The popularity and quality of mobile games is on the rise. While many smartphone users are contempt with games like Angry Birds or Bejeweled, more hardcore gamers are trying to play higher-end games trying to replicate the gaming experience found on gaming-specific devices. Typically, that higher-end gaming experience is a bit of a let down due to either a smartphone than can't quite keep up with the processing demands of the game, or the on-touchscreen controls just aren't up to snuff. While the latter can be remedied by using a bluetooth controller like Nyko's Playpad, but that means you're carrying around something extra without fixing the first problem.
Well if you're in that latter group and want a better experience, computer graphics company nVidia will soon have you covered with its Shield - a gamer-first portable gaming platform powered by Android Jelly Bean. It's not perfect, but it might be a mobile gamer's best option.
With nVidia's own 72-core Tegra 4 72-core GeForce GPU and a quad-core A15 CPU providing the power, there is little question that the Shield will be able to provide one of the best looking and performing portable gaming experiences available when it launches in the first half of this year. The available-at-launch Android titles such as Arma Tactics and Bloodsword appeared and performed seemingly quite well with no obvious studders, glitches, or signs of lag. Furthermore, the Shield will have the capability to play actual computer games via WiFi from its owner's PC, though this feature wasn't tested at GDC.
Where the nVidia Shield looks like it will fall short is in its gamepad, which is physically the largest part of the device. Glossy and good looking, form might have taken a front seat to function as the user's hands got a little fatigued (and slightly clammy) after about 15 minutes of gaming. Furthermore, on the unit tested at the conference, the D-pad was not the most responsive or accurate as it often confused a right or left press with an up or down one -- an accidental mistake that could prove quite costly during games and is annoying while navigating menus. Thankfully, the Sheld's nice flip-up screen is touch-sensitive, so users won't have to fully depend on the attached gamepad for everything. The rest of the gamepad, including its twin analog sticks and modern assortment of front-facing and shoulder buttons, seemed to work just fine.
Even with the hands-on nVidia allowed during GDC, there is still a lot yet unknown about the Shield. Questions still surround the device such as battery life, peripheral support, and (most importantly) exactly when and for how much will the Shield will sell. Questions and concerns over its built-in gamepad aside, nVidia's Shield should provide a great mobile gaming experience that has a great chance to win over the increasingly hard to impress hardcore crowd.