Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Nvidia’s Shield Competes For Your Disposable Income

The first thing to remember about Nvidia’s Shield is that it’s a toy. Yes, it’s driven by an advanced SoC, comes with some very innovative technology, and is really well-built. But at the end of the day, Shield is a handheld gaming console. We love the bloat-free Android environment. Also, I’m blown away by the interplay between Nvidia’s NVEnc, Wi-Fi, and Shield to stream PC game content. Flying Parrot’s AR.Drone 2.0 using the portable’s physical controls is great fun (check out Nvidia Shield: Piloting A Drone With The Tegra 4 Handheld if you missed that little experiment). I even set the Shield down outside during a barbeque and played music through its speakers. Though they don’t have the bass response I was looking for, the drivers are loud enough to entertain a small party.

You’re probably not going to do much productive with Shield, though. All of the pieces are there to check your email, post Facebook updates, and jump on Skype. However, the d-pad and joysticks are primary inputs. Pinching the body between your palms as you peck away at Android’s on-screen keyboard just isn’t comfortable for any amount of time.

Truly, Shield is built to game, both in its native Android and across your wireless network, through your PC. The list of titles optimized for Nvidia’s controller is not only long, but also distinguished. A number of those games are even uniquely optimized for Tegra 4’s feature set. Despite their graphical complexity, Shield comes armed with enough battery capacity for almost seven-hour marathons. And that’s worst-case run time. Nvidia claims you can listen to music for up to 40 hours on a charge. We were able to stream PC content to it for nearly 10 hours. Crazy.

Pleasantly enough for PC gaming enthusiasts, streaming content is a video playback workload; the rendering happens on your desktop. That means you’ll get even more out of Shield’s battery if you’re playing GRID 2 or Skyrim. Right now, there are 21 games on Nvidia’s list of titles fully-configured for streaming. Some of them are well-suited to joystick control and others can be downright frustrating. There will be titles that never translate well from PC to Shield. But for now, there’s a ton of novelty in playing familiar games from somewhere other than next to a gaming box.

The question then becomes: do you have an extra $300 laying around for a device that is cool in its own right, but doesn’t really replace anything? We’re not talking about the convergence between two worlds here. This is multi-platform gaming handheld enabled by inventive engineering. We can come up with several different reasons why it’s cool, but none for why you absolutely need to have it. In the absence of necessity, you get to answer whether those three C-notes are best spent on pure entertainment.  

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.
  • esrever
    looks ok but not worth the price
  • Hazle
    impressive, especially PC streaming. but for $300, i'd rather pause the game to take a bathroom break. it's gonna take me a library of good android exclusives for me spend that amount of money, and PvsZ or Angry birds don't cut it.
  • beta212
    Meh, with the PS4/xbox coming out , and tons of more convenient phones I don't see a market for a tegra4 shield, personally I'm saving my money for a console. The tegra is also too expensive and gimmicky to boot.
  • dragonsqrrl
    When you look purely at the performance and specs $300 unsubsidized isn't all that bad considering the hardware you're getting for the price. The problem to me isn't so much price but the target market. How many people are willing to spend that much on a second or potentially third mobile device meant specifically for gaming and entertainment?
  • bryonhowley
    Looks nice but I can find things better to spend $300 on. In truth I can't see ever streaming my PC games to a 5" screen when I use 3 Asus 27" monitors on my desktop PC. Going from 5760x1080 to 720p does not sound like something I am ready to do. And if I want to game from my recliner I just use my Xbox 360 wireless controller and play the game on my Panasonic 50" 3D Plasma.
  • vaughn2k
    for U$180, I can get a nice Lenovo Phone. For U$ 500, a good Xbox.. not sure if I need a Shield where I could play anywhere..
  • slomo4sho
    Not sure why most of your benchmarks were just between the shield and the Nexus 7. I understand that the Nexus 7 utilizes Tegra 3 but the iPhone 5, Note 2, or some other tertiary figues should have been included to provide a better comparison between this device and other current generation products.

    This device feels like a universal Wii U game pad and there is almost zero reason to own one.
  • cats_Paw
    Considering that Oculus rift will cost somewhere around 300 dollars as well, id rather wait for that to spend my cash.
    Streaming is nice but if you are close toy our pc why not use the PC itself?
  • edwd2
    could be used to run a psp emulator, but phone can do that too.
  • shikamaru31789
    I'm just not seeing much reason to get one right now, not when I'm saving for the Xbox One and PS4. If it was at a lower price and if it supported AMD GPU's for PC streaming, I might get one. But they also need to get some developers to make some good Android exclusives, not just your typical mobile time wasters and ports of older console/PC titles, but some actuallAAA exclusives that are optimized for Tegra 4.