Nvidia’s Shield TV devices have long been held up as the best Android TV streaming gadgets around, and it’s not hard to see why. They pack a good level of power and loads of handy software features, while Nvidia has delivered a years-long update commitment that handily beats any Android phone on the market.
This wasn’t Nvidia’s first Shield product, though. Long-time Android enthusiasts will remember that the Nvidia Shield Tablet was the company’s first Shield device. Sporting a Tegra K1 processor, 1,920 x 1,200 display, stylus, and a quad-speaker setup, Nvidia’s first and only tablet was about as good as it got back in 2014.
It’s been eight long years since that first attempt then, but the time might be right for a Shield Tablet in 2022.
Today’s tablet landscape differs from 2014 in two key ways when it comes to gaming. For one, game streaming has seen a major rise as an alternative to local gaming. Back in 2014, Sony’s Remote Play and third-party PC apps were among the only ways to stream games on your phone over a wireless connection.
Nvidia also has its own long-running cloud gaming service on offer, dubbed Geforce Now. The platform allows you to remotely stream your own gaming library via Nvidia’s own powerful servers. Best of all, Geforce Now supports multiple gaming storefronts such as Steam, the Epic Game Store, and Ubisoft Connect. No matter what service you pick, today’s tablets make for great portable gaming.
Android has the games, streaming services, and controller support.
Controller support is another area that’s seen major strides since the early days of Android. Google’s platform has supported controllers since Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich, but support in games was another story.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of controller-compatible games on the Play Store today, with big hitters like Alien: Isolation, Apex Legends Mobile, Call of Duty: Mobile, Dead Cells, GRID Autosport, and Stardew Valley leading the charge. It doesn’t hurt that newer controllers like the Nintendo Switch remotes and PS5 DualSense are also compatible with the platform.
Today’s gaming phones also offer pretty robust remapping software, allowing you to use a device’s shoulder buttons in games that don’t actually have gamepad support in the first place. So we’ve certainly got a more friendly environment for controllers.
The world (and Google) cares about tablets again
Joe Hindy / Srdtf News
Another reason for Nvidia to hop on the slate bandwagon is that Android tablets have seen a revival in the last couple of years, thanks in no small part to the pandemic. The device category withered away in the late 2010s, with the global market dropping 1.5% year-on-year in 2019 to 144 million units, the year before the pandemic. That decline doesn’t sound too bad, but the IDC reported tablet shipments of 229.6 million units in 2014.
By comparison, global tablet shipments hit 163.5 million units in 2020 and 168.5 million units in 2021. That momentum might be slowing after Q4 2021 saw a yearly decline, but the iron is still hot enough for Nvidia to strike with a Shield tablet of its own. After all, media consumption, one of the Nvidia Shield line’s strengths, was one of several key factors driving this resurgence in the first place.
The tablet market has seen record growth, while Google is (finally) polishing the software side of things.
The renewed interest in tablets also coincides with Google’s own rejuvenated efforts to focus on the form factor. The platform-holder revealed Android 12L in October 2021, targeting tablets, foldables, and other Android devices with large screens, all of which are being rolled into Android 13. It also confirmed at its I/O 2022 developer conference that it would be updating 20 first-party apps with tablet-focused interfaces. Better ultra-late than never, I guess, but we hope Google maintains this momentum.
So with the tablet landscape booming and Google putting in the software legwork, there’s a strong foundation here for future tablet releases in general.
Nvidia’s secret sauce for tablets
Nvidia also has several in-house strengths that would pair well with a future tablet. For one, Shield TV devices also support AI upscaling for videos, boosting the resolution of videos up to 4K so you can get a more detailed picture. Similar video super-resolution technology is also available on smartphones from the likes of OnePlus and Xiaomi (albeit generally targeting lower output resolutions), so we’d expect to see this tech on a new Nvidia tablet.
Another Nvidia technology that makes sense to implement on a future slate is DLSS (deep learning super sampling). The tech is available on PCs with Nvidia RTX graphics cards, using dedicated machine learning silicon to upscale video game resolutions.
DLSS has the benefit of delivering a sharper picture without requiring a ton of power compared to natively running at the target resolution. The tech has been mooted for a future Nintendo Switch model, and it certainly seems like a good way to deliver improved visuals on a tablet without a massive performance and battery life penalty.
Nvidia also has another feather in its cap if it chooses to bring a new tablet to market. The Shield tablet and Shield TV devices all have access to a small library of Shield-exclusive games ported from console and PC. These games include Borderlands 2, Half-Life 2, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Resident Evil 5, and Tomb Raider.
