NVIDIA Shield Tablet Review (Update: back in stock as Tablet K1)
Tablets are a big part of the Android world, and while they are not the luxury product that they were considered to be only a few years ago, they are still not must-have devices for a lot of users. And, with smartphones getting bigger and bigger, the need for a tablet is diminished even further. Truth is most tablets out there attempt to be a jack of all trades, but end up offering everything our smartphones can offer only on a larger screen.
Related: Best Nvidia Shield tablet cases
But all that changes when you have a tablet that focuses on one particular purpose, and is, in fact, built around that particular aspect. One such device is the NVIDIA Shield Tablet, a device that is focused purely on gaming — but how does it fare as a general purpose tablet?
We find out, and more, in our in-depth NVIDIA Shield Tablet review!
When talking about the design, the first thing you notice is the large Shield logo that’s displayed proudly on the back, surrounded by a soft touch plastic material. Also noticeable, once you pick up the tablet, are the substantial thickness and weight of the device, which has a very industrial look overall.
The buttons can be found on the right side when using the tablet in portrait orientation, or up top when in landscape mode. The tactile feedback from the buttons wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but there were never any issues with responsiveness. Below the power button and the volume rocker is the microSD card slot. Looking at the top of the device, when in portrait mode, is where you’ll find the headphone jack, a microUSB charging port, as well as a mini-HDMI port. Up front around the display are the dual front facing speakers, and there are two more speakers on the sides, contributing to a truly immersive experience.
Even though there is a sizeable bezel around the 8-inch display, it actually makes possible a better handling experience when using the tablet in landscape orientation. You will end up covering the front facing speakers a little bit, but it doesn’t take away from the audio quality at all. Even with an 8-inch screen and a large bezel, it’s still quite easy to grip the tablet with one hand while using it in portrait mode.
There are many tablets out there that feature much slimmer profiles, and arguably better design, I do really like the utilitarian look and feel of the Shield Tablet. As soon as you take it out of the box, and knowing everything it packs under the hood, you know that this device is meant for one thing and one thing only – gaming.
You get an 8-inch IPS LCD screen of 1920 x 1200 resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 283 ppi, but the quality of the display may be the only disappointing aspect in an otherwise fantastic package. This is because despite its high resolution and high pixel density, the Shield Tablet’s color reproduction leaves something to be desired. It could use a little more vividness and a little more contrast in the colors. While it is a decent performer, a better color gamut would have put this display at the top.
Touch responsiveness is as good as what you’d expect from such a tablet, though it’s worth mentioning that using a controller for gaming is probably what you’ll want to do. The good news is that if you find the display lacking, you can always connect it to your HDTV using the HDMI port available on the tablet, that should alleviate any issues you may have with the quality of the display.
The NVIDIA Shield Tablet features a quad-core Tegra K1 processor clocked at 2.2 GHz, and backed by the Kepler 1 SMX GPU and 2GB of RAM, powering on of the best gaming experiences available on any mobile device. Whether you’re playing a game on the tablet or while it’s connected to the TV, you’ll find no issues with lag or slowdown at all, even when playing games at high performance settings. You can find out more about the gaming experience on the Shield Tablet in the video below.
One of the marquee features of the Shield Tablet is streaming games from your desktop or laptop to the tablet using an NVIDIA graphics card. While it is possible, it’s important to remember that the right graphics card is required, and the one in my laptop, the GeForce GTX 760M, unfortunately didn’t provide a very good experience when it comes to game streaming. You can find the full list of supported graphics cards here.
But that is where the NVIDIA Grid comes in, the company’s new service that allows you to stream games from the cloud. Grid is currently available for free as it is still in beta, but there are already a lot of fun games on there. Unfortunately, this service is accessible only to users in Western US, who are geographically close to NVIDIA’s servers in San Jose, California.
The advantage of the latest Shield device taking on the more traditional form of a tablet is that you can use it for things other than gaming as well. As expected, there is no drop in performance when using the tablet for anything other than gaming, helped in part by the near stock software experience. Web browsing, video performance via any streaming service, and general application usage all shine through.
Starting with the best and more obvious hardware feature, it is the speaker setup, with two front facing speakers, as well as two more on the sides, that creates a wonderful and immersive audio experience. Sound is rich, full of nuance, and does justice to the gaming or anything else that you will enjoy on this tablet.
When it comes to gaming, while there are no issues with the responsiveness of the touch screen, using a controller is necessary to fully enjoy the experience. The Shield controller is absolutely stellar in build quality and usage, and is definitely worth its steep $60 price tag. But if you’re not looking to spend that much, other Bluetooth controllers work just fine. You can check out the NVIDIA Shield controller in action in the video below.
