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The $299 NVIDIA Shield Tablet: not just for Gamers

Source: Nvidia

You can think of the Shield Tablet as a technological utility knife. Not one of those cheap chinese knock offs you’d get at a flea market, but something from the future with lasers and maybe a chainsaw option. Something that would make Dr. Who or maybe even Tony Stark envious. Alright maybe not quite that awesome but it’s still pretty sweet. All jokes aside it’s able to run high end mobile games, stream PC games, connect to your HDTV, watch movies, listen to music, browse the internet, stream to Twitch.tv, make video calls, take notes, draw works of art, hack your neighbors WiFi, post social updates, and more… much much more.

All of these features are thanks to the great specs inside. Now I’m going to have to get nerdy for a bit so brace yourselves (feel free to glaze over this part if specs aren’t your thing). It has 2GB of system memory, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, a microSD slot supporting up to 128GB, mini HDMI out for console mode supporting up to 4K, an 8in full 1080p HD display (275ppi), a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 5-megapixel front camera and 5-megapixel rear camera, a built in stylus for drawing and note taking, built in 802.11n 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, a quadcore 2.2GHz ARM A15 CPU, and of course the main feature of the tablet the 192 core Kepler GPU. Not bad for only being 9.2mm thick and 390 grams.

“If some of that went over your head it’s ok, just imagine something along the lines of an overclocked PS3 flattened to a pancake and shoved under an 8in screen.”

“Our three-person startup has grown to 8,000 staff across 40-plus sites.” – Nvidia Blog

Now before I get into the main details of the tablet let me explain a bit about Nvidia as a company itself. Over the last 20+ years they have influenced our daily lives by: continually evolving the GPU, helping Holywood make awesome movies, powering the world’s fastest supercomputers, creating proprietary console GPUs, powering smart gadgets and vehicles, and even helping save lives through GPU based medical advancements. I’d venture a guess that everyone in the last year alone has watched at least one movie or played a game that was powered by Nvidia tech. At it’s core Nvidia is a gaming company though, and no matter how many ventures they expand into gaming will always be a primary focus for them. Hence the move to making an Android based gaming tablet. Nvidia wanted something to upset the balance of mobile gaming and show that console quality games can be played on the go.

Android Gaming: This is where the tablet really shines. I loaded up some of the newest mobile games like: Modern Combat 5, Asphalt 8, Trine 2, Rochard, Dead Trigger 2, Defenders, Bounty Arms, Half-Life 2, Portal, Deus Ex: The Fall, and Dungeon Defenders just to name a few. Needless to say everything ran great. Fast fluid framerates, faster than normal load times, and the ability to run everything on max settings makes for a great experience. Touch screen games look and play awesome on the 8in screen. However the tablets best experience can be had through it’s library of controller supported games.

Shield Controller: This truly is a game changer for the mobile market. The controller feels good in the hands and sports some neat extras like android navigation buttons, a touch pad, volume rocker, built-in microphone, rechargeable battery, and 3.5mm jack for a headset. The analog sticks and D-Pad are what you would expect from a gaming controller and leagues ahead of any bluetooth options on the market. The addition of native android buttons are a nice touch and help more than you would think. The touchpad is a neat option allowing you to navigate non-controller supported screens more easily. The built in microphone is great for giving voice commands or recording over gameplay while streaming. Lastly the headset port on the top allows you to plug in a headset and not only hear all the audio from the tablet but stream voice back if you prefer a higher quality mic than the built in one. It will cost you an extra $60 so it’s not for everyone, but I recommend it if you want the full gaming experience. It’s money well spent, and I’m debating on buying more for multiplayer games.

Gamestream: This is actually a really neat feature that most will probably never use. Basically you can stream your PC games to the Shield Tablet anywhere you have a fast/stable connection. It requires a GTX600 or higher equipped PC and that can cost you almost as much as the tablet itself if not more. If you meet the requirements it’s a great add-on and being able to access your library of games from anywhere is a lot of fun.

GRID: Simply put this is like having a gaming PC in the cloud. Nvidia setup a huge server cluster in California that streams a select library of PC games to your device. It’s still a beta feature currently so it’s free for every tablet user but is limited to only the games they have loaded. From my tests it runs great and almost better than local Gamestreaming even though I’m in Colorado. There’s not a roadmap for the GRID service but I’d like to see them add support for Steam so I can load up my games and saves. I’d gladly pay $10-15/month to have my own personal gaming rig in the cloud. Paired with 4G LTE this could be a game changer but right now it’s just a neat feature to try.

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Shadowplay: This is Nvidia’s fancy name for local recording. You can record anything you do on your tablet and stream it straight to Twitch.tv or save it for editing later. I’ve been putting this to the test by recording lots of gameplay videos which you can view on my youtube gaming channel. It has multiple options for quality that goes all the way up to 1080p. Thats right you can record 1080p games right on the tablet. If you’re into adding your voice and face while you play you can do that too. The interface is simple and quickly accessible from the controller or settings dropdown.

Direct Stylus 2: You read that right this tablet is sporting v2 of the direct stylus tech! Although it’s ok if you didn’t know there was a v1. Basically Nvidia managed to tack on a sensitive and low latency stylus thanks to the power of the Tegra GPU. The built in apps like Dabbler really show off the power of it, but you can use your favorite apps that you would say on a Galaxy Note 3. It works well for taking notes and drawing but isn’t going to replace your Wacom or pen and paper anytime soon.

Pros:

  • Fast…. really fast. Currently unmatched in the mobile realm.
  • It’s a full featured tablet running stock android.
  • HD Screen! Slightly larger than 1080p.
  • Plays every game thrown at it and has K1 exclusives.
  • Can stream full PC games from GTX enabled machines.
  • Comes with a stylus for drawing and note taking.
  • Doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like most of Nvidias new tech.
  • Console grade low latency wireless controller (supports up to 4).
  • Micro SD storage expansion up to 128GB.
  • Built in mini HDMI out for a true console experience.
  • Twitch.tv streaming right from the tablet.

Cons:

  • “Squishy” (hard to use) power and volume buttons.
  • Controller must be purchased separately.
  • Can’t turn on/off tablet from the controller while sitting on the couch (might be fixed through software)
  • Desktop class GPU means lower than average battery life when running high end games.
  • Swiss army knife of tablets (might be too many options for normal consumers)
  • Bugs… too many options means lots of bugs.
  • Quite a few of the first batches have heating defects.
  • Below average WiFi range (this is a bummer).
  • It doesn’t have a “lower case I” or an apple on it.

All in all I’m extremely happy with this tablet. After just a few weeks of daily use I still reach for this over any other device. If you consider yourself a gamer this is an obvious purchase and if not for $299 what are you going to find that’s better?

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