Challenges facing a Shield Tablet reboot
Hadlee Simons / Srdtf News
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome for a Shield Tablet in 2022 is the chipset. Nvidia has used the Tegra X1 as its Android TV processor of choice since 2015, while Nintendo uses the chipset for its Switch line of consoles too.
Needless to say, the Tegra X1 is old right now and has been out-gunned by rival chips from the likes of Qualcomm for a couple of years already. Unfortunately, the company hasn’t released any real follow-up chipset since the Tegra X1, with the Tegra X2 and successor chips more focused on the automotive space.
One significant hurdle in the way of a new Shield Tablet is the choice of processor.
Still, it seems possible Nvidia is working on a proper mobile-focused Tegra chipset, as Nintendo will likely want a new Tegra processor for whatever comes after the Switch (while still maintaining backward compatibility). So we could definitely see the company grabbing this processor for its own products, especially if it wants to implement DLSS, which requires specific Nvidia hardware.
Another obstacle in the way of a differentiated experience is the gaming library. Sure, Nvidia has its Geforce Now experience, but this is available for other Android devices as well. The company previously offered ports of PC and console games via its Lightspeed Studios development house, so these existing games would be a wise addition. What about future ports of titles, though?
Unfortunately, the company told Srdtf News last year that it’s prioritizing “streaming where we can bring Shield users full-featured, high-resolution PC games over porting, right now.” It, therefore, sounds like we can’t count on more ports if the company launches a new Shield tablet. This wouldn’t be a necessity for the device, but it would certainly be another selling point.
Nvidia will need to get a rebooted Shield Tablet right if it hopes to achieve critical and/or commercial success. The original Shield Tablet certainly gives us a few pointers in this regard. Perhaps the most prominent Shield Tablet hardware feature we hope to see on a new device is the speaker setup, featuring quad speakers. The push for thinner bezels means we probably won’t see a pair of dual front-facing speakers as we see on the original device above, but having a pair of speakers at the top and bottom would still be very welcome and push the content consumption credentials in a big way.
The original pad shipped with a stylus pen and dedicated stylus slot, but I’m not sure whether we need to see both of these options on a new device. However, we have seen a variety of tablets launching with stylus support and an official first-party stylus (either bundled or as a separate purchase), so it makes sense for Nvidia to offer this support in order to cater to the creative and productivity crowd.
We’re also wondering about the screen size of a future Shield tablet, with the original sporting a 7-inch display. The current era of thin bezels means Nvidia can afford to pack a larger screen for the same size. The company will absolutely need to offer high refresh rate support though, both for gaming and for a more fluid experience in general. This support would also figure into Geforce Now, which tops out at 120fps.
Speaking of Geforce Now, we think it would perhaps be a wise move for Nvidia to offer owners of the rebooted Shield Tablet a more premium experience in this regard. For example, the company could offer a year of access to the RTX 3080 tier, which offers premium ray tracing, 4K HDR, and 120fps gaming options.
Powerful media-focused hardware with a dash of free Geforce Now would be potent combination.
Another necessity for a future Shield Tablet is adequate cooling to ensure sustained performance levels. After all, we’ve seen chipsets like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Exynos 2200 falter in a big way when looking at performance over time. The tablet form factor on its own can help, but Nvidia should ideally follow in the footsteps of gaming phones like the Red Magic 7 series and offer a cooling fan for the best possible performance over long gaming sessions.
Finally, Nvidia will need to address whether it offers a separate controller, a Switch-style form factor with detachable controls, or a Steam Deck form factor with integrated controls. We’re guessing the company would offer a separate controller to keep costs down for those who just want the tablet alone. So including a folio case capable of propping the tablet up — as we saw with the original device — seems like a sensible idea. Then again, we’d love to see a Razer Kishi-style telescopic controller for the device as well, or a Switch-style approach to controls.
A good a time as any for a reboot
The pieces have mostly come together for a new Nvidia Shield Tablet, with the market embracing slates again, Google focusing on making better Android software for bigger screens, and more big-name games on the Play Store (in addition to more controller-supported titles).
Do you want to see a new Shield Tablet?
It depends on features/pricing
Nvidia’s own strengths bolster the case for a new tablet as well, as the firm’s Shield TV devices enjoy crucial long-term support, top-notch multimedia capabilities, and access to game streaming and a select library of exclusive titles. Toss in the company’s DLSS graphics technology and we could be looking at a very unique tablet proposition.
There are still a couple of hurdles for the graphics company to overcome, such as the choice of processor. But the arguments in favor of a new Nvidia Shield Tablet certainly outweigh the arguments against it.