The Shield Tablet might not be the absolute best Android tablet on the face of the Earth, but it's very good. If you're a fan of mobile gaming, it's totally in a league of its own. As with all Android devices, there are a few things you're going to want to do in order to get the most out of your purchase, so let's hit all the high points and turn that Shield Tablet into the best tablet it can be.
Tweak the DirectStylus popup
Nvidia's Shield tablet comes equipped with the second generation of DirectStylus technology. It's basically a middle ground between true inductive styli (for example Samsung's Note devices) and a regular capacitive stylus. The Shield Tablet will open a special launcher when you take the stylus out of its holder with shortcuts to pre-installed apps that take advantage of it, but maybe you don't like those shortcuts.
Just tap the "plus" button at the top of the window to choose which app shortcuts you want to have in there. The defaults like Dabbler and Write can be removed as well. Maybe you only want Keep and Evernote to come up when you take the pen out? You can do that. If the popup is annoying and you don't want in the way, tap the settings button and select the default action. The launcher popup can be disabled completely, or you can have a specific app open when the stylus is removed.
Enable stylus-only mode
Apps on the Shield can be set up to reject non-stylus input like your palm, but for the best experience you ought to make use of stylus-only mode. This toggle will prevent the tablet from registering any regular capacitive presses--only the stylus. It's extremely good at filtering out your clumsy hands.
In the main system settings is an entry for the DirectStylus. Here you'll find an option for allowing quick access buttons in the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. Taking the stylus out adds buttons for stylus-only and screenshots (more on that later). The fastest way to turn off touch input is to tap that left button, but the DirectStylus menu also has a manual toggle in the timer section. This lets you set a time-out for touch input after the stylus has been used. One of the options there is stylus-only, but it's more of a hassle to manage this way.
Capture and annotate screens
The Shield tablet can take screenshots like any other Android device, by pressing the power and volume down buttons simultaneously, but there are some additional options tied to the stylus. When you enable the navigation bar buttons as explained above, the button on the right activates the Shield's awesome screenshot tool.
The toolbar that appears at the top of the screen lets you capture the entire screen, a rectangular marquee drawn with the stylus, or a free-form lasso area also drawn with the stylus. The annotation tool lets you doodle on the screenshot before saving it, too. This saves you from dropping screenshots into other apps just to crop them or highlight something.
The Shield Tablet is equipped with custom handwriting recognition that is powered by the graphical processing prowess of the Tegra K1. It seems more accurate than most third-party solutions I've seen, and the transcription is so fast it can begin inputting a word before you're done writing it. It's enabled by default, but you need to select it from the keyboard notification.
When you have a text box selected, open the notifications pane and you should see a line with the currently selected keyboard. It's not the most discoverable location, which is why Google is moving it in Android L. Simply tap on it and choose Handwriting Recognition. The keyboard will refresh and you can just start scribbling.
Use Gamepad Mapper
The Shield is a gaming tablet first and foremost, so getting the official wireless controller is kind of a no-brainer. This device connects over Wi-Fi Direct for super-fast response and better range for console mode. Not all games support controllers, but don't let that stop you—Nvidia has included the same Gamepad Mapper that debuted with the Shield Portable so you can play almost anything.
To access this feature, press and hold the start button on your controller and use the touchscreen or cursor to place buttons and thumbstick zones on the screen where the game has its controls. Shield will convert all controller interaction to a simulated on-screen touch.
Get an SD card and move games to it
A gaming tablet with only 16GB of storage is kind of crazy, especially when the 32GB LTE variant isn't even available for pre-order yet. Some of the Tegra-optimized games developed for the Shield are 2-3GB in size, so you really need to either conserve space (lame) or get a microSD card. Cards are cheap, so do that.
When you plug in a new card, your work is not over; you have to move the games to it. Head into your system settings and find the app menu. From there you can organize the listings by size so all the big games show up at the top of the list. Open each one and tap the "Move to SD card" button and wait for the data to make its journey. As long as you buy a high-quality microSD card, the speed of even the most demanding games should not be affected.
