Shield Tablet review: The best tablet for gamers, but not for everyone else

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The display is a series of tradeoffs

A resolution of 1920x1200 puts the Shield Tablet display in a tricky spot. That’s a good resolution for games and HD movies (just slightly more than 1080p). It doesn’t unnecessarily burden the graphics hardware with rendering an insanely high resolution, and at 283 pixels per inch (PPI) reading isn’t a bad experience, but it’s not especially great, either.

It’s the same resolution as many 7-inch tablets, while the best tablets in the 8-9 inch range are running at 2560x1600, over 350 pixels per inch. Browsing the web, reading ebooks or comics, and editing photos would certainly be a better experience with a little more resolution, but then gaming performance would suffer.

Resolution isn’t the only sticking point of the Shield’s display. The colors are a little dull, with a somewhat narrow color gamut and, while the white point is calibrated well, color accuracy is only so-so. It’s not very bright, either; even when cranked up to full brightness, you’ll struggle to see anything at all out in the daylight. The display isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, and a great display is a key selling point for a premium tablet.

You’ll want the controller, too

Just as you’ll want to spring for the $40 cover, you don’t really want to buy the Shield Tablet without the optional $60 controller. A regular Bluetooth controller will work, but the Shield Controller is something else. It uses WiFi Direct for higher bandwidth and lower latency, has an integrated microphone, Android-specific buttons, and a headset jack to pipe audio wirelessly from the tablet. It’s essentially a prerequisite to plugging the tablet into your TV.

Nvidia Shield Controller Michael Homnick

The Shield Controller will be familar to Xbox players, and works a treat for streaming PC games.

The shape and button layout will seem familiar to Xbox owners, though the sticks are next to each other instead of the left one being offset. The stick tension is a little tight and the D-pad is slightly hard to use, but I’ve certainly used far worse controllers (Ouya, I’m looking at you). It’s perfectly adequate for Android games, and a natural fit for streaming PC games.

shieldcontroller 4

Plug your headset into the controller and the audio and mic are beamed to and from the tablet.

The downside? For some reason, the battery in the controller only lasts about 5 or 6 hours. A good wireless controller should last at least twice that long, and at that price, there’s really no reason to shortchange the battery.

A no-brainer for gamers, but not for everyone else

If you’re a big PC gamer and want to play games on an Android tablet, the Shield Tablet should really be on top of your list. It’s a good enough tablet to do all the regular tablet-y things like email, web browsing, and book reading, and it’s just so much faster and more capable for gaming than any other tablet that there really isn’t any competition. Nvidia does a great job with its tablet software, knowing exactly where to leave Android alone and where to add value.

But it’s tougher to recommend to people who aren’t seriously into games, or don't see value in streaming their PC games. The areas of improvement for a future Shield Tablet 2 are clear: a brighter display with higher resolution, a thinner and lighter design, and dramatically longer battery life. Individually, none of these problems are dealbreakers, but taken together they make the tablet hard to recommend to a general audience.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Nvidia knows games; the gaming functions of a tablet are firmly in its wheelhouse. But a tablet has to do more. It has to be a great tablet first, and the Shield only gets partway there.

 

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