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NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet Review

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NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet Testing:

Now it's time for the completely subjective portion of the review. While the benchmarks prove that the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet is one of the most powerful tablets on the market, the important thing to most consumers is how that actually translates to real-world usage. Furthermore, no amount of benchmarking can account for all the added features NVIDIA has shoved into the device and its SHIELD ecosystem.

The NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet essentially breaks down into two usage scenarios: everyday use and gaming. So let's examine each scenario a little closer.

Everyday Use:

When I talk about everyday use, I'm talking about everything you can do on the device that isn't gaming. That means browsing the web, watching videos, reading, etc. When it comes to these tasks, the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet performs just as you'd expect of any Android tablet. The tablet's beefy specs don't really come into play that much except maybe to pump out smooth HD video.

Using the free app MX Player, I was able to enjoy 720p and 1080p .MKV videos without any hiccups, with or without captions enabled. The buttery smooth 1080p playback is likely the result of the powerful Tegra K1 chip, as many users of other Android devices complain of stuttering when attempting to watch 1080p .MKV videos. That being said, on such a small screen, it's near impossible to discern any differences between 720p and 1080p – at least on all the videos I've tried.

If you want to do some note-taking, the tablet has you covered with its DirectStylus 2. You also get the NVIDIA Dabbler app if you like to paint, which is a nice added bonus. The stylus pen seems very responsive when I was messing around in Dabbler, but a painter I am not, so sorry, I cannot show you any marvelous works of art. In fact, my primary use of the stylus was taking the screenshots I've shared, as a nice screen-capture menu appears when the stylus is removed.

I can also share with you a warning: be careful when re-inserting the stylus! The stylus is only meant to be inserted in one way, but if you're not paying attention in a dark environment, you can actually jam the stylus in backwards, which results in it being a complete bitch to remove. Yes, I speak from experience – and no, as much as I'd like to say it was because I was testing it out to look out for you guys, it was indeed completely accidental. In order to retrieve it, I had to use one side of super-thin tweezers from a Swiss Army knife to insert in-between the extremely tight gap and just "scrape" up over and over until it gradually rose. I was eventually able to get it out, but not without leaving quite a few scratches.

While the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet doesn't really separate itself from the pack with everyday usage, it's important to note that it's leagues ahead of the NVIDIA SHIELD Portable in that department. As great as the latter is when it comes to gaming, it kind of sucks for anything else. Because of the permanently attached controller, the Portable is extremely difficult and awkward to use for writing emails or doing anything that requires constant touch-screen usage. No such problem exists with the Tablet! The Portable was also horrible for reading articles or ebooks, while the Tablet is perfect for such activities.

The one thing I'd be remiss not to mention would be that I'm not exactly a fan of the glossy screen. The picture quality is top-notch in the dark, but with any nearby light sources, the reflections become pretty harsh. Watching a video in a well-lit environment results in seeing my complete reflection, almost as clearly as if I was looking into a mirror. It makes watching videos with dark scenes very difficult. This is of course completely subjective, with some people preferring the vibrancy of a glossy screen over the muted image quality of a matte screen. Still, it's worth mentioning.

Gaming:

If all you cared about was the aforementioned non-gaming everyday tasks, then you could just buy a cheap $100 tablet and likely be very content. But let's face it – you probably wouldn't be reading this review if that's all you cared about. Like the Portable, the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet essentially provides three gaming experiences: Android gaming, PC gaming, and Console Mode.

When it comes to Android gaming, this device is unrivaled and can handle any Android game you can throw at it thanks to the Tegra K1 processor. This includes, of course, the Tegra-only games such as the one pre-installed on the tablet: Trine 2: Complete Story. Coupled with the SHIELD Wireless Controller, Trine 2 was every bit as good as playing it on PC, both visually and in terms of responsiveness.

As with the Portable, there's also NVIDIA's Gamepad Mapper, which allows you to configure any game to support the physical controller. But the nice thing about it being a tablet is that you can easily use touch controls in games without the awkwardness involved on the Portable. This is useful during a train commute where propping up the tablet and pulling out the controller isn't that feasible. That being said, I wish the controller came with a harness-like attachment to physically connect it to the tablet, essentially allowing it to act like the Portable, just with a larger screen. As great as being able to play touch-screen games is, it would be nice if I could easily play a game like Trine 2 while on the train.

While the Android gaming experience is superior than most other tablets on the market – at least until more Tegra K1-powered devices become available – where the NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet is truly untouchable by its competitors is in its ability to stream PC games. Doing so requires your PC to have a GeForce GTX600 Series GPU or higher, but if you're considering purchasing the device, you're likely already an NVIDIA fan, so that shouldn't be an issue.

NVIDIA GameStream has improved substantially since I first tried it on the Portable. Now you can stream at 1080p/60 if your PC uses a wired Ethernet connection and you can even GameStream outside of your home network if your connection is strong enough. Where GameStream really shines is when you connect your tablet to an HDTV and enable Console Mode. You can play your Android games or use various media applications during Console Mode as well, but it's the PC GameStream where it really shines.

Using PC GameStream in conjunction with Console Mode, I was able to flawlessly play several games natively when officially supported or via Steam Big Picture Mode when not officially supported. Thanks to the ultra-low-latency Wi-Fi Direct connection between the tablet and controller, responsiveness was top-notch as if I was playing directly on a PC or console. The highlight for me was playing LEGO Marvel Super Heroes on a 52" HDTV without the need to go out and buy a console or move my not-so-portable gaming PC near my HDTV.

One thing that was slightly disappointing was that I seemingly couldn't use touch controls in PC games that supported that input method. I was particularly looking forward to trying Sid Meier's Civilization V with touch controls, but I couldn't get it to work – touching the screen merely dragged a mouse cursor. It should be noted that my PC is running Windows 7 and not Windows 8/8.1 where touch controls are supported. As such, it's possible that's the reason I couldn't get the tablet to be detected as a touch-input device, so if you're running the newest version of Windows, you may have better luck than I did.

In addition to GameStream, there's also full support for NVIDIA GRID Cloud Gaming, which is currently in beta testing and essentially allows you to play a handful of PC games for free, with them running off of NVIDIA's servers. Unfortunately for me, there is only one current GRID data center, and it's located in San Jose, California. With me living in New York, the experience was sadly extremely laggy for me. If you happen to live near the servers though, GRID is certainly a nice added-value feature.

Lastly, you may have noticed the embedded videos I posted for Trine 2 and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Those videos were recorded using NVIDIA ShadowPlay directly from the tablet! ShadowPlay can be turned on/off and configured by either accessing the Quick Settings menu (swipe down from the System bar up top) or by holding the Back button on the Wireless Controller for a couple seconds. The ShadowPlay videos are saved in a Game Recordings album in the Gallery, so be cognizant of the amount of space you have remaining on your device – I couldn't find a way to have it save directly to the MicroSD card. It should also be noted that it records everything you do on your tablet, not just gaming, so don't go doing anything you don't want shared.




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