Device Review: Nvidia SHIELD Tablet

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A little over a year ago, Nvidia decided to change the game–literally. The Nvidia SHIELD Portable was announced, released, and was very well received. Here we are, shortly following the announcement of a new, and epic, generation of mobile device processors, and Nvidia has officially released their next SHIELD installment, the Nvidia SHIELD Tablet.

Hardware

One of the chief complaints we saw with the original SHIELD Portable was the screen size and resolution. A 5” screen with 720p resolution was usable for most tasks, but could get to be a bit of a strain on the eyes after a while. Nvidia has attempted to address this with an 8”, 1920 x 1200 display (which is, by the way, quite nice).

Check out Jordan’s Video Review:

Hardware specifications:

Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® K1 192 core Kepler GPU,2.2 GHz ARM Cortex A15 CPU
RAM 2GB
Display 8-inch 1920×1200 multi-touch Full HD display
Audio Front facing stereo speakers, dual bass reflex port with built-in microphone
Storage 32 GB (WiFi+4G LTE) / 16 GB (WiFi-only)
Wireless 802.11n 2×2 Mimo 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-FiBluetooth 4.0 LE, GPS / GLONASS
Connectivity WiFi+4G LTE or WiFi-only, Mini-HDMI, Micro-USB 2.0, MicroSD slot, 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack with microphone
Camera Front: 5MP HDR;Back: 5MP auto focus HDR
Stylus DirectStylus 2 with 3D Paint (Included)
Battery 19.75 Watt Hours

 

As you can probably imagine, with the Tegra K1 and 2GB of RAM, this thing eats up games for breakfast.

Accessories

As this latest SHIELD is a standalone tablet, if you want to interact with your games like you did on the SHIELD portable, you’ll need a controller. With most other devices, this means pairing a Bluetooth controller. This usually introduces a bit of latency, which could mean the difference between getting a headshot and BEING headshot.

With the SHIELD Tablet, Nvidia released the SHIELD controller, a WiFi-direct solution that promises lower latency and easier pairing. In practice, both of these claims appear to be true.

Additionally, a magnetic tablet cover is available that makes it simple to stand the tablet up on a flat surface so you can keep right on gaming with the wireless controller.

Software

As with the SHIELD Portable, the tablet comes with a version of Android KitKat (specifically, version 4.4.2) that is only minimally customized, adding in pieces and parts to make the controller and stylus work appropriately, as well as whatever’s necessary for game streaming and recording. This means that updates can, and should, come frequently, as they have with the original SHIELD.

This also means that rooting the device is quite painless, as you can see in the following video:

Audio

Sound is one place where the SHIELD Tablet really shines. With most Android devices, and especially most tablets, speakers come in the form of one or two small, tinny speakers at the bottom, or the back, of the device.

The SHIELD Tablet has front facing stereo speakers as well as bass reflex ports on the side, which makes for some truly decent sound quality. I rarely found myself bumping the volume over about 50%, because the speakers were just that loud, clear, and crisp sounding.

Screen

This is another area where the SHIELD Tablet shines. It’s easy to throw around numbers like 8” and 1920×1200, but it doesn’t do it justice. The colors are vivid, and the viewing angles are excellent.

Game Recording / Streaming

One new feature introduced with the SHIELD Tablet is the ability to record screencasts directly from the device, including the built-in camera and microphone. This really makes this device a unique experience, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve only tested this functionality a few times, and it seems to be a bit hit-or-miss. It records at a strange resolution, 1728×1080, presumably because the native screen resolution is 1920×1200 instead of 1920×1080. Additionally, the audio can sometimes go wildly out of sync from the video. Rebooting the device seems to take care of that issue, but you don’t know about it until after the recording, so it’s safest to just reboot before you’re going to record anything.

The built-in microphone really isn’t all that bad. My initial tests made me think it might be, but as it turns out, if you’re using the wireless controller, it attempts to use the microphone in it instead, which IS a pretty rough microphone.

Built-in streaming to Twitch.tv is also supported, which is absolutely awesome. You have to turn the quality down before attempting it, but still, it’s an all-in-one game streaming solution.

The downside of all of this, as I hinted earlier, is some glitchiness in the software. I attempted to record gameplay of games like Half-Life 2, but if I tried to leave the camera turned on while doing so, the game would immediately crash. I believe most of these things will be fixed, in due time, with software upgrades.

Camera

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is a tablet. Please don’t use it as a camera.

That said, the pictures I took with the rear-facing camera were… well, not great. 5MP doesn’t go quite as far as it used to, so they were blurry and grainy. However, for the front-facing camera, while it’s still a bit grainy, it’s leaps and bounds better than a lot of other front-facing cameras, and given that its primary intention is to be used while streaming or recording games, it works extremely well for that!

Stylus

A stylus is not something you’d normally talk about with a tablet, but this is a bit of an exception. The stylus of the original Tegra Note has been revamped a bit for the SHIELD tablet, with excellent results. I’m no artist, but the stylus has been extremely easy to use and feels very sturdy and solid in the hand, allowing for fine-grained control.

Unfortunately, the stylus doesn’t appear to work with all other devices, though it DID work with the HP Slate 7 Extreme, which also uses Nvidia DirectStylus technology.

Battery Life

According to Nvidia, the battery in the tablet is 19.75 Watt hours. That should equate to about 5200 mAh, which is just above average for a tablet of this size. In practice, I usually don’t find myself sitting down with a device like this for more than a couple of hours at a time, so I regularly saw several days of battery life, but my gaming was probably lighter than average. With heavier usage, of course you’d be able to drain the battery in just a few hours, but that can be said of just about any device with any battery size.

Conclusion

As a “next step” in the SHIELD family, the new SHIELD tablet is definitely a very worthwhile addition. Excellent performance, interesting software additions, amazing sound quality make it a powerful combo, not just for gaming, but for everyday tasks, media consumption, and even a bit of artistry. With a price tag of $299/$399 (and even more if you want the wireless controller and magnetic device cover) it’s a bit on the steep side, but if you’re looking for a good all-around tablet, and an especially good gaming tablet, this is the one.


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