Let’s face it, the original Nvidia Shield had a face only a gamer could love.
It was the handheld console equivalent of that Xenomorph/human hybrid that unceremoniously disembowelled Dr Gediman in Alien Resurrection. A cross between an oversized Xbox 360 controller and a giant Nintendo DS, the first Nvidia Shield’s bulbous, shiny skeleton was (at first glance) a physical abomination; A shiny forhead-ed behemoth; Incompatible with flamethrowers.
But it wasn’t designed for your eyes, it was built for your hands. The 2013 Nvidia shield proved to us that PC games could be played in good quality on a dedicated handheld system, and a year later the technology has squared up to its next leap forward.
For starters Nvidia’s second generation shield is, in fact, a tablet. But blindingly self-evident observations aside, it is also more powerful, more versatile and more accessible than its predecessor.
Trouble is, it’s also more expensive. While the RRP for the tablet alone matches the 2013 release at £250, buying the controller and cover stand on top will cost you an extra £75. So is it worth the hefty price tag?
Note: For the purposes of this review, we’re going to assume that you’re looking to buy both the Nvidia Shield Tablet and the wireless controller that goes with it. We’re presumptuous like that.
The old Shield’s clamshell design has been well and truly binned. Instead we have an oddly Google Nexus-esque tablet that combines smooth, matte black plastic with some reassuring weight and rigidity. The Nvidia Shield tablet won’t bend or creak if you try to flex it. Indeed, it feels like it can withstand a few rage-quit-flings-across-the-room, yet it’s not clunky or cumbersome.
If you want some extra protection, you can also buy a magnetic cover. Extra durability is one benefit, the real clincher is the fact it doubles up as a handy stand. If you’re going to purchase the controller, the cover is pretty much essential to ensure that you can game comfortably from a distance. It’s a shame though that this isn’t built into the tablet itself – a Surface Pro-style kickstand would not have gone amiss here, and would certainly save customers some extra pennies.
The right side of the shield boasts a power button, volume controls, a microSD slot for expandable storage, a stylus slot and a mini HDMI port. Spin it round to the north facing side, and you’ll find a bass speaker vent, a headphone jack and a micro USB port.
It all combines to make a tablet that is, in a word, solid. Its chunky bezels mean it won’t be strutting down the catwalk any time soon, but then, it doesn’t need to. The wireless controller does all the aesthetic legwork here.
If you buy the Shield Tablet without its controller, you might as well have bought a Bugatti Veron without its steering wheel. This is the conduit for the whole Nvidia gaming experience, and its oversized design compared to the understated tablet is testimony to this.
It’s built like a tank, and it offers nowhere near the same precision as a keyboard and mouse, but somehow that doesn’t matter. The Nvidia controller is reassuringly weighty, and forms the perfect bridge between console and mobile gaming.
Display and sound
On paper the 2014 Shield’s FULL HD IPS screen can’t compete with 2K toting tablets like Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4.
In reality though, unless you play games using your nose as a stylus, you won’t notice a difference. Colours on the Shield Tablet’s display are bright and vivid without becoming cartoony, while the 16:10 aspect ratio is perfectly suited to gaming (if not web browsing.)
There’s a few minor niggles with contrast, however. IPS panels just simply can’t compete with the inky blacks of AMOLED displays and often come off as more of a dark grey. Similarly, the dark whites could do with a good dash of Daz to lift them into “crystal clear” territory – but we’re nitpicking here, in general the screen is sharp and a pleasure to look at.
We were also impressed with the dual-front facing speakers, which project music or the sounds of bullet fire (depending on your gaming mood) straight to your ears without distortion.
Under the hood
The Nvidia Shield launched running Android KitKat 4.4, but since Android Lollipop has come knocking at our doors, Nvidia will soon be welcoming in the upgrade.
The real star of the hardware show though is Nvidia’s shiny new Tegra K1 mobile superchip. Brace yourself for some numbers: The 2.2GHz quad-core A15 SOC boasts Nvidia’s Kepler GPU architecture and 192 CUDA cores alongside 2GB of low power DDR3.
K1 also supports many of the graphical features commonplace in GeForce graphics card including tessellation, HDR lighting, Global illumination, subsurface scattering, and more.
In layman’s terms, it means that the Nvidia Shield Tablet is so slick you could slip on it. A combination of a superpowered K1 processor and 2GB of RAM means it runs smoother than a greased up Usain Bolt, and it comfortably smashed our benchmarks compared to any other tablet on the market.
In terms of battery life, Nvidia claims you’ll get 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery. We found that to be just about right, with the battery lasting most of the day. Charge it every night, and you should be fine.
It wouldn’t be right to end this review without a shout out to one of the Shield Tablet’s greatest features: Streaming games from your PC straight to its portable 8in screen.
Crazy, we know, but if you currently own a PC gaming rig you’ll be familiar with the fact that they don’t particularly enjoy being lugged around. Actually, they probably don’t care either way, but your spine and screaming biceps probably do. Especially if stairs make an appearance.
Streaming PC games on a high-quality portable gaming system means you can enjoy top titles like Gauntlet, Far Cry 3 and Saints Row IV on the shield tablet on the move. All you need is a capable gaming rig with at least an Nvidia 600 series card (if you have an AMD card you’re unfortunately out of luck) or higher, plus you’ll have to install the GeForce Experience software too.
Once that’s done you’re good to go. We gave Batman: Arkham Origins and Gauntlet a bash in this vein, and experienced no lag at all. Pretty neat if you ask us.
This isn’t a portable gaming unit designed for the morning commute. If you’re looking for that, you’re better of going for the original Nvidia Shield console with its all-in-one gaming approach. What the Nvidia Shield Tablet is, however, is one of the best gaming tablets on the market right now.
With top notch gaming performance, cheetah-fast hardware and seamless PC game streaming it really is the kingpin of tablet gaming. Our main gripe is with the humongous price tag that encumbers the whole package.
For the tablet, controller and cover you’re looking at about £315 which, for us, is just that bit too much. Considering that there are very few made-for-Shield titles gracing our virtual shelves, the main selling point is PC game streaming and for more casual gamers that might not be enough.
Still, high price point aside the Nvidia Shield Tablet enjoys major kudos for innovation and pure, unbridled power. And for that, it can have four of our finest stars.
- Awe-inspiringly powerful
- Easy PC streaming
- Solid build