Software and Stylus
The Shield Tablet will ship with Android 4.4 KitKat and will allow you to move videos, music, images, etc. to the microSD card (it supports up to 128 GB). The ability to move app or game files depends on developer support. It’s nice to see Nvidia provide a stock Android experience devoid of unnecessary clutter. The only additions are some options specific to the Shield Tablet in the settings menu and a few of Nvidia’s own specialized apps.
The Shield Hub app, shown in the image above, is the primary interface for all the gaming features that make the Shield Tablet unique. The uncluttered UI works equally well when viewing it on the tablet or on a TV while sitting on the couch. While the Shield Hub is a standalone app, it can function almost like a customized launcher. From within the app you can shop for Shield optimized games and accessories, read gaming news, launch any of your Android games, launch media apps (the apps included here are customizable), and launch GameStream.
Stylus Support and a New Painting App for Digital Artists
The Shield Tablet comes with DirectStylus 2, an upgraded version of the inking technology found in the Tegra Note 7. DirectStylus uses a normal capacitive stylus and does not use an active digitizer. Nvidia’s solution is unique however, drastically improving upon the usual capacitive writing and drawing experience. I had an opportunity to play with DirectStylus 2 on the Shield Tablet and was thoroughly impressed.
The included chisel tip stylus doesn’t obscure the point of contact with the screen like standard capacitive styli and creates much finer lines. When using the standard pen type, there is virtually no lag between the tip and the trail of ink. After giving up trying to use a stylus with the iPad, it’s a pleasant surprise to find such a natural writing experience on a tablet that costs less than $500.
Along with DirectStylus 2, the Shield Tablet has built in multi-language handwriting recognition. Unlike other handwriting engines that send your scribbles off to the cloud for OCR processing, the Shield Tablet utilizes the Kepler GPU for onboard processing. I’m not sure what the impact on battery life will be, but in my limited testing word recognition was snappy and accurate.
To take further advantage of DirectStylus 2 and the Kepler GPU, Nvidia created an all new drawing/painting app called Dabbler that people more artistic than I am will appreciate. The app uses the GPU to apply 3D lighting and texture effects and even physics to your artwork. For example, when painting with watercolor, you can see the paper “absorb” the paint (the paint loses its sheen as it absorbs and dries). Oil paint has a noticeable 3D look as you can build up layers and use a chisel tool to cut away the layered paint. The lighting tool allows you to dynamically change the orientation of the light source, which has a dramatic effect on the highlights and shadows of the 3D painting. There’s even a gravity mode that can be enabled that uses the gyroscope to sense orientation and effect the flow of the paint. If too much paint is applied, it will start to run down the canvas.
The Dabbler app currently doesn’t support pressure sensitivity, but Nvidia said this will be coming in the future.