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Hands-on with Nvidia's Shield tablet: A slick experience, on the small and big screen

Mark Hachman | July 23, 2014
Nvidia announced its 8-inch, Android-based Shield tablet Tuesday, with a price tag starting at US$299.

Nvidia claims that the Shield tablet will yield about 10 hours of video playback or between 5 and 6 hours of gameplay, depending on whether games are played directly on the tablet itself. (Streamed games consume about the same amount of power as streamed video, Nvidia executives said.)

The controller, meanwhile, forgoes Bluetooth connectivity for Wi-Fi Direct, which exhibits three times less latency while offering eight times as much bandwidth--24Mbps--compared to Bluetooth, according to Nvidia. Up to four Shield controllers can be paired to one tablet for multiplayer gaming. Bluetooth is also supported for connecting keyboards and other peripherals. 

While the controller's shape and appearance doesn't break from conventional layouts--there's a pair of thumbsticks, a D-pad, and four input buttons--a cluster of buttons in the center adds more functionality. From there, you can launch the Shield Hub, Nvidia's online store; begin streaming games from a compatible PC using Nvidia's GameStream technology; or stream a small collection of top-tier games from the cloud, OnLive-style, via the Nvidia Grid beta, which is currently available only to San Francisco Bay Area residents. If you're the type of person who likes to game in front of a virtual crowd, there's Nvidia's ShadowPlay technology, which can record gameplay video and stream it in real time.

A microphone built into the controller lets you trigger Android voice commands, including launching apps or quizzing Google. Wait, there's more! Nvidia's passive DirectStylus slips conveniently inside the tablet There's even a quite amazing painting app,  "Dabbler," which is sort of an improved version of Microsoft's Fresh Paint. It can model the pull of gravity on the virtual watercolors and oils you paint with, and it allows you to adjust the light source to create cool visual effects.

Everything you'd expect from a gaming tablet
Nvidia allowed us a few minutes to play around with the Shield, including streaming the racing game Grid 2 from a nearby networked PC and playing Trine 2, a popular 2D side-scroller from 2011 that will be bundled with the tablet.

Given that the demos were prepared by Nvidia, we went in expecting to leave with a positive impression. But we certainly couldn't find any obvious flaws, including its performance. As Nvidia executives noted, racing games tend to be very unforgiving when it comes to latency. With the Shield tablet connected to an HDTV in console mode, I couldn't detect any notable lag, and the graphics were clear, sharp, and fluid.

The same could be said for Trine 2. To be honest, I'm not clear how graphics-intensive the game is. I've played Trine, its predecessor, on a low-end home PC with nary a slowdown. But I also spent a few minutes using the tablet to play Portal, one of two games Valve Software recently ported to Android. Portal ran smoothly; then again, it is a seven-year-old game. 


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