Nvidia’s original Shield Tablet, which we looked at—and liked a lot—back in late 2014 for its impressive performance and unique game-focused features, was effectively put out to pasture in mid-2015, when the company issued a voluntary recall due to concerns about the battery overheating.
Review Nvidia Shield Tablet K1
While not all Shield Tablets were affected by the recall, in a market flooded with alternatives, having a recall hanging over unsold tablets probably isn’t going to do good things for sales. But the Nvidia-made Tegra K1 chip inside the original tablet is still plenty peppy (especially for gaming). And the tablet’s gaming-focused features (which we’ll detail in a bit) help the device stand out in a field of competing devices that are starting to look and feel pretty similar.
So, instead of retiring the Shield Tablet, Nvidia has reworked the slate, and renamed it the Shield Tablet K1. The company nixed the passive stylus (which we didn’t find all that useful, anyway), and slapped a silver “SHIELD” logo on the back to give the otherwise understated design a little flair. Most important, Nvidia has dropped the price $100 from the original $299, to a more mainstream-friendly $199.
Most of the rest of the specs remain the same: The 8-inch, 1,920×1,200-pixel IPS display doesn’t break any new ground, but it still looks good. The 5-megapixel front-and-rear cameras are adequate, and the front-facing speakers still sound swell. And while the Tegra K1 chip inside the slate isn’t the newer X1 version of the Tegra found in the pricey Google Pixel C, it’s still a very good performer—especially on the gaming front, which is where the Shield Tablet K1 has its primary appeal.
If you’re looking for an Android slate, and you like the idea of playing graphically intensive Android games, being able to stream (certain) PC games from your PC to the tablet over Wi-Fi (provided you have a recent Nvidia graphics card), and the option to stream your tablet gaming out to Twitch, it’s a fine option. And it’s now substantially more affordable.
Just note that, in an odd cost-saving move, Nvidia decided not to include a wall charger or even a micro-USB cable in the box. So you’ll have to add one to the overall cost of the device if you don’t already own one (or several) from an old smartphone or other device. And given the gaming focus, you’ll probably want to pick up a Bluetooth gaming controller, as well.
Plus, if the gaming extras the K1 packs aren’t high up on your tablet priorities, you can find compelling Android alternatives in the same price range. Especially attractive in the 8-inch class, the Asus ZenPad S 8.0 sells for the same $199, sports twice the Shield Tablet K1’s internal storage and RAM, and has a higher-resolution screen (2,048×1,536 pixels). The Shield Tablet K1 is still a fine device, but its appeal has narrowed a bit now, since the time at the end of 2014 when we tested the original model.
Not much has changed on the exterior of the K1 versus the original Shield Tablet. Aside from a little silver bling on the back, this isn’t a flashy tablet.
Its soft-touch plastic back reminds us, in a nice way, of Google’s 2013 Nexus 7. It’s fairly thick for a modern high-end tablet, at 0.36 inch thick. Asus’ competing ZenPad S 8.0 is only slightly thinner, at 0.3 inch. But that tablet has tapered edges, making it feel thinner, while the Shield Tablet K1’s bulk runs right up near the edge.
The 12.6-ounce Shield Tablet K1 also weighs a couple more ounces than the ZenPad S 8.0. But unless you’re holding Samsung’s high-end, 9.6-ounce Galaxy Tab S2 8 in your other hand, the K1 doesn’t feel heavy.
The Shield Tablet K1’s rounded back edges help make the tablet rest comfortably in your palm. But the front edges aren’t as rounded as we’d like. They can dig into your fingers uncomfortably if you’re holding the tablet with one hand for long periods. Also, just like with the original Shield Tablet, the Shield Tablet K1’s power and volume buttons have no discernible click feedback. This makes it hard, sometimes, to tell whether you’ve successfully pressed them or not (unless, of course, you’re looking at the screen).
