offensive is that I can no longer hold my finger down and get the option to see the app-info.[/quote<] Just hold your finger down on the icon of the app in Recent Apps and it will open "App Info" in Lollipop. Another way of doing the same thing is to open the app drawer, press and hold your finger on an app, then drag it up to "App Info" (top right).

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    I play mostly Android game on it. Since buying it, I have hardly touched my PS Vita at all (I was playing mostly indie games on the Vita, and they’re usually cheaper on Google Play than on PSN, plus the screen is much nicer than the Vita’s).

    I will admit that I don’t use the PC streaming feature at all – like you said, if I want to play a PC game, I would rather play it at the PC than on a tablet. GRID is another value added feature that I admittedly haven’t used, but being able to stream PC games from the web is a nice touch, especially since it’s free until July 2015 or thereabouts.

    But the Shield Tablet is great for casual gaming on the couch or in bed, and it’s a fine tablet for other tablet-y tasks – web browsing, streaming video (I use it to stream video files from my local network share as well as Netflix and Youtube), ebook reading, e-comics. The stylus functionality is fun for Dabbler, not so great for note-taking (the Galaxy Note 10.1 is better for note taking both with its better S-pen and S-Note software). Having expandable storage is also a plus, and a sorely missed feature on many mainstream tablets these days.

    In short, I think the Shield Tablet is a very full-featured tablet that also happens to have credible gaming chops, so if you’re in the market for a tablet and like to game, it’s a good fit.

    • Ashbringer
    • 8 years ago

    Who actually bought this? Tablets already have a though time in sales, and a $300 tablet with a game controller that the equivalent can be bought for far less. We know the sales of the Shield devices aren’t doing well either.

    Nobody buys it to play Android games. What games on Android are so demanding to need a K1 or Tegra 4? And Tegra only games like Portal and Half Life 2 can be played on any PC made in the past 5+ years. You could literally buy a $200 laptop with Intel HD Graphics and those games would run fine, and it doesn’t require Nvidia hardware. Also adding a bluetooth gamepad for your phone cost $20. Pointless as hell.

    Nobody buys it to play PC games. Streaming games to your Shield device requires a working PC with Nvidia graphics. WTF? Also, why play a PC in your home with a gamepad when you could use your keyboard and mouse with a bigger screen?

    Only reason to buy it is for emulators. Android games suck but emulation brings back games that didn’t suck. But again why buy a Shield device for this? Also why would I carry this around with me when I already have a perfectly working phone that does the same thing? Make a phone Nvidia with a gamepad. This Shield crap is stupid. Only people that bought it are Tech Junkies. If Nvidia is smart they should make an unlocked Shield phone for $300. Cause the Chinese can do it just fine for far less.

    [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvfvqGr26P4[/url<]

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    I did just try Youtube and did not have a problem (On my Nexus 5).

    • MadManOriginal
    • 8 years ago

    Have you tried using Youtube yet?

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]I don't care for tablets and no gamer does either. [/quote<] Speak for other people much?

    • Ashbringer
    • 8 years ago

    I don’t care for tablets and no gamer does either. Nvidia is upset that Qualcomm and Samsung have basically pushed them out of the industry. So their answer is to sue them and make their own products.

    I do not want a gaming tablet, or a tablet in general. I do want a gaming phone like the Sony Xperia PLAY, which is extremely dated as a phone. So they should be making a PHONE, and not these Nintendo 3DS or Vita like devices. Copy the Chinese cause they’re doing it right. They have the iReadyGo Much G2 which would be amazing device if it wasn’t for not having 3G/4G on T-Mobile and a CPU that sucks.

    What good are the Shields when I have to carry another device with me just to play games? Make a phone with built in gamepad.
    [url<]http://manguiro.blogspot.com/2014/04/review-ireadygo-much-g2-quad-core-5.html[/url<]

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    From what I have been able to dig up is that, despite Apple fansite claims to the contrary, KNOX 2.0 has been pretty good. The “password hint in plain text” problem was with the first version, and that’s pretty dumb, but thankfully that’s been rectified.

    And there ends the first and possibly last nice thing I’ll say about a Samsung Android device.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    Actually don’t understand what they were thinking for most of the visual updates. I don’t like the “3D” multi-task interface. I don’t appreciate how many of the new visual ques are so subdued that info blends together now. 🙁

    I hope that this update allows for better features beyond the new GUI.

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    Agree with all your gripes. Lollipop has taken some backwards steps in usability, and the points you mention are all somewhat glaring examples. The one good thing about the default keyboard is long press for numbers and special characters, but that’s not enough to offset its drawbacks. I find the undifferentiated keyspace especially bad, appreciate finding out that this can be changed.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    Nexus 7 2013 reporting:

    There’s little yet that I can see about Lollipop about which I can say, “oh, that’s a new useful thing.” The one good thing so far is the battery saver mode – at least it is good in theory but too soon to say if good in implementation.

    Things I don’t like:

    1. White keyboard. This can be changed in the settings though.

    2. Keyboard “keys” are gone and now it’s just the letter floating without any graphical boundary. This can also be changed.

    3. The notification pull-down seems to have taken a large step backwards in usability. And button in the notification pull-down that leads to the system settings is now much smaller, which is annoying. The Kit-Kat notification pull-down is just better in every way, in my opinion.

