The Nvidia Shield has been apparently in Australia for a couple of months, but Nvidia have been keeping it fairly low key, bringing it along to events like PAX in Melbourne, which unfortunately we were unable to attend. Luckily, Nvidia advised that they would be bringing the handheld console to the EB Games Expo. So Jason and I rolled over to Sydney Olympic park yesterday to take a look.
Nvidia announced the Shield along with their latest SOC, the Tegra 4 back in January at CES 2013; it finally began shipping – in the US – at the end of July where, according to Nvidia, it’s selling so well that they’ve yet to catch up on manufacturing scale to the point where they can release it internationally.
The Shield was on demo at the Asus booth at the expo, where an Nvidia rep had paired it with one of their high-end PC gaming systems to show off the dual-screen PC Gaming made possible by the handheld.
The Shield is a really nice device, feeling very comfortable to hold in the hand. The controller has a familiar feel to it if you’ve used a console in the last decade, so much so that we heard comments like “Look, it’s a 360 controller with a screen” while playing with it. Jason, of course, took it upon himself to correct the errant onlookers.
The device is nicely weighted – the major components are in the body of the unit itself, and the screen doesn’t overbalance the unit when opened. It’s not too heavy, but it’s also not particularly light (I personally find some controllers – specifically the PS3 Dual-Shock controller – fail this test and feel like toys as a result). The feel of the controller is quite solid, with dual analogue controls feeling quite accurate and free-moving. The A-B-X-Y action buttons and triggers are easily accessed, with the layout seemingly quite well thought out – and not a million miles from an Xbox controller. The device has physical Android Home and Back buttons in the centre, easily reached at any time while in use. I found it quite natural to use these buttons rather than the on-screen keys of Android Jellybean.
The 5-inch 720p screen is quite good – it’s very crisp and clear with wide viewing angles, with the Tegra 4 pushing some pretty nice graphics to the screen with no sign of lag on any of the Android or Tegra Zone games installed on the device, as well as absolutely stunning mirroring when streaming a game from the PC.
The hinge connecting the screen to the Shield is well-designed, with a very smooth open-and-shut action, but it’s not loose and it doesn’t feel like it’ll accidentally flap around while you’re playing it.
The Shield offers both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, and there’s even a GPS so you can use any maps applications. You can connect the device to your TV via HDMI, or use Miracast sharing if you have either a Miracast-enabled TV or a Miracast-compatible adapter like the Netgear PTV3000 or the LG DWD-300.
The Android system software is pretty much untouched by Nvidia. It’s running a mostly-stock Android 4.2.1 ROM, with only basics such as PC mirroring and the Nvidia TegraZone installed. Indeed, Nvidia has released the source code and factory images for the Shield on their website to encourage developers to try out different concepts in developing for the device.
The only downside is that there Nvidia’s pretty quiet about updates to Android 4.2.2, 4.3 or 4.4 (or beyond). One gets the impression that they’ve been so focused on the production of the device that Android’s codebase has shifted beneath them, and they need some time to catch up. This seems less of a problem on a device that’s dedicated to gaming than it does on your daily driver smartphone or tablet. Nvidia is confident that important security updates will be delivered.
It’s fast. Really fast. Apps and games load really quickly. The Tegra 4 SOC is really working quite nicely behind the scenes here, and you don’t generally have to wait long at all for anything. The Android OS showed no signs of lagginess or glitches, and transitioning from Android native games like Dead Trigger or Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – to PC games was smooth and simple. Nvidia’s representative said the only issues he’d encountered were actually on the PC end, but in our brief hands-on time nothing went wrong at all (except for Jason being pretty useless at the FPS game on display).
According to Nvidia, the Shield is selling pretty well and is not yet available outside the US or Hong Kong. There’s no official – or unofficial, unfortunately – date that Nvidia can share at this stage as to when the Shield will be officially available in Australia.
At this stage, if you really want to order a Shield you’ll have to check out an importer such as Mobicity to get your hands on the device where it’s currently selling for around AU $460 – an unfortunately hefty markup from the device’s quite reasonable US $299 price tag.
The delay has been attributed to the industry-wide demand for the Tegra 4 SOC, currently being used in Microsoft’s Surface 2, HP’s SlateBook x2, Asus’ Transformer Pad Infinity (2013 model), Toshiba’s AT10-A, Xiaomi’s Phone 3 and Nvidia’s own recently-announced Tegra Note tablet platform.
At this stage, if the scale of production can’t be ramped up in time, we may even have to wait for a second incarnation of the Shield before we see it in Australia. We’ve heard that retailers such as JB Hifi and EB Games are both keen to stock the Shield in their stores, but with production unable to meet demand this may not happen for some time. That may work out to be a good thing though – while the current Shield has a 720p display, with advancements in mobile technology happening so quickly, we may see a 1080p screen in the next iteration of the device.
Overall, the Nvidia Shield feels like the next big thing in Android gaming, indeed mobile gaming in general. It’s really well made and runs like a dream, and the only issue I forsee is Nvidia putting too high a price on it. The Shield sells for US $299 in the US and Canada, and if it makes it to Australia at around the $350 mark I feel it would sell quite nicely, and would attract both Android and PC gamers. We’ve been promised some further hands-on time to get a full review of the Shield and we hope to bring this to you quite soon.