NVIDIA Shield Gaming Tablet Review

The Ultimate Tablet for Gamers?

by Greg Hook
Tech Review

58

Highly Recommended
NVIDIA Shield Gaming Tablet Review
SRP: £239.99

What is the Nvidia Shield Tablet?

When it was announced last year, the Nvidia Shield Portable was certainly met with a lot of derision from certain camps, including this reviewer.

It seemed to be an ill thought out device resembling a cheap handheld games console from a bygone era. A flop, for sure. Whilst Nvidia have been very tight lipped on the sales numbers, they have admitted they weren't very high. But for those that have used the Shield Portable, it turned out to be a great little device. Very well supported by Nvidia with constant updates, new games appearing all the time that were compatible with the Gamestream service and it seemed to work. Positive feedback is all well and good but a product lives and dies by the sales numbers and with the Shield Portable, Nvidia didn't seem particularly bothered about the low sales, almost as if it was just a proof of concept device, with something much bigger and better to follow.
Well something much bigger and better has potentially arrived. The Nvidia Shield Tablet is the follow-up device to the Shield Portable. Rather than having a fixed 5" screen attached to a controller, here we have an 8" Android Tablet which you can attach controllers to (either wired or wireless) and one that offers all the functionality of the original such as game streaming via a PC. With a particularly impressive specification including the mighty Nvidia Tegra K1 192 Core Kepler GPU, 2.2Ghz ARM Cortex A15 CPU, 2GB RAM and a 1920 x 1200 IPS LED display coupled with 16GB storage (32GB on 4G models) the Shield Tablet certainly offers a lot on paper for just £239.99 (October 2014). Read on to see how well it performs...

What about the design and connections?

The Shield Tablet has been designed for gamers and that definitely rings true in the overall look of the device. It's a very plain and understated and, if you are a fan of black, then you will be happy, here. No fancy bells or whistles, no glowing logos, chrome trims or anything that isn't needed to provide the ultimate portable gaming experience. To the front we find a pair of speaker grilles at each end, along with a 5MP HDR camera and no physical buttons at all, not even a home button. Each end has a bass reflex port, too. The rear also has a 5MP HDR camera and has a rubberised feel which is very comfortable to hold, which is handy as it's a chunky little thing.

NVIDIA Shield
Weighing in at 373g, with dimensions of 221mm wide, 126mm high and 9mm thick, it's over 80g heavier and another 2mm thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4", for example. But being a little on the heavy side, it does feel very well built and solid with no twisting or flexing present. The power button is our only let down, here. It feels too flimsy and often takes a few attempts to get it to work. All the connections are here that you would expect. To the left (in portrait mode) we have a headphone socket, Micro-USB 2.0 port used for connecting a controller or the power charger and a Mini-HDMI (1.4a) output. To the top we have a microSD card slot (up to 128GB), power and volume buttons and if this was the LTE version you'd also find the micro SIM slot. The stylus, or as Nvidia have called it, the 'DirectStylus' is also found on the top. The last item to mention is the pair of magnetic slots found on the bottom of the tablet for connecting to the 'optionally' available snap-on covers.

NVIDIA Shield

How well does it perform?

Nvidia claim the £240 Shield Tablet has the World's fastest and most advanced mobile processor in the shape of its (DirectX 12 supporting) Tegra K1 which has an impressive 192 Nvidia CUDA cores and gives 'an unprecedented combination of breathtaking visual performance and breakthrough energy efficiency'. This is coupled with the equally impressive Nvidia 4-Plus-1 Quad Core ARM Cortex A15 CPU running at 2.2Ghz which also features a third generation battery saver core. Along with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (32GB on LTE model) which can also be expanded up to 128GB via a microSD card. The Wi-Fi comes in the shape of 802.11n on both 2.4 and 5Ghz bands and finally Bluetooth 4.0LE. So a meaty specification for the money. Of the 16GB storage, our review sample came with 8.93GB free space, Trine 2 takes up 1.6GB all on its own.

