It’s odd what NVIDIA is trying to pull here with an Android handheld gaming device. Speaking of gaming does anyone remember the OUYA ? The console that was supposed to revolutionize the Android gaming market and gaming in general was a novelty that’s quickly faded. Thanks to Android’s open ecosystem, you can have your gaming experience, if not the best kind of games to run with, right in the comfort of your own phone or tablet device, making the purpose of a dedicated android gaming device quite redundant. The Shield Portable is something of a calculated risk that NVIDIA’s tried to do. It combines the familiar gamepad controls with eight button, dual analog sticks and a multi touch, retinal screen. Running stock Android 4.4 Kitkat, as of last year, powered by the Nvidia Tegra 4 processor. It also serves as one of their core products in the Shield Lineup preceding the 8 inch Shield Tablet which in my opinion stands as a perfect android tablet to use.
What’s the reasons for getting the Shield Portable ? A multi media touch device, couple with gaming controls and the functionality to stream PC games to the Shield on the go. It does seem to have a lot going for it but does it really match up to the price you’re going to be shelling out for it? It costs around $199, quite bulky and game streaming is limited to you having a PC with a nice Nvidia compatible gtx card which makes the shield portable something more of an accessory for the PC gaming enthusiast with a flair for mobile gaming. Here’s more on Nvidia’s bizarre little toy.
If appearances are anything to go by, the Shield Portable is heavy. Just over 500 grams, it’s heavier than the 3DS and Vita put together, however it does give the Portable a solid durable build. It’s also quite comfortable, depending how you look at it. It’s your run off the mill xbox controller schematic but with a built in flip screen which gives you a sense of the Portable’s size and shape. The flips screen when closed covers the main controls expect the shoulder pad button
The Shield Portable comes prepared in form and function too. A micro-USB port for charging and data, 3.5mm headphone jacks and a mini-HDMI port and a mircoSD card slot, so you have a fair variety of connections to go with. The Portable when open with the screen shows a 5″ 720p touch screen under the hood, dual speakers and the familiar eight button gamepad layout with dual analog sticks and a directional pad to the left. The backlit NVIDIA logo serves as your power and home screen button shortcut.
Don’t let those silver speakers fool you, they are powerful and loud enough and the portable has the best audio for a gaming handheld although some would just double up and hook up the portable to an external bluetooth audio system to get more out of it but it does make a neat little boom box if you use the Shield for more than it was designed to do. Gamers will appreciate all of this with the rubber coated outer shell which is comfortable to use for a long gaming session but it’s not something I found comfortable to take with me on the go considering the weight and a carrying case doesn’t help and that’s the primary fallout of the Shield Portable. Make no mistake, this is a gaming device at the end of the day. The screen and controls are designed just for that and while you can control the interface with the gamepad controls, and even enabling an on screen cursor and keyboard, it will feel taxing to use it as a device for reading or browsing and with no camera included, it’s only natural you look towards the Shield Tablet.
Among most gaming handhelds, the Nvidia Shield has one of the best looking screens, with 720p resolution “retinal” 5-inch IPS touch screen. I managed to play a bit of Civilization Beyond:Earth on PC and it looked great. Android games that are native to the Portable also look gorgeous. The screen looks good however you look at it, I found this to be a benefit playing it outside and because of the build, there wasn’t any sense of fragility which makes it great not just for gaming, it works for viewing other sorts of multi media. You can even put the Shield Portable on your HDTV through the mini-hdmi port or Miracast which allows you to stream video at 1080p. Miracast does have some significant lag but it works well for streaming videos instead.
The Shield’s battery lasted nearly the whole day with 8 hours of mixed usage while being connected to wifi and using social media and using average brightness, battery will drain faster if you’re streaming from your PC as well. Playing Tegra 4 optimized games will drain the battery even more faster depending on how long you play. The battery recharge rate also borders below average taking a good three to four hours for a full recharge. Use it as a media device, it performs quite delightfully which means you can watch your favorite episode of friends from the comfort of your bed without the need to adjust the angle. That being said, Android runs pretty slick. Optimized apps load up quicker and I didn’t experience any performance bumps when switching from game to game.
The Gaming Experience
Shield Hub has a lot of games on the library, I enjoyed playing some Sonic and a few classic arcade games. Interestingly games like Voxel Run also detect the Nvidia Gamepad schematic which you can map to your convenience through the Gamepad Mapper and you can share or download mapped profiles as files. Android’s open system means that you can get a larger scheme of games through emulation so if you want to enjoy a bit of Pokemon SNES you can do it, if you wish.
For what it’s worth, NVIDIA seems to try and bridge the gap between console and PC to a certain point and it’s taken a pretty big gamble because of it. For some it can be a device that either does it all or doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do very well and here’s why I have a mixed opinion on the device. While it played out fine running android games from Shield HUB and getting some nifty android titles to run with, I was more interested for the PC streaming to work. Pc streaming is the one unique reason why you should get the Shield Portable which allows it to stream games from a PC within the same local network where the games are optimized to run in the GeForce Experience PC program. So non GTX users and those with older GPU’have pretty much lucked out. Gamestream works well with almost little noticeable latency if you’re on the same network, again depending on the kind of router you run. Some routers do have gamestream ready specifications. Remote streaming still needs to work out it’s kinks as it’s a beta functionality. Keeping in mind PC streaming means it mirrors the game to run on your PC. Hook it up via HDMI and the Shield’s Console mode lets you display 1080p video of your gamestream on a 5″ screen. Which raises the following question why would anyone who prefers playing on a PC with a keyboard/mouse or gamepad setup switch to a smaller screen.
I had several problems connecting the review unit to sync up with my MSI GTX 970 and it worked only after some tinkering with the router. When it did eventually work, it was a real joy to play Civilization: Beyond Earth on the go, taking it remotely is where I had problems since you need to have pretty amazing broadband to run it, there were parts were sound dropped but it still played and it did so beautifully. That being said, Game Streaming is still something that NVIDIA needs to work on if it wants to cater the device to more users, it’s not perfect just yet but it’s a step forward for the dream of playing high end PC games on a hand held.
Summing it Up
As an android device, the NVIDIA Shield Portable is a really impressive piece of tech. If it’s any indication, it seems to be working as a product for NVIDIA that’s convinced them to create the Shield Tablet.
I had fun playing on a gamepad and dare I say that it felt slightly more comfortable than an Xbox controller. The screen was top notch and the sound blows away the competition. It’s however quite the investment you’ll need in terms of time and whether you’re prepared to shell out for it considering you can get more popular handhelds such as as the PS Vita or Nintendo 3DS XL for less and bigger game libraries. However the Gamepad mapper and allowing you to cuztomize controls for just about any Android game and the added open of turning it in console mode means that it still holds worth. Despite it’s flaws, the Shield can become a lot more for gaming enthusiasts. Since the much more powerful and expensive Shield Tablet with it’s Tegra K1 CPU launched, the price drop for the Shield might be something to look at.