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Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE Review: In Depth

5

The Good

  • Incredibly powerful
  • Versatile gaming
  • 4G support
  • Sharp, colourful screen

The Bad

  • Controller sold separately
  • Streaming setup could be a pain for some

We review the Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE edition, one of the most powerful portable gaming devices ever, capable of streaming games from your PC and playing the latest titles with buttery smooth performance. And now, you can do it on the fly, with 4G support.

With the Shield devices, Nvidia has effectively given us the ultimate gaming console. Its versatility is incredible, allowing you to play gorgeous games worthy of the latest Xbox or Playstation wherever you roam.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

With the ability to hook up to your TV and a wireless controller and even stream games from your home PC, you can play a decent selection of titles in the comfort of your home. Then, when it’s time to bugger off to work, just disconnect and take the tablet with you to continue your game on the 8-inch Full HD screen.

For just £299 here in the UK, the Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE sounds like it’s too good to be true, even without the impressive gaming chops.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: Design

With its soft-touch, thin-yet-boxy design, the Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE reminded us of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 tablet. It’s impressively slender (9.2mm) given how much power is packed away inside, while the 390g weight and wide bezels (when clutched in landscape mode) make it a comfortable tab to handle even for lengthy gaming sessions. In fact, that stretched-out finish is reminiscent of the Nexus 7 tablet, which also boasts a Full HD screen.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

Along the top edge you’ll find the micro SIM card slot and micro SD memory card slot, both neatly covered with soft flaps. Flip to the left edge and there’s a Mini HDMI port, so you can hook up to a telly.

Power on the tablet and you’ll find that Nvidia hasn’t messed with vanilla Android 4.4 KitKat, beyond adding its own gaming and creative apps. Although it would’ve been nice to have some special gaming widgets to plaster across the desktops, perhaps telling you how much life you’ve wasted on each game or displaying all of your recent achievements, it’s good to have such a pure, uncluttered experience.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: Performance and battery life

Nvidia has packed its crazy-fast 2.2GHz Tegra K1 advanced processor inside the Shield, one of the most powerful and graphics-capable mobile processors around, built to handle intensive games. As a result, the Shield can run the likes of Trine 2, originally a PS3 game and now updated to look even jazzier, with no compromise in graphics quality and buttery smooth frame rates.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

Real-time shadow effects and other graphical niceties really bring games to life and all with zero slowdown. It’s the kind of experience we’ve been longing for on a mobile device, and absolutely dazzling when you see it in action.

Of course, all of that slick performance is rather draining, so expect to charge up the Shield Tablet LTE every night if you use it on the commute or while chilling in the evening. We’ve only had a short time with it so far, but around two hours of gaming plus a couple of hours of streaming video and buggering around online were enough to sap the battery down to 15 percent.

If you just use the Shield Tablet LTE for video, expect around four and a bit hours of life before the device dies.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: Screen and media

For enjoying the latest games, you really need a kick-arse screen that can beautifully reproduce those crystal-clear and vibrant visuals. Thank the great gaming gods, then, that Nvidia’s stuck a Full HD 1920 x 1200 IPS display on the Shield Tablet and its LTE model.

It may only be 8-inches, but that screen really is great for blasting through games. It’s gorgeously sharp, boasting around 284 pixels-per-inch which puts it almost on par with the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini with Retina display. Colours look natural and on top brightness it’ll help to see off a fair bit of glare, so you can play outside and get some colour on your pale gamer’s skin. The surface is quite glossy though, so playing in direct sunlight will have you squinting hard.

Viewing angles are also strong, with no loss in visual quality even if you’re twisting and shaking the tablet all over the place.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

Of course, you’ll also want some decent speakers to pump out the sounds of heads exploding in showers of gore and alien guts splattering across the floor. The Nvidia Tablet LTE sports a pair of stereo speakers, lined up either side of the screen in landscape mode, and while they aren’t exactly powerful enough to blast the tears from your eyes when you fall in battle, they’re a perfectly fine substitute when you forget your earphones. They easily beat other mini-tabs’ blowers, including the iPad Mini.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: Games

Over 400 touch and controller-optimised games are available to download for the Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE through the Shield Hub, and it also supports any games already found on the Google Play store. In fact, the Shield Hub is essentially just a go-between app, which dumps you onto the Play store as soon as you actually want to purchase anything - which at least means you don’t need to piss around creating even more new accounts or anything.

So, what’s the point of the Shield Hub, if it essentially just points you to the Google Play store? Well, it’s a quick and easy way of finding games that are specially designed with Nvidia’s tech in mind, especially controller-compatible titles; more on the wireless controller at the end of this review.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

Trine 2 came pre-installed on our Shield Tablet LTE and it’s a great way to show off the tablet’s performance and uber-crisp display. We browsed the Shield Hub and downloaded a few other games too, including free offerings Beach Buggy Blitz (essentially a Mario Kart rip-off) and Bomb Squad, both of which are entertaining enough to while away a commute, plus slashy adventure game A Bard’s Tale.

The old Wi-Fi-only Shield Tablet packed a mere 16GB of on-board storage, not ideal if you’re installing plenty of huge games (A Bard’s Tale was 3.5GB alone). Thankfully the LTE model boosts this to 32GB, and the micro SD card can be used to expand and carry around a big media collection.

Using Nvidia’s GameStream service, you can also stream your PC games direct from your rig, so you can blast your way through Assassin’s Creed while chilling in bed or relaxing in the garden, instead of sitting hunched at your desk. And with the LTE support, you can potentially even murder evil foreigners in games like Call of Duty while you’re stuck on a train during the daily commute, providing you’ve got unlimited data allowance and a strong connection.