NVIDIA Shield


As with our other tablet reviews, benchmarks are now available on Android to see how well a tablet performs against the competition. In the case of this Nvidia Shield Tablet and the high specification already mentioned, we were particularly looking forward to the results and we weren't disappointed at all. Using Passmark's Performance Test Mobile we received an excellent average System Score of 6412 which smashes every tablet we have so far benched including 5841 from the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5. This comfortably puts it top of Passmark's (admittedly slow to update) System score chart. With 3D Mark using the Ice Storm Unlimited test we were equally as impressed, more so here actually with a mighty score of 30817. Compare that to our previous review high of 13773 with the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 12.2 and you should be able to see just how powerful this Nvidia Shield tablet is.

Benchmark scores are all well and good, but it's the real world performance that counts and here that performance is sublime and easily matches our high expectations following the benchmark results. This is comfortably the fastest tablet we have reviewed to date. Starting with our usual array of games, such as Dark Meadow, Heroes Call, Six Guns, Soulcraft and Air Attack HD, they all installed very quickly, ran perfectly and in particular, on some of the more graphically intense games, we found a new appreciation of just how smoothly they can run if given the right hardware. The games we tried all seemed a bit too easy for the tablet, though thankfully Nvidia have included a full version of Trine 2. This is a stunning looking puzzle game that shows just what this powerful tablet is capable of. If this is an example of what can be done, then we have high hopes for future releases.

NVIDIA Shield


We did have a couple of issues with Simpsons Tapped Out not working at all after install and Real Racing 3 not being available for this device, but they were about the only issues we had. As for the rest of the functions of the system as you may guess we again had no issues anywhere and everything we tried such as web browsing and YouTube for example all ran extremely smoothly, quick, stutter free and this made for a very pleasurable experience when using the Shield tablet.

What features does it have?

It's all about the gaming with the Nvidia Shield Tablet. Whilst you get the Android KitKat 4.4.2 OS (an upgrade to Android L is promised by Nvidia within a few weeks of its release by Google) it is a very streamlined version. There is no fancy UI or any additions such as the Magazine UX you see with the Samsung tablets. It's about as simple as we can imagine Android could look but still contains all the options and configurations that Android users love. The home screen (as shown below) simply gives you three touch buttons towards the bottom of the screen - back, home and recent apps - with an area to the left and right to add apps which will be present on any page. You can also stick apps to the bottom of each page or any area on the rest of the screen. This is still Android so if the streamlined appearance is not for you then you can still clutter up the screen with widgets galore.

NVIDIA Shield


In keeping with the streamlined feel the level of free premium content isn't exactly generous, but for the price it's not a deal breaker. We do get the excellent Trine 2 game as mentioned above along with Nvidia Dabbler which is an excellent drawing and painting app for use with the DirectStylus. That's about it though. As for the DirectStylus it's a welcome addition, one that users of the Samsung Note tablets will know only too well. It does bring a few additional features not seen before. One in particular allows you to take a screenshot, but not just restricted to the whole screen you can 'lasso' an area or a rectangular region and also write on the screenshot too before saving it. Along with the other pre-loaded apps such as Evernote, JusWrite and a simple handwriting app, the stylus will also work with a whole array of stylus focused apps now available on the Play Store such as Adobe Photoshop and AutoDesk Sketchbook to name just two. It's a welcome addition to the tablet.

NVIDIA Shield

Is the Shield Tablet's display any good?

The display here is an 8" Full HD IPS screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1200. This gives the screen an excellent PPI (pixels per inch) of 283. Not quite the 326PPI seen with the iPad Mini Retina or the superb 359PPI seen with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, but as they are both almost £80 more than the Shield Tablet, you can forgive it for not quite matching those two here. Coming from our review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S with its drop dead gorgeous Super AMOLED screen, the Shield was always going to have a tough act to follow, but for the price it's not bad at all and gives a great account of itself.

The screen offers clear readable text even with smaller fonts and HD images do look particularly nice. The colours across the spectrum are bold and defined, although the red appeared slightly weak for our liking. A minor negative was on the black test we could clearly see the screen backlighting from the right edge of the screen if viewed at an angle. The white test also seemed to give the screen a slightly yellow hue. The brightness level isn't overly generous but at 100% it's above what we would consider a comfortable level anyway, our sweet spot seemed to be around the 70% mark.

HD Streaming with Netflix!

