As I discussed in our launch article last week, the Shield tablet is very much the culmination of lessons learned from 2013. While the Tegra Note 7 was a decent tablet, it had to eke out a profit through hardware sales against competition that was willing to sell their tablets with no profit on hardware. Meanwhile the Shield portable was a good portable gaming device, but it was far too specialized to be anything but a gaming device. Without an established gaming ecosystem, NVIDIA struggled against established competitors.

As a result of these influences, today NVIDIA is becoming the first OEM to launch a serious gaming tablet running Android. While gaming tablets have been done before, they’ve been few and far between. Now it has always been technically possible to take a high end tablet and make it usable for gaming, but for the most part these attempts are marred by either the need for root or an application that requires extensive work on the part of the user to create proper control profiles for each game. In addition, the SoC in the tablet is often underequipped for intensive 3D gaming.

That’s where the Shield tablet comes in. With Tegra K1, a dedicated controller, 2x2 WiFi, and a huge amount of custom software, there’s definitely a lot of ground to cover. Once again, while the Shield tablet is a gaming device, it must also be a good tablet. To that end, NVIDIA has tried to differentiate this tablet with DirectStylus 2 and dual front facing speakers/bass reflex ports. I’ve included a table of specifications below to give a general idea of what the tablet is like.

  NVIDIA Shield Tablet
SoC Tegra K1 (2.2 GHz 4x Cortex A15r3, Kepler 1 SMX GPU)
RAM/NAND 2 GB DDR3L-1866, 16/32GB NAND + microSD
Display 8” 1920x1200 IPS LCD
Network N/A or 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (NVIDIA Icera i500 UE Category 3/4 LTE)
Dimensions 221 x 126 x 9.2mm, 390 grams
Camera 5MP rear camera, 1.4 µm pixels, 1/4" CMOS size. 5MP FFC
Battery 5197 mAh, 3.8V chemistry (19.75 Whr)
OS Android 4.4.2
Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GLONASS, mini HDMI 1.4a
SIM Size None or MicroSIM
Price $299 or $399 (16GB/WiFi or 32GB/LTE) + $59 (optional controller)

Hardware

Outside of the basic specs, the tablet itself has a much more subtle industrial and material design. While the large speaker grilles are maintained from the Tegra Note 7, the dimpled look and feel is gone. Instead, the finish is very much reminiscent of the Nexus 5. The feel isn’t quite rubbery the way soft touch finishes tend to be. Instead, it feels more like a high grain matte polycarbonate. Along the sides, there’s a noticeable chamfered edge where the back cover meets the display, although in practice this mostly affects aesthetics rather than in hand feel. The flip cover that is designed for the device is almost identical to the one in the Tegra Note 7, and folds up similarly. As with the Tegra Note 7, there are two angles that the flip cover can take. Overall, the aesthetic is much more subtle than the Tegra Note 7, and looks quite similar to the Nexus 7 (2013).

While it’s important for the tablet portion of the device to have decent material and industrial design, ergonomics and material design are critical for the controller. While the Shield portable had great ergonomics, it was heavy because the entire device had to fit in the controller. With Shield Tablet, that’s no longer the case. The result is that the controller is significantly lighter. While it still has some heft to it, I no longer feel the need to rest my hands against a table after significant playtime.

The controller itself is just as good as the one on the Shield Portable. The buttons, triggers, bumpers, and joysticks are all very close in feel. The one big difference are the tablet/Android controls. Instead of physical buttons, they’ve replaced the physical buttons with capacitive ones. The volume controls have also been moved down to the bottom of the controller and changed from a single button that triggers on-display volume controls to a rocker that allows direct manipulation of volume. Just above the volume rocker is a clickpad, which can be used to move a cursor through the UI. While this option exists, it’s a bit unpolished as the sensitivity isn’t tuned quite right to quickly navigate through the tablet.

