NVIDIA's Shield portable gaming system is easily the most anticipated product to come out of CES. Today, we finally got a chance to go hands-on with an early build of the device, and got a few hands-on videos in the process. Let's break down the videos first.
Playing Dead Trigger 2
Steam Integration Demo (Black Ops II)
So, what did I think? NVIDIA clearly took its time designing a controller that you'll actually want to use and hold. The batteries are located at the bottom of the unit, to counterbalance the weight of the display. The control sticks are an absolute joy - they felt as smooth as butter. I was able to get a degree of control in Dead Trigger 2 that I've only ever experienced on a console. It become immensely more playable, and thus, enjoyable. The bumpers and other buttons - including the D-pad - felt a little sloppy. NVIDIA says this is something they're well aware of and that these early demo units are not indicative of how the final buttons will feel (eg, they'll be a lot better).
The Shield is undeniably on the heavy side, but I don't think anyone will find holding it particularly tiresome. One issue, though, is that because it's a little hefty and you have games designed for play on larger tablet screens, sometimes UI elements and scale force you to hold the admittedly large Shield closer to your face than I find comfortable. It's a minor concern in the grand scheme of things, I suppose.
As far as build quality, I'd say it felt like I was holding something on par with your average Xbox 360 controller - solid, high-quality ABS plastic. The units we were playing with were also pretty beat up (see overhead photo of the controls), and they seemed to be handling the abuse without much issue. The removable face plates are magnetic, by the way (see images), and are swapped quite easily.
Steam integration is what you're probably really chomping at the bit about. OK, so we did play with it. It works. The first time we tried, though, it didn't - the controller wasn't recognized by the connected PC. But when it did work (on our second try), it was fantastic. Black Ops II popped up on the Shield and ran great - no frame skipping, and a high frame rate generally. On the issue of latency, 2-3 minutes just wasn't enough time to be sure how gameplay will be affected by what little there was. It seemed totally playable to me (a lot better than OnLive), and I like to think I'm pretty picky compared to the average person in that regard. There was noticeable latency, sure, but it was very, very minor. And I expect that will likely be further reduced by the time the Shield launches. As it is now though, again, I would say it is definitely playable.
After this hands-on, I have high hopes for Shield, and am looking forward to spending a lot more time with one once they're on the market. Is this going to be the device that revolutionizes mobile gaming? That's hard to say. There are a lot of factors to consider - price, release date, competing products, critical reception. But I will say this: I think Shield is the most serious Android gaming product to come along to date, and has the best chance of anything out there to change the landscape in a significant way. Whether or not it actually will, well, we'll just have to wait and see.