Nvidia Shield Tablet And Shield Controller Review

The Shield Tablet, powered by Nvidia’s Tegra K1 SoC, deftly handles browsing and media playback duties. Combining it with the wireless Shield Controller transforms the 8-inch device into an exciting mobile gaming platform.

Nvidia entered the ultra-mobile market in 2008 when it announced the Tegra SoC. Microsoft’s Zune HD media player became the first design win the following year. Between then and now, Tegra processors continued to evolve, and while they appeared in a growing list of devices, they never stood out as premier performers.

In 2013, Nvidia decided to launch its own consumer-oriented products to promote Tegra and Android gaming. One of these was the Tegra Note 7, a 7-inch tablet with some unique features that faced stiff competition from the Nexus 7. The other product Nvidia created was a bit more unique.

For the Shield, now called Shield Portable, Nvidia wanted to produce something that wasn’t mainstream. A handheld gaming device with an integrated 5-inch 720p screen running Android definitely isn’t going to enjoy the same sales volume as an iPad or Samsung Galaxy phone. However, it found a following within the gaming community, and Nvidia’s presence did lend legitimacy to Android as a gaming platform. While the Shield Portable works well enough for its intended purpose, a specialized design doesn’t allow it to do much else.

Nvidia’s goal for the Shield Tablet is more ambitious: create a device that, first and foremost, is a great tablet, but also happens to be great for playing games. While it’s difficult to design hardware that excels at everything, it would certainly appeal to a wider audience, increasing sales, and, more importantly, emphasizing the advantages of Tegra and attracting game developers to Android.

Shield Tablet Tech Specs

For Nvidia to hit such a high mark, the Shield Tablet requires some powerful and power efficient hardware. Fortunately, the Tegra K1 SoC delivers. Like Tegra 4, the K1 uses four ARM Cortex-A15 cores tuned for high performance and one -A15 companion core that’s optimized for low power. Moving to a 28nm HPM process and a newer-revision architecture allows Nvidia to boost maximum CPU clock rate to 2.2GHz.

Previous Tegra SoCs weren’t held back by CPU performance though. Ironically, it was the GeForce ULP that consistently disappointed. For Tegra K1, Nvidia moves to a much more modern GPU derived from the Kepler architecture. While this mobile-tuned variant is understandably scaled down from the desktop version (Tegra K1 contains a single SMX with 192 CUDA cores), it’s still the same architecture and maintains full software compatibility. For more information about the new GPU and Tegra K1, be sure to read our Nvidia Tegra K1 In-Depth article.

The Tegra K1 is paired with 2GB of DDR3L-1866 RAM and either 16GB of on-board NAND for the Wi-Fi-only model or 32GB for the LTE version. Storage is expandable via microSD (up to 128GB).

Although lacking 802.11ac Wi-Fi support, the Shield Tablet does include 2x2 MIMO 802.11a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5GHz). There’s also Bluetooth 4.0 LE, micro-USB 2.0, and a mini-HDMI 1.4a port for outputting video to an external display.

The LTE version employs Nvidia’s Icera i500 Soft Modem, which includes eight programmable cores running at up to 1.3GHz. These specialized DSP cores are paired with a separate RF transceiver chip and support GSM/GPRS/EDGE, HSPA+ (42Mb/s), and LTE Category 3 (100Mb/s). Since the modem is handled in software, it can be upgraded to support additional standards. Nvidia’s documentation states that the Icera i500 is capable of supporting LTE Category 4 (150Mb/s) with Carrier Aggregation and HSPA+ (84Mb/s), but the Shield Tablet does not support the faster speeds in its initial shipping configuration.

All of this hardware is driven by a 19.75Whr (4938mAh, 4V) non-removable battery. That's roughly 20% less than similar 8-inch tablets like the Xiaomi Mi Pad, Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, and iPad Mini with Retina Display. I don’t expect much of a power penalty from the newer revision -A15 cores, since many of ARM’s tweaks were specifically to reduce power draw. The GPU is an unknown, however. It will be interesting to see if Nvidia reduced Kepler’s power envelope to a level acceptable for a tablet. If not, the Shield Tablet’s relatively small battery may be its biggest weakness.

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The -A15r3 CPU cores in Tegra K1, now running at comparable clock speeds to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon SoCs, should exceed the performance of all currently shipping CPUs except for Apple’s A7, which still maintains an IPC advantage. The Kepler GPU, with its desktop heritage, should easily outperform the mobile focused architectures of its competitors.

23 comments
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  • blubbey
    Those GPGPU benchmarks are ridiculous in comparison. It looks like a great bit of kit from what I've seen so far. A die shrunk Maxwell should be fantastic. Maybe even a lower clocked version just for power consumption? It'll still perform as well, if not better than the K1 at 750MHz (assuming 2 SMMs) I'd assume.
  • Memnarchon
    "Based on these results, Tegra K1 must be “a neural net processor; a learning computer” sent back through time to destroy all of the other SoCs that could lead a rebellion in the post-apocalyptic future."

    Lol this is epic! xD
    Anyway, great and unique review. Especially for the so many GPGPU benchmarks.

