NVIDIA SHIELD Review; Android & More
When it was announced NVIDIA’s SHIELD became one of the most talked-about gaming devices around since it was as unexpected as it was mysterious.
At the time, NVIDIA’s Jens Hsun Huang showed a handheld Android-based, Tegra 4-powered handheld console with a flip-up screen that promised to be a one-stop shop for numerous technologies that had been announced previously. TegraZone, GeForce Experience and GeForce GRID were all thrown into the melting pot of SHIELD with a healthy dose of PC-to-device streaming.
With all of these individual yet disconnected items being combined into one product, there were some challenges which eventually led to SHIELD’s delay last month. However, the device is now launching, though some of its prominent features are still in beta.
At its heart, SHIELD can act as a compact communication hub for Android, the PC and streaming high definition (and Ultra HD) content from either the internet or through a wireless network. The latter task is accomplished by the incorporation of Steam’s Big Picture mode alongside GeForce Experience on the host PC. This facilitates point-to-point video optimizations and rendering.
The Android part of the equation is accomplished in a straightforward manner: by using Google’s 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system. With it, the entire Google Play library opens up, from games to apps to potential custom hacks. Since NVIDIA is using Jelly Bean’s default configuration without a custom wrapper, SHIELD’s OS is easily updatable via Over the Air software packages, much like Google’s Nexus devices.
TegraZone is the glue that binds all of these disparate functions together. It acts as a jump-off point for every one of the NVIDIA-centric features like Steam and facilitates finding of SHIELD-supported Android gaming titles in the Google Play Store.
NVIIDA’s cloud gaming service named GRID aims to pre-render games online and stream them to any device, potentially removing the PC’s place in the this ecosystem. However, its place in SHIELD’s world is a bit less defined as the other technologies since it will only be integrated once ISPs decide to start using NVIDIA’s backbone for their upcoming cloud gaming services. No dates for this have been set but we’re likely looking at years rather than months. Until then, NVIDIA has no plans to host a GRID-like service themselves due to the massive investment in infrastructure such a goal would require.
SHIELD’s hardware specifications are what you’d expect from a high end Android tablet but with a few twists that are tailor-made to ensure maximum portability and optimal ergonomics.
The true heart of this device is the Tegra 4 SoC which boasts 72 graphics cores alongside a more typical quad core ARM Cortex A15 processor. In this iteration it boasts a clock speed of 2.1GHz and the NVIDIA i500 LTE modem from the Tegra 4i has been discarded in favor of a standard WiFi chipset. There’s also a GPS module and Bluetooth 3.0 which can be used to play multiplayer games with another SHIELD.
On the storage front, NVIDIA has kept things relatively minimal with just 16GB of onboard space for games and other apps but this can be easily expanded through the use of SHIELD’s onboard mini SD card slot. That slot will support SD cards up to 256GB although there’s currently no way to utilize that extra space for games or applications. NVIDIA should be rolling out a software update to fix this in the coming months.
The one item which may raise some eyebrows is the 5” IPS screen. While it has a relatively good 720P resolution, a diagonal size of just 5” is quite small even by the standards of some superphones, let alone tablets. It may one-up the PS Vita’s meager 5” OLED unit in pixel density, color reproduction and resolution but many gamers will want a bit more real estate.
The cost of SHIELD has been anything but a closely guarded secret. At first it was pegged at $349, thus competing directly against Apple’s iPad Mini 16GB and Google’s very capable Nexus 7 3G 32GB. Since then, NVIDIA has optimized their cost structure and is now offering SHIELD at $299, though Google has upped the ante with a new Nexus 7.
With many fully capable portable gaming devices on the market, not to mention the ability of smartphones to act as multi function devices, many have been wondering NVIDIA’s reasoning behind SHIELD. Even the Nexus 7 can be set up with a PS3 controller and allows for gaming across a reasonably large screen area. But, even though the SHIELD is bulky and quite expensive, it is the first device that can offer a truly all-inclusive gaming environment, bringing several dissimilar platforms under one roof. Will be enough to convince gamers to invest in a relatively new concept? That remains to be seen.
In this review we will be shying away from giving you a boatload of benchmarks for two reasons: by this point we all know how well the Tegra 4 performs and what its shortcomings are. SHIELD is about an experience rather than an endless litany of charts. We’ll be focusing on how successful NVIDIA has been in keeping their promises of a clean, seamless experience.
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