NVIDIA has finally announced its SHIELD Tablet, which had been rumored to hit the market for some time now. As expected, the SHIELD Tablet will use NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 processor, which is its leading-edge mobile chip at the moment. If you don’t know what Tegra K1 is, you may want to check our post about the K1 Performance and what Tegra K1 (formerly called Tegra 5) is.
Designed for Gamers
The SHIELD Tablet is very particular because it has been designed mainly to play games on an Android tablet. While that seems to be true for pretty much every high-end tablet, one should point out two things that are unique to the SHIELD Tablet:
1/ its thermal design has been optimized to allow for sustained performance during long gaming sessions. When people run benchmarks, they often look at a peak performance sustained for a few minutes at most. When you play a game for tens of minutes, if not hours, the accumulated heat can force the main processor to slow down to avoid overheating. NVIDIA says that its tablet is designed to offer peak performance, even in extreme conditions – we’re looking forward to test it.
2/ The game controller of the SHIELD Tablet doesn’t use Bluetooth, but a flavor of WiFi because NVIDIA has managed to cut down on the latency this way. Latency isn’t a big deal when playing casual games, but it’s a real issue when you play something that pushes your skills to the limit.
NVIDIA’s Tegra Note 7 tablet was clearly designed to appeal the mass-market and the build quality was good – “for the price”. With the SHIELD Tablet, NVIDIA has pushed the industrial higher, partly because it has a little more room with the price, but also because it is an NVIDIA-branded product and not a reference design, so NVIDIA is the only controlling, and deciding, what the device is about.
The front speaker placement is optimum and for gaming, it’s a very good thing. Most tablet designs sacrifice speaker placement in the name of design, size or thinness, but gaming needs great sound.
The tablet also comes with a stylus, which uses DirectStylus 2. If you are unfamiliar with the technology, NVIDIA has introduced it with the Tegra Note tablet, and the goal was to provide a user experience which feels close to high-end pressure-sensitive electronic pens, but without the cost.
It works by using a deformable pen tip and some computer analysis to determine how much pressure is applied. While it can’t replace pro tablets for artists, it does a damn good job during sketching and general note-taking.
The gaming experience is optimum with the SHIELD controller ($59), which is a WiFi low-latency (10ms vs. 20ms for Bluetooth, according to NVIDIA) gamepad which based on the industrial design of NVIDIA’s original SHIELD device. In addition to the latency, WiFi also offers higher bandwidth, which NVIDIA uses to power 2-way chats and things like that.
There are some changes obviously, the overall look and feel are the same. I tried it shortly, and I can vouch that it feels very similar, except for some new buttons which don’t directly affect the gameplay. If you already have a favorite controller, don’t worry, Bluetooth is supported as well.
When connected to a TV, the controller is likely to be used as a remote as well. To that end, the user can conveniently launch apps and games using Android’s native voice commands function.
There are 400 SHIELD-Optimized games on Android. What “SHIELD-Optimized” means can vary greatly, but usually, this means that special effects have been added to the game. There are some exclusive Tegra K1 games as well, because NVIDIA is currently the only Android hardware platform to support a full-blown OpenGL 4. x graphics API, which allows games from PC or consoles to be ported without having to go through too many hoops and loops. If NVIDIA can gain traction with K1-based devices, this would create the exact virtuous circle that the company has been seeking ever since it introduced SHIELD.
PC Games Streaming and 4K videos
The SHIELD Tablet is capable of streaming PC Games, and this is very unique to NVIDIA. You can either stream directly to the tablet, or connect the tablet to a TV to benefit from the big screen experience, without the bulk of having a PC in the living room. This would also let gamers put all their resources into a single computer, then use their SHIELD device as a thin-client to play games at 60 FPS in the living room.
More and more PC games are being certified by NVIDIA as being compatible, so this is a pretty nice setup if you happen to be equipped with NVIDIA from end-to-end.
While connected to the TV, the SHIELD Tablet can play 4K movies as well – that said if you are able to find any commercial release. 4K TVs are quickly becoming affordable, but getting any decent content still remains a challenge. Still, if you happen to shoot 4K videos with… your Galaxy S5? You’ll be able to watch it in all its glory.
NVIDIA also built a TV-friendly or “console-like” user interface to lunch games and apps. It is a bit more efficient to use with the controller. It is also possible to launch app shortcuts, which is convenient to launch Netflix or Hulu when the tablet is connected to a TV.
Conclusion: looking good!
After playing for a short time with an early unit, I think that this is looking very good and very promising. There are details that I will come back to when I can use it for several days, but overall, this is an interesting take on the Android tablet market.
"ALREADY ACCELERATING THE ANDROID GAMING LANDSCAPE" Whether or not there is a crowd for a Gaming Tablet, I don’t know, but even if the market is modest, it is clear that support for OpenGL 4.3 and the NVIDIA K1 feature-parity with PC graphics is already accelerating the Android gaming landscape in ways unimaginable just a year ago.
Wanting to create a new sub-segment is always a risky business, but with a starting price of $299 (16GB, WiFi), it won’t alienate potential customers. If anything, the original SHIELD may not have sold by the millions, but its customer base has provided overwhelmingly positive feedback in user reviews. The SHIELD tablet brings a lot of the same qualities, but in a different form-factor.
SHIELD Tablet is available in the USA and Canada right now, from the usual suspects like Amazon, Newegg, and others. Pre-orders are also available in Europe and the list of e-tailers will vary, so checking shield.nvidia.com is probably best.