NVIDIA SHIELD Review
Reviewed by: ClayMeow
Reviewed on: November 29, 2013
Price: $299 16GB
NVIDIA SHIELD Introduction:
When I saw the NVIDIA SHIELD at NVIDIA's Montreal Press Event, and specifically the newly released Console Mode, I proclaimed it to be the death of the Ouya. But that was under a controlled environment, set up by experienced NVIDIA engineers. Now that I've had some personal time with the device in my own home, do I still make that claim? Well you will just have to keep reading – you didn't think I'd actually spoil the surprise in the first paragraph, did you?
The NVIDIA SHIELD is a handheld Android gaming device, released on July 31, 2013. Since I typically review games and not hardware, you'll have to forgive me for not having professional photography equipment, but hopefully I faked it well enough.
NVIDIA SHIELD Closer Look:
While most buyers will likely purchase their SHIELD online, it is nice to see that NVIDIA still cares about presentation. The front of the predominantly black box features an almost life-size graphic (I measured) of an open SHIELD, proudly displaying a game in action. There's no mistaking this for anything but a gaming device. In the top left corner is "SHIELD" while the NVIDIA logo is in the top right. The back of the box features a closed SHIELD that is actually life-size, or pretty damn close to it. Across the top is a simple, yet bold statement in silver lettering: "Take Android Gaming to the Next Level."
You may have noticed the small green rectangles toward the bottom of both the front and back of the box. Yes, they wrap around to each other across the left side of the box, with the SHIELD name inside it and a small, black line-art icon of the device. While the box has thus far been pretty sparse on details, the right side fixes all that with the features, specifications, copyright, and barcodes. NVIDIA chose to highlight three features, including the powerful Tegra 4 processor, the integrated "console-grade" controller, and access to over 700,000 apps, movies, and games through GooglePlay. Curiously, there's no mention of PC game streaming, which is arguably one of SHIELD's greatest features. There's also no mention of Console Mode, but that's understandable since it was just released. Maybe NVIDIA will start slapping stickers on the box for the new features.
The top of the box is the nice bright green NVIDIA color we've come to know and love, with another tag line under the NVIDIA logo: "Inspired by Gamers. Built by NVIDIA." Flipping over to the bottom, a simple little plastic tab invites you to OPEN it – but not before you slice open the clear tape at the sides and slide off the outer sleeve.
Upon sliding off the outer sleeve, the only new image you'll see is a green-filled SHIELD icon. Get used to it because you'll be seeing that a lot. Finally listening to the OPEN tab, flipping up the top of the box reveals the SHIELD, on display like it's perched on its throne. Though it's a bit hard to make out in the image, the top lid has molded black cardboard inside to keep the SHIELD from jostling during transport. It also has a plethora of small, circular foam pieces to keep it nice and secure and prevent scratching. You may have also noticed that there is a green box inside the outer black box. I assume it is glued together, but I didn't want to tear it apart and ruin its nice construction.
Removing the SHIELD and the black cardboard it sits upon reveals a black envelope with that green SHIELD logo prominently displayed. Inside, you'll find the Registration and Warranty booklet, along with a Quick Start Guide that doubles as a poster on the reverse side, showing the basic functionality of the SHIELD's multitude of buttons. Beneath the envelope sits the only two accessories it comes packaged with: an AC adapter and USB charging cable. But these aren't your ordinary adapter and cable – NVIDIA once again adds its flair for design and craftsmanship. The top of the adapter has a silver metallic-like plate with the NVIDIA logo across it. The rest of the adapter is mostly a brushed black plastic, but with glossy black trapezoids on the sides. The USB cable looks like your standard micro-USB to USB cable, but the ends have that green SHIELD icon on them. Simple, but a nice touch.
The packaging and accessories are certainly well designed and constructed, but that's not what you care about. Now onto the SHIELD itself.
NVIDIA SHIELD Closer Look:
Unsurprisingly, when the lid is closed, the SHIELD looks like a fairly large, faceless gamepad. The top of the device is fairly mundane, featuring a somewhat trapezoidal silver section amidst brushed black plastic. That silver section is actually referred to as a Tag and is completely removable, attached via magnets. All SHIELDs ship with a silver tag, but NVIDIA sells two custom tags for $20 apiece: a carbon fiber tag and a glossy black tag. If you're into modding, it should be fairly easy to spray paint your own design on the silver one. Other than the tag, the only other discerning feature from the top is a silver plate with the word SHIELD etched into it.
