If you’re going to have a portable game system, is Android ready?
I purchased an iPad 3 last summer. With my own ingenuity, I persuaded myself that I’d put it to good use as a second monitor for my laptop and a way to display wedding images.
Unfortunately, I just use my iPad to play video games. It’s disappointing that my iPad isn’t a great gaming device. Bulky, with a touch screen that isn’t great for exploring 3D environments, and with mediocre visuals. The iTunes App Store, on the other hand, has a steady stream of innovative, engrossing, and artistically-minded games that keep me coming back for more. Physical controllers to explore virtual worlds and a storefront to persuade developers to create them were two things I hoped for. I was hoping to find an iOS device that could do the same functions as a PlayStation Vita.
Then Nvidia revealed the Shield at CES, which was the next best thing. With a starting price of $299, Nvidia offered the most powerful portable console hardware we’d ever seen, running pure Android and equipped with what amounted to an Xbox 360 controller built right in. My home gaming PC’s graphics card manufacturer, Nvidia, even made a guarantee to broadcast games from my system. Afterward, I felt elated. The Shield arrived on my doorstep six months later.
OUCH, BUT DON’T LOOK AT IT!
Only a gamer could fall in love with the Nvidia Shield’s visage. With the lid closed, it looks like a black manta ray with silvery green lips. When it’s opened, it looks like an Xbox 360 controller and a Nintendo DS merged into one. The screen’s bezels are obscenely large in comparison to modern smartphones, making the device’s profile appear bizarre. Two screws are visible, the port configuration is uneven, and there are unattractive seams in the plastic casing. An object this large and bulky will not fit inside a pocket. In terms of size, it’s more like a DSLR camera than a tablet or a gaming controller.
Your eyes will be protected, but not by the shield. It’s designed to fit in your palms.
The Shield will help you understand what’s going on. While laying in bed, you can easily hold the 1.2-pound package up over your head thanks to the device’s dual handles, which are wrapped in a soft-touch rubber. When squeezed with force, the plastic frame creaks a little, but it doesn’t feel cheap at all. Although Nvidia has chosen a PlayStation-like symmetrical configuration, I love the way the Xbox 360 sticks sit, and the two thumbsticks are just as accurate and pleasant as their predecessors.
Feeling great is what the shield is all about.
Even if the D-pad and shoulder buttons seem a little too much like Xbox equivalents, I was still able to throw some fireballs and dragon punches when the going got tough. The face buttons and triggers, on the other hand, have precisely the right amount of throw and cushioning so that you may bang on them for hours at a time without fatigue. In case you were wondering, yes, those thumbsticks are buttons as well, and pressing them produces a nice click.
The controller for the Shield isn’t simply for gaming. It’s also the primary method of interacting with Android. To make things even better, Android recognizes the controller layout precisely how you’d expect it to, with distinct Home, Back, and Volume buttons around the flashing Nvidia button in the middle (hold down Volume to mute). A button selects, the B button backs up a step, and the right analog stick may be used as a virtual mouse. The shoulder buttons flick through home screens. Typing with an Xbox 360 gamepad is as simple as touching the Y key, and using the left analog stick to access capital letters works just like it does with an Xbox 360 gamepad. It’s not the best way to enter text, but at least it works.
Speakers will be shown
BEING AWARE AND INTERESTED
Nvidia spared no expense when it came to the display: the 5-inch, 720p screen is as excellent as it gets. You could ask for a 1080p screen like the HTC One’s stunning 468ppi panel, but at $299 the Shield comes with a terrific substitute. A clear screen with almost 180-degree viewing angles erupts with brilliant whites and bright colors. Even while the blacks aren’t as deep as on OLED screens like the one found in the PlayStation Vita, I still wouldn’t exchange it for anything else. Shield’s 294ppi pixel density ensures that games and movies appear excellent when they’re just inches away from your eyes. You can bend back 180 degrees on the hinge to get it there as well. That one of the two devices I tried had a weak and creaking hinge, while the other operated well: I’m assuming that the latter was a production error.
In terms of displays and speakers, NVIDIA DID A GOOD JOB.
The Shield, on the other hand, is a pleasant surprise. Nvidia claims that the Shield’s custom-tuned bass-reflex speakers would deliver “fidelity and range never before heard on a portable device,” and that may be true. The sound quality of these speakers is superior to that of many laptop speakers and much beyond that of most smartphones and tablets. With enough bass and volume to feel in-game gunfire and earthquakes through the game’s controls, they’re not quite as powerful as a Jawbone Jambox. Games and action movies benefit well from them, but they’re not the best choice for music. The highs are a touch too harsh, and there’s not enough dynamic range to please even casual listeners.
A fan is required to cool the Tegra 4 CPU and other electronics, although the Shield is very quiet and has excellent battery life. A battery test that cycles through webpages and high-resolution photos at 65 percent brightness lasted more than 10 hours, and we were able to play the most demanding Android games for around five hours at a time on the Verge. Just a standard Micro USB connector may be used to charge the gadget, making it simple to use.