    Nvidia tablet at $299 seems to be a great buy.
  • aberkae
    If maxwell brings double the performance per watt on the same node the next tegra chip on 20 nm node should be a home run for the company
  • deftonian
    Impressive, but I feel it's still missing that "umph" to get me to buy this and carry it around as an added device, next to my phone (Note 3). Maybe I just don't game enough on the android market or steam. Either way, I think it is impressive for a mobile gaming device and all the things it offers. I think they've started a great line and hope it grows into a successful tablet/gaming brand.
  • TheMentalist
    Holy....that tablet is a beast!
  • aberkae
    If maxwell brings double the performance per watt on the same node the next tegra chip on 20 nm node should be a home run for the company
  • gio2vanni86
    The streaming a game while i'm at my friends house using my PC at home is what has me very interested. Plug into his TV and play amazing games he can only dream of. I'm in.
  • eklipz330
    this is great, there aren't many good 8" android tablets.
  • CRITICALThinker
    When was a HDMI to mini HDMI cable included? mine never came with one.
  • vithrell
    Just wait for Intel's Core M. It wont match the price (CPU alone will cost $300), but in fanless tablet form factor it wont have worthy competitor. Early GPU benchmarks give Core M 55k graphics score in Ice Storm, so more than 1.5x more power than Tegra K1. AND you can run full Windows on it. I wish Nvidia took x86 path with its cpu cores.
  • Niva
    Only thing I'm worried about with this tab is Android L and what their software/OS refresh capabilities will be. Has nVidia made any statements about that? Getting this and being stuck with kitkat would bite.
  • matt64
    I asked Nvidia about updating the Shield devices to Android L. Nvidia will update to the new Android version soon after it's officially released by Google, though Nvidia couldn't provide an exact date at this time.

    -matt64
  • matt64
    "When was a HDMI to mini HDMI cable included? mine never came with one."

    After clarifying this with Nvidia, only the press kits included the cable. The retail boxes do NOT include the HDMI cable. I'm sorry for the confusion and we'll update the article to correct this.

    -matt64
  • Roger Rogers-1382392
    I have a Great product concept for the K1 gaming tablet. Vastly increase sales. But who to take it to...
  • Iriman
    Typing from my shield now. I love this decide. As a gaming tablet, its unmatched. As a media device, its extremely hard to beat. Its responsive and I find myself using it more then my moto x and my computer combined. It has plenty of oomph to handle anything I throw at it. WiFi isnt the best out of all the devices I've played with, but in no way is it nearly as bad as the transformer prime was back when it was released. Fantastic device. Gaming is unmatched!
  • Roger Rogers-1382392
    It has a serious design flaw as far as gaming is concerned from my PoV (which would only be easier for you to understand if you knew the specifics of my PoV [design issue that affects every user and potential user]).

    P.S.
    How is the heat on the thing after a few hours in warm weather?
  • CRITICALThinker
    it does have some heat to it, though throttling should be minimal, I am only having a few issues with the lock screen freezing and requiring a manual reboot.
  • lookanlearn
    1569743 said:
    it does have some heat to it, though throttling should be minimal, I am only having a few issues with the lock screen freezing and requiring a manual reboot.


    Heat can cause lock ups (as you will know); but maybe its a software thing that will be ironed out.

    I was hoping it would be smoothe and excellent; but I knew it would get hot. Too slim you see. Look at the PS Vita as comparrison. Chunky and cool.
    The heat was not an issue I was thinking about when I mentioned a design flaw for gaming (I have a neat solution for).
    Although the heat issue did give me the idea for a slot on the back of the unit (maybe magnetic) to put 6mm thick (30mm diameter) frozen metal wafers in located on the back near the CPU/GPU housing, so that it can drop the heat off a bit during an hours play. You get a kit of two or three or somthing; keep one in the freezer and swop them.
    Nobody plays them all day do they?
    For general browsing, should not be required; but when you start pushing the graphics, they be pretty handy on a hot day.

    My Terga 4 smartphone has automatically shut itself down due to overheating itself a hundred times in summers in the Far East..

    10,000 ideas.
    nice.
  • Iriman
    Heat isnt too bad. No different then the tegra 4 while gaming imo. i have yet to have any issues with throttling really. Trine 2 runs very well, soulcraft is flawless, and I'll be tinkering around with HL2 and portal as soon as i get my controllers. I am so much happier that i got this instead of the nexus 9.
  • lookanlearn
    1779571 said:
    Heat isnt too bad. No different then the tegra 4 while gaming imo. i have yet to have any issues with throttling really. Trine 2 runs very well, soulcraft is flawless, and I'll be tinkering around with HL2 and portal as soon as i get my controllers. I am so much happier that i got this instead of the nexus 9.


    You can use a Bluetooth PS3 controller.
  • Roger Rogers-1382392
    Its Great; but I have a product concept to make it far better. Especially for over 50% of all users; but Luddites and concept thieves abound.

    rogerthat1945

    @

    g
  • abject
    Inking section: "[....]The one complaint I have is that the Android navigation buttons are always present when the handwriting input field is active, even in Fullscreen Mode. Being right-handed, resting my hand on the screen engages either Lasso Mode or opens the task switcher, thus forcing my hand to hover uncomfortably above the screen while writing[....]"

    Ah. This. I bought the previous generation Tegra tab (an HP Slate 7 Extreme) for hand-written note-taking. This problem makes the tablet unusable for that purpose.

    If that's your use-case, buy a Samsung Note device (I'm thinking 10.1 2014 Ed.) or, generally, anything that has an active pen. The Tegra tab's stylus is passive and, try as they might, it just can't fake it enough to be a note-taker.
  • Roger Rogers-1382392
    1791274 said:
    ................Being right-handed, resting my hand on the screen engages either Lasso Mode or opens the task switcher, thus forcing my hand to hover uncomfortably above the screen while writing[....]" Ah. This. I bought the previous generation Tegra tab (an HP Slate 7 Extreme) for hand-written note-taking. This problem makes the tablet unusable for that purpose. If that's your use-case, buy a Samsung Note device (I'm thinking 10.1 2014 Ed.) or, generally, anything that has an active pen. The Tegra tab's stylus is passive and, try as they might, it just can't fake it enough to be a note-taker.

    At least someone understands a little about ergonomics; and the product I have in concept would help a far greater number of buyers~users of the NVidia K1 Tablet, than the number who would buy it only for making notes.

    Each to their own I guess.