Sadly you can’t just stream any game you like from your PC – there are roughly just 100 titles currently compatible. However, that list includes plenty of big names including Titanfall, Assassin’s Creed IV, Dark Souls 1 and 2 and the Batman Arkham games, so chances are you’ll find a few you’d like to get stuck into. You’ll find a full list of compatible games on Nvidia’s website.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

We also found that setting up GameStream so it worked was a pain in the arse, although we’re sure that every user will have a different experience depending on their rig and network set-up. We eventually got it working by lugging our modem into the same room as the rig and hooking up via ethernet, then connecting the Shield Tablet LTE to the 5G network. With that arrangement, we could stream to almost anywhere in our house with almost no stutters at all, and zero latency almost all of the time.

If you want to enjoy your PC and Android games on your telly instead of the tiny tablet screen, just activate Console Mode, connect the Shield Tablet LTE to your TV via the mini HDMI port and you’re ready to go. It’s quick, easy and once again there’s zero latency, so you can play even ridiculously fast-paced action and racing games with no kind of irritating handicap.

Sadly you’ll have to provide your own HDMI cable, as one isn’t included in the box.

The Shield Tablet LTE also comes with full Twitch support, so you can stream your gaming session online and people can sit at home and gawk at your mad skillz. Or something.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: 4G and stylus

As for the LTE support, the Shield is carrier unlocked here in the UK and worldwide too and takes Micro SIM cards. We tested with O2 and Three SIMs, both working fine. We were able to surf online immediately, chat via Skype and download new games to play.

We also tried streaming games over GameStream while connected to a mobile network, with so far not-great results. We managed to connect to our home computer and even got Assassin's Creed IV started up, but our connection was too unreliable to get us actually playing the game. Nvidia of course don't recommend streaming games in this way, as it'll cane your data allowance and isn't too stable. However, we did manage to hook up to our home PC via our work Wi-Fi and got a perfect stream going, which bodes well for future lunchtimes...

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

Finally, you’ll find a stylus tucked away in a handy hole on the top of the tablet, which can be used to either tap your way around the interface or with one of the bundled creative programs.

It’s a nicely designed stylus, surprisingly hefty and comfortable to grip and scribble with. We messed around with one of the arty apps, Nvidia Dabbler, and if it weren’t for our complete lack of creative abilities, we reckon we could’ve knocked up quite a masterpiece.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

This is why we should never be let near paints or pens...

We’re also impressed by the Shield Tablet LTE’s ability to decipher our frankly piss poor handwriting, which a three year old would be sickened by. We’re still not really sure when we’d ever want to scribble on the screen instead of simply tapping on a keyboard, but it’s fully compatible with Evernote and similar apps.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: Cameras

You’ll find a 5-megapixel camera on the back of the tablet, and while we’d be hesitant to use it for everyday snaps, it’s perfectly fine for shooting a quick picture on the fly.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

Nvidia has added some interesting and unique features to the camera app, including a spirit level to get perfectly straight shots and a customisable grid. You also have an interval mode, which takes photos continuously with a pre-set delay, as well as the usual timer, panorama, continuous burst and HDR modes.

There's also a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, which is great for Skype sessions on the move, especially given the mobile data support.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: The Shield Wireless Controller

Nvidia knows that you can’t play many fast-paced games on a tablet just by swiping and poking the screen. Not only do you block half of the display with your pudgy digits, but it’s a really awkward way to control anything. Thankfully you can pick up Nvidia’s controller for a bit extra, which is a great accessory than really makes this an all-round gaming superstar.

Setup is blissfully simple: just run the controller app on the tablet, push a button on the controller and the two pair up, job done. The controller and the tablet communicate via Wi-Fi Direct rather than Bluetooth, so there’s bugger all latency; in other words, not even a tiny delay between pushing the buttons and seeing the response on-screen.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE full review including Gamestream and Nvidia controller

There’s also a mic built into the controller, so you can chat (or scream) with your buddies as you hack each other down and squat on their faces, and a 3.5mm jack to plug headphones into. At first we could only get crackly sound when plugging our ‘phones into the controller, but this problem seemed to rectify itself after we rebooted the tablet and we haven’t had the problem since.

Nvidia promises 40 hours of gaming per charge, a great result even compared with official console controllers. Sadly there’s no obvious way of telling how much charge is left until the controller’s almost dead, so it’s impossible to see how slowly it’s draining. So far we’ve gamed for several hours without problem, but we’ll keep on testing and update soon.

Nvidia Shield Tablet LTE: Verdict

Nvidia’s Shield Tablet LTE offers strong value for £299, even before the gaming side is considered. For that cash you get a light and portable tablet with a Full HD display, decent stereo speakers, 4G support, an accurate stylus and enough power to keep your apps and games ticking over for a good, long while.

But when you add in the gaming support, this is an essential tablet for anyone who loves blasting through hordes of aliens, zombies and nazis in their spare time. Hook up Nvidia's controller and Android games are ten times more playable, while the ability to hook up to a TV quickly and easily makes it a sociable portable console. And the option to stream PC games means you can play on the sofa or in bed, instead of hunched over your desk.

If you're not big into gaming, something like the Nexus 7 tablet might be better suited for you, with its similar Full HD display and clean Android interface, but gamers shouldn't look anywhere else - the Nvidia Shield Tablet is the king of portable gaming devices.

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