The front of the SHIELD is quite unique. You still get a glimpse of the SHIELD-etched silver plate, but this time you also see an NVIDIA-etched silver plate below it. In between the two is what I can only describe as a grille – it seems that the SHIELD designers were influenced by their relationships with car manufacturers. It was hard to tell if it was functional – providing airflow – or simply aesthetic. Either way, it happens to be surrounded by the only piece of NVIDIA-green visible while the lid is closed. There's also a strip of glossy black plastic that wraps around the whole device and some of the bottom.
The back of the SHIELD contains all the connections. From left to right, there's a microSD slot with a Mini-HDMI port below that, a Micro-USB 2.0 port, and a 3.5mm audio jack with microphone support (thus the headset icon). Just above the Micro-USB port is a small pin hole that contains an LED, which lights up while charging – amber/orange while charging and green while fully charged. Above all the connections are some vents for airflow. You also get your first glimpse of the hinge for the lid, which is very sturdy, as well as the right and left shoulder buttons and analog triggers.
The bottom of the SHIELD is contoured, as you'd expect with a gamepad. While the center has that glossy black, the majority of the bottom is a rubberized black to enhance grip. As you can also see, the bottom sports "Powered by NVIDIA Tegra" alongside government-required info and symbols. It comes wrapped in a clear plastic film to prevent scratching during transport.
Flipping up the lid, we finally get a look at the good stuff. NVIDIA opted to go with the parallel analog stick design, which I personally prefer, but if you're an Xbox fan, it may take some getting used to. As you may have also noticed, the analog sticks are inset within concave sections, which results in them being just a tad taller than the other buttons. This is obviously because the lid wouldn't lay flush otherwise. The analog sticks are textured with four dots in the cardinal directions, and both analog sticks are clickable.
NVIDIA has also opted to go with the ABXY designations for its face buttons, which means using it for games with Xbox prompts should be easy. The ABXY buttons are glossy against a brushed background, just like the directional pad, which is the full circle type. Clicking any of the eight possible directions has solid feedback that feels similarly to the ABXY buttons.
In the center, between the directional pad and ABXY, are your SHIELD-exclusive buttons. The large one in the center with the NVIDIA logo is unsurprisingly referred to as the NVIDIA Button and is used to power on the device and quickly access the SHIELD games screen. Surrounding it is the Volume Button in the top left, Back Button in bottom left, Home Button in the bottom right, and Start Button in the top right. The little dot above the NVIDIA Button is presumably the built-in microphone. The silver sections to the left and right are the integrated stereo speakers, positioned nicely so your fingers will never cover them during use.
Then of course, there's the screen. The SHIELD sports a 5" multi-touch LCD display with a resolution of 1280x720 (commonly known as 720p), which results in 294 PPI. That's quite a nice size and resolution for a portable device, but the rather large black border surrounding it makes it look smaller than it is. In fact, when I first saw it, I could have sworn it was smaller than my Vita, but both are 5" 16:9 displays. I guess this is one aspect of design the NVIDIA engineers fell a bit short on.
NVIDIA SHIELD Carrying Case Closer Look:
NVIDIA was kind enough to provide me with the official carrying case, which can be purchased separately for $39.99. When you have an expensive portable electronic device, you certainly don't want to go without a case for long. It's no coincidence that whenever I see someone using a mobile phone with a cracked screen, it doesn't have a case around it. The probability of the SHIELD's screen cracking during a drop (while closed) is probably slim, but you still wouldn't want to scratch the device or loosen the hinge.
The SHIELD Carrying Case has a black mesh-like fabric outer texture, but is a relatively rigid shell to provide ample protection. It's shaped like the SHIELD, even down to the raised top center trapezoid and a contoured bottom. Looking at it from above, there's a rubber SHIELD strip that is sewn into the case. Just below the zipper, a green ring wraps around the case adding just a splash of color. The zipper itself has a rubber cover sporting the NVIDIA logo and name. It also has a triangle hook at the back of the case with a wrist strap included.
