NVIDIA's SHIELD gadget is undeniably unique in the Android world, which might be why the company has decided to go with a more mainstream form factor for its second hardware foray. The SHIELD Tablet, as it's officially titled, was leaked hard last week, but NVIDIA made it official this morning. The 8-inch device features the latest Tegra K1 processor, a 1080p LCD screen, NVIDIA's GameStream software and other specialized apps, and an optional controller that's similar to the control pad on the original SHIELD.
The SHIELD Tablet represents the best that NVIDIA has to offer in a mid-sized tablet form factor. Physically, it looks a lot like a super-sized version of the HTC One, an impression helped along by dual front-facing speakers and a secondary bezel around the screen. The tablet is a little larger than other devices in the same category - it's a few millimeters wider and thicker and a full centimeter taller than the Galaxy Tab 4 8.0 with the same size screen. That extra space allows for the 32-bit Tegra K1 SoC with a 2.2Ghz quad-core CPU, a 192-core Kepler GPU, and 2GB of RAM, among other things. The passive stylus and integrated bay from the Tegra Note tablets has been implemented along with NVIDIA's proprietary notation software. The rear of the tablet uses a soft-touch plastic with "SHIELD" embossed horizontally, not unlike the 2013 Nexus 7.
Cameras on both sides of the SHIELD tablet are 5MP, which is low for the rear and high for the front. The latter is because NVIDIA is pushing the SHIELD Tablet as the first and currently only Android device capable of streaming directly to the Twitch gaming video service, including both a screencast and a picture-in-picture of the front-facing camera input. Expansion options include a MicroSD card slot, a Mini-HDMI jack, and on the 32GB model of the tablet, a Micro-SIM card slot for 3G-LTE service. NVIDIA claims the integrated battery will last for 10 hours... but of course, intense games will lower that considerably.
But the tablet isn't the only new SHIELD product being announced. As previously leaked, NVIDIA will also sell a separate SHIELD controller designed for use with both the Tablet and the original SHIELD. The configuration is very much like the SHIELD control pad, which is essentially a copy of the Xbox 360 controller with its D-Pad and left thumbstick reversed, a la the Dual Shock. The thumbsticks, ABXY, and D-pad buttons all remain the same (including the 360-style circular D-pad, more's the pity), and the triggers are similar but tilted in slightly. The Home, Back, Start, and NVIDIA/power buttons have a new triangular configuration, and the volume button has been split up into standard + and - keys, now integrated into the SHIELD badge on the bottom of the controller. The silver triangle beneath the thumbsticks is a touchpad for use in console mode or when outputting video.
But all of these are relatively small changes when compared with the design of the original SHIELD's gamepad. The real news is that the controller uses Wi-Fi Direct, tossing away Bluetooth favored by other accessories like MOGA. NVIDIA claims that this makes for half the latency of Bluetooth controllers, and it also allows for some interesting extra functionality. Up to four SHIELD controllers can be connected to the SHIELD Tablet or the original SHIELD at a time. Each one has a standard headset jack with remote audio and microphone functionality for online chat and it has an integrated microphone in the body for voice commands. At launch, the controller will not be compatible with other Android hardware.
So, how much is all of this going to cost? The tablet itself is surprisingly cheap: the 16GB Wi-Fi version of the SHIELD Tablet will be just $299 when it launches in the US and Canada on July 29th. The premium model, with 32GB of storage and an LTE radio, will be $399 - just $50 more than the LTE version of the Nexus 7. The SHIELD Controller is unfortunately sold separately, for $59 each. A first-party magnetic smart cover that folds back into a stand will be sold for $39. All new SHIELD products will launch in Europe on August 14th, with a wider worldwide rollout planned for the fall.
Note: the SHIELD Tablet isn't meant to replace the original Tegra 4-powered SHIELD, which will be sold concurrently. The original hardware will be re-branded as the "SHIELD Portable."
Like the SHIELD Portable, the SHIELD Tablet will run Android (4.4 in our brief hands-on) with considerable NVIDIA add-ons. The NVIDIA button on the controller launches the SHIELD Hub (the new name for TegraZone), a combination launcher and integrated app store with highlighted SHIELD-compatible titles. It's also where you'll launch GameStream games residing on a compatible gaming PC, or streaming games from the GRID cloud service.
Basically all the features from the SHIELD Portable have been retained, including the "Console Mode" which turns off the tablet's screen and re-formats the video output correctly for your television, and the Gamepad Mapper for non-controller games. NVIDIA is pushing the aforesaid Twitch integration hard: the tablet features a mobile version of the Shadowplay program available on PCs, which allows for recording and streaming games with a relatively low performance hit.
