Last year, chip-maker Nvidia entered the hardware dojo with Shield, a weird but interesting Android gaming machine. Its successor has arrived, taking a form that’s a little more familiar. This is the Shield tablet, the first Android tablet straight-up made for games. We spent some time with it, and so far it delivers.
At its core, the Shield tablet is just a solid Android tablet. It runs stock 4.4 Kitkat, has a front-facing and rear-facing 5MP cameras, speakers, a Micro SD expansion slot for boosting storage up to 128GB, and an 8-inch, 1080p, IPS screen. It looks a bit like a blown-up HTC One. For your day to day use, it’s totally solid but pretty standard.
Where the Shield tablet sets itself apart, though, is its brain, an Nvidia Tegra K1, the 192-core chip that promises to bridge the gap between mobile and PC/console gaming. And it is in top form here. Along with the Shield tablet’s release comes a smattering of games ported over from PC to run on the Tegra K1, including Portal, Half-Life 2, Trine 2, War Thunder and a handful of others. There’ll be 16 titles total available at launch. I saw these suckers running on a tablet, and they looked great. Frame rates where high and smooth. Trine 2 on the Shield tab was virtually indistinguishable from the PS4 version.
And that’s just for now. I also saw the Unreal 4 Engine demo running on the Shield tablet, and while there were a few rough edges (the anti-aliasing left a liiiittle to be desired), it’s proof that plenty of new, awesome-arse games will be portable to this tablet. Like the next big shooter for Xbox One and PS4, not just Source engine classics.
You’ll notice of course that that’s not a tablet screen in the image above. That’s because the Shield tablet, like its clamshell predecessor, includes a “console mode,” where the device streams out to your TV via HDMI cable, up to 4K resolutions if your set and the game can support it. Also like the OG Shield device, the tablet can stream games from your computer (via GameStream) if you’re sporting a Nvidia GTX card in there. I got a chance to play some GRID 2 streamed from a nearby rig and blown up onto a TV. It looked fantastic — full resolution with crisp anti-aliasing — but the latency was a little rough, which doesn’t bode too well for faster-paced shooters like Titanfall and the like. But then again, a hotel Wi-Fi setup is less than ideal.
Of course you aren’t going to be playing all these games by tapping your screen. There’s a controller for this bad boy as well, unsurprisingly named the Shield controller.
Pretty standard hardware here, tight sticks and firm triggers. It’s not quite up to par with the loveliness of the Xbox One controller, but definitely console-grade. It’s leaps and bounds above any other Android controller I’ve used. And that’s not just in terms of feel. Instead of Bluetooth, the Shield controller tethers to its tablet via Wi-Fi direct, which offers lower latency and increased bandwidth. Enough bandwidth that you an plug a headset and microphone into the controller (like you can on an Xbox One or PS4) instead of directly into the tablet. If you don’t want to shell out for the Shield controller, you can just use whatever Bluetooth controller you’ve got hanging around, but you’ll get more lag and no fun extra features.
The Shield Tablet will be available for pre-order come July 29, and with a starting price of just $US300 for a 16GB, Wi-Fi only version, it’s actually cheaper than the Google Play Edition of LG’s G Pad was (it’s not for sale anymore), and the same price as the much less powerful, non-Retina iPad mini. Even if you cut out the gaming aspect it’s still a decent deal.
Of course if you really want to game hard on it, you’ll have to pony up an extra $US60 for the controller, and the collection of console-grade games you can play without streaming from a gaming PC will depend on how many developers port their games over to K1 in addition to the dozen-ish available right now. But the future of gaming on the go is looking better than ever, and the Shield tablet brings mobile and console gaming closer together than they have ever been before.