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The Ultimate Gaming Portable: NVIDIA SHIELD Review
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by Rob Williams on November 6, 2013 in Gaming, Mobile

Are you a portable gamer that’s tired of the restrictions that bog down most handhelds? Based on Android, NVIDIA’s SHIELD portable helps fix that problem. At the same time, it even goes a step further to improve the gamepad solution. At $300, SHIELD is on the pricier side – but is it worth it?

Performance, Battery Life & Final Thoughts

 With that exhaustive look at SHIELD’s features out of the way, let’s move forward into a look at performance. We haven’t benchmarked a ton of mobile devices at Techgage up to this point, so our results below are just going to include the SHIELD and both the first and second gen ASUS Nexus 7.

Similar to our regular hardware benchmarking, our methodologies here require the device to be rebooted before testing, and left to sit for at least five minutes. Further, each test is run at least twice over, with each test run in the same order.

All three of the devices tested here feature quad-core ARM7-based SoCs, with the first-gen Nexus 7 (with Tegra 3) clocked at 1.2GHz, the second-gen clocked at 1.5GHz (with Adreno 320), and the SHIELD clocked at 1.9GHz (with Tegra 4).

  Nexus 7 Gen 1 Nexus 7 Gen 2 NVIDIA SHIELD
3DMark (Ice Storm Unlimited) 3227 10464 18971
MobileXPRT 2013 – User Experience 98 98 100
MobileXPRT 2013 – Overall Perf 119 150 273
Anomoly 2 Benchmark 53407 198399 (1) 913436 (2)
GFXBench – T-Rex HD Onscreen 5.4 FPS 15 FPS (1) 40 FPS (2)
(1) 1920×1200; (2) 1280×720

With today’s ultra-high mobile resolutions – 1920×1200 on the second-gen Nexus 7 is an excellent example – it might seem a bit weak that NVIDIA equipped SHIELD with only 720p. However, as the gaming results above prove, it was absolutely the right decision to stick with 720p. SHIELD’s 5-inch display boasts an impressive ppi rating of 294, so at that point, a higher resolution is not going to improve the image’s crispness; if anything, a higher resolution would only impact performance in a bad way. Given that, would you rather 40 FPS or 15? That’s a no-brainer.

From an overall performance standpoint, MobileXPRT proved that there’s no discernible difference to the user experience between these devices, though the SHIELD is rated at almost twice as powerful as the latest Nexus 7 – not bad for a mobile that costs just 25% more (granted, it’s not fair to compare the two directly, as their market targets are quite different).

Performance-wise, SHIELD is top-rate – but what about battery-life?

  Battery Drain (One Hour) Estimated Battery Life
720p H.264 Movie 5% ~20 Hours
Streaming 720p H.264 Movie 6% ~16 Hours
Simple Game (Super Mario World) 14% ~7 Hours
Using GameStream 13% ~7 Hours
Epic Citadel Benchmark 19% ~5 Hours
Tegra 4 Game (Riptide GP2) 23% ~4 Hours

Where a gaming mobile is concerned, it’s hard to expect incredible battery-life, and SHIELD is no exception when we’re talking the latest games. Running the Tegra 4-based Riptide GP2, the SHIELD lasts about 4 hours. For a non-Tegra 4 game, we might get 5 hours out of one that still looks great. Want to run a game emulator? Expect closer to 7 hours.

The results that proved most impressive were video-related. The first time I ran the 720p one-hour test, I didn’t believe the result. Starting at 100%, the battery was about 95.5% after an hour – it didn’t seem realistic. Yet, after a second test with an entirely different video, the result held. Expect to get about 20 hours of H.264 720p playback out of SHIELD, and knock 20% off of that if it involves streaming (YouTube or off a home network).

Final Thoughts

Ahh, conclusion time. Is NVIDIA’s SHIELD worth picking up? If that question even has to be answered, I’d have to imagine that you didn’t read the rest of the review. But to be fair, there are multiple angles to look at, so let’s break it down.

