Today, NVIDIA is announcing the Shield tablet. While normally such launch announcements don’t require much in the way of exposition, NVIDIA is in an odd place. Last year, the Shield portable and Tegra Note 7 were the primary mobile devices shipping with Tegra 4.  In hindsight, the Shield portable was a bit too niche to ever reach mass adoption. It was first and foremost a gaming device, with a display attached to a controller as opposed to a controller attached to a display. The result was that while it was surprisingly good for gaming, it wasn’t the best tablet. It really only worked in landscape mode, the display size was relatively small (5 inches diagonal), and using the touchscreen was an awkward experience.

The Tegra Note 7 was NVIDIA’s attempt at competing in the mainstream tablet market. While the dual front facing speakers and stylus were good advantages over the Nexus 7, it wasn’t clearly better than the Nexus 7. The display was lower resolution, lower contrast, and not as well calibrated. The WiFi module only supported 2.4 GHz, and there was only a gigabyte of RAM. While it was possible to emulate a Shield-esque experience with the Note 7, there was no game streaming from PC to tablet due to the lack of 5 GHz WiFi, and the controllers on the market simply weren’t as good as the controller in Shield. In addition, because the Tegra Note 7 wasn’t directly controlled by NVIDIA the experience in software update speed could vary.

From the lens of past experience, the Shield tablet makes a lot of sense. The specs are right for a good tablet, but it’s also a proper Shield device. As a tablet, it has all the right pieces. A high resolution display, Tegra K1 (Cortex A15 variant), dual front facing speakers and bass reflex ports, a new stylus, 5 GHz WiFi, and a 5MP front facing camera. I’ve put a table of the specs below for easier reading.

SoC Tegra K1 (2.2 GHz 4x Cortex A15s)
RAM/NAND 2 GB DDR3L-1866, 16/32GB NAND + microSD
Display 8” 1920x1200 IPS LCD
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (NVIDIA Icera i500 UE Category 3/4 LTE)
Dimensions 221 x 126 x 9.2mm, 390 grams
Camera 5MP rear camera, 1.4 µm pixels, 1/4" CMOS size. 5MP FFC
Battery 5197 mAh, 3.8V chemistry (19.75 Whr)
OS Android 4.4.2
Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GLONASS, mini HDMI 1.4a
SIM Size None or MicroSIM

In the stylus side, DirectStylus 2 is said to reduce the inking latency to half that of the implementation we saw in Tegra Note 7. In practice it seemed that the stylus latency was low and lines tracked closely to the stylus, but I’ll avoid final judgment until the review. NVIDIA also claims that there are more levels of pressure sensitivity, but it’s not quite clear how many levels there are. NVIDIA has also added handwriting recognition software, which worked relatively well in some casual testing. The Dabbler application also seems to provide a relatively realistic simulation of various physical mediums such as oil painting and watercolor, although it’s mostly targeted towards artists.

In addition to the stylus features, NVIDIA is advertising 1080p Netflix support. Normally, due to the DRM restrictions associated with high bitrate streaming, most Android devices only support low resolution streams. NVIDIA has done all of the necessary work to satisfy these DRM requirements, so it supports the highest bitrate available to mobile devices. Of course, this feature will be disabled with an unlocked bootloader, but it’s a good feature to have for mobile streaming.

Outside of tablet features, the gaming features seem to be quite compelling. The controllers themselves were comfortable, and were very similar to the Shield portable’s ergonomics. NVIDIA is emphasizing that these controllers connect over WiFi direct, and the frequency selected depends upon the network that is used. The result is much lower latency, and NVIDIA is also able to run a headset jack and microphone through the controller due to the higher bandwidth that WiFi provides. Up to four controllers can be paired to the Shield tablet for multiplayer games.

Due to the addition of 5 GHz 2x2 WiFi, NVIDIA’s GameStream and GRID, which means that it’s possible to stream games from a PC within the same LAN to Shield tablet and play games by streaming from NVIDIA servers to the tablet. NVIDIA did note that only 720p is supported through WiFi, and an Ethernet connection is necessary to stream at 1080p due to latency reasons.

