Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Nvidia Shield: The Chassis And Controls

It’s no wonder that Nvidia backed off of Shield’s battery array. The handheld is a heavy piece of hardware. A PlayStation 3 controller weighs 134 g, while our sample rocks the scale at 588 g.

Obviously, Shield has a lot more going on inside. The console is quite a bit more substantial in your hands as result. But its grips share a similar shape, encouraging you to hold on with your middle, ring, and pinky fingers. Pointer fingers wrap around the back, each in easy reach of two trigger buttons per side, while your thumbs hover over the control surfaces.

On the left, you have the directional pad up top with an analog joystick underneath. On the right are four buttons above a second analog joystick. In between are Nvidia’s power/multi-function button, the Android home and back buttons, and a start button. Those take the place of the navigational aids you’d typically find on an Android-based phone, keeping your hands on the mechanical inputs most of the time.

But we’re still using a very computer-like platform, making the lack of a physical keyboard painfully obvious any time you’re prompted for a user name, password, or search keywords. And that’s when you break the game console paradigm, squeeze the handheld between your palms, put four fingers behind the lid, and use your thumbs on Shield’s five-inch touchscreen, knocking out letters through Android’s keyboard. So much of the handheld’s weight is in its base that this is frankly pretty awkward. I just don’t see any better alternative. And I’m at least thankful for a touchscreen. Typing in a password, much less a full search string, using analog joysticks would have been a total pain. Nvidia makes the best of the form factor it chose.

As far as materials go, Shield is really well-built. Most surfaces are a matte black and discourage fingerprints. The glossy sides do get dirty, but wipe down easily. You probably won’t even notice, though. The touchscreen is far more difficult to keep clean. Welcome to a world dominated by touch-oriented interfaces, right? A small lip on the front of the display is used to open the clamshell. You’ll feel resistance all the way back; the screen’s hinge is quite snug and there is no play in any direction.

The Tegra 4 SoC inside Shield is manufactured at 28 nm. However, it still runs hot enough to require active cooling. Green ducting under the Shield badge right up front surrounds an intake. An internal fan pulls air through the front and blows it out a vent in the back, right above the handheld’s I/O. We measured the exhaust at up to 43 degrees Celsius, though there’s so little airflow that it’s hard to imagine the temperature becoming problematic. Even after hours of 3D playback, the Shield’s chassis barely even gets warm.

Controlling Shield

There are several ways to control and navigate the various applications able to run on Shield. I’d call the d-pad, joysticks, and buttons primary. After all, Shield is shaped in such a way to keep your fingers on the triggers and thumbs over everything else.

The left joystick cycles through on-screen elements one at a time, as does the d-pad. The right joystick controls a mouse cursor. I’m horribly inefficient trying to use that as precisely as a true mouse, though. Meanwhile, the A, B, X, and Y buttons let you select, go back, and open menus.

Really, the physical controls make the most sense once you’re in a game. Tabbing around or pushing the cursor is frustratingly slow when you know you’re also working with a touchscreen. It’s so much easier to just tap the app you want to open or bang away at the letters on Android’s on-screen keyboard. I only wish Shield was more comfortable to hold in that situation, instead of grasping on to the fairly thin lid.

53 comments
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  • 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.
  • 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..
  • Chetou
    When nobody wants to buy your SOC, I guess you have to make up a new product. Not very useful past the initial gimmick.
  • The Grave Digger
    "shield Competes to your Disposable income" Really??
  • iam2thecrowe
    What a pointless product. This will be a flop.
  • tadej petric
    Shield really doesnt make me want to use it instead PC.
  • blubbey
    Maybe in 3-5 years when mobile graphics really starts to come into their own. $300 for something I'd play while taking a dump isn't good value, I have a phone that can do much more afaik. If I want dedicated gaming I'd play on my PC or even buy a next-gen console for that money in a year's time.

    Side notes, isn't the Tegra 5 about the same power as a current console? That's next year too so assume in 4 years after that it should be 5x the power at least (Tegra 6 is supposedly 2x as powerful so 2.5x the power of Tegra 6 in ~3 years). That'd start to approach next gen consoles power in a handheld device. I'd probably pay $300 for that in 5 years assuming nothing else is better value.

