Nvidia Shield Tablet K1 review - now with Android Marshmallow
Processor: Quad-core 2.2GHz Nvidia Tegra K1, Screen size: 8in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,200, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage (free): 16GB, Wireless data: No, Dimensions: 221x9.2x126mm, Weight: 390g, Operating system: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
When it arrived in 2014, the original Shield was a seriously powerful gaming tablet that packed in a lot of extra value if you happened to own an Nvidia graphics card. Unfortunately, a battery overheating issue forced the company to recall a large number of tablets, and eventually withdraw it from sale completely. The Shield Tablet is now back as the K1, a facelifted version with a battery that won't blow up unexpectedly.
Battery aside, the differences between the K1 and the original Shield Tablet are mostly skin deep. You’d be hard pushed to spot the difference between the two; the K1 has a silver Shield logo on the rear rather than a shiny black one, the edges of the tablet are matte, rather than shiny, and the speaker grilles have a rubberised finish, rather than the plastic seen on the original. The ports, buttons and speakers are all in the same places too.
You don’t get a stylus with the K1, but while gamers are unlikely to miss it, anyone wanting to sketch or take notes can buy Nvidia’s DirectStylus separately for £15. There’s no docking mechanism to store it inside the tablet, however. There’s also no power adaptor in the box, which helps keep costs down. You’re almost guaranteed to have a micro USB cable lying around the house, but unless you have a 2A charger it could take a while to refuel the tablet once it runs out of juice. If you insist on having an Nvidia-branded cable and charger, you can pick up the pair for £18.
There have been a few cost-cutting changes inside, too, simplifying the range by ditching the 4G LTE modem and the 32GB storage option. The K1 is only available in a 16GB, Wi-Fi only configuration. There’s still a microSD card slot for adding extra capacity, and when Android Marshmallow arrives it will be far better at handling external storage than Lollipop is at present.
Nvidia's stayed true to its promise of regular Android updates for its Shield devices updating the Shield Tablet K1 to version 6.0 Marshmallow. It was a bit of a tumultuous update process with the company temporarily halting the roll out due to Wi-Fi bugs introduced in an earlier version. The good news is that those problems have seemingly been fixed, so you should expect the update to arrive in due course.
One of the more important updates that Marshmallow brings is better management of external storage. Now when you add a microSD card, the operating system can more effectively integrate it with the internal storage, essentially treating them both as one and the same. On top of this, Nvidia has updated the Camera app with a new design that takes inspiration from Google's Material design language.
Other Marshmallow additions, such as Google Now On Tap, are also now introduced. Importantly, the update also brings with it support for the Vulkan API, which provides more efficient access to the Shield Tablet K1's graphics hardware. There are other plenty of smaller bug and performance fixes, too, including better power management so it's worth checking if the update has been rolled out to your device.
The K1 is almost identical to the original Shield tablet. It has the same Nvidia Tegra K1 quad-core processor running at 2.2GHz, 2GB of RAM and the incredibly fast Kepler SMX GPU, which made the original such a potent gaming machine. The Shield's chip is slightly different to the one found in Google’s Nexus 9, which is dual-core and 64-bit, but in practice there’s little performance difference between the two tablets.
A Peacekeeper browser benchmark score of 1,148 is on par with Samsung’s £400 Galaxy Tab S2, which helps make web browsing feel very fluid and responsive. GeekBench 3 single- and multi-core scores of 1,142 and 3,554 are also among the fastest we’ve seen from an 8in Android tablet, which helps Android 6.0 Marshmallow animate, open apps and multi-task smoothly.
With near-identical hardware, it was no surprise that the K1 turned in almost the exact same battery life score as the original Shield Tablet. At 12 hours 39 minutes, it’s among the better 8in tablets, but still falls slightly behind Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2 and Lenovo Yoga Tab 3, which both managed over 14 hours. Even so, you’ll get a full day of use from the K1, and should manage over five hours when playing graphically intensive games.
The Kepler GPU is one of the most powerful tablet graphics chips around, so it should come as no surprise that it excelled in the GFXBench GL Manhattan tests. Scores of 1801 (or 29fps) in the onscreen test and 1961 (or 32fps) in the offscreen test are second only to the iPad Air 2. There’s simply no other Android devices that are as fast. It shows in games like Blizzard’s Hearthstone, with battle animations looking incredibly smooth.
As a Shield device, the K1 includes access to Nvidia’s GeForce Now and GameStream services. The former provides unlimited access to 50 PC games, streamed from the cloud to your tablet, for £7.49 a month. The selection is mostly limited to older titles, with newer games like the Witcher 3 available separately at a premium, although they justify the extra cost by including a Good Old Games or Steam key for offline play.
GameStream is the free alternative that uses a PC equipped with an Nvidia graphics card to stream your games library locally over a wireless network. It works brilliantly if you have powerful enough hardware; Nvidia suggests a GeForce GTX 650 or higher desktop graphics card or a GeForce GTX 800M laptop GPU as the minimum for uninterrupted play. A dual-band 802.11n router is also recommended for 1080p streaming. It’s frustrating that Nvidia hasn’t added 802.11ac, but this was missing from the original tablet so it’s not a surprise to find it absent here too.
A controller, like the optional Shield Tablet Wireless Controller (£50, www.ebuyer.com), is essential for serious gaming. It connects via Wi-Fi direct rather than Bluetooth for lower latency, and for up to four-controller multiplayer gaming on a single tablet. The Xbox-style layout makes it ideal for console ports, but the built-in touchpad and volume control buttons are handy for mobile-focused titles too. A headset jack and integrated microphone let you use Android’s voice-operated features too.