The tablet’s ports are situated on the top edge, assuming you’re holding it in portrait orientation. Up here is a micro-USB charging port, a mini-HDMI output, and a headphone jack, as you can see below…
Just as we saw with the previous Shield, all three of the ports are crowded together on one side of that upper edge. That could be a problem if your cables have wide connectors, or you’re plugging in a chunky OTG-type USB flash drive with a micro-USB connector. Connector collisions could ensue.
Running along one of the tablet’s longer edges are the aforementioned power and volume buttons, as well as a MicroSD slot hidden behind a door. There’s no option for a cellular radio here, and Nvidia has settled on a single model with the K1 revamp, which includes 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage.
The Shield Tablet K1’s 8-inch, 1,920×1,200-resolution screen isn’t a chart-topper by any means. Both the previously mentioned Asus and Samsung tablets pack more pixels, and the latter sports the super-saturated colors and deep blacks that are the hallmark of Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology. But that’s not to take away from the screen on the Shield Tablet. Unless you’re actively looking for reasons to complain about it, the display on the Shield Tablet looks quite good.
Audio is a strong point, too. The front-facing speakers are located on the two shorter edges of the bezel, like so…
Nvidia has also made a minor change here versus the original Shield Tablet: The K1 model adds a raised, rubbery-feeling material atop the fan grilles. This was likely done to raise the screen slightly off the surface when you place the tablet face-down. But the rubber material and patterned texture are also likely to attract dust and dirt over time.
We wouldn’t say that the sound the Shield Tablet K1’s speakers pump out is the loudest or the highest-quality that we’ve heard from a tablet. But the audio output here is better than on several slates in this price range, and the speaker placement is much better suited to gaming and watching video. The thing is, though, if you hold the tablet for play or viewing in landscape orientation, your hands will be over part of the speakers. As a result, you’ll want Nvidia’s (or a third-party) Shield Tablet Cover to stand it up. Which brings us to…
The Shield Tablet Cover works much like Apple’s Smart Cover for iPads. It attaches via magnets to the bottom edge of the tablet. Lift the cover, and the screen powers on. Fold the cover around to the back, then fold it back on itself, and the cover becomes a stand.
Given the tablet’s new $199 price, it’s not surprising that the company didn’t include the cover/stand in the box. But you’ll probably want to buy one, and it’s pricey at $40. And unless you already have a tablet stand, you’ll want it—nay, need it—for serious gaming, because holding the tablet and a gaming controller at the same time isn’t possible without a third hand. The good news is that a quick Google search shows that you can snag a few knock-off Shield covers that sell for under $10. And if you happen to have or find a cover meant for the original Shield Tablet, it will work with this model, as the dimensions are the same.
As we noted up top, Nvidia also cut costs by not including in the box with the Shield Tablet K1 a wall adapter, nor even a micro-USB cable for charging. Sure, it’s a safe bet that nearly everyone buying the Shield Tablet K1 probably has a spare cable or charger left over from an Android phone or other device, and many will have extra wall chargers collecting dust, too. But it’s still strange to open a device that doesn’t include any means of charging in the box. At the very least, Nvidia should have included a cable so you could plug the tablet into a USB port for charging.
The Shield Controller is an add-on even more expensive, at $60. It’s a solidly built, well-designed console-game-style controller with comfortable buttons that are right where you’d want them…
The controller charges over its micro-USB port in the front, where you’ll also find a convenient headphone jack…
The controller also has built-in Android navigation buttons, as well as a small, built-in touch pad below the dual analog control sticks. The Android buttons are in the top triangle, the touch pad in the lower one…
The latter might seem like a curious addition to what’s essentially a console-style controller, but it’s essential when playing PC games on the tablet. That’s because most games have menus and other controls that were designed to be used with a mouse.
If you don’t want to pay $60 for Nvidia’s controller, an alternative is a less-expensive Bluetooth game controller that you supply yourself. (If you’re a heavy-duty gamer, it’s possible that you already own one.) But you’ll likely be frustrated using one with the Shield Tablet K1, at least for Android gaming, because it won’t have the dedicated Android buttons that the Shield Controller has, for playing games from the Google Play store. Plus, some PC games will be nearly impossible to play (or at least launch) without a cursor control of some kind.