Nvidia SHIELD Tablet review

Dave James at

The Ultimate Gaming Tablet. That’s how Nvidia is trying to sell the new addition to their SHIELD ‘family’. Lots of people play games on their tablets, the reasoning goes, so why not give them a device with the latest in mobile GPU tech to offer the best gaming experience possible? And that’s what they’ve done, dropping the new Tegra K1 platform into the SHIELD Tablet, a mobile GPU with the same DNA as the very top of the PC graphics tree right now—the GTX Titan Black.

Why should any of that matter to PC gamers? Because this little device is potentially the best streaming Steam machine you can buy.

Like the weird, clamshell SHIELD Portable before it, this tablet version can plug into your home network and stream practically any game from your Nvidia-powered gaming PC (laptop or desktop) right onto its 8-inch screen. Or you can plug the tablet into your HD TV and use it in Console Mode with a wireless controller. Suddenly you’re playing Elite: Dangerous sat on your sofa, your PC in a completely different part of your home.

Then there’s the future potential of GameStream allowing you to stream games from your home out into the wider internet, to be picked up wherever you’ve got a connection strong enough to cope with it. Your PC could be your very own OnLive-style server.

The streaming capabilities of the SHIELD Tablet are the most interesting part of the device, but its performance elsewhere will define how well it does in the wider market. It has to be a good tablet device or it will end up being just as limited as the SHIELD Portable.

Thankfully it is a good tablet—compared with something like the Nexus 7, the SHIELD Tablet is just as strong a mobile device. The battery life is a little lower because of its extra power, but only by a tiny amount in general terms. As an Android gaming device it’s technically unsurpassed.

There's a lot of tech in that tablet

The Tegra K1 heart has enabled them to have native versions of both Half-Life 2 and Portal as well as the gorgeous Trine 2, games we wont see on any other mobile platform until this chip gets dropped in new tablets. There are rumours abound the TK1 is going to power Google’s Nexus 8, so it looks like the future could again be bright for Nvidia’s mobile division.

Local gaming on the SHIELD will quickly drain the power, but streaming still gives you a healthy battery life as it’s essentially just playing back video with a little light networking. Plugged into a 1080p TV with the SHIELD’s wireless controller gives an impressively lag-free experience in any optimised game, and a good chunk of your Steam library—accessible through integration with Valve’s Big Picture Mode.

The fact the SHIELD products are plucky enough to have a go at streaming any game you point the GeForce Experience software at is one of the family’s strengths, and means you don’t necessarily have to wait for Nvidia to optimise a game for it to work well.

That’s how I got Elite working beautifully, but then I also had times where it didn't work so well. Pointing GFE at EA’s Origin-based, free-to-play FIFA World worked fine, but there was a definite lag when playing online that made it a less-than-ideal experience.

Given how quickly Nvidia has been updating the original SHIELD device’s software and support in the six months or so since I first picked up the little handheld, I’ve got high hopes for the continued progress of the SHIELD ecosystem.

Just don't hope to get a good experience out of that touchpad.

To get the full console experience from the SHIELD Tablet though you really need the wireless controller. That’s sold separately and unfortunately inflates the competitive price of the base tablet. The magnetically attached cover/stand is also sold separately, for another £25 / $40 and for the entire bundle you’re suddenly looking at well over £300 / $300 for the 16GB version. Suddenly it’s not as great value as the tablet first looked.

The Xbox-aping controller is essentially a WiFi-direct version of the attached controls on the SHIELD Portable. It works well enough, though the thumbsticks feel a little loose and the triggers lack the excellent definition of the Xbox One controller. The worst part though is the tiny, triangular trackpad between the thumbsticks. Think about the cheapest, most horrible netbook trackpad you can remember and imagine trying to use it while wearing gloves, with your fingers broken in multiple places. That would still be more responsive than the SHIELD controller’s offering.

Despite all the positives the SHIELD Tablet is still an incredibly niche device. It’s far more versatile than its SHIELD Portable big brother, but you’re still talking about the number of GeForce-owning PC gamers that want to take their PC games onto their sofa. But as it’s still a quality tablet, you’re almost getting the always-improving GameStream tech for free.

I'm incredibly impressed with the SHIELD Tablet. It’s delivered on all the promise of the Tegra K1 and offers a genuine benefit for PC gamers over every other tablet on the market.

It’s an excellent mobile device; the battery life is competitive with the best out there and, while the screen isn’t top of the class, it’s still a decent 19:10 panel.

The excellent performance of the Tegra K1 tech is what separates it from the tablet competition; it blows every other tablet out of the water in GPU terms and tops the CPU benchmark lists against most other devices out there. And because of the performance of the device when it’s plugged into a TV, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the SHIELD family growing with some sort of set-top box, sans screen, that excels at streaming action directly from your Windows PC.

If you’re after a 7 or 8-inch tablet then the SHIELD Tablet would have to be in your list of possibles. But if you also have a GeForce card propping up your gaming PC then it suddenly becomes an absolute no-brainer. It’ll deliver on all your mobile needs and then provide an almost seamless experience with your favourite PC games too.

The same rings true if you’d been super-excited about all the now-fading bluster surrounding a cheap Steam Machine streaming box to connect your living room to your gaming rig. That device is now here, and it’s not just limited to Steam games.


Verdict

90

As a GeForce gamer it’s the only tablet you’d consider buying. A versatile mobile device that can instantly become your PC’s best friend.

Editors Award