NVIDIA is also leaning hard on the integrated stylus and the DirectStylus software processing. In addition to built-in Evernote functionality, the SHIELD Tablet includes a virtual painting app called NVIDIA Dabbler. This drawing app uses the Tegra K1's graphical oomph to simulate insane levels of detail for virtual painting, including multiple substrates and paint types. The "paint" even bleeds into the "canvas" and has gravity effects provided by the gyroscope. The demo we were shown was amazingly detailed. I don't know if this will be major selling point for the SHIELD Tablet, but it will make Samsung Note owners green with envy, despite the lack of an active digitizer.
NVIDIA has committed to providing timely Android updates to the SHIELD Tablet. The model we were shown was running Android 4.4, and aside from NVIDIA's various apps and tools, it looked relatively stock. The SHIELD Portable will get much of the tablet's functionality via an over-the-air update, most notably compatibility with the SHIELD Controller.
We'll have a second post detailing the notable game launches for the SHIELD Tablet, but we were shown versions of popular PC and console games running on the hardware (not being streamed) including the graphics-heavy platformer Trine 2, the online multiplayer war game War Thunder, surprisingly intense chess simulator Pure Chess (already available on Android), and The Talos Principle, an online mix of first-person movement and puzzle mechanics.
NVIDIA is clearly pushing for more PC and console developers to hop onto Android... albeit in a fairly limited fashion at the moment. It's unlikely that any of these games will be compatible with other Android devices, with the possible exception of the SHIELD Portable. At present, NVIDIA counts approximately 180 games made for the SHIELD (and compatible with the new tablet) and 400 total with SHIELD-enabled controls.
Each SHIELD Tablet will be pre-loaded with a copy of Trine 2.
NVIDIA gave us the opportunity to try out the SHIELD Tablet, and we came away extremely impressed. The graphical power of the K1 is just phenomenal - the Android versions of Trine 2 and War Thunder looked indistinguishable from the full PC games. Some will complain that this isn't the full 64-bit version of the Tegra K1, but based on the demonstrations we were shown, very few end users will be disappointed. The attention to detail displayed in the original SHIELD is still in effect, and though the tablet is a bit large and heavy compared to other devices in its size category, it feels solid as a rock. The soft-touch rear makes for a good grip, and the $39 cover locks in well and makes a great stand.
The biggest plus for the official SHIELD Tablet over the Tegra Note devices, aside from the obvious spec bump, is the screen. The IPS panel NVIDIA chose is excellent, with bright colors that never stray too far into saturation. The stylus is also excellent, long and thin like a fine-tipped pen, and the extra weight actually made it more comfortable for me to use. The speakers, while not quite as loud as the gigantic ones on the original SHIELD, are nonetheless well above the usual fare for tablets or phones. I'm a big fan of the 8-inch form factor, but the bezels are quite large for a device this size, and gamers used to a larger screen will be somewhat let down.
The controller is again very similar to the Xbox 360 pad, which is a good thing. I actually would have preferred that NVIDIA stick with hardware buttons for Start, Home, and Back, instead of the phone-style capacitive keys - they're harder to hit without looking, but the triangle configuration should help with that. The controller alone would be an easy recommendation for all "hardcore" Android gamers, if it weren't for the fact that it's only compatible with SHIELD hardware at the moment. It's miles ahead of MOGA, Mad Catz, and OUYA.
We'll have a full review of the SHIELD Tablet ready for the device's retail launch in North America next week.
SHIELD controller: Amazon
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—July 22, 2014—NVIDIA today launched the newest members of the NVIDIA® SHIELD™ family — the SHIELD tablet and the SHIELD wireless controller. Designed and built by NVIDIA, SHIELD Tablet is the ultimate tablet for gamers, delivering unparalleled gaming performance made possible by the world’s most powerful mobile processor, the NVIDIA Tegra® K1, and frequent software updates that bring new features and improved performance.
The SHIELD tablet is built for gaming, featuring a bright, 8-inch, full HD display, booming front-facing speakers with rich sound, and an optional cover that both protects the screen and can be used as a stand to support the device. To transform the tablet form factor into a serious gaming machine, NVIDIA has built the SHIELD wireless controller, which provides the precision, low latency and ergonomics that serious gamers demand.The SHIELD tablet offers optional LTE for gamers to take their online gaming anywhere. And to ensure the device delivers the richest gaming experience, NVIDIA will provide regular, over-the-air software updates.
