NVIDIA SHIELD Console Review

July 30, 2013
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If you're a diehard gamer that has been looking for one device that will fit all your needs, NVIDIA is promising exactly that with their all-new NVIDIA SHIELD game console. An Android-powered controller with the 5-inch screen built right in. From the thousands of Android games, nearly any Steam PC game and more the SHIELD is a gaming device through and through. It's finally available today and to help you make up your mind if this $299 device is right for you, we have a full review and tons of video.

This isn't an Xbox One or Playstation 4, but it sure has more power than most handheld gaming devices. Rocking the latest generation 1.9 GHz quad-core Tegra 4 processor, 2GB of RAM, and plenty of storage. Plus who needs an Xbox when you can stream any Steam game right from your PC? NVIDIA took both angles here, and we'll be diving into it all.

Hardware

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The NVIDIA SHIELD is an impressive device when you consider everything they've packed into this rather lightweight device. You guys should all be extremely familiar with SHIELD now, not to mention it was delayed last month at last minute, so we won't get too crazy with specifics. With a familiar Xbox-style controller layout you'll feel right at home, but it is what's under the hood and above the controls that are important.

A built in 5-inch 720p HD display is attached right to the SHIELD, and flips up to any angle you'd like. For gaming, watching video, or browsing the web. The usual XYAB buttons are in a familiar spot to the right, with two analog joystick controllers, the popular D-Pad, and then your Android home and back buttons. Two stereo speakers face up and boost excellent sound, and the dedicated NVIDIA button in the middle glows when powered on. That glow will direct you to all the gaming you'd ever want. From over 130 Android games specifically tuned for SHIELD, thousands in the Play Store, and oh, did we mention you can stream Skyrim, Crysis, COD and more right to it from the PC. Black Ops II from your couch, bed, or even poolside. Yup!

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Under the display and familiar gaming controls is all the magic. Crammed inside this controller is a 1.9 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 4 quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. It runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and will give you that plain Android experience you already love. Then on back we have those usual triggers and bumpers for any game controller. NVIDIA didn't just stop there, the back is loaded with ports to make things even better.

There's a vent for when you're heavy into some gaming, a 3.5mm headphone jack so you don't bother people around you, micro-USB for charging the integrated battery, mini HDMI-out to stream anything and everything to the bigscreen TV and home theater (even PC games) and lastly a micro-SD slot for expanding storage. I have 64GB + the 16GB internal, and it's full of games and movies.

So how does the hardware actually feel now that I've had almost 3 weeks to enjoy it? Epic. How NVIDIA managed to pack all of this into something only slightly larger than an Xbox controller, keep the build quality absolutely top notch, and make it stay under 2 lbs is impressive. SHIELD is 579 grams in weight, so won't be too heavy to enjoy hours of use.

Two extremely important areas are the triggers, and of course the screen hinge. Both feel excellent after a month of heavy heavy usage. Not just a few days here. NVIDIA made sure the hinge for the screen was tight enough it doesn't move while gaming and tapping, yet not so tight it ruins the experience. They got it perfect, and the triggers are the best I've used on a non console gamepad yet.

The entire device has a soft-touch black rubber design, and the top aluminum plate is swappable and custom gaming covers are coming soon. So far there's no signs of wear and tear on the corners, or anything of that nature after holding this for hours and hours in my sweaty palms. To wrap things up on the hardware we will say NVIDIA completely shocked us with this level of build quality and perfection, but it will take some getting use to for most users.

Software

This is bone stock, plain vanilla Android 4.2 Jelly Bean like Google offers, with a few tweaks of course. So while we know you all want to hear and see the gaming, we'll just keep this part brief. The experience is extremely familiar here, but of course having an only landscape screen some apps don't like to play nice. NVIDIA's addressed this with many but hopefully more improve over time. More on that can be found from the video below.

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With stock Android and full support for Google Play, Gmail, Google Music and more this is basically an Android tablet with a 5-inch display and an attached controller. In a way. It can be used as such, although not practical, but the point were making is you can enjoy it even while you're not gaming. The performance is blazing fast thanks to that quad-core T4, and hopefully Android 4.3 Jelly Bean comes up quick. Here's a video showing a day without gaming on SHIELD.

A few of the issues from the video above were fixed in an update today. Apps like Netflix and more can all be installed right from the Play Store, they'll just be sideways in some parts of the app before it switches to landscape. We'll talk more about the pre-loaded SHIELD and TegraZone software, as well as the Steam PC support below. All you really need to know is this is completely stock Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and it is as fast and stable as ever.

