Nvidia SHIELD, has been on the market for nearly 9 months now and a lot has changed in that time. The company has done the unthinkable by adding immensely sought-after features while simultaneously slashing the overall price by $100. It’s hard to believe, SHIELD was announced with a $350 price tag. Yet it launched with a reduced $299 MSRP. Now you can nab one for a cool $199 (through April). The Android-based portable gaming device has been updated to the latest Android KitKat 4.4.2 operating software. Plus it streams games from your PC if outfitted with supported Nvidia GTX video cards. But that’s not the extent of its laudable capabilities.
1. Hands-On Feel
The Nvidia SHIELD is surprisingly comfortable to hold, as you might imagine. You grip the thing like your garden variety Xbox controller. It weighs in at 1.28lbs. There is definite heft but the unit can be easily held in a single hand. It also feel very solid and well constructed. The caveat to all that is that it does feel like a controller lost in time. The sizeable plastic buttons are very clicky-clacky when pressed. Again the construction and solid feel in-hand are praise-worthy. It just feels like business as usual where the controller is concerned. It lacks elegance, but remains familiar and intuitive.
This thing is gorgeous. It’s a 5-inch window pumping HD 1280 x 720 (720p) with 294ppi. The display is multi-touch and “retinal-quality”. Marketing-speak aside, the display performance thoroughly surprised us. It looks fantastic with excellent color saturation, sharpness and clarity. Movies, text, images and TV show are rich beyond even that of the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Booting the device to the home screen takes a full 25 seconds. That’s a bit long. But once it’s up and running navigating through unskinned Android ecosystem is butter smooth. All commands are respond with earnest making the device very peppy and responsive by today’s high end mobile device standards.
Baked in from launch is the ability to stream games from your PC games library. With immense enjoyment, I have streamed Titanfall, Warframe (Melee 2.0,Yo!), ARMA 3, Hawken and Borderland 2. You need a Nvidia GTX 600 series video card or higher. I’m using a EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Classified The company has also tacked on support for new laptops using the newly minted 800m series GPUs. But remote game streaming, arguably the most sought-after, is the new feature on the block. Nvidia recommends a minimum 5mb/s upstream for the bandwidth needed. Gaming with less than that is possible. Low bitrates may murk up the image just a bit. However using less than the prescribed 5mb/s will require your SHIELD to be on the same continent or at least within about 1000 miles apart from the host computer. A sub-100 ping will also help retain the quality of the picture and how smooth the game runs.
When traveling out the country from the host computer, make sure the network used to connect offers speeds above 10-12mb/s with an attractively low ping.
4. GRID Cloud Gaming
Here’s another new feature on tap. All 14 games listed are free to play right now on SHIELD — and from virtually anywhere. Prominent among them are The Witcher 2, Race Driver: GRID, Darkstalkers 2 and Street Fighter X Tekken. This one is still in Beta form. If your SHIELD can access a network close enough to Nvidia San Jose, CA. servers producing a 40ms or less ping, then you’re golden. Oh that connection also requires a bandwidth of 10mbs down. Nvidia also recommends a 5GHz WiFi router, which I do not have. Yet I was able to play The Witcher 2, Street Fighter X Tekken and all the other games available on GRID — with few problems. I experienced the occassional hiccup but nothing that marred the experience.
This is an amazing feature and adds another major pool from which gamers can draw content (Google Play, Tegra Zone, GRID, Steam). This further cements SHIELD in a unique position as a mobile console for high end gaming.
5. Several Surprises
Navigating and browsing the internet was surprisingly intuitive. Use the D-Pad or Left Thumbstick to scroll up and down pages and the Right Thumbstick to move the cursor. The latter is often trumped by simply touching the screen. But there is a lot of comfort in using the controller for intern use.
The seamless HDMI-out functionality was a nice surprise. I paired the SHIELD with a wireless keyboard and mouse, thereby untethering myself from the unit so I could sit on the couch beyond the reach of my 6ft HDMI cable. This gave me full PC style control over my games as the SHIELD streamed them from my PC at home, to a neighbor’s 40-inch HDTV pushing 1080p. Overachiever here — SHIELD is capable of pushing 4K resolutions to a compatible HDTV!
6. Value Meal
The SHIELD is no one-trick pony. It wears many hats, making it a Swiss Army knife of a product and a marketing headache for the PR and marketing teams over at Team Green. Positioning the product in front of a target market is difficult when it shows appeal to so many. Yet realistically, the SHIELD has something for any gamer. You get a gorgeous 5-inch touch screen Android tablet (unskinned) and a mobile console to access today’s and tomorrow hottest game titles. High end AAA game content will be streamed from PCs kitted with supported Nvidia GPUs. As long as the host PC meets the system requirements there is little worry there. If your PC doesn’t have a supported GPU, then GRID is shaping up to be a solid option pulling high end game content from the cloud.
The Android OS lends itself seductively to classic gamers as well, with a wealth of emulator apps. Play old console games from Nintendo and Sega. Or use GameStream to do so from your PC using your own installed emulator software. Diehard mobile gamers will be right at home and enjoy added functionality for their Android games with the built-in controller.
7. Needs More Mobile
A few things could be cleaned up, however. The unit is a veritable Xbox controller with the touch screen lid closed. So toting it around comfortably is difficult. Nvidia offers a carrying case, sold separately. But it’s only a SHIELD-shaped hard case with a wrist strap. The device could use a backpack attachment of some sort — something that can fit a mobile-styled keyboard and mini-mouse. Nvidia is already promoting such accessory use–might as well go the distance. They even offer a list of lapdesks for when using SHIELD with a keyboard and mouse. How about a transformable lapdesk that doubles as a small but stylish carrying case? A mobile gaming device should be more travel friendly.
Still, I’m having a ton of fun with SHIELD! It’s a PC in my pocket (duffle bag pocket, mind you.) with the convenience and versatility of a Android tablet.