Touchscreen And Sound
With a resolution of 1280x720, most elements on the 5” display are easy to read. If you find yourself on a webpage with tiny text, the multi-touch screen makes it easy to expand with two fingers and pinch to restore.
I cannot emphasize enough, though, that I wish it were easier to hold Shield for touchscreen navigation. Coming from Android-based phones and tablets, we’re used to touch being a first-class citizen. Here, it feels like touch was added after the handheld had already been sketched out.
One thing to keep in mind is that Shield is locked into a landscape orientation. Flipping it on its side or upside-down doesn’t auto-rotate the screen to keep it right-side up. Likewise, some of the apps available through Google Play don’t support auto-rotate. The first Shield unit we received simply threw up errors when we’d try to download those apps, Netflix the most notable. A recent update better-supports them, and it's now possible to use titles previously reported incompatible.
Otherwise, Shield’s screen looks good. You don’t hold the console as close to your face as you might a lighter cell phone, so the ~294 PPI density is ample. There is no light sensor to speak of, so brightness has to be adjusted manually. Maxed out, Shield is usable outside in the shade, though the capacitive elements under the glass are clearly visible and somewhat distracting. Just don’t expect to game out on the beach under direct sunlight. You’re better off donning earbuds and enjoying those 40 hours of music Shield purportedly delivers on a single charge.
In pretty much every discussion I’ve had about Shield, Nvidia’s work with the audio system comes up. The company is especially proud of the effort its sound team put into creating a ported stereo configuration, really emphasizing the low-end response this facilitates.
To Nvidia’s credit, Shield does outperform any handheld I’ve ever used. If you put clean source material through it, you get no distortion at full volume. It’s so treble-heavy and inevitably close to your ears that you won’t even want to turn the sound up all of the way. Dialed back a couple of notches, you get nice audio. Shield’s size also paves the way for noticeable stereo separation.
However, there’s no getting around physics, and despite the enclosed configuration enabled by a roomy chassis, I came up with song examples from several genres just off the top of my head where bass lines simply disappeared when I played them through Shield. You get more response across the spectrum from a $75 headset or $130 Jambox. Fortunately, Nvidia supports the former through a 3.5 mm jack on the back of Shield and the latter through Bluetooth 3.0 support. Or, if you hook Shield up to a receiver, it’ll output eight-channel PCM.