As with the original member of the SHIELD family, the original SHIELD portable, the SHIELD tablet is the portal to compelling content that gamers will love, including over 400 SHIELD-optimized Android games, as well as the ability to wirelessly stream users’ PC gaming libraries. The SHIELD tablet’s gaming capabilities are powered by its Tegra K1 mobile processor, with a 192-core GPU that taps into the same NVIDIA Kepler™ architecture that drives the most extreme gaming PCs.
String of World Firsts
The SHIELD tablet provides a range of firsts for a tablet:
• PC Streaming: First to stream games from a PC desktop or notebook, from anywhere in the home – using NVIDIA GameStream™ technology to stream from systems powered by an NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 6xx series or greater GPU.
• Cloud Streaming: First to stream PC games from the cloud. Gamers can access the NVIDIA GRID™ cloud gaming beta, available exclusively to SHIELD owners in Northern California, to instantly stream a library of high-quality PC games, and then save them in the cloud.
• Twitch and NVIDIA ShadowPlay™: First to feature Twitch – the leading video platform and community for gamers – which is also integrated with ShadowPlay, an advanced
game-capture tool that lets users save and stream their greatest gaming moments. Gamers can stream titles from the SHIELD tablet to friends and foes worldwide. SHIELD Tablet also includes a 5MP front camera to enhance the image of the gamer overlaid on the Twitch gamecast.
• Console Mode: First to feature NVIDIA Console Mode, which takes your tablet gameplay to your big screen TV. Console Mode transforms the device into a full living-room gaming and entertainment experience. Gamers can set up their SHIELD wireless controller, sit back on their couch and play Android games, browse the web and watch their favorite movies — all in native 1080p HD.
Controller for Serious Gamers, with Ultra-Low Latency Wi-Fi
The SHIELD wireless controller is the most advanced device of its kind, allowing gamers to boost performance with ultra-low latency Wi-Fi Direct connectivity with up to four wireless controllers to game along with friends. It is the first precision controller designed for both PC gaming and Android, and features a gaming headset jack, built-in touch pad, volume control and revolutionary voice command and search.
A stylus allows tablet experiences that touch-only tablets can’t match, and the NVIDIA DirectStylus™ 2 technology on the SHIELD tablet is a game-changer. Twice as responsive as its predecessor, DirectStylus 2 technology enables the first GPU-accelerated 3D painting experience, a new capability where pigment and paint mix and bleed physically, in real time, and the palette is naturally illuminated in 3D as the user adjusts the light source. Aspiring artists can use DirectStylus 2 to capture the attitude of every stroke on the SHIELD tablet, take notes with the integrated apps and handwriting recognition, or get creative with the NVIDIA Dabbler™ app’s hyper-realistic watercolor and 3D Paint oil painting.
Ensuring that every game, song and podcast sounds incredibly crisp and clear, NVIDIA PureAudio™ technology delivers dynamic sound through front-facing stereo speakers and a dual-ported bass-reflex enclosure.
The sturdy, optional SHIELD tablet cover does more than just protect the tablet. It offers a variety of flexible stand positions to make gaming and entertainment more enjoyable.
Preloaded with NVIDIA SHIELD Hub and Trine 2
The SHIELD tablet comes preloaded with the NVIDIA SHIELD Hub app, the center of the gamer’s SHIELD experience. The app offers one-touch access to over 400 SHIELD-optimized Android game titles, along with Google Play, where gamers can download thousands of apps, including Netflix, Pandora and more.
Also bundled is the popular Frostbyte game Trine 2: Complete Story. Originally a huge hit on PlayStation, Xbox and Steam, the game is now optimized for great gameplay and graphics on the Tegra K1 processor.
Pricing, Availability and Accessories
The SHIELD tablet comes with either Wi-Fi connectivity, or Wi-Fi and LTE. It’s available in 16- and 32GB, with MicroSD (up to 128GB), starting at $299. The SHIELD wireless controller retails for $59. The SHIELD tablet cover retails for $39. The SHIELD tablet, wireless controller and tablet cover are now available for preorder in the United States, Canada and select European countries. Preorders in the United States are available at shield.nvidia.com, Amazon, Best Buy, Fry’s Electronics, GameStop, Micro Center, Newegg and Tiger Direct, and in Canada at Canada Computers, Memory Express, NCIX and ThinkGeek.