Nvidia, which creates processors for computers and game consoles, has always been a big player in gaming, but it never had a gaming device of its own. Now it does: the Nvidia Shield. This handheld Android gaming device, available for $300, is a great product, although it may appeal mainly to Android gamers.
The Shield is meant for gaming, but it also has tablet-like qualities. This review focuses primarily on the gaming aspects of the Shield. We're also testing it as a tablet, and we'll update this review with those results soon.
The Shield has a clamshell design, which protects its 5-inch capacitive multi-touch screen when it isn’t in use [edited 8/13/13]. When opened, the screen sits atop a very traditional game controller, complete with a directional pad, two thumbsticks, four face buttons, and shoulder and trigger buttons on the back of the device.
In addition, there are Volume Control, Home, Start, and Back buttons, and an Nvidia button that takes you directly to the Shield games menu and doubles as a power button. The Shield has two speakers built into its face, and the sound performance is good, especially for a handheld device (though you’ll still get better sound out of a good pair of headphones).
The face plate of the Shield, called a Tag, is also interchangeable. You can buy one for 20 bucks if you want to add a little personal flair to your device. The Shield’s connections include a Mini-HDMI output, Micro-USB 2.0, MicroSD storage slot, and a headphone jack with microphone support.
The Shield does a lot of things well. The controls are very responsive and perform just as well as they do on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. My only gripe is that the thumbsticks are a bit close together, and the device is bulky—so those with smaller hands may find it a little uncomfortable. The controls can also be used to navigate the Shield’s home screen and menus fairly intuitively.
The available games vary in quality. You can buy and play anything that's sold in the Google Play Store, but some games are optimized for Shield. Real Boxing, for example, has very impressive visuals and is easily controlled using the Shield's game pad; and you won't have to change any settings.
Another promising feature: The Shield can stream games from a PC, so your PC games become more portable. The feature is in beta right now, so only a limited number of games are available. (We don’t yet have a desktop with the required specs to use this streaming feature, so we can’t comment on it.)
You can also use the Shield to play games on your TV wirelessly using Miracast (if your TV is compatible) or via the Shield’s mini HDMI port (cable not included). And since you can access the Google Play Store directly, you can download any games or apps that you’ve previously purchased without having to re-buy them. You also have access to a huge selection of nongaming-related apps, which makes the Shield versatile.
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The Shield’s main flaw is that it's awkward to use the touch controls without putting it down. And it makes sense only to use it in landscape mode: In portrait mode, you'd have to lay it awkwardly on its side.
The Shield is also a bit heavier than I prefer for a handheld game device. Holding 20.4 ounces could become exhausting after extended periods of game play. And finally, since the Shield’s PC-sreaming feature is only in beta, it will work only with desktop computers that have a GeForce GTX 650 or higher GPU.
The Shield gets a lot more right than it does wrong—but it's a niche device. Hardcore gamers will likely opt for cheaper portable game consoles that are supported by the big gaming companies, such as the PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS. Casual gamers would be better off going for a cheaper device with a larger screen, such as a Samsung Tab or Google Nexus tablet, or even a smart phone.
Hardcore gamers who specifically enjoy the Android OS are likely to be the buyers for the Shield. It may be a good choice for those who play a lot of PC games and would like to make them a little more portable, too, though that feature is still in its early stages.
That said, the Shield may just be a little ahead of its time. The Android platform seems poised to become a force in gaming, with quite a few consoles and handhelds being released this year. The problem is that there aren’t enough of the hugely popular games in Android that could get hardcore gamers to make the switch. It will take more high-quality and big-name titles to make their way to Android for these devices to gain a foothold in the market.
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