The Nvidia Shield was a first attempt by graphics chip- and card-maker Nvidia, but it gave the company a taste for building gadgets that wouldn’t go away, so now they’re back with the Shield Tablet, a gaming monster that doubles as a $299 Android slate.
Nvidia’s gaming tablet is actually its second Android tablet hardware – the first was the Tegra K1 reference device it unveiled first back in January, which was designed to show off the power of its new K1, which includes desktop-level Kepler architecture for enhanced gaming power. The Shield Tablet also employs the K1, but it’s designed to go further, with even more power behind it, and a dedicated wireless companion controller to boot, called the Shield Controller.
The new Nvidia Shield Tablet has an 8-inch, 1920×1200 display for native HD resolution, two front-facing speakers, and a cover accessory that can also be used to prop it up as a kickstand, which is obviously useful for gaming scenarios. The Shield wireless controller offers low latency Wi-Fi connectivity, with about the same lag time as an Xbox 360 controller according to Nvidia. There’s an LTE option coming later, and the Wi-Fi version goes on sale July 29 starting at $299 for a 16GB version, or $399 for one with 32GB of built-in storage, though both options also offer expandable memory via MicroSD of up to 128 additional GB.
Shield’s tablet is therefore competitively priced with most of its peers, and Nvidia claims that its tablet will drastically outperform rivals including the iPad in both benchmark tests and real-world gaming performance. That’s because the Tegra K1 with Kepler supports all the same advanced graphics technologies as the GeForce Titan desktop card, including OpenGL 4.4, DirextX 12, Tesselation and more, all while consuming a fraction of the power.
Because Nvidia is using Wi-Fi for the wireless connectivity on the Shield Controller, it can also stream audio to the gamepad, which supports a hi-fidelity headset for chatting during multiplayer. Nvidia could succeed in making this the first tablet aimed at core gamers who spend a lot of time in online multiplayer matches, which has traditionally been ground firmly held by desktop devices with Ethernet and wired controller support.
The Shield Tablet also includes a built-in stylus, just like the Tegra K1 tablet, but this time it’s been redesigned. The new DirectStylus 2 tech is said to be twice as responsive as the first-generation model, and features GPU-accelerated painting and active response, vs. the passive input mode of the first. The tablet can also take 5 megapixel photos with its front-facing camera, and output video at up to 4K resolution to compatible monitors, plus it has 802.11n Wi-Fi and plays back full 1080p HD video from streaming sources including Netflix, Twitch and Hulu Plus.
Speaking of Twitch, Nvidia Tablet is the first to feature support for streaming games over that platform natively, rather than on an app-by-app basis, which is where that 5 megapixel front camera comes in handy. Twitch support is also integrated with ShadowPlay, Nvidia’s own tool for game capture and sharing among other owners of Nvidia gaming hardware.
The Shield Tablet also supports a lot of the technology we saw debuted on the original Nvidia Shield, which is now rebranded as the Shield Portable to avoid confusion. So Shield Tablet gets support for GameStream, which allows users to stream their full-fledged PC titles from their home gaming system over local Wi-Fi, as well as Nvidia Grid, which streams games over the cloud on-demand – for now just in Northern California during the program’s initial beta. Shield Tablet also supports the console mode that Nvidia introduced on the Shield Portable, which allows you to turn your tablet into a home game console plugged into your TV using the including Mini HDMI 1.4a out port.
As a home console, the Shield Tablet might provide everything some gamers need, thanks to support for up to four controllers simultaneously (including both the Wi-Fi Nvidia Shield Controller and any Bluetooth controllers that work with Android devices). It can also act as a set-top box for over-the-top services like Netflix, and the Controller has a built-in mic and voice control function that resembles those offered on Amazon Fire TV and the newly announced Android TV.
Nvidia has certainly put a lot into the Shield Tablet, which also ships with a host of apps and games including Trine 2: Complete Story pre-installed. But that doesn’t mean it’s abandoning its previous attempts; the company tells us that the Shield Portable isn’t being abandoned, and in fact, suggest that it’s best to watch this space if you’re curious about hardware updates on that front. For now, existing Portable owners will get an update that coincides with the Tablet launch to offer support for the new Shield Controller, a better app, improved onscreen controls and more. The cheaper, $199 Tegra K1 tablet will also continue to be sold.
$299 as an entry-level price for a tablet of this magnitude isn’t asking too much, but to get the full system, you will need to pay $59 per Shield Controller, and $39 for the Shield Tablet Cover which doubles as a kickstand. Overall, it’s still a pretty good deal for what seems to be at first glance a great Android tablet that doubles as an impressive gaming machine. Of course, we’ll have a full review coming once we’ve had more time to assess the device and its merits.