TABLET AND SMARTPHONE ARE INCLUDED.
Almost every program in the Google Play Store runs smoothly on the Shield, which comes pre-installed with Android 4.2.1. Yes, Android runs really fast thanks to Nvidia’s Tegra 4 CPU paired with 2GB of RAM. However, there are a few restrictions. A camera is not included, so don’t expect to be Snapchatting your pals, and tablet-specific apps (such as Frozen Synapse) will not work.
It has a microphone, so you can use Skype and Android’s text-to-speech features, which can be quite useful in this situation. Using Foursquare and Google Maps is a cinch with the built-in GPS. To stay connected, you’ll need Wi-Fi at all times. If you’re sharing a Shield with your family, you’ll be able to set up separate accounts and applications for each individual.
However, the shield has a sense of touch, but it isn’t fun to play with.
It’s another matter entirely when it comes to actually put such applications to use. Even more of a disaster in terms of ergonomics. When using the touchscreen on the Shield, how should you hold it? I’m stumped. Even when you’re logging into an account, some apps default to portrait mode and the Shield clearly wasn’t meant to be held horizontally with the cover in one hand. When I tried to hold the Shield like an open book, cradling the entire device in one hand, my fingers obstructed the system fan. This is true even when the program is shown in landscape mode. To utilize the virtual keyboard, swipe, and pinch, you have to hold the device by the lid. While the 16:9 aspect ratio works excellent for movies and games, you get to see very few emails and have very little web browser real estate due to the lack of screen space. In Android apps, Nvidia provides a “full screen” option that removes the notification bar, although this isn’t an ideal solution. Most tablets feature 16:10 or 4:3 aspect ratios, such as the iPad, for this reason.
To be clear, the Shield does have far, far more capabilities and power than the PlayStation Vita, but it falls short of an Android tablet, which isn’t a very difficult bar to meet.
DO WE HAVE ANY TRUE CONTESTANTS ANYMORE?
The Shield’s touchscreen can be used to play almost any Android game, but that’s not the idea of the device. To get the most enjoyment out of your Shield, you’ll need games that work with a controller. It’s also difficult to find good controller-based games on Android.
Even though you can play Minecraft on an Xbox 360, the Android version doesn’t have controller functionality; this is despite the fact that you can download Minecraft on an Xbox 360 and play it with a gamepad. For any Android game system with physical controls, it’s an issue, but worse, even those titles that do support game controllers don’t all work well with the Shield’s joysticks and buttons. The Xperia Play and PowerA’s Moga controllers are supported, but not the Shield in the new Android game Crazy Taxi. Although Nvidia isn’t directly responsible for the fact that developers aren’t following best practices, it’s still a problem for the Shield. It may take a significant number of people purchasing Shield or a major effort by Google to improve things. You can’t know if a game is compatible with the Android game controller standard at the moment of purchase on Google Play. This is a problem that Google should fix immediately.”
Upgrade: You may now create your own controls as part of a big software update, which has eliminated some of these concerns. The shield is now supported by Crazy Taxi.
Fortunately, Android isn’t completely devoid of top-notch controller-based games. While the first Dead Trigger runs smoothly on mobile devices, a trial of the upcoming sequel, Dead Trigger 2, has better visuals than any other mobile game I’ve played. Players will face waves of zombies in a richly rendered setting with reflective pools of water. Despite its lack of depth, ShadowGun: DeadZone is a fun and enjoyable online shooter. High-resolution versions of Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City look and perform better on the Shield than they did on the PlayStation 2.
IN THE MIX ARE A FEW GREAT ANDROID GAMES.
Using the Shield’s thumbsticks in slow motion, PC classic Max Payne demonstrates how simple it is to take down enemies with headshots, despite Rockstar nerfed the difficulty level. If you’re looking for a way to relive your childhood, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic CD, and Sonic Hedgehog 4: Episode II are all excellent choices. Conduit is a good Wii version, however, the thumbstick dead zone settings are messed up, making aiming difficult. It’s a tantalizing preview of what the Android library would look like if the numerous Unreal Engine developers migrated their games to the platform, but Epic Citadel isn’t a game.
In general, you’ll be most likely to discover strong controller compatibility for old titles that were developed for the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, PlayStation 2, and classic PC platforms. But even then, Prince of Persia 2’s just-released remake by Ubisoft doesn’t function on the Shield because of its controls.
THE BEST CONTROLLER SUPPORT CAN BE FOUND IN OLD CONSOLE GAMES.
Even if there were a plethora of excellent Android games available, they may not be compatible with the Shield as of right now. Typical Android games may take up a couple of gigabytes of data, while the Shield starts with less than 12GB of accessible storage space. You can’t add applications to the SD card slot if you think you’ll solely utilize it. For now, Nvidia says that the issue of installing programs to the SD card will be solved in a future update, like Samsung’s patch for the Galaxy S4. (An update from the software developer on October 28th resolved this issue.): As an additional note, if you have an SD card larger than 32GB, you will need to format it using a Windows PC to use the NTFS filesystem.