Android 4.4 introduced native screen recording, but you have to use the desktop ADB command line interface to record with it, and there is no sound. In short, it stinks and is really only useful as a developer tool. Nvidia, on the other hand, has implemented an amazing screen recording tool with Twitch integration, and it's always accessible in the Quick Settings pull-down.
Tap the Share button and you get an overlay with various options including Twitch login, auto-recording, manual recording, and screenshot. The screen recording feature also lets you enable the microphone so you can narrate the action and turn on the front-facing camera so you will appear in a small picture-in-picture box. There's sometimes a bit of audio lag with the video recording, but Nvidia should be able to tweak that in an update.
The auto-recording feature is great for capturing the unexpected serendipity of intense gaming. This acts like Nvidia ShadowPlay on the desktop—it preserves the last few minutes of gameplay (or whatever you're doing) in a rolling loop. When something happens that you want to save, simply open the sharing menu and save the current block of video permanently.
Console Mode and GameStream
Maybe the business model for the Shield Tablet is starting to become clear--you have to buy extras to make it do all the coolest stuff. There's a case, the controller, and of course a wide variety of Nvidia-based desktop video cards. If you already own or purchase a desktop GPU based on the GTX 650 or higher, you can use GameStream to stream games from your computer to the tablet.
Gamestream works well if you've got a speedy 802.11n or 802.11ac network, but it can be a bit flaky at times. To enable this feature you'll need to install the Nvidia Experience software on your desktop, but it has slick integration with Steam's Big Picture mode. You might also consider investigating the wireless channel you're operating on so as to find the least congested one.
In a similar vein, you should consider buying an HDMI cable for the Shield Tablet, because unlike with other Android devices, there's actually a reason to do it. Plugging the tablet into a TV offers up a couple of options: display mirroring or console mode. Mirroring is what other phones and tablets do, but Console Mode shuts off the display and ramps up the hardware to make it better for gaming on the big screen. Without the display on, the tablet won't get as hot, so it can safely run in high-performance mode all the time.
A lot of games claim to offer console-quality graphics, but the Tegra-optimized titles on Tegra K1 are some of the first that can do so without a knowing wink. Games like Half-Life 2, Portal, and Trine 2 look phenomenal on a 1080p TV in console mode. Just pair a wireless controller with the tablet and go to town.
Set battery saving mode
The quad-core Tegra K1 is a real beast of a chip that can push pixels around like no one's business. Unfortunately, the speed comes with matching beastly power requirements. The Shield Tablet defaults to an optimized battery mode which changes the number of Cortex-A15 processing cores that are active based on the application you're running. Facebook might only need a single core spun up to keep things running, but a game would likely demand at least two cores.
If you go into the power settings, you can alter the power profile of the ARM chip to better suit your usage pattern. The tablet can be set to max performance all the time, or to battery saving mode if you're worried about access to an outlet. There's a switch for toggling power saving mode on at a certain battery level as well. Even if you want to keep the processor on low-power mode to save battery, you can still specify certain apps and games that will spin up all four cores. These are all options worth exploring.
Back up your game data
So now you've turned the Shield tablet into the most rocking Android-powered game machine ever to grace the planet Earth. What about your game data? Sure, some developers are smart and use Google Play Games to sync game progress, but it's not as common as it should be. For maximum peace of mind, you should back up your game data in case you switch devices.
If you've gone to the additional trouble of rooting your Shield, Titanium Backup is the premier way to save your app data. It can backup any app and comes with cloud integration if you buy a pro license. For everyone else, Helium is the best option. This app uses Android's built-in ADB backup system to save app data, but it does so with an easier front-end. A desktop app is needed to enable Helium on non-rooted devices, but after that, it works untethered with multi-device sync and cloud integration after a premium license purchase.