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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  • sherlockwing - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    If and only if you are color blind. Reply
  • Moizy - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    Crappy? It's no iPad Air or Nexus 7, but it's still good. Read Josh's article from the other day where he went back to the archives and tested smartphone panels that were once awesome in their day. Just 3 years ago we were praising the contrast of SAMOLED and the great resolutions those phones had. The Shield Tablet is leaps and bounds ahead of them, in accuracy, gamut, and pixel density, and just a tier below the iPad Airs and Nexus 7s of the world. For $300 and all this tablet can do, I would highly recommend this tablet to most anyone, and still plan on getting one for work and graduate school. Reply
  • boozed - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    After reading "crappy" I was expecting a much worse result than the reality expressed in the review, so that's an exaggeration.

    I wouldn't be surprised if this screen still outperforms the majority of desktop gaming monitors out of the box.
    Reply
  • edlee - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    this soc it a powerhouse, nvidia is stupid that they do not mass produce it for mass produced products from HTC and Samsung. They made tablet GPU that is faster than Intel HD4000, which is pretty significant.

    But Nvidia doesn't have enough brand cognition for the simple consumer to know this is a killer product, not sure why you dont hear more partners for this soc.
    Reply
  • melgross - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    They do, but few manufacturers seem to want their SoC's. Reply
  • johnny_boy - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    I don't get why since they make a pretty damn compelling SoC. Sure, previous generations weren't very exciting, but those were previous generations! Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - link

    Fool me once (Tegra1), shame on me.
    Fool me twice (Tegra2), shame on you.
    Fool me thrice (Tegra3), screw you!
    Fool me a fourth time (Tegra4), I'll never listen to you again.

    After all the hypocrisy and broken promises and what not from nVidia from the previous generations, is it really any wonder that no one wants to trust them again? All the big phone/tablet manufacturers are going to sit out this round and let nVidia go it alone. Maybe some smaller vendors will nibble at the line, and maybe some of them will have some successes with Tegra K1. But you won't see any major vendors using Tegra K1 until it proves itself in the market.

    If nVidia hadn't burned so many bridges with Tegras 1-3 they'd be in a better position to take on Qualcomm, Samsung, ARM, and Intel. But, even with how good this SoC may be, it's still too little, too late.

    Don't screw over your customers if you want them to be repeat customers!
    Reply
  • TheJian - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    You're mistaken. It was the only thing at google IO. In their automotive, their developer device (tango), TV, and it seems nexus tablet coming for gamers (9in IIRC).

    Too little too late? ROFL. It dominated the 805 and everything else here. Right on time is more like it. It will be in Google's Nov HTC Nexus 9 tablet at least. Mipad from xaiomi, Lenovo Thinkvision AIO 28, of course Jetson dev board also. I'm guessing A shield R2 coming shortly too with 1440x810 as the other specs that floated around showed (which clearly isn't this tablet, and it supposedly has 4GB ram, so again not this device). Small volumes right now probably prevent a dual launch of both shield products or they may wait for Denver since there is already quite a bit of interested parties using it as noted. If all you can produce goes to the above mentioned devices shield 2 may have to wait a bit.
    Reply
  • akdj - Sunday, August 03, 2014 - link

    Unfortunately, when ya want the 'power'. The promise of the 'performance'. And probably most importantly in today's mass market, it's 'efficiency'. Sure, they're flat hauling ASS in these benchmarks @ full tilt but a couple hours off the wall and you're done (with a AAA game that's the main draw to this tablet, right? --- I can't imagine the 'power' browser, or super reader or the 'AA' games I'm enjoying , Dark Room, The Room. Sometimes ya die. Maybe some car racing and if I've got the time an RPG FPS or an MMO, it's rare. In fact with my nine year old son it's 'his' time on my iDevices playing the games, the AA games that kick incredible ass but aren't AAA because they're not in a computer, console or dedicated gaming system. Laughable. I'm 43 and Ultima, Myst and Diablo A & B. Not the latest. Those were my games. Ultima online, I don't have the time nor do most 'tablet clients'. This is a niche product and an SoC with extreme limitations if you're taxing it's power. Obviously, using it as a movie watching, media browsing and light productivity....it's amazing efficiency. But, argument of color aside....we are moving to a HiDPI world with excellent color production on phones, tablets computers and TVs/4k, et al. If the screen is subjectively by the author after objective measurements confirming it.... 'Washed out' sounds lame. So does a pair of hours if I want to game a bit while on a three plus hour flight. A8 from Apple, Quallcomm NAND their 64bit architecture, significantly deeper libraries of apps, games and general interest software, Apple and Samsung, nor Google or ASUS, HTC LG or ABC going to take this risk again and it's exactly that. A speed demon you're unable to take advantage of if you're away for a charger. And a tablet plugged in = a major PITA. SoCs have to strike a balance. And with Metal/A8/Continuity and Google's response to come. Samsung's readying the new Note 4. Possible 805? With the 420, it'll fly through a helluva lot of games. And it's display is going to best the best today. The S5 from the same family. AMOLED has come a long way. IPS display with 'washed out' colors isn't appealing. Reply
  • akdj - Sunday, August 03, 2014 - link

    No edit. Wasn't supposed to be Quallcom's NAND. Rather Qualcomm and their 64 bit response to second generation 64bit A8. Cool and exciting to have the completion but yeah, burned three times it was tough to trust a fourth gen to leave the shelf without the reliability of ARM, Snapdragon and the 'A' series Apple tweaked ARM SoCs. Both dedicated AND delivering with incredible improvements. Look at Note 1-->Note 3's benches. iPhone 4-->5s. Two years and mind bending speed, efficiency and even more software ('apps') then before with more possibilities. Intel now in w/BayTrail, I'm wishing nVidia the best. I'm a fan Reply

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