Almost exactly one year ago, NVIDIA shipped the original SHIELD, now known as the SHIELD Portable, and promised a no compromises mobile gaming experience. The hardware delivered on that promise right out of the gate, and over the course of the year NVIDIA continued to refine and expand on the software for SHIELD until it was the equal of the hardware. Today we are seeing the company leverage that software in a new form factor with the SHIELD Tablet.
A Tablet First
The original SHIELD is a purpose-built mobile gaming device that is unlikely to appeal to those that don’t identify as hardcore gamers. That is a valuable niche and one that NVIDIA is of course intimately familiar with, but NVIDIA saw an opportunity with the SHIELD Tablet to reach a broader audience while still delivering an unsurpassed mobile gaming experience.
Job one with the SHIELD Tablet was to deliver an excellent Android tablet that could hold its ground against the rest of the general tablet market.
As with the SHIELD Portable, the tablet is running stock Android and launches with KitKat. Updates come directly from NVIDIA without any middle man to slow things down, and if the SHIELD Portable is any indication, you can rely on quick and consistent updates.
NVIDIA, unlike Apple, sees a stylus as a useful tool for a tablet and so it decided to build one directly into the SHIELD Tablet. Using the DirectStylus2 technology found in the Tegra K1, it is able to offer a vastly better passive stylus experience than previously possible. NVIDIA’s own Dabbler drawing app, exclusive to the SHIELD Tablet, exhibits some of the power of the K1 with real-time water physics. The video below gives a nice overview of the capabilities offered by DirectStylus2. As a long time Galaxy Note owner I appreciate the stylus integration and I’m excited to get my hands on it and see how it compares.
“The Ultimate Tablet for Gamers”
While that solid foundation as a tablet that could appeal to anyone was of the utmost importance this is a SHIELD device from NVIDIA so it is still absolutely designed with the gamer in mind. I think even non-gamers will find that the features cherished by gamers are, in most cases, features that benefit any tablet user.
The Tegra K1 at the core of the SHIELD Tablet is the star of the show. The K1 is built on the same Kepler architecture found in high-end gaming PCs which, according to NVIDIA, will greatly reduce the work of developers that are looking to bring their work over from the PC side. At launch there are 11 games specifically optimized for the K1 (there are over 400 optimized for the SHIELD platform) including Trine 2, which comes pre-installed on every SHIELD Tablet. The rest of the games K1 optimized games available at launch are: War Thunder, Portal, Half-Life 2, Talos Principle, Pure Chess, Rochard, Anomaly 2, Flyhunter: Origins, Dungeon Defenders Eternity and Chuck’s Challenge 3D: Reloaded.
You hear us singing the praises of the front-facing speakers on the HTC One line every time we review them, and NVIDIA wisely went with the same design for the SHIELD Tablet. Other tablet manufacturers are wising up to this one as well, but glad to see NVIDIA nail this on its first time out.
The SHIELD Tablet sports an 8-inch Full HD (1920 x 1200) IPS display, and while some may have preferred a larger screen that sacrifices portability, this is meant to be a device that allows you to bring a console level gaming experience everywhere with you.
You can check out the rest of the specs on NVIDIA’s site if you want all the details.
The rebranded SHIELD Hub app is the central repository for all of your gaming and media on the SHIELD Tablet. Through this app you can access all your Android games, GameStream capable PC games and media streaming apps. The original version of this app on the SHIELD was already quite well done and, at least at first glance, Hub looks like an excellent evolution.
The aforementioned GameStream is one of the absolute killer features of SHIELD if you are a PC gamer with a compatible graphics card. (Any GeForce GTX 600 or above card will cut it.) This is the feature that allows you to play your PC games on the SHIELD device and, while Android games are becoming increasingly graphically rich and deep, the experience of playing a full PC title on a mobile device is still taking things to another level entirely. This feature came out of beta last October and has been virtually flawless on my home network. Again, if you are a PC gamer, this feature should have you rushing out to order the SHIELD Tablet.
Remote GameStream which allows you to play your PC games on either WiFi or LTE away from home remains in beta at the moment. For obvious reasons it doesn’t deliver the same quality as when you are running at home, but I have been impressed with the performance and find it playable for most of my games. Functionality this is a video stream of your games, so it isn’t any more of a bandwidth hog than streaming video if you are running on LTE.
Console Mode brings your games from your SHIELD device to your TV when you want a big screen experience, and with one of the accessories that I’ll mention in the next section, this feature will become much more enticing.
In moving from a gaming handheld to a tablet, the most obvious sacrifice is the loss of the hardware controls. The SHIELD Tablet will handle any touch-based game you throw at it, but as NVIDIA proved with the original SHIELD, there are many games that are better played with a hardware controller.
The SHIELD Wireless Controller brings the same high-quality hardware controls that exist on the SHIELD Portable to the SHIELD Tablet. The controller relies on WiFi Direct to pair with the tablet that gives it two times lower latency than a Bluetooth controller. That also lets it handle a headset jack to pass the audio to and from your SHIELD Tablet. Up to four controllers can be paired with the tablet at a time. Pair this with the Console Mode and you really do have a convincing console replacement that is both less expensive and a lot more portable than the competition.
SHIELD Tablet Cover not only shields your SHIELD from the harsh realities of the outside world, but it functions as a stand so you aren’t propping your tablet up while gaming.
Pricing and Availability
The 16GB WiFi SHIELD Tablet will be $299 and is the only one available for pre-order today. The 32GB LTE model bumps up to $399 and will follow in about a month and a half.
The Wireless Controller and Cover are also available for pre-order through NVIDIA today and will cost you $59.99 and $39.99 respectively.
The tablet and accessories will all start shipping on July 29th, so you aren’t in for a long wait. If you are outside the US, the SHIELD Tablet, unlike the SHIELD Portable, is going to be available globally but not until next month.
SHIELD Portable 2?
NVIDIA made it abundantly clear that they are not done with the SHIELD Portable line. The existing SHIELD Portable will be receiving a software update on July 29th adding the SHIELD Hub app among other things. And while they had no specifics at this time, they said that fans of the SHIELD Portable form factor should stay, so it’s a safe bet that a Tegra K1-powered SHIELD Portable will be coming in the not so distant future.
The reaction to the leaked info over the weekend, which proved entirely on the mark, seemed largely positive. So with everything now laid bare, are some of you still in for NVIDIA’s vision of a gaming-focused tablet?