Initial Thoughts on Nvidia Shield

The Nvidia Shield hasn’t received a ton of attention as far as I’m aware of. It certainly looks like an interesting product in that they chose to make a hybrid between an Android phone (minus the phone part) and dedicated handheld gaming console. At first blush it seems like a trivial entry into the gaming market, but if you read the feature set, it turns out it provides quite a few compelling reasons to go out and get it — its low cost aside.

In addition to shipping the Shield with Nvidia’s latest Tegra 4 quad core processor, which includes 2GB of RAM, it comes with 16GB of flash storage with an optional MicroSD expansion slot. There’s a lot to like about having tactile controls if you’re a serious gamer, especially when you have dual analog controls for first-person shooters. The 5 inch multi-touch display packs 294 PPI, which will provide ample detail and clarity in any game. The only peculiar choice I find is why Nvidia opted for the vastly inferior Bluetooth 3.0 spec. Bluetooth 4.0 has been included in many products since 2012, such as the iPhone 5 and MacBook Airs. Bluetooth 4.0 sports the advantage of consuming very little energy, which is an ideal trait if you’re going to be using wireless game controllers for extended periods of time. Speaking of wireless, there’s almost no detail provided on what kind of battery life we’ll expect to see. Not advertising your products battery life does certainly doesn’t instil confidence in the mind of consumers.

I’m pleased to see that Nvidia chose to include stock Android, which means users will not be left out in the cold when it comes to receiving the latest operating system updates from Google. Nvidia says you can play any game that’s currently available in Google Play, however optimized titles for the Tegra 4 processor promise to serve up much better graphics performance. There is already a decent selection of optimized games available, and more appear to be coming as well — frankly I’m surprised to see more than a couple. It was a clever decision on their part to not pigeon hole themselves by only offering a small subset of games in their own online store. As an Android user, its far more compelling that you have access to the entire ecosystem of games available for the platform you happen to already be invested in. What worse of an experience could you have if you had to rely on one company to work with game developers to release optimized titles for a product that hasn’t even been proven yet? Hardcore gamers may like to upgrade their hardware often, but speaking from experience, I know they tend to be risk adverse when it comes to platforms with limited selection of great titles.

Finally, the last feature, which is still in beta, is the ability to wirelessly stream and play PC games from any computer that has a supported Nvidia GPU. That strikes me as a rather brilliant feature, assuming it works reliably. Whilst I no longer have a dedicated PC for gaming, I’m sure plenty of people would love to untether from their desktop computer and lay back on the couch to play games from a catalog of previously purchased titles. It almost makes me want to have a PC that’s hidden away in a closet somewhere, loaded up with a bunch of games from Steam.

At the $299 price point they’re offering, I suspect that will provide a low barrier to entry for the kind of person in the market for such a device. Will the Nvidia Shield sell well? Only time will tell. I know I’ll be buying one and will post a more thorough analysis once I’ve had enough time to use it.