Benchmarks

I know, I know, you want to see the gaming. First check out some benchmarks because this is the first Tegra 4 device to ever hit retail shelves. Rocking a 1.9 GHz Tegra 4 and 2GB of RAM this thing is blazing fast. Like really fast. Boosting some of the highest Quadrant scores we've ever seen, and easily topping 39k in AnTuTu. Oh and Qualcomm's own Vellamo benchmark really favored this NVIDIA silicon, that's for sure.

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Instead of breaking this all down, as benchmarks are only a small part of the story, we'll drop a full gallery for those interested below. PC streaming is all done on the GeForce enabled graphics card, so there's no worry there. All you need to know is the Tegra 4 handles the streaming, gaming, video, and Android operations with ease.

Gaming

The heart and soul of SHIELD is Android gaming, and NVIDIA's said this more than a few times. Mobile gaming is only going to continue to increase, and this will be front and center. Not only can you enjoy every extremely awesome Tegra HD game on SHIELD, but every Android game works too. Not all will enjoy the console controls of course, but there's over 130 titles with full game controller support and you can see them all right here. From a pure gaming perspective, SHIELD is outright awesome. It truly offers a stunning experience, and the added benefit of streaming full PC games to it makes things even sweeter.

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For the most part this is an Android gaming device. Mainly because you'll need a solid $800 or so PC if you even want to consider using the PC side of things. So while we'll be focusing on Android gaming, we won't leave out the PC side. If you own a GeForce GTX 650 or above, you'll love this little device even more.

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From ShadowGun, Sonic the Hedgehog, Dead Trigger, Real Racing, Riptide GP2, Blood Sword THD, Real Boxing, and over 100 titles all ready to work with ease, you'll have no shortage of games. And unlike the OUYA these aren't crappy games, these are all quality Android titles. There's 35 different NVIDIA partnered and Tegra enhanced games with stunning graphics, and an additional 96 games that are all confirmed to work excellent with SHIELD. Here's a look at a few.

Riptide GP2 was released this week, available for all devices, but as you see above works wonderfully with SHIELD. It's a "Tegra enhanced game" so if you rock a Tegra the experience will be even better. Then a few we've seen before, check out Real boxing, and the new Blood Sword below.

The experience on most games has been extremely favorable, although we have had a few moment where controls weren't up to par. For things like Shadowgun, Grand Theft Auto, and many more you'll be able to run into settings and manage all the controls. The setup is easy enough for customization as well. Here's a few screenshots showing you what we mean.

Once you get all setup and comfortable, playing things like Shadowgun was a breeze, and the same can be said for full PC games like Need for Speed. It truly is an immersive and impressive experience. We're enjoying it far more than we should be. Obviously having access to the Google Play Store is nice too, as you can get any game you'd like, even if it doesn't support the controller. Some still work, and for the others you'll be able to enjoy them with the 5-inch screen still. So it technically does it all, even though gaming is the high-point.

PC Streaming

Another huge aspect of NVIDIA's SHIELD, one which will be a major factor for many users, is the simple fact that you can enjoy all your full-out PC games right on the device. Although it's still in BETA at the moment, you'll be able to stream all your games, including Steam games all in the same HD graphics we all know and love. I'm a huge Counter-Strike fan, and while that isn't extremely easy due to the competitive nature of online play, everything else was amazing.

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Playing Skyrim on my bed at night (which I've done all week) and even the all mighty Crysis works with ease. Any hardcore PC gamer will know the phrase "can it run Crysis" because most can't. The NVIDIA SHIELD does so with no problems. Of course it isn't playing the games, your PC streams it all to you over WiFi, and it works so wonderfully well that I've been enjoying Crysis 2 all over again. Have a PC with a GeForce GTX 650 or above, set up the drivers, and stream games over your WiFi. Here's an extended clip of myself playing Crysis 2 on the SHIELD.

Yes, that's Crysis 2 in the palm of my hand, and it looks stunning. All those CryEngine 3 graphics are as crisp as ever, and there's absolutely zero noticeable lag. A few games we did experience the occasional audio lag, but a very minor amount that shouldn't matter to anyone. Oh, and for those wondering, I had to wait (like always) for Steam to update.

Then, connect SHIELD to your 50-inch HDTV with the HDMI-out, and you'll be playing games from your PC on the big screen with the home theater. Now that's something worth mentioning! Also, for the record, you'll need at least 4GB of RAM, Windows 7/8, fast WiFi, and a pretty epic computer if you want to do what I've just done. Every game I had worked with ease, well, all the ones I tried at least. Users will be happy to know this streaming experience is exactly what NVIDIA promised. And that is PC games anywhere, in the palm of our hands.

