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Nvidia Shield Review: Tegra 4-Powered Handheld Gaming

Nvidia’s Shield Competes For Your Disposable Income

The first thing to remember about Nvidia’s Shield is that it’s a toy. Yes, it’s driven by an advanced SoC, comes with some very innovative technology, and is really well-built. But at the end of the day, Shield is a handheld gaming console. We love the bloat-free Android environment. Also, I’m blown away by the interplay between Nvidia’s NVEnc, Wi-Fi, and Shield to stream PC game content. Flying Parrot’s AR.Drone 2.0 using the portable’s physical controls is great fun (check out Nvidia Shield: Piloting A Drone With The Tegra 4 Handheld if you missed that little experiment). I even set the Shield down outside during a barbeque and played music through its speakers. Though they don’t have the bass response I was looking for, the drivers are loud enough to entertain a small party.

You’re probably not going to do much productive with Shield, though. All of the pieces are there to check your email, post Facebook updates, and jump on Skype. However, the d-pad and joysticks are primary inputs. Pinching the body between your palms as you peck away at Android’s on-screen keyboard just isn’t comfortable for any amount of time.

Truly, Shield is built to game, both in its native Android and across your wireless network, through your PC. The list of titles optimized for Nvidia’s controller is not only long, but also distinguished. A number of those games are even uniquely optimized for Tegra 4’s feature set. Despite their graphical complexity, Shield comes armed with enough battery capacity for almost seven-hour marathons. And that’s worst-case run time. Nvidia claims you can listen to music for up to 40 hours on a charge. We were able to stream PC content to it for nearly 10 hours. Crazy.

Pleasantly enough for PC gaming enthusiasts, streaming content is a video playback workload; the rendering happens on your desktop. That means you’ll get even more out of Shield’s battery if you’re playing GRID 2 or Skyrim. Right now, there are 21 games on Nvidia’s list of titles fully-configured for streaming. Some of them are well-suited to joystick control and others can be downright frustrating. There will be titles that never translate well from PC to Shield. But for now, there’s a ton of novelty in playing familiar games from somewhere other than next to a gaming box.

The question then becomes: do you have an extra $300 laying around for a device that is cool in its own right, but doesn’t really replace anything? We’re not talking about the convergence between two worlds here. This is multi-platform gaming handheld enabled by inventive engineering. We can come up with several different reasons why it’s cool, but none for why you absolutely need to have it. In the absence of necessity, you get to answer whether those three C-notes are best spent on pure entertainment.  

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