Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Native Android Gaming On Shield

As a portable gaming device, Shield’s construction is solid, and the controller’s feel is on-par with what you'd expect from Microsoft or Sony. For any game that supports physical controls, the benefit is huge. We may get fairly faithful ports of Grand Theft Auto III and Max Payne for Android, but trying to play through them exclusively through a touchscreen is an exercise in frustration. The Shield’s console-style input is far superior.

Where the Shield falls behind competing Android-based gaming devices is in titles designed for a touchscreen. Sure, the five-inch LCD is multi-touch-compatible, but the form factor wasn’t designed to rely on touch as a primary input. Playing games like Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, or Cut the Rope is simply better on a smartphone or tablet.

Tegra Enhancements

Nvidia boasts that the power of its graphics hardware allows developers to add special features like real-time lighting effects, depth of field, soft shadows, high-res textures, smoke and particle simulation, along with more geometry than competing platforms.

Sometimes these enhancements result in two separate versions of the same game, the Tegra-enhanced build appended with THD after its title. Others maintain one software package and activate the enhancements using hardware detection.

We took comparison screenshots between games that feature THD enhancements on the Shield and the regular version on a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Riptide GP 2

Tegra enhancements include complex shaders, dynamic lighting, and real-time shadows.

Shadowgun DeadZone

The upgrade in lighting and texture quality here over the standard Android version is apparent.

SoulCraft

Even though the Shield and Galaxy Note II both have 2 GB of RAM, the texture quality and level of detail is a step up on the Tegra platform.

Beach Buggy Blitz

Mind you, not all THD titles exhibit the same levels of graphical differences. In the case of Beach Buggy Blitz, the texture resolution is the same as the standard version (as seen in our animated graphic), but the Tegra enhancements involve special effects like motion blur and dynamic headlights while driving in caves.