Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 review

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Pros
  • Excellent price
  • Stunning screen
  • Strong game store
  • Robust and sleek design
Cons
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • No cables included

Key Features: 8-inch 1920x1200p IPS display; 16GB microSD expandable storage; 5MP front/back cameras; 2.2Ghz quad-core A15 CPU; Nvidia Tegra K1 GPU; 2GB of RAM

Manufacturer: nVidia

What is the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1?

The Nvidia Shield K1 Tablet builds upon the success of the company’s dedicated gaming tablet from last year, the Nvidia Shield Tablet.

For 2015, Nvidia has stripped back its initial offering to put forth a model with bucketloads of processing and graphical grunt, numerous gaming-focused features, and all for just £149/$224.

Can the cheaper Shield live up to the expectations set by its forebear? Is it still the ultimate tablet for gamers?

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Design

I praised the Nvidia Shield Tablet for it’s sleek design and understated looks, and the same can be said about the K1. It uses the same design aesthetics as its predecessor, with clean lines and a strong black colour scheme.

The Shield K1 is basically one big glass panel on the front, with two solid strips at either end that house the speakers and the front-facing camera. On the original model these bookends were finished in a matte-effect metal. In the K1 they’re made of rubber, not only making the tablet easier to hold in landscape mode, but also bringing down its overall the cost.

The K1’s rear is finished in a soft-touch matte plastic, which extends to the edges of the tablet too. The Shield logo in the centre is in a brushed metal.

Despite the subtle design changes, the Shield Tablet K1 continues to feel like a premium product, with the finish suggesting a price far beyond its £150/$225 RRP.

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A single speaker grille sits at the K1’s base, since all the connectivity options are situated along the top and right-hand side. There’s also a second speaker grille, a micro-USB charging port and a mini-HDMI port for connecting the tablet to your TV. Finally, along that top sits a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The volume rocker, hold button and microSD port can be found on the right of the tablet. The hold button remains tricky to press, since it feels a little too depressed to begin with.

Under the hood sits some seriously powerful hardware, which supports the idea that this is a tablet aimed at gamers.

The Nvidia Tegra K1 runs the show when it comes to graphics, and it’s backed up by a beefy 2.2GHz quad-core A15 CPU and 2GB of RAM. In addition, there’s 16GB of RAM, which is expandable via microSD card.

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Display

The Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 features a stunning 8-inch display with a 1,920 x 1,200p Full HD resolution. It might not have the sparkle and punch of the Super AMOLED displays found in tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 8.0, but the colours are rich and clean, with a white level that makes reading books or surfing websites a delight .

That screen size, resolution and colour reproduction also comes into their own for gaming. The 8-inch size, combined with that rubbery grip, make the Shield Tablet K1 the perfect size for gaming on the go.

I’m also pleased to report that Nvidia seems to have dealt with the brightness issue that affected the original tablet. Previously I found it very difficult to watch dark content in low-light situations, such as on a long plane or car journey. In the K1, however, the black levels appear to have been tweaked so that this isn’t a problem, no matter how dark your content.

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Audio

Although the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 isn’t equipped with Dolby technology or any other audio enhancements, the pair of speakers do well to provide balanced sound.

The tablet does have a dual-bass reflex port to help reduce distortion when operating at high volume levels.

Software

Although I expected the K1 to be running on the latest iteration of Android, the tablet is still on Android Lollipop. Nvidia promises that the tablet will move across to Marshmallow before Christmas, however.

And that’s because, as before, the Shield Tablet K1 runs nearly stock Android. There are only a few Nvidia additions to highlight the tablet’s gaming prowess, alongside a few other select features that in the main sit inside the Shield Hub on the homescreen.

It offers quick access to the Nvidia game store, which includes a fantastic array of Tegra K1-optimised titles that are exclusive to the Nvidia Shield range. This includes not only the K1 tablet, but also the recently launched Nvidia Shield Android TV box. There’s also access to GeForce now, but more on the Shield K1’s gaming prowess later.

Other apps within the Nvidia Hub include the Dabbler sketching app. This was introduced with the original Shield Tablet, which came with the DirectStylus 2. To reduce the price of the Tablet K1, Nvidia has removed the stylus and instead offers it as an optional accessory for £14.99/$22.