The coolest feature of the case is an "easy access plug" to charge the SHIELD without needing to remove it from the case. That is certainly a feature I wish my Vita case had. The plug itself is black rubber and features a USB icon and battery icon in white. The hole in the case that the plug covers has a black plastic border. Access to the Micro-USB port is easy and you can even see the LED charge indicator if you angle it right. As with any electronic device, the SHIELD does get hot when it charges, and thus the case does get warm, but it doesn't seem to be much of an issue – and I'm sure if there was any harm to having the device charge in an enclosed case, NVIDIA would not have designed such a feature.
The inside of the case is covered in black felt and is form-fitted so the SHIELD fits snugly inside. The top section has a mesh pouch to hold accessories, but it's an extremely tight fit. I could fit the USB cable by itself, but not with the AC adapter attached. Disconnecting the two, I was able to work both pieces into the pouch, but then the lid wouldn't close because the AC adapter protruded out too much. It's really just a minor gripe since most cases wouldn't even be able to hold anything extra, but still worth mentioning.
If you plan on getting a SHIELD, you'll want this case. It's actually the only SHIELD case on the market right now, but even if it wasn't, I'd still recommend it. Nyko showed off two cases at E3, but neither looked up to snuff compared to this one. If you're spending $300 on a piece of sensitive equipment, you're going to want to protect it. Don't be stupid.
NVIDIA SHIELD Initial Setup:
When you're done admiring the SHIELD's craftsmanship, you're obviously going to want to turn it on. You turn the SHIELD on by holding down the giant NVIDIA button for a second or two. If you do it correctly, you'll be greeted by a simple NVIDIA SHIELD graphic, followed by the green SHIELD icon we've now come to know and love. If the SHIELD doesn't have enough juice, you'll instead be greeted with a graphic of a large horizontal battery containing a sliver of red to the left.
The first time you turn on your SHIELD – either out of the box or after a factory reset – you'll be greeted by a tutorial of sorts. It consists of four screens that essentially reiterate what the included poster showed us.
After you agree to the above, you're presented with some languages to choose from and then are asked to select your WiFi connection. WiFi is required to set up the SHIELD, so if you don't have WiFi at your house, you better have a friend's house or local hotspot you can use during the initialization process.
After all that, you're finally at the home screen, but not without another tutorial of sorts. This time the screens tell you how to access your apps and add them to your home screen, if you so choose.
That's basically it for the initial setup. Obviously you can play around with a lot more by going into the Settings app. But now it's time to get to the good stuff.
NVIDIA SHIELD Specifications:
NVIDIA Tegra 4 Quad Core Mobile Processor with 2GB RAM
5 inch 1280x720 (294 ppi) Multi-Touch Retinal Quality Display
Integrated Stereo Speakers with Built-in Microphone
16GB Flash Memory
Custom Tag Color
802.11n 2x2 Mimo 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
MicroSD storage slot
3.5mm stereo headphone jack with microphone support
3 Axis Gyro
3 Axis Accelerometer
Dual analog joysticks
Left/right analog triggers
Android Home and Back buttons
NVIDIA power/multi-function button
28.8 Watt Hours
Weight & Size
158mm (w) x 135mm (D) x 57mm (H)
Android Jelly Bean OS
Sonic 4 Episode II THD
NVIDIA SHIELD Features:
- THE LATEST ANDROID 4.3 OS: SHIELD comes stock with the latest Jelly Bean 4.3 operating system from Google for easy access to all your favorite Android games and applications.
- CONSOLE MODE: Transform your NVIDIA® SHIELD™ into a full living room gaming and entertainment experience on your big-screen TV. Sync a Bluetooth controller and play your Android and PC games in HD.
- GAMEPAD MAPPER: Exponentially expand your game library to hundreds of Android™ games by adding controller support to native touch based games giving your SHIELD complete control.
- 4K ULTRA-HD READY: Play your favorite movie files like FLV, MKV, and even 4K media on next-gen 4K TVs.
- THE WORLD'S FASTEST MOBILE PROCESSOR: The NVIDIA® Tegra® 4 processor features a 72-core NVIDIA GeForce® GPU and quad-core ARM® A15 CPU for graphic-intensive Android™ games without compromising battery life.
