Nvidia Shield Review: Gaming, Not Quite Perfected

by Reads (43,316)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 7
      • Features
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Durability
      • 7
      • Utility
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.40
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Offers a fully immersive gaming experience on the go
    • Has all of the buttons a gamer could want
    • Streams PC games--if you have the right NVIDIA GPU
    • Excellent battery life, sound quality, and display
  • Cons

    • Heavy, not as portable as other dedicated gaming devices
    • Regular Android games are playable only in portrait mode
    • Somewhat expensive considering its limitations--you still need a phone to stay in touch
    • PC streaming requires very particular hardware

Quick Take

While a solid portable gaming device, the Nvidia Shield will only appeal to users with a very specific set of needs, as it has some serious limitations.

The Nvidia Shield is an Android-based gaming handheld that has all of the buttons and triggers of a console controller, as well as a flip up 5-inch 1280 x 720 display and dual stereo speakers. It’s built around an Nvidia Tegra 4 quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage, 802.11n Mimo WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, and an integrated GPS. There’s also a microSD card slot for memory expansion and a mini-HDMI out port.

It is priced at $299 and is currently available from Nvidia and Newegg.com online, or in GameStop and Micro Center stores.

Nvidia Shield FrontBuild and Design

At first glance, the Nvidia Shield looks like a fairly typical console gaming controller — until you notice that there aren’t any apparent buttons. The exterior is black plastic with a silver metallic shield in the middle. That shield is magnetically attached and can be swapped out for a carbon fiber or glossy black lid if you prefer.

Flip up the lid and you’ll get your first glance at that gorgeous screen, as well as enough buttons to make any gamer giddy with excitement. The overall aesthetic is very techie and modern and very cool, mainly black with a few silver and acid green accents.

It feels good in the hand, with rounded edges in all the right places, though it is very heavy. It is well constructed and solidly built, and weighs in at 579 grams, which is just over 20 ounces or almost 1.3 pounds. I didn’t find it uncomfortable to hold, even for long gaming sessions (I think I was just too immersed) but it does add noticeable bulk to your gear bag and definitely is not pocketable, no matter how big your pockets might be.

Nvidia Shield Inside 1Since the Shield is shaped like a gaming controller, it just isn’t as easily portable as systems such as the Nintendo 3DS or the PlayStation Vita, which are both rectangular and rather flat. The Shield, conversely, is very much a 3D device, with curves and bumps. The design does a good job of protecting the screen, since it is completely covered when the lid is closed, though there is also a custom carrying case available for $39.99 for those who want to protect their handheld gaming investment.

Display

The 5-inch 1280 x 720 display is simply stunning and absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t detect any pixelization or ghosting of any kind, whether I was reading text, looking at photos, watching stupid cat videos on YouTube, or playing some incredibly great-looking video games.

The display is multi-touch capable, and extremely responsive. Whether I was adjusting the volume or moving from message to message in my perenially overstuffed inbox, the Shield did exactly what I wanted it to do, and never made me wait. While the display is the same size as what you’ll find on Sony’s PlayStation Vita, the Nvidia Shield’s display looks much better, and brighter too.

Nvidia Shield SideOther Ports and Buttons

There are plenty of these on the Shield, so let’s start under the display lid. Just as with a console game controller, you’ll find two analog joysticks, a d-pad on the left, a/b/x/y buttons on the right, and some special feature buttons in the center: volume control, play, home, and back. A special Shield button in the middle takes you straight to the Shield-enhanced games.

On the back you’ll find the left and right triggers and bumpers. The microSD card slot, mini HDMI out, miniUSB charging port, and the headphone jack are there as well. There are also some vents there too, for better airflow and to make sure that the quad-core processor doesn’t overheat.

The buttons feel good and clicky, not mushy. The analog joysticks are very good as well, offering tight control and a strong return to center, so you won’t make any unwanted movements. The triggers are great for shooting games, and provide a much better experience than tapping on the screen of a tablet when you’re in the mood to cause some mayhem.

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Performance

No one likes to see an hourglass when they’re in the mood for some portable gaming fun, and as far as I can tell, the Nvidia Shield simply doesn’t have one. No matter what task I was trying to accomplish, everything happens instantaneously. Switching from app to app went smoothly and quickly, and the same was true when switching between the Nvidia Shield-enhanced games and the more standard Android functions of the device.

Nvidia Shield ScreenOne aspect of the Shield that couldn’t be tested for this review is the Play PC feature, currently in beta. If you have the right Nvidia GeForce GTX GPU in your desktop PC, you can stream supported games from your PC to your Shield device. Many of the biggest recent releases are included, such as Batman Arkham City, Borderlands 2, Dishonored, Metro, and everyone’s favorite time suck, Skyrim.

Software

The Shield runs on the Jelly Bean version of Android, and comes with all of the typical applications, from Gmail and Google Play to G+ and Maps. All of them work perfectly and look great on the Shield’s large, extra-sharp display.

You can interact with the various apps either directly with your finger or by using the right joystick as a computer mouse replacement. While touching the screen is faster, it does tend to smudge easily and I found myself mostly using the “mouse” feature to navigate.

You get two full games to start, Sonic 4 Episode II and Expendable: Rearmed. Sonic looks and plays as great as he ever has, with lightning fast action and a great sense of speed. Expendable: Rearmed strikes me as a cross between on-rails shooter 1942 and the simple Alien Syndrome style of futuristic dungeon crawler: entertaining and fun, but not a great deal of depth. There are a few other games available, some free, and some paid (99 cents to $9.99), but it would be nice to see a much larger selection of Shield-enhanced games.

Nvidia Shield BackYou can play regular Android games on the Shield, but there’s a catch: they will only work in portrait mode, not landscape. That means that the orientation automatically turns 90 degrees, making the NVIDIA Shield awkward (and much more difficult) to hold with one hand while touching the screen with the other.

Google Music is included, and the sound quality is absolutely fantastic, though you can’t easily use the Shield as an on-the-go music player. As soon as you shut the lid, the music stops and the device goes to sleep.

Camera

This is one function that the NVIDIA Shield completely lacks: it is not equipped with a camera. Since this is 100% gaming-centered device, this likely isn’t considered much of a shortcoming by its intended audience.

Battery Life

I am seriously impressed with the battery life for the Shield. Playing Shield games for more than two hours a day with the volume at full blast barely impacted the battery meter at all, and I was able to go for a full work week without having to recharge it. That’s great news if you’re a regular commuter looking for something to do while you’re sitting on a bus or train every morning and afternoon.

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Nvidia Shield Inside 2Conclusion

While the Nvidia Shield may have a tough time finding its audience, it is an excellent portable gaming device. Yes, you can play games on your iPad, but not with this level of sound quality, and certainly not with the precise control offered by dual joysticks and plenty of face buttons, triggers, and bumpers.

The Shield would be perfect for someone who is a hardcore gamer first, second, and third, and only peripherally interested in general tablet functions. While it is certainly capable of handling your Gmail or being used as a music player, it isn’t exactly pocketable. But it plays, sounds, and looks beautiful, and works exactly as advertised…so long as you’re playing Shield-enhanced games from the TegraZone. Otherwise it has some serious limitations, so carefully evaluate your needs before you take the plunge.

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