Another addition to the Shield Tablet is a stylus (Update 11/17/15: Not Available out of the box with the Tablet K1). The DirectStylus 2 is a little different from most other styluses out there, as it features a unique brush-like tip. The tip allows for better creative control over the strokes while playing around in the pre-installed NVIDIA Dabbler application, and gets the job done successfully when you use it as a regular stylus.
Battery life, unfortunately, doesn’t provide the great experience I was hoping for, and takes on a very predictable motif akin to its gaming laptop counterparts. The battery lasted for around 6 hours while streaming videos via Netflix, and only about half that time during some consistently heavy gaming. Though this was done with the high performance setting found in the power settings, it is the setting you will probably want to use in order to fully take advantage of the Shield’s gaming capabilities. While this battery performance isn’t particularly surprising for a gaming device, it is something to keep in mind, as other high-end tablets do offer superior battery life.
Summing up, right down to the hardware, you really get the sense that this tablet is the mobile equivalent of the gaming laptop. You get incredible performance, and a couple of really important features that add greatly to the gaming experience, but battery life in particular, will suffer.
Not a lot of attention is paid to the camera capabilities of tablets, as they pale in comparison to the feature-packed cameras that are found on our smartphones. On the Shield Tablet, you get 5MP rear and front-facing cameras, that do provide some interesting functionality in case you’re stuck with the device as your best camera.
Cool features include software stabilization, burst mode, 1080p video capture, and a fun feature called “Awesomize,” that lets you tweak images with exposure, filters, and more to make a photo you’ve taken look even better. That said, you ultimately won’t be doing much picture-taking with the Shield Tablet, unless you want to send a picture to taunt the person you just pwned in your online game.
Gaming is of course the focus of the NVIDIA Shield Tablet, and having that singular perspective is what makes this device great. But using it as a “regular” tablet is excellent as well. Other than gaming and media consumption, performing general tasks is just as important and possible only with a good software experience.
Which is exactly what you get with the Shield Tablet, which runs a nearly stock-like build of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. You don’t get a lot of bells and whistles, and other than the power settings and some pre-installed NVIDIA applications, the software experience should prove to be very familiar and easy to navigate.
One of the key NVIDIA applications that comes pre-installed on the device is NVIDIA Hub, which is a nice way to take a look at all of the games that are available and optimized for the Tegra experience. You’ll be able to buy and install games directly from the NVIDIA Hub, and then easily access these games, as well as those you’re streaming from your PC or from NVIDIA Grid, on your tablet or on your television.
With such a great software experience available, the Shield Tablet does very well with everyday tasks, making this device more than just a gaming tablet.
|Display||8-inch IPS LCD, 1920 x 1200 resolution, 283 ppi|
|Processor||2.2 GHz quad-core NVIDIA Tegra K1, Kepler 1 SMX GPU|
|Storage||16/32 GB, expandable|
|Cameras||5 MP rear cameran5 MP front camera|
|Connectivity||802.11n/g/b/a Wifi, 2x2 MIMOnBluetooth 4.0 LE, GPS, GLONASS, microUSB, HDMI|
|Dimensions||221 x 126 x 9.2 mm, 390 grams|
For $299, you get the 16GB version of the Shield Tablet, and for $399 you get a 32GB edition that comes with LTE connectivity. As of 11/17/15, the SHIELD Tablet has been rebranded as the Tablet K1, at a more aggressive point of $200 with 16GB storage.
One of the biggest competitors of the Shield Tablet is the Nexus 7 (2013), because of its fantastic price point, though its dated specs may turn you off. The upcoming Nexus 9 is rumored to have a Tegra K1 processing package under the hood, so that would definitely make the fight a lot more interesting. The last tablet that might be able to stand up to the Shield Tablet is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, which brings a much slimmer profile and a Snapdragon processor that’s really good, but ultimately doesn’t hold a candle to the gaming performance of the Tegra K1.
And so there you have it – an in-depth look at the NVIDIA Shield Tablet! With the original NVIDIA Shield handheld gaming console, if you weren’t into gaming, you didn’t have much use for the device. That is certainly not the case with the Shield Tablet, that works wonderfully as just a tablet, with its gaming prowess a fantastic benefit that could turn you into a mobile gamer.
That said, everything about this tablet screams gaming, starting from its industrial design, speaker setup, processing package, and down to its subpar battery life.
In the end, NVIDIA has successfully proven that a narrowing of focus and precise perspective can mean a whole lot – and when you look at the Shield Tablet as what it was meant to be, it succeeds wonderfully and steals your heart. Knowing that, outside of gaming, this is still a damn good Android tablet.
For these reasons, the NVIDIA Shield receives our Editor’s Choice Award, as it’s probably the greatest tablet experience you can get right now.