While both GameStream and GRID are largely similar in experience compared to the Shield portable, the Kepler GPU in the Tegra K1 enables a great deal of potential for gaming. Trine 2 will ship with the tablet, and is a direct port from the console game. NVIDIA also showed off the improvements in games like Half Life 2 and Portal, which run full OpenGL rather than OpenGL ES as it did on Shield portable. Outside of feature set, NVIDIA is claiming that the K1's GPU is far faster than the GPU in either the Exynos 5420 or Apple's A7 SoC.

In addition, NVIDIA showed off a full version of War Thunder running on Shield tablet, and claimed that it will be able to play on multiplayer with PCs. This included both the tank and aircraft combat aspects of the game. NVIDIA also showed that the Unreal Engine 4 demo from Google IO runs on the Shield tablet.

Finally, the Shield tablet will be the first Android tablet to support streaming to Twitch. By leveraging the built in front facing camera, it’s possible to stream both gameplay and webcam/commentary. In practice, I didn’t see any noticeable issues with this system, and it seemed to work as promised. The 1.4 micron pixel size seemed to make the quality relatively acceptable even indoors.

That was a lot to go over, but I think the key here will be the native gaming experience on Shield tablet. While it’s fully possible for Shield tablet to serve as a dedicated console with GameStream, the real use case will be whether it can provide a solid gaming experience using the SoC for rendering rather than as a video decoder for a PC somewhere else. With games like War Thunder and Trine 2, it seems that there is immense potential for a very compelling product. While NVIDIA isn’t starting from nothing this time around, this ecosystem aspect is still a bit risky.

The Shield tablet will go on sale July 29th for the US, August 14th for Europe. The 16GB/WiFi variant will cost 299 USD, the 32GB/LTE variant will be 399 USD. The controller is priced at 59 USD, and the flip cover at 39 USD.

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  • chizow - Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - link

    Completely agree, a Haswell ULV or even Bay Trail-M based CPU with K1 GPU running full Windows 8.1 in a mobile device would be amazing. It won't happen anytime soon though, but there is the vehicle for it with Nvidia's announcement last year that it would license its GPU IP. We'd need an announcement by Intel followed by at least 2-3 years to integrate it into Intel mobile designs.
  • Valis - Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - link

    Next year Nvidia is said to come out with Maxwell in a SoC like this, with Denver CPU cores, the Erista, but sure x86_64 would have have been the best combo to date. Can't get everything you want, I reckon. Maybe in 2016 or so.
  • sonicmerlin - Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - link

    AMD would have been in a perfect position to take advantage of this segment. Instead they're floundering about doing absolutely nothing. It amazes me how such a horribly run company manages to avoid bankruptcy.
  • gyuri79 - Thursday, July 24, 2014 - link

    Very cool. I am also playing Android games on my tablet and an Xbox One controller with Utorcase
  • davendrak - Thursday, July 24, 2014 - link

    I really dont know what all the bad comments are about. This tablet has the best bang for buck. Where else do u get:
    2Gb Ram
    Tegra K1 class processor
    Dual Front Facing speakers
    Full HD display
    Timely updates
    Stock android
    Great design

    at $299 in mass market? huh

    Not to mention
    5mp front and rear AOHDR Camera (1080p Video, Twitch streaming)
    Direct Stylus
    Game streaming
    Full modern graphic software stack compatibility
    And best looking mobile graphics

    This tablet should be a big seller on the mainstream. Not just for gamers. This tablet really is the best tablet at that cost and probably the best tablet at any cost.
  • LetsGo - Friday, July 25, 2014 - link

    Agree with you.

    They have covered all the bases.

    I will pick one up just to program the GPU I wonder if the driver has the same Nvidia extensions as its desktop counterparts.

    So its this or the Mi Pad or the rumoured Nexus 2014 Tab. Eagerly waiting for Anandtech's detailed reviews.
  • NZtechfreak - Saturday, July 26, 2014 - link

    Also agree, people might have different opinions about the merits of this on a purely gaming basis, or in relation to how well it might bridge the gap between desktop and mobile gaming, but I think many aren't giving this its due as a very good Android tablet in its own right (and for a reasonable asking price). Looked at from that perspective, and with the other stuff viewed as additions to a fundamentally sound tablet, I think it's hard to be too critical of Nvidia here.

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