The idea of serious gaming on a tablet device originally went south for us the moment we tried to control a first-person shooter using touchscreen controls. They are too clumsy for reversal of movement or reactionary firing, leading to an okay but not console-like experience.
There are plenty of fine games on mobile devices, just not those that you'd find on a dedicated gaming machine, such as a PS4, Xbox One or even PS Vita. That's where Nvidia comes in with the Shield Tablet, an Android slate with more than an eye on the gaming market. And while it's not the first dedicated gaming tablet, it's by far the most capable.
The big question is whether Nvidia has geared it so much towards gaming that it is lacking in the features and functions that make an Android tablet so appealing. But as we've found out from weeks of use that's not the case: the Shield Tablet is a brilliant standalone Android tablet too. Here's why.
Designed for gaming
Nvidia has dabbled in the portable gaming arena before, with its Android-based Shield device. However, the Shield Tablet is a far more important statement for the company in that it is both significantly more powerful and available in regions outside of North America. And yep, that means the UK too.
It has an 8-inch 1920 x 1080 LCD screen for high-definition gaming, and while other devices are emerging with higher resolutions, the Shield Tablet seems plenty crisp and clear for its size.
Like with the Amazon Fire range, the default colour tones are slightly yellowish - by design rather than panel choice - but that suits game graphics, and as that's its raison d'etre, we're just fine with that. It might be more apparent during browsing, but a slightly off-white screen is better for the eyes when reading so that makes sense here too. You can always up the brightness to make it less pronounced.
What mustn't be forgotten in all this though is how well it works as a dedicated tablet device too
In the hand the Shield Tablet is weightier than similar-size devices for a number of reasons. Its 390g mass is noticeably heavier than an iPad mini, for example, but it feels sturdier in the hand and you get the impression that it would survive numerous trips with barely a mark to show.
At 9.2mm thick, it is also chunkier than recent equivalents thanks to adopting more passive cooling than most in order to keep the chipset at an optimal working temperature - an essential part of gaming. However, that measure is a little thicker than the 7.95mm Nexus 9 - a tablet that shares a similar Tegra K1 chip under its hood.
Measuring 221 x 126mm front-on the Nvidia sits nicely in the hand. The rear is a matte finish too, which makes it slip-free when you're getting all sweaty palms on that tough boss level for the third time. Some of that front width (in landscape mode - the most used for gaming) is given to front-facing stereo speakers. A dual bass reflex port also provides oomph to the clarity of audio. You'll more than likely use headphones when travelling, but at least you can game in a hotel, for instance, safe in the knowledge that the audio performance is enhanced.
It must be said at this juncture that if you are to do so, you will need the Shield Tablet Cover - an optional extra at £25 - as it's designed to stand the device upright or give it a more laid back angle to suit your surroundings. We'd say therefore that it's an essential add-on.
As too is the dedicated controller, if you want to make full use of the Shield Tablet's gaming prowess. It's an additional £50, but in our opinion is the best tablet accessory available on the market. The Shield Wireless Controller only works with the Shield Tablet but makes all Android Bluetooth controllers seem like cheap, tacky playthings.
The Shield console and partnerships with developers have led to optimisation beyond normal tablet gaming.
It's solidly built to console-grade standards and features a built-in microphone that works with Google voice services, stereo headset jack for wireless private gaming and chat, and a touch-panel on the bottom for use with some games and features.
Perhaps its most impressive and important feature though is that it uses Wi-Fi Direct technology rather than Bluetooth, so ensures little or no latency between the movements or button presses you make to the on-screen results. It feels like a console controller and works like one too. If you want to use a Bluetooth controller instead then you can, but the Nvidia option is streets ahead.
The version of the Shield Tablet we tested was a 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, but a 32GB version with a 4G SIM card slot is also available. You have to provide your own SIM in the UK (it's tied to AT&T in the States) but it's nice to see that covered.
In storage terms, it also makes a little more sense to opt for the larger capacity model as the 16GB will soon fill up (especially as only around 12GB is available to use). The pre-installed showcase game Trine 2, for example, is 1.6GB. Other optimised titles will no doubt carry similar capacity.
There is a microSD card slot - and that's something even the Nexus 9 lacks - which can be used to store certain games, but that depends on each title. With gaming the core on-board storage is where large titles need to be stored to run properly, plus Android pretty much forces your hand in keeping such applications there.
Both Nexus and Nvidia tablets do have one thing in common though: the incredible power of the Nvidia Tegra K1 processor. The Shield Tablet has a 192-core Kepler graphics and a 2.2GHz ARM Cortex A15 CPU, along with 2GB of RAM that, combined, makes for one of the fastest, beefiest tablet devices ever devised (the Nexus 9 is 64-bit 2.3Ghz, so might actually eke ahead, but it's the pricier device).
