Nvidia introduced a new way to play Android and PC games with last year’s Nvidia Shield handheld console, and now the chip maker is thinking even bigger. Launching July 29 for $299, the all-new Shield Tablet brings Nvidia’s gaming experience to a slim 8-inch slab, complete with Tegra K1 processing power, built-in Twitch streaming and a lineup of games you can’t normally play on an Android tablet. We got our hands on the gaming slate, and came away impressed by both its rich gaming performance and overall usability as an entertainment device.
The Shield Tablet touts a basic, all-black design, complete with a comfy soft-touch back panel that sports the Shield logo in its center. When held horizontally, the tablet’s 8-inch 1920 x 1080 display is flanked by two stereo speaker bars, with a 5-MP camera on the left for selfies and Twitch streaming (more on that later).
The tablet touts a microUSB and headphone port on the left edge, as well as an HDMI output for bringing the Shield experience to your TV. The power button sits on the top, as does a port for the slate’s included stylus. If you need a rear camera, you’ll find the 5-MP shooter just over the device’s top left edge.
While the original Shield had a console-style controller built right into its body, you’ll have to shell out an extra $59 for the Shield Tablet’s wireless controller. This gamepad retains the same core button layout from the original Shield, but trades in its predecessor’s concave design for a more rounded shape that brings the Xbox 360 controller to mind.
The left side of the Shield controller sports a directional pad and analog stick, with a second analog stick and the A,B,X and Y face buttons sitting on the right. You’ll find the Back, Home and Start buttons in the controller’s center, with two bumpers and two triggers at the top. The controller felt cozy during our testing, with snappy face buttons and rubbery analog sticks that provided plenty of grip.
What makes the Shield controller stand out is its use of Wi-Fi Direct, which is rarely found on game consoles save for the Xbox One. Not only does it allow for half the latency of Bluetooth, but it lets you stream game audio right to the controller, which means you can plug in a pair of headphones without having the tablet nearby. The controller also recognizes voice commands, which adds to the Shield Tablet’s value as a general use set-top box when hooked up to a TV. If you’re looking to game with friends, you can connect up to four Shield controllers to your Shield Tablet.
Powered by Nvidia’s latest Tegra K1 processor complete with a 192-core GPU, the Shield Tablet has some serious gaming chops. First, we checked out action side-scroller “Trine 2,” which Nvidia said uses the same rendering technology as Sony’s PlayStation 3. The game’s rich fantasy backdrops looked vivid on the Shield Tablet, and the framerate remained smooth as we hacked and slashed through enemies.
We also streamed the PC version of racing game “Grid 2,” which looked faithful to its PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 counterparts. The sun bounced realistically off of our in-game vehicle, and we spotted tons of environmental details when our car drifted and crashed. The Shield Tablet was hooked up to a Samsung TV via HDMI during most of our game demos, and there was no noticeable input lag when we fought or drove around.
The Shield Tablet doesn’t just run games well; it lets you broadcast them to the world, too. Nvidia’s new slate is the first mobile device with full Twitch integration, meaning you can stream any of your gaming sessions to Twitch.tv’s massive user base. We were able to start broadcasting our “Asphalt 8″ session by simply pulling up the main menu and selecting the Twitch icon then watched on a nearby laptop as our game was streamed live.
The livestream was just a few seconds behind our actual gameplay, and took advantage of the tablet’s 5-MP front camera to provide a live snapshot of our faces at the bottom right corner of the screen. Twitch streaming will work on any game you play on the Shield Tablet, whether its an Android game, a Tegra-optimized title or a game being streamed from your PC.
The Shield Tablet ships with a complete version of “Trine 2,” and the tablet’s K1-optimized launch lineup includes popular titles like “Half-Life 2,” “Portal,” “War Thunder” and “The Talos Principle.” You can use the included Shield Hub app to browse over 400 Shield-optimized games, and, as with any Android tablet, peruse the thousands of apps and games available on Google Play.
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Like its predecessor, one of the Shield Tablet’s biggest draws is the ability to stream a host of PC games for when you want to break away from your laptop or desktop. You can stream games from your PC itself using Nvidia GameStream, or stream select games, like “The Witcher 2″ and “Street Fighter IV,” from the cloud using Nvidia’s cloud-based Grid platform, which is currently in beta. Combine this feature with the Shield Tablet’s TV connectivity, and you essentially have a portable console that lets you play your PC games on the big screen.
Since the Shield Tablet functions as a standalone Android KitKat slate, it offers plenty of entertainment value right out of the box. You can hook the tablet up your TV for optimal Netflix, Hulu and YouTube streaming, and the Shield controller’s built-in voice recognition makes it easy to perform voice searches for your favorite content.
Even though the Shield Tablet is built for gamers, we found the slate’s stylus to be one of its strongest features. The included pen has a soft ball tip that feels very much like a real pen and uses Nvidia’s DirectStylus 2 tech, which leverages the GPU to render realistic painting effects in real time. We got a taste of this feature’s vast potential when using the tablet’s included Nvidia Dabbler app, as the watercolor strokes we made dripped realistically down the app’s virtual canvas.
The Shield Tablet launches July 29, and will start at $299 for a 16GB/Wi-Fi config with the option for a $399 32GB/LTE model. Each controller will run you $59, while the magnetic Shield tablet cover (which doubles as a stand) costs $39.
While you can get an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 for the same price as the 32GB Shield Tablet, there’s plenty of value to be found in Nvidia’s new slate once you look past the core game lineup. It might not be quite as portable as the Shield handheld, but we can see the Shield Tablet finding a niche with those who want a solid entertainment tablet that doubles as a game console for both PC and Android titles.