    It's not like this is progression is unimpressive however, 5 years ago we had pitiful mobile processing power compared to today. I'm not expecting similar growth because that'd be crazy - http://cdn2.ubergizmo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/tegra-5-kepler-graphics-curve-640x315.jpg - but still. 20x the growth from today will be possible considering Nvidia's Tegra roadmap shows Tegra 6 being ~10x performance of T4.
  • ubercake
    Great thorough review about a niche product.
  • somebodyspecial
    134065 said:
    We've been playing with Nvidia's Shield handheld for more than a month, but only recently got access to its killer feature: streaming PC game content. Does Nvidia's foray into the hardware world deserve your $300, or is this expensive toy impractical? Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming : Read more


    Can you guys test some movies with HDMI or miracast to TV? This was one of the features I would like to know about before pondering buying. A large part of the point of this thing for me is a portable 1080p player (or even 720p, as most of those look great on 60in or lower anyway). Also with that hdmi hooked up (or miracast) can you play your games out to TV too? I had thought I'd be able to play android games on the big screen (PC too).

    can you guys comment on this stuff? Anything out to TV is stuff your Vita/3DS can't do. I'd think this is a pretty important detail for most but unless I missed it in the review it wasn't even mentioned or tested. I was hoping for some PC to TV comments. Can this output your PC streamed games to TV or does lag etc prevent this? Or are you stuck on the 5in for both android and pc streams?
  • somebodyspecial
    For anyone caring PC mag got substantial numbers from a trio of tablets:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2415809,00.asp
    Antutu=36489
    geekbench=4148
    GLBench offscreen is 57fps
    So I'd say it should do well in a tablet vs. S800. It destroys S600. Not bad. Those were devices from Feb, so I'm thinking a shipping tab would have to be optimized a little more than a pre-release product but I could be wrong. Hope someone tests the toshiba write soon, not to mention HP's and ASUS's T4 tablets.

    Antutu on the Shield is impressive (though 720p, glad they didn't try 1080p on this thing, 720p gives it plenty of power for what it's designed to do) but the 1920x1200 1.9ghz ref tablet isn't far behind and S800 scores I've seen from devices show about 35k on tablets. That being said I expect S800 to match or beat T4's gpu (though we still need to see actual games benched, not synthetics to truly prove this), but I think most cpu test should favor A15. The numbers out so far seem to show this.

    I don't see T4's lack of OpenGL ES3.0 as any big deal. There are no benchmarks to test it, thus no software that uses it either. In other words, NV was right to dump it to save power/soc space etc and dedicate that to what we will probably use during the devices life. I'll change my opinion maybe after a few games show up with ES3.0 in them. Until then, no point in having it yet.
  • CaptainTom
    Frankly I can play any game on my very portable $750 laptop with a 750m in more than 720p, and I already need that for school (Like most people).

    And if I want handheld gaming, I'll play Uncharted/Killzone on my vita over Angry Birds any day lol!
  • Cy-Kill
    'There's a microSD card slot on the back, but don't expect to offload apps onto the additional storage: Google nuked that "app2sd" ability a few updates back.'

    Why does Google hate microSD expansion, has anyone figured out why Google removed it, they really should bring it back to Android, and stop the hate for microSD!
  • tuanies
    351210 said:
    'There's a microSD card slot on the back, but don't expect to offload apps onto the additional storage: Google nuked that "app2sd" ability a few updates back.' Why does Google hate microSD expansion, has anyone figured out why Google removed it, they really should bring it back to Android, and stop the hate for microSD!


    I'd imagine it had something to do with most micro SD cards only being class 4 at the time. The slow speed and poor user experience probably forced them to can the feature. There are Class 10 micro SD cards nowadays but the average consumer just picks a random micro SD card and less likely to care about speed. The people working at Best Buy, Frys and mobile providers don't know any better either. So its easier to kill that feature than to have people complain about slowness when apps are installed on SD.
  • Thinking outside of the box. I just bought a Nexus 7 Gen 2, and using a bluetooth gaming pad and a wireless TV connection I could run the same games natively at 1080p without having the computer portion even in my hands. Add to that the 32GB Gen 2 is only $270 and doubles as a fully functional "PC" when using a bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse. I don't really see $300 worth of value in this device when phones and tablets can overlap the same role with a few extra pieces of kit.
  • CommentariesAnd More
    The Shield certainly is a good combination of the mobile gaming platform and PC Game streaming platform. Certainly 90% of the gamers dream to be able to sit on their couch or lie on their bed and play games. But only 1-5% would shell out 300bucks for it. Nvidia has forgotten we are in an age where gaming isn't what makes the majority buy an iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4 , etc. Nvidia's attempt to bring android gaming and PC game streaming in an handheld gaming device certainly is a revolution , but it needs a revolution for itself , to make sense and be a device not just for showing off , but be used for its sole purpose of gaming. Hopefully the next Shield will have something more better and a better price tag forcing me to buy one :)