Despite its problems, we actually liked Nvidia's original Shield Android gaming handheld. Our biggest issue with it was that it was bulky and heavy. With rumors swirling around about a Shield 2, we were hoping to see a slimmer, lighter design.
So consider us initially disappointed when we learned that the next iteration of Shield would just be yet another Android tablet. Yawn, right? The fact of the matter is that the Shield Tablet may be playing in an oversaturated market, but it's still great at what it sets out to be.
For one thing it's surprisingly affordable, as the Wi-Fi version can be had for just $299 (£239.99, around AU$320).
At eight inches, the Shield Tablet features a gorgeous 1,920 x 1,200 display, which shares the same resolution as Google's flagship Nexus 7 tablet. At 13.1 ounces, the Shield Tablet is about three ounces heavier than the Nexus 7 but still a lot lighter than the original's 1 lb. 4.7 ounces.
Part of the weight increase with the Shield Tablet over the Nexus 7 is due to the extra inch that you're getting from the screen, but also because the Shield Tablet is passively cooled and has an extra thermal shield built inside to dissipate heat. It's a little heavier than we'd like, but isn't likely to cause any wrist problems.
On the back of the Shield is an anti-slip surface and a 5MP camera, and on the front of the tablet we have a front-facing 5MP camera and two front-facing speakers. While the speakers are not going to blow away dedicated Bluetooth speakers, they sound excellent for a tablet. In addition to the speakers, the Shield Tablet has a 3.5mm headphone jack up at the top.
Other ports include Micro USB, Mini HDMI out, and a MicroSD card slot capable of taking up to 128GB cards. Buttons on the Shield include a volume rocker and a power button which we found to be a little small and shallow for our liking.
The Shield Tablet was initially running on Android KitKat, but Nvidia has now pushed out Android 5.1 to users, which brings the tablet right up to date and includes a new-look interface inspired by Google's Material Design, as well as various performance improvements and fixes.
Google's influence is clear in fact as the Shield Tablet is running a pretty stock version of Android, with the main difference being that Nvidia has pre-loaded the tablet with its Shield Hub, which is a 10-foot UI for you to purchase, download, and launch your games.
Arguably the real star of the tablet is Nvidia's Tegra K1 mobile superchip. The 2.2GHz quad-core A15 SOC features Nvidia's Kepler GPU architecture and 192 CUDA cores along with 2GB of low power DDR3. K1 supports many of the graphical features commonplace in GeForce graphics card including tesselation, HDR lighting, Global illumination, subsurface scattering, and more.
In our performance benchmarks, the K1 killed it. Up until now, the original Shield's actively-cooled Tegra 4 is arguably one of the most if not the most powerful Android SOC on the market, but the K1 slaughters it across the board. In Antutu and GeekBench benchmark, we saw modest gains of 12% to 23% in Shield versus Shield Tablet action.
But in Passmark and GFX Bench's Trex test, we saw nearly a 50% spread, and in 3DMark's mobile Icestorm Unlimited test, we saw an astounding 90% advantage for the Shield Tablet. This is incredible when you consider that the tablet has no fans and a two-watt TDP. Compared to the second-gen Nexus 7, the Shield Tablet benchmarks anywhere from 77% to 250% faster. This SOC is smoking fast, even standing up well to newer devices like the Nexus 9.
In terms of battery life, Nvidia is claiming you'll get 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery. This is up 3.75 Wh up from Google's Nexus 7 equivalent and from our experiential tests, we found those figures to be fairly accurate if not a best case scenario. It will pretty much last you all day, but you'll still want to let it sip juice every night.