Now that NVIDIA’s handheld gaming console is available, you might be wondering whether it’s worth paying $299 for. After reading more than a dozen reviews of the NVIDIA Shield, it doesn’t look like there’s a simple answer.
If there’s a consensus, it seems to be that the Shield is a fast, well-built device that sets out to do a few different things, and accomplishes some of them better than others. The hardware’s also certainly worth $299 — but odds are only a select group of folks will get their money’s worth if they spend that much to buy a Shield while it’s still new.
The NVIDIA Shield looks like an Xbox controller with a 5 inch display attached to the top. That’s kind of what it is. But beneath the controller are the guts of a powerful Android device, packing an NVIDIA Tegra 4 ARM Cortex-A15 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, a microSD card slot, and Android 4.2 software.
The display is a 720p IPS screen with wide viewing angles and a hinge that lets you adjust the position or fold the screen down over the controls when it’s not in use.
Most reviewers seem to like the controller, comparing it to an XBOX 360 controller. The speakers are loud enough to shake the whole device when the volume’s all the way up, and the screen reportedly looks great.
Folks seem less enamored with the size and weight. At almost 1.5 pounds, the Shield is heavier than any other modern handheld gaming console.
The touchscreen is awkwardly located above the controller, making it a bit awkward to reach up and tap the screen, so you’ll want to use the buttons and D-pads whenever possible. But for entering text or performing some other basic functions, you’ll want to use the touchscreen and on-screen keyboard.
While this is an Android device that’s capable of doing many different things, it’s clearly aimed at gamers. There are two different types of games you can play on the Shield: Android games and PC games.
PC gaming comes into play when you have a PC with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 600 series graphics card and a speedy home WiFi network. You can stream games from your PC to the Shield, which means that your PC is handling the grunt-work, but you’re using the Shield’s screen and controller to play.
Reviewers say that this works pretty well… usually. The PC game streaming function is still in beta, and games can freeze or crash from time to time. There’s also a bit of lag, so you’ll want to play games that may not need split-second reaction times.
As for Android games, there’s not a game developed for Android that shouldn’t run on the NVIDIA Shield. It has full access to the Google Play Store, so you can download any title you like.
Unfortunately most games weren’t designed to be used with physical controllers. NVIDIA points out that there are more than a hundred games that are either optimized for the Shield or simply work well with game controllers without any modifications. But reviewers say the controls aren’t always consistent across different games, and some work better than others.
At this point, almost every Android game has been designed for phones and tablets. So while gamers who are used to PC or console games might prefer physical controls, the experience of using a game controller with Android apps can be a bit hit or miss.
That could change if the Shield and other Android gaming devices such as the Ouya and GameStick become so popular that developers regularly take their game controllers into account while creating games. But right now the consensus seems to be that Shield works great for gaming… with some titles.
Oh, technically there’s one other type of game you can run on the Shield — classic console games that you can run in an emulator. Not every reviewer went this route, but those who did came away impressed. If you don’t need to play the latest games on your mobile device (and are OK with the shady gray legal areas where emulators exist), the Shield is reportedly an awesome device for playing NES, GameBoy Advance or
There’s pretty much no faster Android device on the market right now. Viewing angles are good. And the speakers are loud.
When you find a game that works well with the setup, it sounds like the experience is pretty great. The Shield also makes a good portable media player.
Reviewers also managed to get 10 hours of battery life or more with mixed use. You might get around half that time when playing resource-intensive Android games for hours on end. But 5 or 6 hours of battery life isn’t bad for a mobile gaming device with a 720p screen.
At the other end of the spectrum, some reviewers went days between charging the battery, and managed to get up to 10 hours of play time for PC games (since you’re essentially decoding video on the mobile device while your PC does the heavy lifting), and up to 15 hours of video playback.
Recharging the battery, on the other hand, can take a long time — up to 5 hours to go from zero to full.
Reviewers express a range of opinions on whether you should plunk down $299 to buy a Shield.
There are cheaper handheld gaming consoles like the Nintendo 3DS or PlayStation Vita which offer more reliable performance and some high quality games. But as Android Police points out, those platforms have far more high quality games, while the NVIDIA Shield has a larger set of capabilities (which isn’t much good if there aren’t games you want to play).
Judged as an Android device, the Shield seems to be an interesting alternative to a tablet. It may not have a camera and it’s certainly bulkier than a tablet. But if you’re more interested in gaming than snapping photos or making video calls, that might not matter.
On the other hand, since most Android games are designed for phones and tablets, the Shield seems sort of like a device that’s designed for the future of Android games rather than the present — although some reviewers point out that until more Tegra 4-powered devices hit the market, games optimized for NVIDA’s latest chip will look better on the Shield than on almost any other device.
Overall the Shield sounds like an awesome device for a small group of early adopters, while most folks would probably be better off buying a tablet or another handheld gaming system.
Here are some of the first sites to publish detailed reviews of the NVIDIA Shield:
- Android Central
- Android Community
- Android Police
- Droid Life
- Laptop Magazine
- Tom’s Hardware
- The Verge