Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Shield Vs. Galaxy Note II And Moga Pro

The Competition and Alternatives

The Shield is a very different Android-based device. If you’re looking at what $300 buys in Google’s ecosystem, you have a number of choices. But anyone considering a Shield likely has a specific set of wants and needs.

Rather than comparing the Shield to other $300 devices running Android, we thought it’d be more appropriate to look at its main purpose: gaming. Obviously, nobody is going to buy Shield because it’s ideal for email or streaming movies (it really isn’t).

Nvidia Shield vs. Moga Pro

It’s most natural to compare Shield against other Android devices, and Chris is doing a bunch of that today as well. I've used Samsung’s Galaxy Note II as my personal smartphone since its release. Its Exynos 4412 Quad is not the fastest SoC available. But that’s what I own and play my Android-based games on.

While it’s not exactly fair to compare a $600 phone (at launch) to a dedicated gaming device like Shield, an Android-based smartphone is already a sunk cost for many of us, and it supports a lot of the same software. Where the Shield sets itself apart from even the highest-end smartphones and tablets is those physical controls. To level that playing field, we’re pitting Shield against a gaming attachment.

The Moga Pro is a $50 controller that features the same array of buttons and joysticks as Nvidia’s Shield (though the Moga features an Xbox-like d-pad and analog stick arrangement, while the Shield has the two analog sticks positioned next to each other like Sony’s PlayStation). It has an integrated clip that opens up wide enough to accommodate my Galaxy Note II, and connects via Bluetooth and HID.

This little add-on hugely improves the fun factor of Android-based games. Unless you’re playing a title designed for touch, like Cut the Rope or Plants vs. Zombies, physical controls add a lot of precision. Additionally, you don't have to deal with your fingers blocking the screen.

On paper, the Moga doesn't give up much compared to Nvidia’s Shield. Practically, though, the Shield is a big step up in terms of build quality. The Shield’s buttons offer a firmer click, and the triggers and analog joysticks have more satisfying resistance. But we'd give the Moga’s d-pad the nod, which could be important if you play a lot of old-school games through emulators. Overall, the Shield feels like what we’d expect from an OEM controller, while the Moga Pro definitely has more aftermarket appeal.

Also favoring Shield is weight. While heft isn't something you generally want from a portable, the Shield's 588 g (as measured by Chris) helps balance it better than a Moga Pro-wrapped smartphone. Holding the Moga Pro involves keeping it upright so it doesn’t tilt back and out of your hands, if only because the accessory is light, and most of what you feel in your hands comes from the phone. For the record, the Moga Pro itself weighs 190 grams without a smartphone. In contrast, the Shield’s weight is more evenly distributed. Moreover, its screen also tilts to any number of angles between closed and almost 180 degrees back. The Moga Pro only locks in at one angle.

Because the Shield is a separate device, you won't worry that your gaming habit is draining your phone’s battery, and whether you’ll be able to make calls later in the day. Although Moga is working on a new version of its controller that will also act as an external battery pack, it won’t be available until later this year. Then again, if you’re traveling with the Moga Pro, you’re carrying a significantly lighter load than the Shield.

It's hard to get any more specific about gaming, since so much depends on the Android-based device you’re using with the Moga Pro. The Galaxy Note II’s screen is half an inch bigger, but its built-in speakers are vastly inferior to the Shield’s front-facing drivers. The Shield is going to carry forward a victory when it comes to battery life, though. Even the Galaxy Note II's power source is rated at 11.78 Wh, which pales in comparison to Shield’s 28.8 Wh.

As far as gaming control under Android goes, anyone with a decently-powerful smartphone can get a lot of what makes Shield special from the $50 Moga Pro. Those Tegra-specific visual enhancements are nice, but you’ll have to make the call if they’re worth buying a separate device.

One final interesting thing to note is that the Moga Pro comes with a tablet stand, so at some point in the future you might be able to match the Moga Pro with a larger Tegra 4-powered device for even more flexibility.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • 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.