The Tablet Experience
Before we dive into the world of gaming with NVIDIA SHIELD, which is definitely the primary use based on the target audience and pricing, let’s discuss how well it performs as a tablet and computing device.
The touch screen itself is high quality and seems very responsive thanks to the Tegra 4 SoC which powers everything. For typing you’ll obviously HAVE to use the touch screen, as inputting text with a controller is a painful experience I wish on very few people. Holding SHIELD by the hinge and typing using your thumbs isn’t an awful experience though obviously the primary weight of the unit needs to be supported by your pinky fingers.
Navigation through most of the Android UI can be done with the controller as well including using the thumb sticks to emulate a mouse cursor and using the bumpers to change pages on the home screen. The A-button clicks or selects and the Y-button brings up a next menu for nearly all apps we used. In the browser NVIDIA has enabled scrolling up and down with the left thumb stick, which definitely makes the experience easier though the landscape design of the screen limits your visible area for web page real estate.
The high quality screen does make movie viewing interesting, if you can get close enough to it. The 5-in screen means that you’ll have to get pretty close to screen to really get the best experience and I found that while lying on the couch with SHIELD on my chest, I was able to watch a full movie comfortably. I could see though that some users might feel too far away from the screen when having it placed on an airplane tray for example. Sound levels were solid in my house though headphones would have been preferable.
Music fans will find the integrated speakers workable, and an improvement over nearly every other mobile device but even modest ear buds are going to sound better. One NVIDIA employee did tell me they found themselves carrying around their SHIELD in the house while cooking, shaving, etc. and listening to music that way, which I could totally see working. Because this is a base Android device, you’ll have access to all of your music services like Google Music and Spotify.
If you are looking to use SHIELD for some productivity like email, you are going to find it a pain to get much more than short messages out of it. Even though the touch screen works fine, holding the controller in a way that gives you access to the screen with your thumbs will become uncomfortable and the landscape design often means the data you are typing won’t be visible.