Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Adapting Android To Support Shield's Input

The Shield is a portable console, through and through. It doesn’t make phone calls, and it doesn’t have a camera. In its quest to game well, the Shield exposes a native Android operating environment and a mechanism for streaming Steam-based games through your PC. I’ll get into that technology shortly. First, Android.

I consider myself a PC gamer, and I don’t really have much attraction to gaming on anything other than my main workstation. So, we’re co-authoring today’s review, bringing in Marcus Yam, our executive news editor. Unlike your sedentary editor-in-chief, Marcus does a fair bit of traveling, owns his share of handhelds, and likes to burn up time gaming on the road. He’s going to give us the authoritative breakdown of gaming on Shield—at least in its native Android mode. Take it away, Marcus.

Gaming On A “Clean” Version Of Android

Fans of stock Android will find a lot to like about the ROM that Nvidia ships with Shield. It's basically the pure Google experience with specific customizations for the hardware, such as controller settings.

As Chris mentioned, it's a breath of fresh air for anyone used to vendor-tweaked versions of Android, with a preference for something closer to a Nexus device. The lack of an Android skin or carrier bloat could be mutually beneficial for both the user and Nvidia's Shield development team. In theory, the closer the ROM is to AOSP (Android Open Source Project), the more quickly it can follow Google's releases. In the time that we were testing the Shield, a handful of updates were sent out over-the-air showing continual improvements. Hopefully this is indicative of the dedication to updates for those who end up investing $300 in this device.

With that said, Shield does come with some software out of the box, but none of it is superfluous. Nvidia's preloads its TegraZone app, a Shield-specific version of the website by the same name. It includes Nvidia's curated selection of games enhanced for Tegra (or even optimized for Shield’s controls). The TegraZone app is also your gateway into the PC streaming functionality.

Along with a "Shield Help" app that’s little more than a quick-start guide, Nvidia also bundles a Tegra HD version of Sonic 4 Episode II and Expendable: Rearmed, priced on the Google Play store at $4.99 and $2.99, respectively. These pre-loaded apps are stored in the system folder, so you won't lose them, even after a factory reset.

Pack-in games haven't been a thing in console gaming since the 16-bit era, but it's easy to see why Nvidia chose the two titles it did. For one, Sonic the Hedgehog is a classic with very broad appeal. It's a bright, colorful platformer that wouldn't even be out of place on Xbox Live Arcade. As for Expendable: Rearmed, it's a remake of a cross-platform shooter that was first released for Windows in 1998 and later made its way on the Dreamcast and PlayStation. If your memory is good, you may recall this game when it was bundled with Matrox’s Millennium G400 to show off the card's DirectX 6 environment-mapped bump mapping.

Beyond the two pack-in titles, Nvidia has a list of 131 games that compatible with Shield’s physical controls, some also featuring Tegra enhancements.

Eight Tegra-enhanced titles are free:

  1. Auralux
  2. Beach Buggy Blitz
  3. Dead Trigger
  4. Shadowgun: Deadzone
  5. Skiing Fred
  6. SoulCraft THD
  7. The Conduit HD
  8. Zen Pinball THD

There are 27 paid Tegra-enhanced/Shield Store games:

  1. ARMA Tactics
  2. AVP Evolution
  3. Bard’s Tale
  4. Blood Sword
  5. Burn Zombie Burn THD
  6. Choplifter
  7. Chucks Challenge
  8. Expendable: Rearmed
  9. Grand Theft Auto III
  10. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
  11. Great Battles Medieval
  12. Hamilton’s Great Adventure THD
  13. Hockey Nations 2011 THD
  14. Jett Tailfin Racers THD
  15. Max Payne Mobile
  16. Puddle THD
  17. Real Boxing
  18. Renaissance Blood THD
  19. Riptide GP
  20. Riptide GP2
  21. Shadowgun THD
  22. Shine Runner
  23. Sonic 4, Episode II
  24. Space Ark
  25. Star Wars: Pinball
  26. Tainted Keep
  27. Zombie Driver THD

The list grows considerably when you include games that support the physical controls. There are 45 free titles at this moment:

  1. Alpha Wave Demo
  2. Andor’s Trail
  3. Avenger
  4. Bike Mania Moto Free – Racing
  5. Chrono & Cash Free
  6. Cordy
  7. Cordy 2
  8. Critter Rollers
  9. Cup! Cup! Golf 3D
  10. DB42 Lite Version
  11. Diversion
  12. Doptrix
  13. Drag Racing
  14. Dragon, Fly! Free
  15. Escape: The Room
  16. Eternity Warriors 2
  17. EVAC (HD)
  18. Forsaken Planet
  19. Gachinko Football: Free Kick
  20. Gachinko Tennis
  21. Gachinko Wars
  22. GraviTire 3D
  23. Guns’n’Glory Free
  24. Gunslugs Free
  25. Happy Vikings Free
  26. Helium Boy Demo
  27. INC: The Beginning Free
  28. Inertia: Escape Velocity LiteHD
  29. Killdroid Lite
  30. Legends of Yore
  31. Meganoid Free
  32. Micronytes Free
  33. Mini Army – Free
  34. Neoteria Free
  35. Pixeline Jungle Treasure Free
  36. Sonic CD Lite
  37. SoulCraft THD
  38. Speedball 2 Evolution Free
  39. Stardash Free
  40. Tiny Little Racing 2
  41. Tiny Little Racing Demo
  42. Virtua Tennis Challenge Free
  43. Zenonia 2 Free
  44. Zenonia 3
  45. Zenonia Lite

There are 51 paid apps that support the controller, but aren't Tegra-enhanced. Also, a decent number on this list are full versions from the list above, yielding duplicates.

  1. Another World
  2. Bean's Quest
  3. Beyond Ynth HD
  4. Boulder Dash the Collection
  5. Canabalt HD
  6. Chrono & Cash
  7. Critter Rollers Gold
  8. Cup! Cup! Golf3D
  9. Dark Incursion
  10. DB42 Full Version
  11. Dragon, Fly! Full
  12. FPse for android
  13. Gachinko Tennis 2
  14. Gailardia 2
  15. Gailardia 3
  16. Gunslugs
  17. Guns'n'Glory
  18. Happy Vikings
  19. I Must Run!
  20. Illusia
  21. INC: The Beginning
  22. Inertia: Escape Velocity HD
  23. Killdroid
  24. Legends of Yore Full
  25. Meganoid
  26. Micronytes
  27. Mini Army
  28. Monster Madness: Grave Danger
  29. Neoteria
  30. Ninjammin Beat-jitsu
  31. Pinball Crazy Castle
  32. Pixeline & The Jungle Treasure
  33. Quell Reflect
  34. Reckless Getaway
  35. Reckless Racing 2
  36. Reckless Racing HD
  37. RPG Eve of the Genesis HD
  38. R-Type
  39. Ski Safari
  40. Sonic 4 Episode I
  41. Sonic CD
  42. Sonic The Hedgehog
  43. Speedball 2 Evolution
  44. Stardash
  45. Symphony of Eternity
  46. Tiny Little Racing
  47. TurboFly HD
  48. Virtua Tennis Challenge
  49. Wind Up Knight
  50. Zenonia
  51. Zenonia 2
    Your comment
  • 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:
    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 :)