The NVIDIA SHIELD got off to a rocky start with a price drop prior to a launch delayed by a hardware issue. However when SHIELD finally did make it into reviewers and consumers hands, the response was largely positive. The final hardware is exceptionally well thought-out and constructed. SHIELD shipped with a nearly stock install of Android 4.2, which is hard to complain about as an Android fan.
This is hardly the sort of thing that an Android fan is going to complain about, but SHIELD is a unique device. Perhaps completely vanilla Android isn’t the perfect answer. Well with today’s update, NVIDIA has handled many of the concerns that SHIELD owners, including myself, have expressed.
SHIELD Gamepad Mapper
Perhaps the biggest addition for Android fans is SHIELD Gamepad Mapper. This allows users to map SHIELD’s physical controls onto the virtual controls and buttons of any game. Depending on the on-screen control scheme for the game, this can be incredibly quick and easy to set up. And once you’ve done it that game is permanently ready to go for you.
There are also default profiles from NVIDIA already available for a hundred popular games, which nearly doubles the number of Android titles that can be played on SHIELD. This number should continue to grow at a far more rapid rate than if it were dependent on developers adding SHIELD support. Users can share the profiles they have created with friends or help build out the main collection by submitting their custom profiles to firstname.lastname@example.org. If they look good enough, they’ll be added in for others to download. You might remember us getting pretty excited about this feature on the Archos Gamepad. Seeing it coupled with this far superior hardware makes it all the better.
The Mini-HDMI port allowed you to turn SHIELD into a big screen console by plugging into your TV, but you were of course then tethered to your TV by the HDMI cable. If you add a bluetooth controller, like the Nyko PlayPad Pro that NVIDIA recommends, into the equation you get to be untethered again. When in Console Mode, SHIELD outputs 1080p at 60 frames a second where supported by apps or games.
In my usage this worked very well with racing games, third person shooters and platformers. One category that seemed to suffer from the slight lag was first person shooters. It’s possible that you would adjust to it, but for me I just felt awkward in an FPS like Dead Trigger 2.
It did occur to me while using Console Mode to control Netflix that, if NVIDIA had an app to control SHIELD from my phone, this setup could take the place of my Roku pretty easily somewhere down the line. As it is, pairing and using a gamepad to do that would feel a bit awkward.
This feature is meant to pull in the PC gaming Android fans. GameStream allows you to play many of the most popular PC games on your SHIELD by streaming them from your PC. This has been available in beta since launch, but NVIDIA was finally ready to yank the beta tag with this update.
Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to test this out myself; I don’t have a PC with a compatible NVIDIA GTX GPU. But from what I hear, it is a remarkably lag-free experience. While it is still limited in that you must remain on the same Wifi network, it does give you the freedom to roam around your house and do your PC gaming in more comfortable spots than wherever your computer is stationed.
There are currently 53 titles supported by GameStream, including most of the biggest titles from the last couple years. Unsupported games can still be streamed to the SHIELD using the Steam Big Picture interface, but your mileage will vary on how well those games are handled by SHIELD.
Android 4.3 and Apps to SD
Disturbingly this means that my SHIELD is running a more current version of Android than my Galaxy Note 2, but I’ll get over it. While SHIELD is perfectly capable of serving as a fully fledged Android device, I use it pretty exclusively for gaming and video streaming. With that use case the version of Android is less pivotal than with my smartphone. That said I’m happy to see NVIDIA keeping their promise that SHIELD will be updated to the current OS in a timely manner.
Considering the main purpose of SHIELD is to run the highest quality games that Android has to offer, it is of little surprise that storage space is a major concern. With this update Apps to SD functionality helps to alleviate this problem, so you can offload some of that game content to a 32GB microSD card rather than being limited to the 16GB of internal storage. This is, of course, dependent on the developer having enabled this option so it won’t be available in all cases.
The Gamepad Mapper feature alone makes this update a substantial one for SHIELD. The advantage of SHIELD having access to the Play Store was severely limited by the need for developers to specifically support a controller. That is now pretty much a concern of the past, and I suspect we’ll see thousands of titles in the Gamepad Mapper database once users get their hands on this update and start building their own custom profiles.
The big question remains whether PC gamers can be swayed by SHIELD. NVIDIA is doing what they can to reach out to this audience with a limited time bundle deal that offers customers a $100 or $50 discount on a SHIELD with the purchase of a compatible NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics card. The bundle also includes copies of “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” Splinter Cell: Blacklist” and “Batman: Arkham Origins.” This could be enough to tip the scales and get some new blood taking a serious look at SHIELD.
NVIDIA is well aware that they have an uphill battle convincing buyers that a dedicated Android gaming device is worth $250, but SHIELD has been the best piece of Android gaming hardware from day one. This software update makes it a much more compelling product, as it opens up virtually the entire Android game library. It has changed the way I personally feel about quite a few Android games, first person shooters in particular. Games that I formerly felt were nearly unplayable now seem much more like console quality games. So, selfishly, I’m hoping that SHIELD succeeds; I want more of those high quality titles to while away the hours on.
Have any of you picked up SHIELD? If not, does any of the new functionality have you considering it? If the new features alone aren’t convincing then maybe this new, let’s call it quirky, ‘review’ of SHIELD will do the trick.