When we reviewed NVIDIA’s original Shield handheld, we called it a “truly strange device,” albeit a fun, powerful and completely worthwhile one. The Shield tablet is everything that device was, but less odd Making its presence in the Android industry known, Nvidia unleashed its Shield tablet on July 29, 2014.

After successfully launching the 16GB Wi-Fi Shield Tablet, Nvidia has released its 32GB LTE tablet. The Shield tablet succeeds the original Shield, a handheld gaming device which had an unusual design and low acceptance rate in the industry. While the original shield may not have been a best seller, this new Shield tablet is poised to perform well on all fronts. The tablet being from Nvidia and having Tegra K1 at its center, gaming is its forte.

Design

Dumping its original awkward shield design, the Shield tablet is now no longer a portable gaming handheld device but a full-fledged tablet. This design is “cleaner” and “simpler”, being more subtle – much like a typical tablet. However, a controller for gaming is now available as an accessory for the serious gamers.

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While mostly made of plastic, the tablet does not feel flimsy in the hand. You instantly see the front facing stereo speakers besides the gorgeous display. The speakers provide an excellent audio experience, with the sound quality surpassing all those which are rear-facing. The screen provides 8 inches worth of real estate. There is a 5 MP front facing camera between the grills of the top speakers.

Weighing in at 390 grams, it is around 100 grams heavier than the Nexus 7 (2013). The extra weight is not just a scheme – – Part of the weight increase with the Shield Tablet over the Nexus 7 is due to the extra inch that you’re getting from the screen, but also because the Shield Tablet is passively cooled and has an extra thermal shield built inside to dissipate heat.

It’s a little heavier than we like, but isn’t likely to cause any wrist problems. It’s also not exactly the slimmest tablet in the business at 9.2mm thickness, but with these specs the shield tablet does pose as a bold and aesthetically appealing product.

At the top, it has a 3.5mm jack, ports for micro USB, and HDMI. There are speakers at the top and bottom as well.

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It also has a stylus which is pretty advanced and features a custom-made technology by NVidia called Direct Stylus 2.0. This essentially uses the passive stylus technology combined with NVidia’s software and GPU to act like an active pressure-sensitive stylus. It has several uses which will be discussed briefly in the software part below.

The back of the NVidia Shield Tablet is pretty mundane. It is made of anti-slip material, has a 5 MP mediocre camera, and the logo of NVidia embossed.

The right side houses the power button, volume rockers, and the SIM tray (for the 32 GB LTE model). The buttons is one area NVidia needs to focus, as they are stiff, have zero-travel between them, and are generally a pain to use. It takes a lot of time to get used to changing the volume without accidentally pressing the power button while not looking.

Benchmarks/Performance

The real game changer this device presents is its custom designed SOC. The K1, NVidia’s greatest and latest SOC, inside the Shield tablet is phenomenal. With 192 cores of GPU prowess at its disposal, it is currently the leading GPU ever to be housed in a tablet. NVidia has fit the Shield Tablet with 2 Gigabytes of Ram which is ample for any kind of use.

The processing is taken care of by Quad A15 processors from ARM. An additional companion A15 is also in place designed to use low power and handles simple tasks not requiring the other four cores. Needless to say, the performance department checks out with no complaints at all.

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The K1 chipset supports many of the graphical features commonplace in GeForce graphics card including tessellation, HDR lighting, Global illumination, subsurface scattering, and more.

Heading over to some benchmarks, the BaseMark OS 2 (overall score) yields a 1490 score for the Shield tablet trouncing even the iPad Air 1 and the Snapdragon 805 which is currently the leading chipset used in the leading Android flagships.

Coming over to the GPU performance, the Shield tablet performs excellent in the GFXBench 3.0 T-Rex HD, offering 68.7 fps against 40.7 of the Snapdragon 805. Surprisingly the K1 is also ahead of the Surface Pro 3 by 4 fps. In the 3DMark 1.2 the Shield tablet scores 31,179 against 19,698 of the 805 securing itself as the current champion of graphic performance among Android tablets. What remains to be seen is the channeling of this much graphic power. The emergence of games which utilize the K1 chipset remains to be seen.

The $60 wireless controller provides a better gaming experience in addition to the tablet, this obviously is not included in the original package and has to be bought separately. As such, it is designed to work in tandem with the shield tablet, having some extra features up its sleeve like the NVidia button to launch the NVidia hub.

The controller reminds us of the original shield with its two thumbsticks and the placement of buttons. This will especially come in handy to those streaming to a TV where operating a touch screen isn’t very convenient.

Display

The 8 incher display offers 1920×1200 pixels, a little over the Full HD, or 1080p. The panel uses IPS display technology, so viewing angles are a full 178 degrees. With 283 PPI, it has a slightly lower pixel density than the “retina” qualification of Apple, but not poor by any means. It can output 4K resolution to an external display via HDMI.

Software, gaming and Shield exclusive features

Since the Shield Tablet was made to showcase the Tegra K1 SOC and provide gamers with hardware to support crazy gaming, the software was left mostly untouched, with no OEM skin on top of pure Android. The Android version however is 4.4.2 which is close to the latest and NVidia promises upgrade to Android 5.0 – Lollipop. NVidia managed to integrate some of its own software, such as the support to immediately stream the tablet’s screen, microphone and front-facing camera to Twitch from the notification menu from any app.

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Removing the stylus from its slot launches a few stylus-exclusive apps that you can choose and customize to launch. Dabbler is an application from NVidia which is similar and better than Paint seen in windows, it is a stunning application which is a must have for graphic enthusiasts.

However, the true Shield software experience is in the Shield Hub app, previously known as TegraZone. It is the device’s console interface, similar to the homescreen of PlayStation and Xbox. It is a launcher for all of the Shield’s gaming functions, and has a store for all the optimized games.

Half-life 2 and Portal by Valve are designed specifically for Shield devices, while these are famous ports, more on this list are needed. For serious gamers, NVidia’s “Gamestream” allows straight-forward streaming PC games to your Shield tablet. It requires the user to simply pair the tablet and a PC via code authentication after which streaming is achieved. The experience is pretty good when using the controller, some games however will not be very enjoyable by using only the touch screen.

Camera

Tablets generally don’t have good cameras, that being said the camera on the Shield tablet is not exactly award worthy. It lacks bitterly in dynamic range and should not be used if you have a capable Smartphone nearby. NVidia needs to look into its processing of JPEGs to improve the usability of the camera.

A good thing to note is that the front camera is the same resolution as the back one, while not exactly very good, it will serve the user well in taking selfies of good resolution.

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Battery Life.

The Shield tablet has a 5200 mAh battery which dies out after giving nearly 8.5 hours’ worth of entertainment. This is a modest number considering the Galaxy Tab S gives 12.5 hours which is also an 8 incher. The 8.5 hours battery time is slightly better than the Nexus 7 2013 which has a battery life of almost 7 hours and 15 minutes.

Conclusion

While non-gamers would had shunned the previous Shield, the new Shield tablet does both gaming and other tasks proficiently. All in all the Shield tablet is a wonderful device. It is priced right at $300, has exceptional specs and promised future software support.

Pros

  • Priced to sell
  • Industry leading hardware – A true gaming tablet
  • Ability to stream PC games onto tablet

Cons

  • Bigger/heavier than its competition
  • Controller used in many games sold separately
  • Camera has limited use