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Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Shield Vs. PlayStation Vita Vs. 3DS

Nvidia Shield vs. PlayStation Vita

Comparing Nvidia’s Shield to Sony’s PlayStation Vita gets even more subjective. Both are positioned as dedicated gaming machines, but they employ completely different platforms. Still, it's worth looking at them together, particularly if you don’t already own an Android-based smartphone, or if you’re looking for a dedicated portable gaming device.

When it comes to hardware, the Shield wins. Nvidia's machine has a faster SoC, more memory, and a bigger battery. Both devices sport five-inch screens. But the Shield sports a 1280x720 LCD, whereas the Vita’s native resolution is 960x544. Both come equipped with touchscreens, though the PS Vita adds a track pad on the back. The Shield also includes analog triggers and clickable analog sticks.

Of course, as a gamer, tech specs are fun, but it all comes down to the content, really. In that face-off, the Vita and Shield trade blows. The PS Vita comes from a hardcore gaming background, so you’re going to find specific titles that simply aren’t available through Google Play. File Uncharted, Persona 4, and Little Big Planet in that category. If you’re more into casual titles, you’ll find plenty in Google’s store, and at much lower prices. PS Vita games cost upwards of $40 each, and even the same game on both platforms usually costs more for the Sony machine. As an example, Plants vs. Zombies sells for $14.99 on the PlayStation Store and just $0.99 on Google Play. That's just crazy.

Enthusiasts looking for a more serious experience are going to find it on the PS Vita. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is available for Android and the PS Vita, but the latter approximates the version we love on PC and consoles. There’s still a big price disparity (you pay around $25 from Amazon for PS Vita and $6 on Google Play) But if the Shield can give us an optimized PC streaming experience, the story changes substantially…

On the topic of streaming, both devices have their own proprietary technologies. The PS Vita offers a feature called Remote Play, analogous to what the Shield can do when it’s paired to a GeForce GTX 650 or higher. Remote Play tasks a PS3 with rendering a game, while the PS Vita displays a video output stream and sends controller input. This feature is used infrequently today, but Sony is making it mandatory for developers making games for the PS4. If you’re planning on buying a PS4, then your PS Vita could get even more useful. On the other hand, Shield can do this for a number of PC games today.

As far as media streaming goes, both platforms support Netflix. The PS Vita still doesn’t have a Hulu Plus app, though (despite its promise more than a year ago). A higher-resolution screen and better speakers make the Shield a better device for content consumption, we think. Conversely, you can get a PS Vita with 3G connectivity for $300.

Deciding between the two platforms is really a matter of taste. The PS Vita retails for $250, a full $50 less than Shield. Nvidia’s solution is much beefier, and includes Android, making it much more flexible than the PS Vita. But portable gaming on Shield is a bit more mainstream compared to Sony’s platform.

Nvidia Shield vs. Nintendo 3DS

It’s even harder to compare Shield and Nintendo’s 3DS. For one, the technical differences get even more obscure. The 3DS has two screens, the top one delivering a glasses-free stereo picture at 800×240 (that’s 400×240 per eye), while the bottom offers a resistive touchscreen at 320x240. Combing 3D and a stylus-based touch experience, gaming on the 3DS is unlike any other platform.

Nintendo's first-party games are also unique in that they’re the only places you’ll find the Mario, Zelda, and Animal Crossing franchises.

The pricing difference are also significant enough that both handhelds appeal to separate markets. Nintendo’s 3DS retails for $170, while the 3DS XL (armed with larger screens, but no additional resolution) sells at $200.

You’ll find a Netflix app for the 3DS, though its Hulu Plus implementation still isn’t available, similar to Sony’s PlayStation Vita. Based on resolution alone, though, Nvidia’s Shield gets the nod for streaming video content. Unfortunately, the 3D content available on Netflix doesn’t play back in stereo on the 3DS, which would have been a big advantage favoring the Nintendo handheld. Unlike the Shield and PS Vita, the 3DS doesn’t offer any functionality to stream game content from a PC or console.

As with our comparison between the Shield and PS Vita, pitting Nintendo’s against Nvidia’s effort comes down to taste. It's just that the 3DS is furthest from Shield on the spectrum in pricing, hardware, and software.

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.