- THE BEST CONSOLE-GRADE GAME CONTROLLER: NVIDIA SHIELD™ is the ultimate mobile game controller, ergonomically designed for maximum comfort, whether you're playing Android games or streaming PC games from your couch.
- HD MULTI-TOUCH LCD DISPLAY: A vibrant 5-inch LCD tablet display makes text, colors, and images look sharp at every angle in all your favorite apps, games, and movies.
- HIGH-FIDELITY SPEAKERS ENGINEERED TO IMMERSE YOU: SHIELD takes mobile sound farther with a unique bass-reflex, tuned-port system designed for enthusiasts who crave high-fidelity audio when playing games, movies, and music.
- EXPANDED CONNECTIVITY: Stay connected with 802.11n 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi for fast PC game streaming, plus a Mini-HDMI port, Bluetooth 3.0, Micro-USB 2.0, 3.5 mm audio jack, Plus, free up your SHIELD memory by moving your full app and game files (APK + OBB files) up to a 64 GB external microSD card.
All information courtesy of NVIDIA: http://shield.nvidia.com/specs-and-features/
NVIDIA SHIELD Android Gaming & Gamepad Mapper:
The SHIELD comes pre-loaded with two Android games: Sonic 4 Episode II THD and Expendable: Rearmed. Both games are optimized for the SHIELD and support the gamepad controls right from the start. Sonic 4 Episode II THD is classic 2D Sonic, with the THD version being optimized for Tegra 3 and Tegra 4. When I first played the game awhile back on my iPhone, I was rather impressed that the touch controls worked fairly well. Nevertheless, playing with an actual gamepad is more responsive and obviously how Sonic is meant to be played.
Expendable: Rearmed is a twin-stick shooter. If you're not familiar with that term, it refers to a game where you move with one analog stick (typically the left stick) and aim and/or shoot with the other analog stick (typically the right stick). With the SHIELD's dual analog sticks, it's no wonder why NVIDIA decided to include the game. While it seemed a bit easy, controls were responsive and there are a lot of explosions to show off the NVIDIA's graphical prowess. And graphical prowess it certainly has, sporting the extremely powerful Tegra 4 processor.
When you inevitably want more games to play, you have several options. One option is to tap the NVIDIA button once while on the home screen to launch TegraZone. TegraZone has three sections: SHIELD Games, SHIELD Store, and PC Games. SHIELD Games is for already installed games, while SHIELD Store lists all the currently uninstalled Android games that have official SHIELD support. There's almost 100 games from various genres, both free and paid. While some games may use touch controls in the menus, all the games feature full gamepad controls in-game. I did not test all the games, but the ones I did play were perfect. One game in particular, Reaper, even had control screens specifically for the SHIELD!
If a game you want isn't in the SHIELD Store, don't fret – you also have access to the full Google Play Store. Whether a game not in the SHIELD Store has gamepad support or not is up in the air, but that is where the Gamepad Mapper comes into play. Gamepad Mapper allows you to map touch controls and gestures to the gamepad buttons and analog sticks. When in (almost) any game, simply hold down the Start button and the Gamepad Mapper overlay pops up. You're then presented with a toolbar containing gizmos for the analog sticks and buttons, or you can use the gesture tool to draw a gesture on the screen. If you make a mistake, clicking on the Eraser icon deletes whatever you have selected. The right-most button with the green down arrow lets you download saved profiles or upload your own. I used the Gamepad Mapper in the endless runner Vector, which worked quite well. However, the reason I said almost any game is because the Gamepad Mapper overlay wouldn't even come up for Lep's World 3. An NVIDIA engineer filed a bug report after I brought it to his attention and he had the same result, so maybe it'll work by the time you get your hands on a SHIELD. Other games are simply a bit complicated to be perfectly translated. For example, I tried my best to map Injustice: Gods Among Us, but because the swipe attacks don't always appear in the same position on the screen, I was only moderately successful.
While the Google Play store may not have the sheer number of games the Apple App Store has, there is one aspect that provides a major boost – emulation. There are several emulators for a variety of platforms, both of the free and paid variety. I downloaded NESoid, a free NES emulator, and tested out two games I loved as a kid: Super Mario Bros. 3 and Ice Hockey (NOTE: it is illegal to download ROMs for games you do not own). I had to set up the controls in the emulator settings first, but after I did, both games worked great. It's too bad I'm not as good at Ice Hockey as I once was.