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You can also buy the Shield Tablet Cover – which I’d highly recommend – for £19.99/$30; the Nvidia Shield Wireless Controller for a rather pricey £49.99/$75; or a world charger for £17.99/$27.

Nvidia has taken the decision to ditch all bundled cables with the Shield Tablet K1. The company believes that the majority of folk are likely to already own a micro-USB cable, with which the tablet is charged. I’m not entirely convinced that this will be the case, but its exclusion goes some way to explain how Nvidia has manage to set the the price of such a powerful tablet so low.

Since this is an Android tablet, you get the full raft of Google services preinstalled – from Gmail, Drive, Play Store, Chrome, Google Plus, Hangouts, Play Movies & TV, Play Music, Play Games and Play Newsstand and much more.

There’s plenty on offer even if you’re not a gamer, but the fact that these enhanced Android games are available on the homescreen as you boot up the tablet for the first time highlight just how gamer-centric the Tablet K1 is.

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Performance

And it’s what’s hidden beneath that screen and svelte design that makes the Shield Tablet K1 the ultimate tablet for gamers on the go.

Inside Nvidia’s new tablet you’ll discover a 2.2GHz quad-core Arm Cortex A15 CPU combined with the powerful Nvidia Tegra K1 GPU and 2GB of RAM – the same setup as featured in the original model.

Thanks to those powerful innards, I experienced no issues of lag or stuttering with any of the software on the Shield Tablet K1. The only exception to this was the camera app – but more on that later.

Although you may experience longer than average load times on the Tegra-optimised titles, once you’re past the initial ones, there are few loading screens for any of the games I’ve tried – which is that’s quite a few.

Overall, the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 provides a smooth and slick experience whatever content you’re viewing, playing or reading.

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If you’re interested in the benchmarks, the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 scored a healthy 55,339 on AnTuTu, 1,137 in the single-core and 3,602 in the multi-core Geekbench tests. It achieved 1,497 in Basemark OS.

In terms of gaming, you’re looking at 3DMark scores of 2,444 for Sling Shot and a whopping 29,097 for the Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark.

These results are significantly better than those achieved by other tablets in this price range. Take the Asus ZenPad 8.0 Z380C for example. Its 854 multi-core score in the Geekbench performance benchmark is a million miles away from the results achieved by the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1.

Games

Although the Shield Tablet K1 would be a perfectly adequate Android tablet for anyone, this device is really built by gamers for gamers.

Like the previous model, the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 runs on the Tegra K1 GPU, which features the same architecture Nvidia uses for its PC graphics cards. That means you’re looking at a tablet GPU that supports all the systems used to create PC games.

All the games found in the Nvidia Shield Hub are Tegra-optimised, meaning they look better, run faster and take full advantage of the hardware of the Nvidia Shield family and other tablets with the same GPU – the Google Nexus 9, for example.

To really get the most out of your Nvidia Shield, I’d recommend splashing out on the Tegra-optimised titles. And there’s something for everyone. You’ll come across classic AAA games such as Portal 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode 1, through family friendly platformers such as Juju (one of my new personal favourites), to other top-rated titles such as Minecraft: Pocket Edition, Trine 2 and even the wonderful This War of Mine.

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You’ll be able to play the majority of these without a controller, but if you’re willing to fork out for the official controller (£49.99/$75) or a cheaper Bluetooth option, you’ll get much more out of your Shield Tablet.

With the addition of an HDMI to mini-HDMI cable, you’ll even be able to connect your shiny new slate to your TV. Then, using Mirror Mode, you’ll be able to view everything you see on your tablet on the big screen.

Even better is Console Mode, which allows you to turn off the Shield Tablet K1’s display and push it all to the big screen. You’ll need the controller for this, but viewing all the Tegra-optimised content on the big screen is certainly worth it.

This tablet is also equipped with Nvidia’s new game-streaming service, GeForce Now. It works in a similar way to services such as PlayStation Now, but offers more of a PC gaming experience.

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Sitting within the Shield Hub menu, you’ll need to sign up for a membership in order to access the service. But thankfully, anyone who signs up will automatically receive a three-month trial. After that, it will cost £7.49/$12 a month to access GeForce Now.

