Nvidia’s new SHIELD handheld android gaming device is a jack of many trades. It’s been updated to Android KitKat 4.4.2. So it runs all Android apps and games available on the Google Play store. But it also pulls games down from Nvidia’s cloud gaming network known as GRID. While the latter is still in the Beta form and limited to little more than a dozen games, it’s working and makes a fantastic case for the future of cloud gaming. SHIELD also streams PC games from your PC, providing said PC is kitted with a supported Nvidia GTX video card. Stream games across your home network or access your computer’s library of games remotely with remote with Nivida’s GameStream feature. We did a not-so-brief rundown of the system’s standout features. Now it’s time for our official review and brass tacks critique of this little device, beginning with…
The form factor and design is one of the more obvious oddities of the SHIELD. It’s essentially a 5-inch capacitive touch screen attached to a Xbox-style controller. As we mentioned in the impressions piece, it’s very comfortable to wield with both hands — similar to holding and modern game controller. It weighs 1.28lbs, which makes it tad weighty. Yet the solid feel is a welcomed. Couple that with the rubberized bottom and you have a very sturdy device. The rubber helps keep the unit in place when placed down on a desk, table or TV stand. This makes it a great device for sitting stationary while watching movies. The hinge for the lid is fabulously stiff, as well. It is easy to open. But I appreciate the tight hinge. It adds to the solid feel and offers a bit of peace of mind when held or picked up by the lid/touch screen. Some folks don’t like the button and analog stick layout. I find it completely functional with all inputs fairly easy to reach. However, the sizable 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, yet is immensely familiar and intuitive. Display The Display is 5 inches with a 720p HD resolution (1280 x 720). Nvidia calls the display “retina-quality”. Indeed it is quite something. It’s a gorgeous at this resolution for 5 inches. The color saturation is fantastic. Blacks are deep and rich and the whites are true white to my naked eye. Movies, text, images and games show a richness beyond even that of the Samsung Galaxy S4. I digested movies, TV shows and documentaries on Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, Crackle, Amazon Prime and a few media files stored locally in .avi and .mpeg4 videos. This is why the display was listed as one of the main standout features in our initial impression piece. It’s quite nice. But lets hope for 1080p support on the next SHIELD device.
Hardware & Specs
SHIELD is now running the most recent version of Android – KitKat 4.4.2. This is raw and unskinned. Major and familiar apps included in the OS are Hulu, Netflix, Twitch along with all the known Android inclusions such Google’s library of apps proper (Gmail, Hangouts, Google Now etc). Google Earth is even thrown in, which is quite handy. Nvidia has also tossed in some of their own. TegraZone is your window to a host of games optimized for the SHIELD’s Tegra 4 processor. You also get two games Sonic 4 Ep. 2 and Expendables. Console Mode is an Nvidia app, but functions more as a feature. When an HDMI cable is plugged into the SHIELD an option to view/play content in Console Mode pops up. It turns SHIELD into a more familiar console experience on your big screen TV. Support for Bluetooth controllers, keyboards and mice allow the device to be used as a gaming console where you can enjoy both Android games and PC games in the living room. GRID is another Nvidia branded app. This little gem is in Beta form right now. So only those close enough to Nvidia’s San Jose servers can participate. A 40ms ping is suggested for best result. I’m about 90min from those servers. So I’m good there. But Nvidia suggest using a 5Ghz wireless router for best results. 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 occasional hiccup but nothing that marred the experience. When I switched to a 5GHz Netgear Nighthawk gaming router, the experience improved considerably. I was able to move around more freely while playing, without the aforementioned hiccups.
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 the unskinned Android KitKat ecosystem is butter smooth. All commands respond with earnest making the device very peppy and responsive by today’s high end mobile device standards.
Battery life is not the best. The system uses 28.8wh of energy. I would say batt-life is moderate to poor. You get 60% of the typical 10hrs of Android game playtime. So expect about 6-7hrs there. PC Streaming runtime is considerably longer, which is nice. Your PC is doing the heavy lifting so you get nearly 10hrs of GameStream. Plus the unit takes about 4.5-5 hours to charge from a completely dead battery.
Really the biggest issue I have with the SHIELD, isn’t the device itself — it’s the exorbitant cost of entry to enjoy the thing in all its glory. Many of the features are gated behind the need for additional high end tech. Needed extras are a 600 Series Nvidia GTX video card (minimum $150). GameStream and GRID performance is sub-optimal without a 5Ghz router and a highspeed internet connection. Many PC gamers already have these tools. But some are AMD loyalists and those GPUs are not supported for GameStream. All the entry level and consumer level iterations of the needed tech can be had for modest money when bought individually. But they do add up collectively. Yet if you hold all the tools, the benefits are substantial. In truth, SHIELD runs well and does everything advertised admirably. 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.
The Nvidia SHIELD is quite a thing. It’s super fun if you have or can afford all extra hardware. I’ve mentioned before, Nvidia tech is an investment that goes far beyond the initial price point. Their products work together well using Nvidia GeForce Experience as the glue that binds the software and hardware into a cohesive ecosystem. The device is more affordable than ever. Plus the company is constantly updating the device with incredible features and added refinement.
Solid well-crafted. Comfortable. Excellent 720 HD touchscreen display. Streaming PC games both across the network and locally. Currently well-priced. GRID cloud gaming works well beyond expectations in current beta form. Solid audio. Bluetooth support is great for speakers, headphones and peripherals. Familiar controller makes gaming familiar and fun. Makes a fantastic emulator for playing older games on the game. Gamepad mapper is a nice addition for customizing controls, gestures and functions.
Poor battery life. Several needed extras to bring out full potential. No 1080p. Controller buttons feel antiquated.
Shawn loves gadgets, literature, history and games. For 10yrs+ he's straddled both the comic book & video game industries, as a writer, editor, marketing officer & producer. Shawn got his start in tech & games as an editor & Hardware Director for GameRevolution.com. More notable accomplishments include Executive Producer on mobile games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved & The Shroud.