NVIDIA SHIELD PC Game Streaming:
While Android gaming is all well and good, let's face it, it doesn't hold a candle to PC or console gaming. Luckily for us more hardcore gamers, through the GeForce Experience application on a PC, we can stream PC games to the SHIELD – that is, as long as you have a GTX600 Series GPU or higher. It also has some other requirements that shouldn't be a problem for most PC gamers, but you can check the image below.
The first step to enable PC Game Streaming is to install the GeForce Experience. After you do that, simply click on the Preferences tab, select Games, ensure it is scanning the appropriate locations (adding or removing if you need to), and then click on Check Now. Once that is taken care of, hit the NVIDIA button on your SHIELD to launch TegraZone, select PC Games, and you'll be presented with any computers in your house that can support the Game Streaming. When you connect to a computer for the first time, you'll need to accept the connection on said computer, after which you'll never have to confirm the connection again unless you disallow it.
After you connect to your PC, you'll be presented with boxart-representations of every officially supported game you currently have installed (assuming you listened to me and scanned for games in GFE). Playing any of those games are, in theory, guaranteed to work with the SHIELD. I successfully loaded the newest game I own, Batman: Arkham Origins (which I recently reviewed), and as you can see in the image below, it automatically recognized I was using a controller despite me using keyboard and mouse controls on my PC (thinking I was using a Xbox 360 controller). Checking out the settings, you can see it runs at the SHIELD's native resolution of 1280x720 and, because it's actually running on my PC with the GTX770 and simply streaming to the SHIELD, I get the full DX11 and PhysX experience! The game ran smoothly, but I did find it tough to play such a detailed game on a small screen, not to mention that I was not accustomed to gamepad controls. I was able to survive one combat encounter, but needless to say, I died rather easily in another – thus the Enigma death screen.
While playing Batman: Arkham Origins on a handheld was cool, I decided I needed to find a game that would be better suited to the small screen and one that felt more natural (to me) with a gamepad. I decided on a game called Adventures of Shuggy, an indie platformer. I had never played the game before, but I figured a platformer was perfect to use with a gamepad and I was right. The game felt great on the SHIELD and it was extremely easy to play. In fact, one stage is played sideways, which probably would have been super frustrating on the PC, but since I could just tilt my SHIELD, I never got mixed up with the controls!
If one of your favorite games is not officially supported, you may still be able to play it through Steam's Big Picture Mode. That being said, whether a game actually works through Big Picture Mode is a complete toss-up. Even a game with gamepad support, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, would not work for me because it didn't recognize the SHIELD as a controller. Thankfully, there is a user-maintained Google Doc spreadsheet listing a bunch of games and whether or not they work perfectly, mostly, or not at all; the latter category usually consisting of games that fail to recognize the SHIELD as a controller, like the aforementioned SASRT. If you're interested in picking up a SHIELD with the intention on streaming a particular game, I strongly advise you to check out that spreadsheet first.
NVIDIA SHIELD Console Mode:
While streaming PC games to your SHIELD is awesome, playing them on the smaller screen isn't always ideal, as was the case with Batman: Arkham Origins. That's where the recently released Console Mode comes in handy.
Connecting the SHIELD to your HDTV via HDMI, you're presented with the option to enter Console Mode. Doing so turns off the SHIELD's display and instead sends the signal to your television. While you can use the SHIELD as a controller, unless you have a rather long Mini-HDMI to HDMI cable, doing so would be rather awkward. Instead, it's recommended that you grab yourself a Bluetooth controller. While any controller should work, NVIDIA specifically recommends the Nyko PlayPad Pro, which is essentially like a Bluetooth Xbox 360 controller, albeit a smaller one. While it's built for Tegra devices and thus works perfectly with the SHIELD, it also supports iOS devices, making it quite a nice addition to your gaming arsenal at a mere $39.99 USD.
Console Mode allows you to play Android games at 1080p and stream PC games at 720p. 1080p support for PC game streaming is supposed to come via a future patch, but will require a wired Internet connection via a USB-to-Ethernet adapter. It also supports 4K Ultra HD, but is limited to video files only, at least for now. Considering you need a high-end, multi-GPU system just to have games playable at 4K, I wouldn't hold your breath for 4K GameStream support.