A major gripe we had with the superb screen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 12.2 was that there was nothing decent to display on it, with all the major streaming outfits being very harsh in their HD output for Android users. Thankfully the Nvidia Shield is one of only three lucky Android tablets to actually receive HD streaming from Netflix. Even on just an 8" screen the difference between SD and HD is immediately noticeable and definitely is a major plus point for the Shield here.

NVIDIA Shield

What about the audio?

Apart from consistently providing below par audio quality another issue we have with several tablet manufacturers is that they stick both the stereo speakers on one edge (Apple we are looking at you here!). For the majority of streaming, gaming or anything that may require sound you are likely to hold the device in landscape rotation, so what use is two speakers positioned closely together on one edge? Not much is the answer. Nvidia have seen sense here and the stereo speakers are forward facing, located on the front at each side of the screen with the bass reflex ports to the edge of the tablet. This means that when holding the tablet in the most comfortable position you aren't covering or restricting the speakers at all.

NVIDIA Shield


As for the quality, the tablet does reasonably well here. It's not amazing by any stretch and as with all our tablet reviews, headphones are definitely recommended if you want to get the best out of it. The maximum volume is more than high enough although a certain amount of distortion is present at this level. At slightly lower volume the sound comes across well and does have a decent level of bass, particularly with gaming both from Android games and via Game Streaming we didn't have any complaints. For £240 the audio is far better than some significantly more expensive offerings we've had the misfortune of using.

Is the Shield Tablet a gamer's dream?

This is the area you are probably most interested in - gaming. It's what sets the Shield Tablet apart from most other tablets, it's raison d'être if you will. Starting with Android gaming, the meaty specification allows the Shield Tablet to run any Android game you care to throw at it with ease. The pre-loaded Trine 2 runs like a dream, you could forgive a little slowdown in places given how stunning it looks but there was no frame rate issues or stuttering at all. The rest of our test games didn't even cause the Tablet to break a sweat. As far as Android gaming is concerned it's one of the most capable tablets we have reviewed to date.

The Shield Tablet has several other ways of showing it's gaming class. Firstly you have standard Android Gaming with the option of a wireless controller or a wired Xbox360 one will work albeit with slightly reduced functionality. Sadly our review sample (provided by Scan Computers) did not come with a wireless controller (this is a £49.99 option) nor did we have the correct USB adaptor to test how well a wired Xbox 360 controller works.

NVIDIA Shield


With the Shield Tablet connected via HDMI to your TV you can either mirror the tablet's screen to the TV and continue to use the tablet via touch if you want to bore friends/family/the cat with your gaming exploits for example, or the other option is 'Console Mode'. Using up to 4 wireless controllers you can turn the tablet into a full gaming console allowing you to play all your Android games on the TV. In Console Mode the tablet ensures that apps, menus, browser and optimised Android games will playback at Native 1080P resolution. When switching between Mirror and Console modes, you can definitely see the difference in the increased resolution. You also are able to connect a USB mouse and keyboard if you wanted to use it for a TV based web browser for example. Again as Nvidia do not supply any adaptors in the box we could not test how well this worked.

Game streaming works surprisingly well!

But it's not Android gaming where this tablet really shines. In fact if it was just another tablet that played Android games really well, even with the controller option then it might slip us by, it's the PC game streaming that really makes it stand out. Via an Nvidia GTX powered PC you can stream your games to the Shield Tablet and play them anywhere in the home (Wi-Fi signal dependant) plus when connected via HDMI to your TV with Console Mode activated you can play your PC games on a TV using a controller. On top of this there is also now a beta option called Remote GameStream that allows you to stream games from your PC to your Shield outside of the local Wi-Fi network.

NVIDIA Shield


This was our first experience of Nvidia's GameStream technology and during our testing we found it worked extremely well, surprisingly so. Of course you need a strong Wi-Fi network and a decent PC (GTX660 or high, i5 CPU or higher) but if you have that then the Shield Tablet really shines here. Not every game is compatible with GameStream of course, but over 100 are with more being added every week. It's a great alternative to a Steam Machine, although only with games that are on Nvidia's approved list. Testing with the likes of Battlefield 4 we had no issues with frame rates or stuttering at all, apart from being rather tricky to play due to the lack of a controller. Occasionally the resolution would drop which we put down to our slightly dodgy Wi-Fi network, but it soon came back up. Lastly, via Nvidia's ShadowPlay you can also record your gaming and stream it to Twitch as you play.

