Nvidia Shield Tablet Review25 Aug 2014
We were not entirely convinced by the first generation, hand-held Nvidia Shield. The device offered hand-held gaming and streaming from Nvidia-powered desktops to its small screen, but there was always the potential for more. The solution, and what could be considered a middle ground, is Nvidia’s new Shield Tablet.
This new tablet is aimed firmly at gamers, and specifically PC gamers who want a tablet that can double as a gaming device and provide access to their library of games away from the PC. How is this possible?
Nvidia has equipped the Shield Tablet with what they say is their most powerful mobile processor yet, the Tegra K1. They’ve also apparently gone all-out to squeeze as many features onto the device as possible, and managed to keep it compact with an 8-inch full 1080p HD display. The Shield weighs in at 13.1 ounces, which makes it heavier than some of the competition, but that’s at least partially due to what’s inside the stylish casing.
Included in the device is a 5Mb camera which takes excellent pictures, a Micro USB, Mini HDMI out, MicroSD slot which can take up to 128GB, 3.5mm headphone jack and two speakers mounted either side of the screen. For a tablet, the speakers pump out quality audio although they can sound a little tinny when the volume is cranked up. That’s not a big deal because once you plug in headphones the sound is crystal clear.
This is an Android powered tablet, as you’d expect, so it comes with a variety of preloaded apps like the impressive drawing app, Dabbler. That particular app can be paired with the Shield Tablet’s provided Direct Stylus 2.0. The stylus slots neatly into the casing, meaning it’s hidden away discreetly when not in use on elaborate doodles of art. There are also included apps for audio, video, email, music, and basically all the standard essentials.
But as we’re a gaming site we should really address the features that are specifically aimed at gamers; apps are all very well but you wouldn’t consider purchasing a Shield unless you intended to use it for playing actual games.
To demonstrate the power of the Shield, it comes pre-loaded with a version of Trine 2 designed for the Tegra K1. Loading the game up it’s obvious there’s some quality hardware tucked away in the casing. The game looks and plays fantastic (as, admittedly, it does on fairly modest desktop PCs,) and it’s a good indicator for what’s in store when it comes to hooking up your Nvidia-GPU desktop PC to the Shield Tablet with Gamestream. There’s a list of supported games up on the Nvidia site which indicates the supported titles in the “Shield Hub.”
The Shield comes pre-loaded with everything needed to hook the tablet to a PC, but Gamestream must be enabled to gain access to titles hosted on the PC via the tablet. Assuming you have the right hardware in your PC (check this by loading up the GeForce experience) when you launch the Nvidia Shield Hub on the tablet it will show all the available PCs you can connect to. A code is issued on the tablet which then needs to be inserted on the PC to grant the tablet access to the relevant games library.
Initially I had a problem of not be able to connect to one particular PC, but after some reading of the Shield forums it was because there’s a new version of the GeForce experience which can be downloaded and installed. At time of writing this had not been pushed live as a full release. However, it did resolve the problem and all PCs could then be found on the tablet.
With the GeForce Experience working, it’s simply a matter of searching for the PC and activating that special code. Once this is punched in, hitting the Nvidia app brings up the GeForce Experience on the tablet. From here there’s a menu to select either the GeForce Experience supported games on your PC or to launch into Steam. This then gives complete access to your game library.
There is one very important thing to note and that’s the issue of wi-fi strength. If the wi-fi connection strength is low, you’re going to struggle with streaming games. Having said that, I have tested this out and games such as South Park The Stick of Truth can stream just fine with a low signal. It’s when you start to test with reaction-sensitive shooters like Sniper Elite 3 or Call of Duty: Ghosts that it’s important to have a nice strong signal.
A lot of PC games also require more than just a controller to work. Shooters are usually fine, but games that don’t have solid controller support will either not be controllable or are too fiddly to deal with on a tablet. So that places further limitations on what you can actually play.
This brings me to the Shield Tablet Controller, which is actually a really solid controller and much better than I expected. Similar to a 360 controller in size and shape, it connects to the Shield without fuss. You can use it to navigate around the apps, and it will also really help in getting the most from your GeForce Experience. The controller has all the bells and whistles, including a touch pad which is great when you want to use it for app navigation and is even helpful for some games. All the sticks and D-Pads you’d expect are present and correct too, so you’re never left groping for a control option that isn’t there.
Here’s the down side: the controller is a separate purchase that’ll set you back fifty quid.
The question you no doubt want answered is are games that are being streamed actually playable? The answer is yes. I tested this next to a monitor to see what the delay was like, and if the wi-fi signal is solid there’s no notable delay. I died lots in an online game of COD: Ghosts, but that can only be blamed on the fact that it’s not a game I would usually play on a controller. The streaming performance was excellent.
Earlier in the article I mentioned that Trine 2 comes installed on the Shield and I want to mention it again because on the Shield Tablet it looks stunning. Not content with playing in on the Shield directly, I hooked the device up to the 46” TV via the mini-HDMI port. As soon as it’s connected, the Shield will ask if you want to switch to “console” mode and voila, the tablet screen turns off and the TV kicks in.
Trine 2 on the large TV playing directly from the tablet was outstanding. The colours, performance and audio were all top notch. Here was a great example of the Shield’s power when you play a game that’s been specifically optimised for the Tegra K1.
While the tablet was still hooked up to the TV we managed to stream games directly from the PC, accessing the Steam library with no problem and running some of the GeForce Experience supported games. It’s worth noting that games run through Steam sometimes don’t always shut down properly when you quit the game via the tablet. This means that although the tablet indicates that the game is closed, it may still be running on the hosting PC. Until the game is closed by shutting it down on the PC, the tablet won’t be able to launch another game because the PC is still in use. This can be a little frustrating, so hopefully Nvidia will continue to tweak the software.
With the software on the tablet designed to function alongside the PC GeForce Experience, there’s the ability use Shadowplay for recording and the ability to stream direct to Twitch from the tablet.
When the tablet is utilising the power of a host PC for game streaming, the battery life is going to last around 10 hours+. Longer if you’re just using the tablet functions. I did notice the battery drain faster when testing Trine 2 directly, which is no surprise as the tablet was running the game itself. Overall, the battery life should be more than adequate for a gamer or straight tablet user and it drained slower than I expected.
I’ve experimented quite a lot with streaming to TVs with other devices in the past six months, and the Shield Tablet has given some of the best results I’ve seen so far compared to generic netbooks and laptops. This came as a bit of a surprise because we are talking about a small tablet here, not a full PC. Thanks to the hardware combination inside the Shield Tablet, Nvidia has created a multifunctional device with gamer appeal.
I’ve been using the tablet as much as possible for the past week and I’m really impressed with it. If you’re a gamer and looking for both an excellent tablet and a device that can also satisfy your mobile gaming itch then I would highly recommend the Shield Tablet as a portable, powerful option.