While playing Android games on a large HDTV is nice, even the PC game streaming is a sweet addition because it means you no longer have to have your desktop PC near your television if you want to play your PC games on the latter. Of course you'll need a decent router to support it flawlessly, but it's still more convenient. My Linksys E3000 struggled when I used a TV in another room, but NVIDIA has a list of GameStream-Ready routers if you want the best experience. The only other issue is that 720p gaming is going to be very discernible to any hardcore PC gamer, especially on larger HDTVs (I tested on 40" and 52" HDTVs).
NVIDIA SHIELD vs. The Competition:
As you have seen, the NVIDIA SHIELD is a compelling device, but you may be wondering how it stacks up against the competition? The answer isn't that simple because it really depends on what you consider competition. While the review has been largely factual up until this point, this is where it becomes subjective.
Ouya, I hardly even knew-ya. Sorry, I know that was cheesy, but let's face it, the Ouya is a train wreck (I won't go into details, but Google it if you haven't been following along). About the only thing the Ouya has going for itself over the SHIELD is the price – at a mere $99 USD, it's certainly the cheaper option. But you know what they say: you get what you pay for. The Ouya allows you to play Android games (or any Android app) on your HDTV, but that's it. The SHIELD allows you to do the same thing, but also allows you to game on-the-go as well as stream PC games. It's up to you whether spending $200 more on the SHIELD is worth it, but you should also keep in mind that the Ouya only sports a Tegra 3 processor with 1GB or RAM compared to the SHIELD's Tegra 4 with 2GB of RAM. As such, even if all you care about is Android gaming, the SHIELD is still superior.
Dedicated Gaming Handhelds (PlayStation Vita & Nintendo 3DS):
When pitted against dedicated gaming handhelds like the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS, Android gaming simply doesn't hold up. If you're strictly interested in a portable gaming solution, you're better off with the Vita or 3DS rather than the SHIELD. Not only are the games typically higher quality and more complete experiences, both systems are also cheaper than the SHIELD. The Vita has a MSRP of $200 USD, while the 3DS is $170 USD (or $200 USD for the XL version). Even factoring in the memory card for the Vita, you're still looking at a lower overall cost, which means more money to spend on games. While I do not own a 3DS, I do own a Vita, and no Android game I tried came close to the native Vita titles I've enjoyed. If you are looking for a gaming device to play during a commute to work, you'll likely be happier with a Vita or 3DS. That is unless you really want those emulators, in which case, it's a toss-up.
I placed my Vita on top of the SHIELD's controller for a side-by-side comparison. Sonic is on the SHIELD while Spelunky is on the Vita. Despite the higher resolution of the SHIELD, I do prefer the OLED on the Vita.
All that being said, it's important to remember that the SHIELD does offer up other advantages – mainly the ability to stream PC games and play on an HDTV. So if those aspects appeal to you, the SHIELD suddenly becomes a lot more appealing. That is, unless you have a PS4 and want to Remote Play to your Vita; then it's once again a toss-up.
Tablets & Smartphones:
The SHIELD is like an Android phone in landscape mode with a controller permanently attached. If you already have a smartphone, you may be hesitant to spend money on a SHIELD, but the gaming experience will certainly be superior. While the larger screen of a tablet may be tempting, a high-end one will cost you just as much as a SHIELD, if not more. If you want it primarily as a gaming device, the SHIELD is the clear winner. That being said, outside of gaming and watching videos, other functionality is quite the chore since it can be rather awkward to use the touchscreen. Typing, for example, is absolutely dreadful, so while you can have your e-mail accounts set up on the SHIELD or use Google Hangouts to chat, I certainly wouldn't recommend using it to actually compose messages – the attached controller simply makes holding it like you normally would to touch-type feel unnatural.
The same can be said for any game that you can't use Gamepad Mapper for, such as the extremely popular Candy Crush Saga, or any game that only supports portrait mode (though I did try Release the Ninja and it wasn't too bad). In addition, the SHIELD is not the device you want if you want to read your favorite e-books or e-magazines. As you can see in the image below, I pulled up the PC Gamer review of the SHIELD on the SHIELD, and reading it was near impossible (imagine that on a 5" screen). Of course, if the PC game streaming and Console Mode of the SHIELD appeal to you, those shortcomings may be minor in your mind.