Of course, there’s more to the controller than just the buttons and controls. NVIDIA has made sure to do things right by using WiFi Direct for communicating between the controller and the tablet. The frequency used depends upon what access point the tablet is connected to, so it can switch between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz as necessary. NVIDIA claims that using WiFi Direct instead of Bluetooth drops latency by half, and also allows for microphone input and sound output via 3.5mm jack through the controller. In practice, the controller works great. I don’t have any complaints about this at all. Pairing is as simple as pressing and holding on the NVIDIA logo for a few seconds, then opening the pairing application. Up to four controllers can be paired to the tablet this way, which introduces interesting possibilities for local multiplayer games such as Trine 2. I also didn’t notice a difference in response time of the wireless controller when compared to the wired controller of Shield Portable. It’s incredibly important to get the controller right for gaming devices, and NVIDIA has nailed it. Overall, I’m happy with the basic hardware for both the controller and tablet. While it would be interesting to see a metal unibody design on the tablet, it’s difficult to justify at the price point that this device has to hit.

Of course, while hardware is important, software makes or breaks this tablet, so that’s next.

Software: DirectStylus 2, Console Mode, ShadowPlay
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  • ddriver - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    What you mean by "rich colors" is OVER-SATURATION, not color accuracy but the full opposite of it. Most games actually prefer TN panels because of their fast refresh rates, and TN panels' color accuracy suks big time. Reply
  • aliquis - Sunday, November 09, 2014 - link

    Regardless it's fair to say most gamers use TN monitors and those are far from perfect but gamers have used them anyway due to speed or price. Reply
  • B3an - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    I know for a fact i can see a noticeable difference. In the same way i can easily see a difference between IPS and shitty TN panels. So YOU'RE fooling yourself if you actually believe that. Reply
  • inighthawki - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    And you're showing your foolishness by comparing color accuracy to color precision. The difference between TN and IPS panels typically stems from color depth. Most TN panels are 6 bit color with dithering, while IPS panels can be 8 bit, or 10 bit simulated, producing a higher range of visible color.

    Here we are talking about the ACCURACY of colors. i.e. that shade of blue appears as (10, 24, 237) instead of (11, 28, 233). While playing a game, this kind of thing is generally unnoticeable, because you do not have a reference image or render to define what it should look like in the first place. In rare cases when you have large swatches of deep vivid colors you might notice they are a bit undersaturated, but for the most part, the lighting and texture quality in even AAA titles do not produce this kind of photorealism.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    And in the end, it is all relative, since all humans perceive colors differently. This is not an issue for calibrating equipment, which itself can be calibrated, but the human eye is an analogue instrument and no calibration for its color reproduction currently exists.

    Color accuracy is vital only in one field - and that is content creation. I paid 7k for a "reference" screen and 4k for reference audio monitors, and exactly for that reason. But for content consumption it is irrelevant, considering most users don't even have pro-grade equipment and the content is going to be consumer on a wide range of devices, ranging from totally cr@ppy to above decent.
    Reply
  • niva - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    Seriously, the color accuracy being 1% or even 10% off will really mess up your gaming experience? Color accuracy is wildly irrelevant to anyone but professionals who work in image/print/video production industries. Reply
  • dstarr3 - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    I have to agree that color accuracy in gaming is a non-issue. In developing games, sure. But not in playing them. It's not like anyone is printing screenshots for work. Unless, again, you're a dev. Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    Nah, I am not a moron, in fact I've been an artist in a AAA game studio for 6 years, so I know what I am talking about. You on the other hand might just be that, seeing your "foolproof" argumentation skills :D Reply
  • mikegonzalez2k - Wednesday, August 06, 2014 - link

    Most of these people probably aren't in the industry and hence wouldn't know such things. That is why they are consistently on here instead of working on actual projects. Especially those that comment daily. You have to wonder what they are doing with their life. I wouldn't pay them much attention. It isn't worth it. Reply
  • dcyli - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    HURR DURR, I PLAY GAMES FOR DA COLORS. DUURRR Reply

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