    4. The “recent apps” display has taken a large step backward. In Kit-Kat, recent apps display as a list of medium sized icons, and holding my finger on an icon would bring up the option to got to app-info. In Lollipop the app icons are now ridiculously enormous, they now display in rolodex fashion instead of list fashion (OK, fine, not better or worse), and what is particularly offensive is that I can no longer hold my finger down and get the option to see the app-info. Quickly getting to app-info was especially useful for the TV-Guide app because that horrible app seemed to think it needed to be using my battery all day long and so I have to “force stop” the app after every time I use it. That will now be more laborious to do.

    I’m sure (I certainly hope) there are a bunch of under-the-hood improvements that make Lollipop better than Kit-Kat, but in terms of appearance and usability my personal opinion is that Kit-Kat is much preferable to Lollipop.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 8 years ago

    Kind of like your mom, Trebek?

    • sweatshopking
    • 8 years ago

    I’d be interested to see the actual quality of the encryption. so far all android encryption has been largely trash.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    Maybe, but I wouldn’t suggest buying one today. The Shield Tablet, though…

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    GeForce forums saying only way to restore write to microsd is to root (or revert to KitKat OTA, which unfortunately means wiping all user data on the tablet).

    This was exactly what I was trying to avoid, and I’m kicking myself for not waiting 6months-never on this update like I had originally planned to.

    EDIT: 2014/11/19:

    Turns out there’s a fix: [url<]https://forums.geforce.com/default/topic/790523/shield-tablet/finally-got-es-explorer-working-in-lollipop/?offset=10#4370233[/url<] TLDR: - Factory reset tablet and format SD card (forum user suggested using NTFS). - Update ES File Explorer to latest version (3.2.3). - When writing to sdcard1 for the first time from ES File Explorer will ask for root directory to grant permissions to. Select sdcard1 and you're good to go!

    • Dissonance
    • 8 years ago

    Hmm. Same thing here, though writing to USB storage is fine. I’ve pinged Nvidia to see what’s up.

    • USAFTW
    • 8 years ago

    On my 2012 Nexus 7 the new lollipop update makes it:
    1- Prettier, there are some elements such as the transparent soft buttons that remain the same as jelly bean. Nothing new to see in the home screen, also the app list is not transparent like other devices that run KitKat +.
    2- Extremely slow. It’s enough to just run more than 4 chrome tabs to completely choke the tablet. It’s so slow, it’s like running Windows 7 with 512MB Ram.
    3- Crashy. For no reason, sometimes with the tablet just sitting on the desk I spot the Google logo which is never good news. This problem persists since I’ve updated to 4.2.2 and is more prevalent when the thing has been sleeping away or been in mildly cold temperature.
    Overall, not a happy camper.
    Edit: And BTW, the new notification bar is a downgrade and harder to manage than the previous one.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 8 years ago

    Watch out for cracking. Apparently, it’s a thing with the latest Shield tablet.

    Google it and you’ll see, but here’s something you might need.

    [url<]https://forums.geforce.com/default/topic/766872/the-list-of-problems-with-the-shield-tablet-updated/[/url<]

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 8 years ago

    My original 2012 Nexus 7 got the Android 5.0 Lollipop update yesterday.

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    Geoff, after installing Lollipop, ES File Explorer can no longer write to the SD card for me. Unrooted Shield Tablet.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 8 years ago

    An FYI for Nexus 7 users – there seems to be an intermittent issue with Youtube app videos failing to play in Lollipop. I am waiting for a bit to update my Nexus 4 and 7.

    • Dissonance
    • 8 years ago

    ES seems to be working properly. No issues accessing local, Micro SD, USB, or network storage.

    • ludi
    • 8 years ago

    Welcome back, WebOS.

    • Voldenuit
    • 8 years ago

    Nice.

    Geoff – did they mess up the preinstalled ES File Explorer by any chance? That’s one of the biggest questions I have about Lollipop Shield.

    • ferdinandh
    • 8 years ago

    It is the real successor to the Nexus 7 to me. And it has a stylus and SDXC support!

    • floodo1
    • 8 years ago

    all this talk of shield tablets over the past couple months almost has me to the point of buying one (-:

    • tay
    • 8 years ago

    I don’t see the add though I do see an NYSE thing with a sorry there was a problem loading this video. The benefits of using Firefox and not having flash installed. Adblock is obviously turned off.

    • Inkling
    • 8 years ago

    Thank you for again bringing this to our attention. We’ve asked the agency involved to fix or remove the ad. After an apparently failed attempt at silencing the ad, we’ve now given them a deadline to remove it or else we’ll shut down the campaign on our end.

    • Flying Fox
    • 8 years ago

    All that white! Is Google out to get OLED screens? 😮

    • cygnus1
    • 8 years ago

    FYI, just had a loud Verizon ad start playing unmuted, twice. It did it on the article page and it just did it on this comment page. Now the article page (still open in another tab), just started playing a different Motorola Verizon ad.

    I am using latest version of Chrome. On Windows 8.1…

    I can’t even finish this comment without a new ad playing. Now a Lysol ad just played.

    It’s doing it on multiple computers, all in Chrome.

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