SHIELD is not for everyone, especially those who take one look at it and wonder if it’d suit them. Since SHIELD’s launch, I’ve heard a number of different opinions. Some people love it like I do, others don’t see the point of owning one, and a select few actually own one but don’t use it as often as they expected. After seeing all of what SHIELD is capable of in this article, I’d like to assume that by now, you know whether or not it’s for you. I can tell you one thing: It’s definitely for me.

It might be best if I just lay the reasons out on the table.

As I mentioned in the intro, I’m a big gamer, but not a mobile one. That’s mostly because of the restrictions imposed on gaming handhelds I’ve owned (which have been all of the main ones up until the PS Vita), with regards to their freedom, and game selection. When companies like Nintendo or Sony need to give the a-OK to each game released on their respective consoles, and not to mention the huge costs that developers face when developing for those platforms, the selection is going to be limited.

NVIDIA SHIELD Gaming Portable - Open & Ready to Game

SHIELD is Android, so the gaming potential is unlimited – there’s almost no barriers. You want to create a game and publish it to the Play Store? You can, with little hassle. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be good, but at least it will be there for people to access.

Of course, there are a number of games that don’t support a gamepad. NVIDIA has that covered with Gamepad Mapper, which in our testing performed well. It might be a little complicated to learn, but it helps fix a major issue that’s plagued those who want to use a gamepad for most or all of their mobile games.

On page 2, I placed SHIELD as the “ultimate” handheld for emulation lovers, and it takes mere minutes to understand the potential there. On the first night of using SHIELD, I had installed 10 different emulators, and kicked-off a quest in Dragon Warrior for the NES. I played a bit of Gex: Deep Cover Gecko for the PSone. I dabbled a bit with Wario Land for Virtual Boy (yes, really). I played one of my favorite arcade schmups through MAME, Progear. For the sake of not rambling on, I’ll stop here. Just believe me: Those who love game emulation and want it on-the-go, need a SHIELD. I plan on going into further detail in a future article.

NVIDIA SHIELD - After Two WeeksYour SHIELD desktop is bound to become full rather quickly

The fact that game emulation is possible on the SHIELD without roadblocks is owed to the fact it’s built around Android. It’s as open as a mobile platform is on the commercial side.

Past all of that, NVIDIA offers the ability to stream PC games to the SHIELD should you want that ability, and even turn the entire unit into a console. Done with gaming? Do whatever else you’d usually do on Android. Watch movies or hit-up YouTube, view photos, browse the Web, look for updates on Facebook, check your email, catch up on news, and so forth. The only thing it can’t do that a lot of other Android devices can is take a photo or act as a webcam – probably not a big issue for most people.

NVIDIA’s SHIELD might cost $100 more than a PS Vita, but just look at all it can do. It packs in top-of-the-line mobile graphics and a fast processor, offers unparalleled mobile software flexibility, can act as a console when connected to the TV, has a solid construction and reasonable design, and last but not least, lasts between 4~20 hours depending on what you’re using it for.

If I sound excited, it’s because I am. Editor’s Choice, no question. I can’t wait to see what NVIDIA brings to the table with SHIELD 2.

Pros

  • Gamepad has a solid layout, despite the limitations imposed by form-factor.
  • High ppi display is crisp, bright.
  • Advanced features (GameStream, Console Mode) are very easy to set up.
  • Intuitive to use; not much of a learning-curve.
  • Fantastic SoC performance, both CPU and GPU-wise.
  • Excellent built-in speakers; headphone jack produces solid audio also.
  • Can stream PC games.
  • A game emulation enthusiast’s dream.
  • Can hook up to a TV and act as a media player.
  • Ability to map a gamepad to games that don’t support it.
  • Is flexible, thanks to the Android OS.
  • Excellent battery-life across a variety of scenarios.
  • Well-priced for all it can do (~$300 USD).

