Last week at the Eurogamer Expo we got a rare chance to look at and play with the NVIDIA Shield. While the Shield has been available in the US since the end of July the UK still has no release date and it was well worth a chance to have a hands on.
The Shield was originally previewed at CES in January this year and has gone through a number of minor revisions, but has stayed true to its main form. Take a large Android smart phone and attach it in portrait to an Xbox 360 controller then put lots of batteries in it. Add software on the system to stream to a big TV and to play Steam games (on your local network) and you have the Shield.
The internal processor and specs are impressive as well – a Tegra 4 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16gb of storage, the screen is 5″ 1280×720, it runs Android 4.2 and in the US it has a premium but understandable price of $299. If this was to come to the UK that would translate to £185 or £220 including VAT.
So what were our impressions? The build quality of the Shield is impressive. Looking at the pictures you wonder if the screen is loose or flimsy – rather the opposite it felt very solid in my hands. That does lead to a drawback as it is designed to be held in mid-air at a slight angle and its considerable weight becomes an issue after a few minutes, particularly for those who do not have a lot of strength.
The keys, buttons and sticks felt good although a little heavier to push and manipulate than I was used to. I am not sure how much of that is because the device was brand new and I am used to an older much used Xbox 360 controller, but it was not out of the realms of comfort just a little firmer than I was used to.
The screen appeared bright and crisp but I had some issues with light reflections. To be fair most people would never want to play the device somewhere with so many separate lights like the Eurogamer Expo floor and it is hard to tell what NVIDIA could have done to improve the situation. The screen was disappointing in one other way – the bezel was larger than I had expected and although the screen is of a decent size the bezel overpowered it and made it seem small.
NVIDIA had their stall set up with individual gaming PCs playing The Bureau: XCOM Declassified on Steam using the Shield as a controller and streaming the video to an external monitor as well as displaying it on the Shield. It played with no noticeable lag either in terms of the controller or between the two screens showing that the PC gaming side of the screen can work well. It might be something that will be more difficult to implement in real world terms as each system had its own network and these were top of the line gaming rigs.
Overall the Shield is a very interesting first generation product. It is very powerful for Android gaming and has good potential as a PC controller, but its price and the price of supporting hardware to get the best out of it will price it out of the market for many. Lets hope NVIDIA releases a Shield 2 as that could be a very interesting market segment.