At the massive gaming explosion that is E3, Nvidia's pushing hard for its Android-powered gaming handheld known as Shield. Today we went for an extended hands-on with final hardware, which customers will be able to get their hands on in late June.
The first thing Nvidia showed us on Shield was its updated TegraZone, which is a section with specially-curated apps that have been optimized for Tegra hardware. These apps, usually denoted with a "THD" in the title, are all obtained via the Google Play Store; TegraZone simply puts it all in one place.
One such THD game is Dead Trigger 2, which gives the Tegra 4 chip inside Shield a chance to shine. The special effects of the Tegra 4 version over the standard game copy make a compelling case for why Sony might want to worry about the Shield compared to its PS Vita. Check out the video below to see what we're talking about.
We asked if Tegra 3 devices, such as the Nexus 7, would be getting a special version of Dead Trigger 2 but it doesn't seem so. The new generation of Tegra 4 is so far ahead of the previous model that it's a whole new ballgame. This brings up the question of lifespan for Shield. If a Shield 2 comes out, does that mean that the original Shield won't be able to take advantage of next-generation enhanced titles? That's something nobody knows yet – at least not until there is a Shield 2.
Special graphics aside, one very nice feature of the Shield that doesn't require Tegra-specific optimization are the hardware controls. Android has some very nice console-quality (though perhaps from an older generation) games, such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The issue, at least for me, is the control. Perhaps the Sony Xperia Play was ahead of its time, but having physical controls makes gaming on Android a much more enjoyable experience.
Virtua Tennis was downloaded onto the Shield, which supports the physical controller via standard Android APIs, but without any graphical extras. The game played beautifully and replicated the versions found on the home consoles. That's a very compelling feature of the Shield. Sure, the system is $349, making it the most expensive handheld portable, but the games are a fraction of the cost.
For those not interested in playing console games, the Shield's most unique party trick is being able to stream PC games from any machine running a GeForce GTX 650 or better.
We got to try Borderlands 2 on the Shield, and it was impressive. Actually, it wasn't on the Shield, but rather it was being streamed to the device. The GTX 650 in the demo machine would encode the video and then stream it to the Shield, which would send inputs back as a Wi-Fi controller.
Nvidia was clearly confident in the Shield's ability to deliver a low-latency experience, as a first-person shooter like Borderlands 2 would be quick to expose laggy behavior. Playing it right on the machine, lag was almost imperceptible. In fact, the switch from a mouse and keyboard control scheme to analog sticks seemed like more of restriction. Only when comparing the Shield's display to that from the streaming server does it reveal latency, and even then it's incredibly minor.
As a technical proof, Borderlands 2 was good, but what really got us to wrap our minds around Shield's virtues is playing Skyrim on the handheld. The Elder Scrolls isn't as demanding for twitch reflexes, so when we look back and think of the double or even triple digits spent in Skyrim that could have been spent playing on the couch, in bed, in the bathroom, or even out on the deck or patio, it certainly sounds a lot nicer than sitting at a desk. There are always good points to being in front of the full-resolution gaming rig, but the ability to split some of those hours off to alternative places and postures has us very interested.
When not gaming, the Shield also acts as a media player. Nvidia was happy to boast that it has best-in-class speakers integrated into the hardware. They're loud and clear, but they don't pack the punch of even the most basic PC speaker sets (such are the limitations of physics) and those who are serious about sound and gaming will want to use headphones. Then again, if gamer is willing to make the concession of a 720p resolution for the sake of portability and flexibility, then the same will apply for sound. That said, both the screen and speakers are actually remarkably good for what they are. Any comparison to the full desktop hardware isn't fair, and the portability option for when you want it is more than a fair trade.
Nvidia pointed out that the Hulu Plus and Twitch.tv apps can transform the Shield into a video streaming device. The Shield can connect to a Miracast-compatible device wirelessly or via the HDMI output. Gaming through video output isn't recommended due to added latency, but Nvidia did say it is working on improving that.
In the end, the Shield is a very unique Android tablet device. It has all the features of a tablet (except the screen size), plus some very special features that make it unique.
We look forward to testing the device in our labs soon.
|Processor||Nvidia Tegra 4 Quad Core Mobile Processor with 2GB RAM|
|Display||5 inch 1280x720 (294 ppi) Multi-Touch Retinal Quality Display|
|Audio||Integrated Stereo Speakers with Built-in Microphone|
|Storage||16 GB Flash Memory|
|Custom Tag Color||Silver|
|Wireless||802.11n 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi Bluetooth 3.0 GPS|
|Connectivity||Mini-HDMI output Micro-USB 2.0 MicroSD storage slot 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack with microphone support|
|Motion Sensors||3 Axis Gyro 3 Axis Accelerometer|
|Input controls||Dual analog joysticks D-pad Left/right analog triggers Left/right bumpers A/B/X/Y buttons Volume control Android Home and Back buttons Start button Nvidia power/multi-function button|
|Weight & Size||579 grams 158mm (w) x 135mm (D) x 57mm (H)|
|Operating System||Android Jelly Bean OS|
|Software||Google Play TegraZone Sonic 4 Episode II THD Expendable: RearmedHulu PlusTwitchTV|