[Updated Sep 24] — Nvidia began shipping its Nvidia Shield handheld gaming console, which runs Android 4.2.1 on a 1.9GHz Tegra 4 SoC, for $300. Early reviews praised the device on just about every level except for its weight and price, and the lack of decent Tegra-optimized Android games, while an iFixit teardown found an internal design unlike anything it had ever seen.
When the Nvidia Shield was unveiled in May, the reaction was mixed. Sure, the Tegra 4 powered device appeared to bring Android gaming to a new level, but wasn’t $349 a lot to pay for a largely dedicated, non-telephony device, especially considering the lack of high-powered game titles on Android? More recently, Nvidia dropped the price to $300, so would the reviewers drop their caveats?
Nvidia Shield game console
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A lot of the reviews that have appeared this week have an “It’s not you, it’s me,” feel about them. Or perhaps more like, “It’s not you, it’s Android.”
In many reviews, the device is praised to the skies for performance, display, audio, battery life, and even in most cases the gaming controls. The new beta-stage Stream technology is almost universally dubbed a major technological breakthrough with intriguing future ramifications. The still somewhat buggy Stream currently lets users with a pricey dual-band 5GHz WiFi router, and a PC with an expensive GeForce GTX 650 or better graphics card, stream about 15 games to the Shield via WiFi. Yet, Android’s immaturity as a gaming platform, as well as the general lack of top gaming titles that truly exploit the Tegra 4 give most of the reviewers pause, and even at $300, the price is deemed by many to be too high.
Pricey or no, the Shield is one of the most advanced Android devices in existence. It features a 1.9GHz Tegra 4 system-on-chip with four Cortex-A15 cores and 72 GeForce GPU cores. It ships with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of flash, gaming controls, and a 5-inch, 1280 x 720px retinal IPS display with multitouch technology. WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS are all supplied, and the three-cell, 3.7 V, 7350mAh, battery can run between four and 10 hours of game play, depending on the various reviews cited below. Gaming hardware includes dual analog joysticks, a D Pad, and numerous buttons, triggers, and bumpers.
Nvidia Shield reviews
Here’s a sampling of this week’s Nvidia Shield reviews, roughly ordered from positive to negative, followed by a look at iFixit’s teardown of the Shield:
- SlashGear — This gushingly positive review praises the display, speaker, console-grade controls, graphics performance, and battery life of the Nvidia Shield, and it bubbles over with excitement about the Stream technology. “It’s immediately apparent that SHIELD is capable of doing a lot more than we’re seeing here at launch, and not just in gaming,” writes Chris Burns. “With wireless projection and this unit’s HDMI out paired with low-latency PC mirroring, wireless controllers turning SHIELD into a console, and untapped potential in abundance inside the processing power of Tegra 4, the possibilities are exciting…This is a moment in NVIDIA’s history you’ll want to be a part of.”
- Engadget — This very positive review loved almost everything about the Shield except for the gaming controls itself, noting that the lighter PlayStation Vita is better as a portable game player. “At $300, NVIDIA Shield is a hard sell as a portable game console, but an easy sell in place of a similarly priced tablet,” writes Ben Gilbert. “Sure, it doesn’t have a camera, but it does offer extremely impressive PC streaming, along with wide viewing angles. The Shield remains a ‘truly strange device,’ but it’s one that we feel comfortable recommending to hardcore PC gamers and Netflix junkies alike.”
- AnandTech — This highly positive review lauds the design, build quality, and Tegra 4 graphics processing, but laments the lack of top-notch Android gaming titles to run on it. “Shield is an impressive product. It’s solid, performant, and maybe Android gaming isn’t really there yet, but what it does leave me wanting is for NVIDIA to make me a phone,” writes Brian Klug.
- CNET — In this mostly positive review, Eric Franklin describes the Shield as “an Xbox 360 controller with a 5-inch screen attached to its top.” Like many reviewers, he dings it for its 1.3-pound weight. The performance and display, however, were deemed to be highly impressive. “The Shield is a high-quality device with stellar performance, and while most of what it currently offers will first and foremost appeal to hard-core gamers, I’m anxiously awaiting more compatible games,” writes Franklin.
- PCMag — This mostly positive review gives the Shield four out of five stars, but comes up short of a buy recommendation. “It’s the most well-constructed, comfortable, powerful, technically impressive Android gadget I’ve ever used,” writes Will Greenwald, with Sascha Segan. “The gamepad feels great, the screen looks sharp and vivid, and the speakers sound excellent. It destroys other Android devices in all speed tests…However, from a gaming perspective, I can’t necessarily recommend it over a 3DS or even a Vita. The other two systems simply have much larger, more high-quality software libraries and are less expensive.”
- The Verge — This fairly positive review gives 7.8 stars out of 10, but ultimately concludes it’s not worth the price for most users. Although Sean Hollister praises the “excellent screen” and “killer controls,” he bemoans Android’s lack of titles and inherent limitations as a gaming platform, and critiques the awkward ergonomics when using the device for anything aside from games. Like many reviewers, PC streaming is lauded as a breakthrough, but so far an expensive and buggy one. Concludes Hollister, “The Shield is a capable device for $299, but honestly the $229 Nexus 7 is a better short-term bet.”
- Joystiq — This game console-centric publication puts the Shield in perspective with the latest Sony and Nintendo devices, and finds the device “interesting,” but flawed. Reviewer David Hinkle loves the display, but not much else. “With the PS Vita and 3DS offering strong arguments against the Shield in the realm of portable gaming, not to mention iOS and Android tablets offering comparable experiences sans bulky fixed controllers, why should anyone buy Nvidia’s new handheld?” asks Hinkle. Later, he adds, “Its viability in the handheld space is questionable.”
Nvidia Shield iFixit teardown
iFixit doesn’t rate the Shield as a game player in its Nvidia Shield Teardown. However, with tiny screwdrivers in hand, the reviewers do break the device down to parts and rate it on “repairability.” While the Shield earned only a modest 6 out of 10 on the iFixit scale, receiving criticisms for its hard to access battery and stubborn adhesive, it was praised for its durable and modular design.
Nvidia Shield before/during/after iFixit tear-down
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As the iFixit team worked its way down to the motherboard, the Shield’s battery, speakers, and ports got some love. Mobo components were found to include the Tegra 4, 2GB of SK Kynix SDRAM, and a Samsung KLMAG2GE2A eMMC module. Also unveiled were an AzureWave AW-AH691 wireless module, InvenSense MPU-6050 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer, and a Realtek AL5639 audio chip.
Perhaps the biggest surprise iFixit found in this already extensively spec’d game is that the internal design of the Shield is so radically different from any table or game console it has decimated in the past. Also, it turns out the Shield actually has a shield. “We missed it during play time, but the silver shield atop the Shield is its own piece, secured to the device by magnets,” notes iFixit.