Classic console emulators are a terrific source for amazing controller games. Star Fox 64 and Metal Gear Solid are both excellent examples of games that can be obtained in inventive ways. There are some little hiccups here and there, but the Tegra 4 in the Shield is strong enough to handle Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation games. When Peppy requested me to do a barrel roll, I mistakenly did several using the shoulder buttons and triggers.
Streaming of games
NONETHELESS, IT’S NOT JUST ANDROID
When it comes to Android games and apps, the Nexus 7 and Shield don’t compare well, so why would you choose the Shield? Buying one is a no-brainer for me. Streaming of PC games.
For the past several years, I’ve been purchasing a large number of wonderful PC games at significant discounts on Steam, and many of those fantastic titles were specifically built for use with an Xbox 360 controller. When I get home from work, I want to curl up on the sofa and play these games. A wireless Xbox 360 controller adaptor worked for a short time when I moved my desktop computer to the living room. I was thinking of creating my own HTPC.
Instead, I can utilize Nvidia’s low-latency remote display technology built into its latest graphics processors to broadcast any PC game to the Shield wherever I am at home. Although there is some latency, especially in the audio, this is by far the most tolerable streaming I’ve encountered. OnLive and Gaikai can’t compete with this, and it looks incredible on the Shield’s display. The controls and minimal slowness make it seem like I’m playing on an Xbox 360, but the degree of detail my gaming PC can produce at 720p puts Xbox to shame. The Shield’s battery lasted for nine and a half hours of Tomb Raider streaming before it died. Despite the low battery warning, there was still plenty of juice in the tank when the Nvidia logo began blinking.
There is, of course, a lot of hardware required for PC streaming to operate. Both a fast dual-band wireless router and a high-end Nvidia GeForce GTX 600 series graphics card are required. AMD graphics are not supported. When Nvidia released their list of approved routers, I already had a great gaming PC and one of those routers. However, if you don’t already own those components, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars worth of additional gear.
GAME STREAMING IS A DEATH APP.
Even yet, there are several limitations to the experience. Connecting to the Shield is simple after you’ve connected it with your PC, but the slightest misstep while starting up a game can suddenly break it. You may have to walk back to your computer and personally repair a mistake if the program is unclear about whether or not the PC has previously launched a game. As a result, the framerate isn’t as great as you’d anticipate from your PC. It’s a shame because many PC games can be played with a controller, but there are others that can’t be. Your Steam library will not be complete without the purchase of a game from the Steam store. As long as you instruct Steam to log into Origin first, it’ll run Crysis 3.
When you want to wander about with a game you’re playing on your PC, you have to start it all over again on the Shield. It’s perfectly possible to stream games to the Shield and then mirror them to a TV using Miracast, but you can’t do it the other way around using a mini-HDMI connection. In the current state of affairs, Miracast just isn’t fast enough for game streaming. Aside from that, Nvidia won’t let you do anything with Windows if the game’s sync fails with the Shield, even though the streaming software is plainly a Splashtop hack with Windows visible beneath the surface. A “beta” function is exactly what Nvidia is calling PC streaming.
Although the process is time-consuming, the results are well worth the effort. The Android games alone weren’t cutting it for me, so I bought a Shield instead. Played an hour of Max Payne 3 in bed this week. From the comfort of my living room, I completed the whole game of Skyrim. Standing in the corridor, I joined a Left 4 Dead 2 co-op game just because I could. I then listened to a BioShock Infinite lullaby in bed with headphones to avoid waking my wife.
FOR A PARTICULAR INDIVIDUAL, THE SHIELD IS AWESOME.
In the hands of enough players, the Nvidia Shield has the potential to be a game-changer for Android gaming, since it is a stunning piece of hardware. While the lack of decent Android controller games may be temporary, the Shield is riding a wave of interest in controller gaming. Chicken and egg: most game developers won’t put in the time and effort to produce physical controllers if they’re targeting the iPad and iPhone audience.
Even though the Shield costs $299, the Nexus 7 costs $229 and is a superior short-term investment. The remaining $70 may be used to purchase a PlayStation 3 controller and a pairing program, or it can be saved for the next Shield, which will include an even more powerful Tegra chip. A 32GB iPod touch costs $299, as does an iPad mini, which costs $30 more. It’s not as powerful, but it can fit in your pocket, has a built-in camera, and has Apple’s app store ready for your credit card.
You can still enjoy PC streaming with Shield’s PC if you’ve got the correct graphics card and the right Wi-Fi router—or hundreds of dollars burning through your wallet. Shield’s killer app has already been released. Known as Steam, when it works, it’s a joy to see.