I placed my iPhone 5s on top of the SHIELD's controller for a side-by-side comparison and loaded up Injustice: Gods Among Us on both. I have an anti-glare screen protector on my iPhone and the brightness dialed down, which is why it appears darker. The game looks similar on both, but the SHIELD does enjoy a larger screen.
Notebooks & Netbooks:
I wasn't even going to bother including this category, but then I'm sure someone would ask. When compared to notebooks, even a decent non-gaming notebook will likely provide a better experience than a SHIELD, but then you're also talking about a device that's five to ten times heavier, much harder to lug around, and likely four or five times the price. Netbooks, while small and lightweight, simply aren't made for gaming. Sure you can play a casual game or even some old school games, but if you have a netbook, it's likely for the word processing and web browsing. If you're in the market for a notebook or netbook, the SHIELD is certainly not an alternative – and vice versa.
NVIDIA SHIELD Conclusion:
Make no mistake about it, the NVIDIA SHIELD is a great device. But whether it's worth the $300 USD price tag is entirely dependent on what you plan on using it for. There's no better Android gaming device on the market, but if that's all you want it for, the price tag may be a bit steep. Indeed, if you're not interested in the PC Game Streaming and/or Console Mode, I'd have to recommend a PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS instead.
If you are interested in the PC Game Streaming, you better ensure your PC meets the minimum requirements. If you're running an AMD GPU, you're out of luck. Same goes for notebook users, as none of the mobile NVIDIA GPUs support PC Game Streaming (at least not currently). If you do happen to be a desktop member of the green team, not so fast – you still need a GTX600 series or better, which means a card released within the last year and a half. The good thing is, if you happen to be in the market for a new video card, NVIDIA is running a special Holiday Bundle promotion; you can grab a GTX 660, 660 Ti, 670, 680, 690, or 760 and receive $50 USD off the SHIELD, or go all out with a GTX 770, 780, 780 Ti, or TITAN and receive $100 USD off the SHIELD.
It's hard to recommend the SHIELD at its current price point if you're not going to take advantage of the PC Game Streaming and Console Mode. What can I say, I love my Vita and it was cheaper. That being said, if you're obsessed with emulators, having a portable emulation device with a real controller is hard to resist. While you can play PSP and PS1 games on the Vita (if they're available on PSN) and GBA games on your 3DS (if they're available in the eShop), the SHIELD allows you to play all three, plus several other systems. While you can do that on any Android device, having the integrated controller makes the experience much more akin to playing the actual console.
One last thing I will add is that NVIDIA has already shown a great commitment to improving the SHIELD over time, such as adding Console Mode in the latest major update. The list of officially supported PC games is constantly expanding as well, and I'm sure that'll increase even more knowing NVIDIA's strong relationships with several developers.
In the end, it's up to you whether you feel $300 USD is justified. For what the SHIELD offers, the price is more than acceptable, but if you don't plan on utilizing all that it offers, you'll be in for a tougher decision. Still, if you have a high-end NVIDIA PC or are planning on buying a new GPU, the SHIELD will make a great addition to anyone's holiday wishlist. Just don't forget to factor in an additional $39.99 for the official carrying case, because you're going to want that to.
- Great craftsmanship
- Crams a lot of pixels into a 5" screen (294 PPI)
- Tegra 4 processor equates to a great gaming experience
- Added value with two games and Hulu Plus pre-loaded
- Integrated controller makes this the best Android gaming device
- An emulator-junkie's best friend
- PC Game Streaming (if your PC supports it)
- Console Mode
- LOUD, high quality speakers
- Can increase storage via microSD cards beyond the built-in 16GB
- Comparatively good battery life
- NVIDIA Holiday Bundle $50 or $100 discount, if you're in the market for a new video card
- Heavier and bulkier than most (all?) other handheld devices
- Gamepad controls not always supported, not even with Gamepad Mapper
- Typing and other touch functionality may feel awkward with the permanently attached controller
- PC Game Streaming requires a fairly beefy desktop PC and high-end router
- Playing PC games on a 5" screen isn't always a great experience
- Don't even bother trying to read your GooglePlay Newsstand subscriptions on that tiny screen
- Expensive if all you care about is gaming on-the-go