As an added bonus the NVIDIA SHIELD works wonderfully with the Parrot A.R. Drone 2.0 quadricopter. Using the controls like a realistic radio-controlled plane, and the 5-inch display to see what the camera is viewing. Whether you know what the AR Drone is or not, you'll want to watch this one last video too.

Battery Life

SHIELD is the first device to market with the NVIDIA Tegra 4 quad-core processor, and so far I'm coming away absolutely impressed with battery life. Give me this in a Tegra 4i smartphone, and I'm sold. While SHIELD promises 4-5 hours of hardcore gaming, and over 10 with regular Android games, we experienced that or better. Yes, their quote was actually lower than what we achieved -- for a change.

A full day of gaming off and on it should last well beyond the 5 hours they quoted, but PC game streaming might not be quite so forgiving. If you're a casual user here and there, we noticed once the lid is shut, the device goes into an excellent power saving mode. Getting nearly 7 days of battery life picking it up occasionally. For the most part you'll be able to enjoy SHIELD an entire day (unless it's nonstop) on a single charge, and well through an entire weekend of casual gaming.

The battery life was one (of many) strong suits we found with this device, which is likely thanks to the Tegra 4. We can't wait to see this in more tablets, smartphones, and devices running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean.

Wrap-Up

One thing is absolutely certain with this device. If you're a gamer at heart, you'll love the SHIELD. Whether that's Android and mobile gaming, or PC games, this thing is aimed directly at you. Luckily for us this is only the beginning, and we can expect tons additional features and options to arrive soon. This device is capable of much more than just gaming, even though that's clearly where it's aimed.

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This is the first actual hardware devices built from the ground up and sold to consumers in this type of scenario, and we have a feeling NVIDIA has big plans with additional options, accessories, features, and of course game developers. In the end this isn't quite a tablet, but it does everything a tablet offers on it, and much more.

Overall we're not sure exactly who all will purchase SHIELD, as the wider market might just opt for the Nexus 7. However, gamers like myself will absolutely love it, not to mention the potential upside is huge!

In case you haven't been paying attention. The NVIDIA SHIELD is finally shipping this week and will be arriving on doorsteps and on shelves starting July 31st. So go grab one and enjoy hours of gaming this summer!


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  • evenmaddermax

    Is it possible for another user to login to the PC while a game is streaming? If they can’t, I’ll have to pass on this one :(

    • http://www.androidcommunity.com Cory Gunther

      another login? Maybe. Let me try it.

      • Rick Todman

        I bought one regardless but that was my hope. Almost like the Wii U where you can take back the tv. I’d like to take the desktop back….I have a HTPC in my room and I’d like access to my cablecard and windows media center while i stream the games to the shield. Maybe if it cant be done now, it can with an update of some sort in the future.

      • NachoKingP

        That IS possible. If you have WMC running as a backround process, you can use a different device on your network to watch TV, although I would imagine trying to stream your game AND video would take a pretty big toll on your router.

    • NachoKingP

      No, the Shield plays the game on the PC in full screen, so anyone playing a game would completely take over the PC. It’s almost like remote desktop in a sense, but with all the latency nearly eliminated by taking over the processing within the GPU.

  • Anirudh

    Waiting for next PSP on android.. you just cant ignore google…

  • http://www.unexpectedparameters.com Aaron Hurt

    Someone needs to try Chromecast and the Shield… just for giggles.

    • http://www.androidcommunity.com Cory Gunther

      I have.. it works just fine, but only on the same usual apps.

      but imagine the possibilities

      • http://www.unexpectedparameters.com Aaron Hurt

        Thanks Cory. I’m excited to see how these two can work together in the future. Now I just have to sell my wife (controller of the $) on the Shield.

  • Rob

    I want this but im hoping in time the cost will be driven down by alternatives. There is already software that allows you to stream steam games to android, e.g. Splashtop, but it isn’t completely seamless, and it has to be windowed. I’d love to get my hands on the Shield’s streaming software so I could drop it onto my Nexus 7 but this is unlikely to happen as it’s a key selling point of the device.

    • http://twitter.com/ryocoon Kurtis Whittington

      Shield’s solution is very specific (only nVidia cards of a certain level which have integrated h264 encoder chips and then local h264 decoders for accelleration), but it works a LOT better than Kainy, Splashtop or some others. Purely because it works with much lower latency. Splashtop did have some primitive versions of what Shield is doing now though.