Even in basic tasks, everything on the Shield Tablet runs so smoothly and speedily that opening apps and even just navigating through the user interface is instantaneous and intuitive. Browsing for a webpage is a wonderful experience as results and pages pop-up with no delay whatsoever. And gaming, well, it's a proper powerhouse and no mistake.
The Shield Tablet is compatible with Epic's Unreal Engine 4, which if you've seen the demo, is hugely impressive. But where it stands apart from its main competitors is that Nvidia's experience with the Shield console and partnerships with developers have led to optimisation beyond normal tablet gaming.
The included Trine 2 is the best example of that as not only is it pre-installed for free, we compared the Shield Tablet version with the same game running on a PS4 and could barely see the difference. And that was even when playing it through the mini HDMI port onto our 55-inch Full HD TV. Half-life 2 and Portal are also optimised games available on Shield and they illustrate what's possible with such aplomb that it leaves us excited at the potential of future big-name games hitting the platform with Shield-only graphical effects.
Until then there are also plenty of Android games available already (hundreds in fact) that feature support for the wireless controller and Nvidia has its own portal on the homescreen that lists them all, so you don't have to play pick and mix through Google Play. You buy them on the Google Play app store, but Nvidia's hub makes them much easier to find.
And that's not the end of the gaming experience, not by a long shot. Like with the original Shield, the Shield Tablet also features GameStream, the company's proprietary game streaming system that enables you to play full PC games over a home network on the tablet.
It works in a similar way to Sony's PlayStation Remote Play on the PS4. The game plays on a PC and streams the video to the tablet, with the controller codes going the other way. If you use a Wi-Fi connection, that is in 720p, but if a third-party Ethernet adapter is used, games will be presented in 1080p at 60 frames per second. Impressive.
You'll need to own a decent PC with a fairly recent, high-powered Nvidia graphics card (as ATI Radeon won't work) and it's a sight to behold. Hook the Shield Tablet up to a TV too and you've got a triple-A games console in the palm of your hand.
Not all PC games are supported, but certainly enough to make it all worthwhile. Titanfall, Borderlands 2 and Bioshock: Infinite all work, for example. Even the Elder Scrolls Online, if you're a fan.
And even if your PC isn't well-specified enough, you could always install the OnLive Android app and play full games through the cloud streaming service - something Apple device owners are still missing out on. Nvidia also has a similar service in the States called Nvidia Grid, so perhaps we'll see that come to the UK in time too. Hopefully.
Icing on the cake
There are a few final features, which although less important in gaming terms, are more than worthy of a mention.
There are front and rear-facing cameras that each have a 5-megapixel sensor. The front one can also be used for Twitch game streaming, to add your noggin during the feed. As far as we know, this is the first and only instance of this on a tablet so far.
The Shield Tablet also comes with its own stylus, the DirectStylus 2, and a dedicated painting application, Nvidia Dabbler, that is great to use but we feel more a tech demo of what is possible rather than something you'll use on a daily basis.
Apart from the company's own apps and services, the operating system is essentially stock Android (4.4.2 on our review model) so is uncluttered by layers we'll never use. That means the usual Google services are available from the off too and Nvidia has promised that in the near future, the whole front end will be updated to Android 5.0 Lollipop - possibly the first tablet to get it outside of Google towers. That will make the experience even better, we have no doubt.
As we are gamers at heart, the Nvidia Shield Tablet's primary focus appeals to us greatly. It has been designed by gamers for gamers, offering multiple ways to enjoy interactive entertainment in all its forms. Like all Android tablets, it is very capable with casual gaming too, but is equally as adept with more hardcore offerings.
We might not often get the controller out on a plane or train and delve into Half-Life 2, but there's nothing stopping you - and we would happily set-up in a hotel room to game while abroad. Add that the Shield Tablet doubles so well as a home console when attached to a telly through HDMI, and we could see some foregoing more conventional machinery.
What mustn't be forgotten in all this though is how well it works as a dedicated tablet device too. Anything you can do on a rival Android tablet, you can do on the Shield Tablet too - and often quicker. Its form factor and 8-inch screen is compact enough to read a book on while on a morning commute, yet it still has the added allure that you can play quality games during your lunch hour too.
With the now imminent Nexus 9 featuring a similar processor the Nvidia hardware might not be as slender an offering, but then Google's device doesn't feature the Nvidia apps and add-ons because, and as its 4:3 screen ratio attests, it has a different focus.
Yes, you'll have to add an extra £75 to the Shield Tablet's £240 cover price for the wireless controller and cover, but those peripherals are what really makes it for us. The job lot price is still a whisker less than the Nexus 9 too, and we think that's a very reasonable price for a premium product such as this.
The Nvidia Shield Tablet is not only a gamers' delight, it's an utterly brilliant Android tablet too.
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