How good is the battery life?

The battery in the Shield Tablet is 19.75Wh which equates to 5200mAh , 3.8v. Nvidia claim the battery life is good for 10 hours of HD video playback in airplane mode and about 4-5 hours for gaming. With our YouTube video test with the screen set to 50% brightness and all the other standard features enabled we managed to squeeze out 7 hours 13 minutes. Not a disaster but we have seen better. On standby the battery would lose 3% over 24 hours and it takes roughly 5 hours to charge to 100% from flat.

Now the important part, gaming. With the tablet focused squarely at gamers, a decent battery life here is really key. Firstly via Android games and playing a selection of our test games including the gorgeous pre-loaded Trine 2 we squeezed just 3 hours 15 minutes from a 100% battery. Then using the GameStream system we managed a lowly 2 hours 54 minutes. These aren't fantastic results, but with the GameStream option you can of course leave it plugged in whilst you game on the TV using a controller.

Verdict

Pros

  • A gamers dream!
  • Excellent value for money
  • Superb specification
  • Lag free Game Streaming
  • DirectStylus is a great addition

Cons

  • 'Optional' controller is an essential
  • Rather chunky
  • Slight blacklight bleed from one edge
  • Average battery life

NVIDIA Shield Gaming Tablet Review

Should I buy the Nvidia Shield?


The Nvidia Shield Tablet is available for £239.99 and is a very impressive 8" tablet indeed. Putting gaming aside for one moment, this 8" tablet with a very streamlined Android 4.4.2 is over £80 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S or the iPad Mini but with a specification that is more than a match. The 2.2Ghz Nvidia CPU coupled with the 192 core Nvidia Tegra K1 GPU will cope with anything you care to throw at it. Web browsing, streaming videos, YouTube and all the standard tasks run extremely smoothly with apps installing very quickly. The high specification makes for a very pleasurable experience.

It doesn't have the refinements of the more expensive Apple and Samsung tablets, with the Shield Tablet feeling rather chunky and heavy. Although that extra weight does make it feel well built with everything working as it should. The 1920 x 1200 HD display is very good, not in the same ball park as Samsung's excellent Tab S range, but with good colours, clear text and a decent brightness level. One major positive here is that this tablet is one of only three chosen Android tablets to receive HD streaming from Netflix and even on an 8" screen the difference is immediately noticeable. Backlight bleed from one edge of the screen being about our only real gripe.

For gamers, this tablet really excels in every department. The Shield laughs in the face of any Android game you wish to try and the stunning pre-loaded Trine 2 showing just what came be done with this technology. If you also are a PC gamer then the fun keeps on coming. Via Nvidia's GameStream you can play your PC games on the tablet using a controller or even connected to your big screen TV. It's a real alternative to a Steam Machine and it's clear Nvidia have really honed this technology with the original Nvidia Shield handheld device being very much a proof of concept device to make sure everything worked. It definitely does work exactly as you would hope, with no issues seen during our testing at all. Coupled with Shadowplay, Steam and Twitch integration together with the beta Remote Gamestream, the options for the gamer are mouth watering.

The battery life is not fantastic by any means, but it should give 3 hours or so on a full charge for some heavy duty gaming. The two forward facing stereo speakers with the bass reflex ports gave a real punchy sound, apart from at maximum volume where it starts to fall apart, and overall the quality is very good which is a real surprise for a tablet. Our only real issue with the Shield Tablet is the £49.99 controller and the £24.99 cover sold as optional extras. A controller is essential to get the best from the Shield with the cover following a close second and should really come bundled with the tablet; although we can understand Nvidia wanting to keep the base price of the tablet as low as possible. Still that minor gripe aside, the Nvidia Shield is an easy winner of our AVForums Highly Recommended award.
Highly Recommended

Scores

Design

.
.
8

Usability

.
.
8

Operating System

10

Display

.
9

Email, Browsing, Calendar, Contacts

.
9

Media Support

.
.
8

Value For Money

10

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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