The membership gives you access to a growing selection of games that you can stream and play on your Shield Tablet K1. My suggestions include The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, The Witcher 2, Stacking, Brothers or any of the Batman Arkham games (bar Knight, which isn’t currently available) to get you started.

There’s also the option to “Buy & Instantly Play” a range of top-end PC games. These require a one-off payment, similar to or cheaper than the offer you’d find on Steam. What’s more, if you buy any of these titles, they usually also include a free PC game code for the same title.

Games currently available through the one-off payment scheme include titles such as The Park – TrustedReviews’ Game of the Year 2015; The Witcher 3; Trine 3; and more.

Note that you’ll need a healthy internet connection to take advantage. Nvidia recommends 10Mbps just to get a connection; 20Mbps for 720p HD quality at 60fps; and a whopping 50Mbps for 1080p Full HD 60fps quality.

In practice, you won’t actually need 50Mbps for that highest quality and buttery smooth frame rates. I managed to get 1080p Full HD at 30Mbps, even while my housemate was surfing the internet on his laptop. As soon as he started to watch Netflix, however, my game began to show signs of stutter and lag, before dropping out entirely.

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Camera

Now, I’m still loathe to give any thought to the camera on a tablet; in my opinion, anyone using a tablet camera to take photos should be given a sharp rap on the knuckles. Nevertheless, there was I doing exactly what I hate.

As I expected, the camera on the Shield Tablet K1 is below par. To begin, the camera app is glitchy and buggy, crashing frequently when I tried to switch between photo and video mode, and then again when I tried to view the shots I’d taken.

Shield Snap

Using HDR mode – a feature I covet on any smartphone – resulted in a blurred image with the two layers standing defiantly apart from one another. You have to hold the tablet extremely still to get a clear image.

Even when I did manage this, the 5-megapixel rear camera failed to produce a decent-quality image. The results were grainy with lacklustre colours – although the grey London days may be partly to blame for that.

Shield Snap

Even the autumn leaves on this tree aren’t as vibrant

Thankfully, the majority won’t be using the Shield Tablet K1 for photography. Instead, the front-camera is ideal for long Skype chats with far-flung friends and family.

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Battery

With the same 19.75Wh lithium-ion battery as featured in Nvidia’s original Shield tablet, you’re looking at a similar battery life to before.

The company claims that you’ll achieve 10 hours of HD video playback; in our tests it was closer to 8hrs 30mins for continuous video playback.

When it comes to gaming, I went from 100% battery to 40% in two hours – playing a combination of Juju with the controller connected, Xenowerk and Tales from the Borderlands. This means you’ll get around three to four hours of intensive gaming on a single charge, as you lose around 30% battery per hour.

If you’re going to try GeForce Now, or are planning to utilise the Console Mode, I’d recommended plugging the Nvidia Shield into the mains to avoid any save game losses.

For video playback, I lost only around 15% watching Netflix over Wi-Fi, and even less while watching video content stored on the microSD card with Wi-Fi turned off.

What’s more, we’re assuming that Nvidia has fixed the battery issues that plagued last year’s Shield Tablet. But only time will tell.

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Should I buy the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1?

If you’re looking for an affordable Android tablet that doesn’t skimp on the hardware, design and functionality, then the Nvidia Shield Tablet K! excels where others don’t.

The cheap Android slate market has certainly taken a dip of late, especially with the excellent Hudl range being discontinued. The Shield Tablet K1 is just the device to fill that gap.

What’s more, if you’re a gamer interested in seeing exactly what you can do on a tablet then the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 is the only one worth buying. For £150/$225, you’re getting the most powerful gaming tablet on the market, alongside a glimpse at the future of game streaming and the true potential of mobile gaming.

Even if consider the added cost of the controller and the cover – £49.99/$75 and £19.99/$30 respectively – you’re still looking at a package that comes in just below £220/$330. This is considerably less than the next best thing, which is the iPad Mini 4 with prices from £319/$479.

Verdict

With the Shield Tablet K1, Nvidia has done it again – producing an excellent mobile gaming device in the form of a powerful Android tablet. And all for the very affordable price of £149/$224.

(trustedreviews.com)

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