Cons

  • Gamepad might not be comfortable for all gamers.
  • A bit on the weightier side.
  • Certain button-mapping limitations in emulators (which we’re investigating).
  • GameStream works well, but expect to squint for some UI elements.
  • Can experience a decent amount of video compression in GameStream if factors are not perfect.
  • GameStream requires recent NVIDIA GPUs (GeForce GTX 650 and higher).

NVIDIA SHIELD - Techgage Editor's Choice
NVIDIA SHIELD


  • Elronza Williams Jr.

    Excellent review!

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Cheers! Glad you liked it.

      • Elronza Williams Jr.

        I’m an Nvidia Shield owner myself and a Gaming Journalist as well called Handheld Lover on http://gamingonbatteries.com/ and I have to give you the credit you are rightfully due! You’ve explained in detail the different features that make the Nvidia Shield a sweet gaming console/handheld.

  • Kayden

    On my must buy list now Rob. Wife is not happy, but I am! (c;

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      If your wife is a fan of old-school games, like from the consoles, the emulation factor would sure change her mind. That’s where I spend most of my time on SHIELD… it’s simply awesome.

      • Kayden

        I told her we wont be able to grab one until I get a better card than a 580 anyways, so it’s a ways away. )c:

  • Moderation

    My PC equipped with a GTX 660 is hooked up to my home theater that i must unfortunately share with my non-gamer wife. I have been considering a WiiU as a solution to my shared home theater problem for some time, but after your review, a SHIELD paired with my library of 150 Steam games is looking far more appealing than Nintendo’s limited selection. Sorry Mario, here’s hoping Nvidia puts on a sweet black friday sale!

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Just in case it isn’t clear, be aware that using SHIELD’s GameStream functionality will take over the PC (what you see on SHIELD, you will see on your PC… it’s a direct streamer). I’d love it if NVIDIA could change this in time, but it’d be quite an undertaking, and I’m not certain it’d even be reliably possible.

  • Hubert J Farnsworth

    You had me at Metroid.

  • zacharyt1122

    Great review. I personally cannot see the advantage of streaming my games from my PC to a handheld. I do believe that Android is a fantastic platform for mobile gaming, and there are a lot of quality Android games on the market right now that would make owning Shield worth it for the game pad alone. I doubt anytime soon something will pull me away from my keyboard and mouse or 360 for my serious gaming duties.

    • zacharyt1122

      Also the emulator funtionality is also a great reason to own one. I love playing my emulated games on my Evo and my Nexus 10, but I’m pretty much stuck with RPG’s, as anything that needs accuracy is just flat out terrible on a touch screen.

      • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

        Even for simple RPGs, I just can’t stand using a touchscreen. The real issue is that I find it foolish to -cover- the screen while I’m playing it. Past that, actual controls are nice. I am working through Dragon Warrior for the NES now on SHIELD, and will likely move onto DW 2~4 after that. In the future, I am sure I’ll be tackling the older Final Fantasy’s again, and of course some of the epic RPGs on SNES.

        Yeah… I am never going to get bored. ;-)

  • Dana W

    This is what I wanted. A handheld MAME box. I love mine. I don’t even own a PC and this is a great gadget.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      Just be aware that for full game support, you’ll need a romset that matches the MAME version of the emulator (.139 at the current time). I don’t actually have such a set (mine is .148), but select games still work fine, like Progear and a couple of other schmups I have. I plan to create a special set for this emulator soon… putting it off because of what a hassle it’ll be ;-)

      • Dana W

        yep, and just so you know. the .139 roms are available in the usual places. A lot of people are still seeding them. I like the 70s and early 80s games. The ones from my misspent youth. :)

        • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

          I might just go that route. Out of curiosity, have you had luck getting any CHDs to work? Granted, I wasn’t running the right versions, but it’d always tell me that the CHD couldn’t be found. It’s something I’ve been wanting to look into, but it’d be easier when I have the correct versions to begin with!

          • Dana W

            The games I’ve wanted to play that hasn’t been an issue, so I really don’t have any advice to offer. Sorry. I need to look in that as I’d like to run the early DDR games and they are bad that way.

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