Nvidia Shield K1 Tablet Review: Budget Price, Flagship Performance

You'll have to bring your own accessories, but the tablet is perfect for gamers

Shield K1 with Controller
Nvidia

When you first crack open the Nvidia Shield K1 tablet, you might be surprised to find that it has no accessories that come with it. No charger, no stylus, not even a cursory micro-USB cable. It's clear just how Nvidia managed to get the price of their former flagship tablet down to $199: they cut out everything they could from the box. The charger is available separately, there's an optional smart cover and stylus to be had too.

To be fair, I'd say that most people that have bought any sort of technology in the past few years have a spare micro-USB cable and a tablet charger that works with the Nvidia Shield K1. So, I wouldn't recommend the Shield K1 to anyone who is just waking up from a coma. But for anyone else who's looking for an amazing tablet at a budget price, the Shield K1 is a great tablet to check out.

The thing you'll see about the Shield K1 is that it has the ability to tackle anything that you can throw at it. The processor is a year old, but Nvidia makes some of the most powerful mobile processors built for performance, and the K1 is no slouch. It can play pretty much any modern 3D game with aplomb. The tablet even supports some console and PC games like Half-Life 2, Portal, and The Talos Principle that have Android releases. They go to show just how capable the Shield K1 is. In fact, I'd be willing to bet this has enough power left over to last you for a few years, much longer than many tablets in the same quasi-budget price range.

 For the full experience of the Shield K1, for the charger, controller, cover, and whatnot, you're going to pay more than $199, but you're investing in something that should last for a long time. And the Shield K1 does not feel cheap at all, beyond the fact that nothing comes in the box. And you'll need a microSD card for gaming beyond the 16 GB storage, but you can get a 64 GB card for $20 now.

That power comes at a bit of a cost, though. Charging the Shield is actually a bit of an issue, even with the optional World Charger with 2.1A charging. The tablet in default settings can suck up so much juice with particularly demanding games that you can't actually charge it. You can set up power-saving modes and have PC-style power management features, but out of the box, both Crashlands and Pocket Mortys were difficult to play for long periods of time. You won't get amazing battery life with this tablet, but such is the cost of a gaming beast. It's amazing for sitting and playing around the house, but you might want an external battery for on the go.

The Shield Cover is fantastic and the one accessory you should pick up for sure. The Shield K1 has a magnet in the back for the cover's thin end to attach to, making this a stable case that works in both typing and display modes. I like it much better than the comparable iPad Mini smart cover.

You can pick up the Shield Controller, and it's a great controller, for sure. It feels great, has native Shield features like wireless sound, and a microphone for voice search. It's not explicitly necessary, though, as you can use any Android Bluetooth controller or USB-compatible controller with the Shield K1.

The controller-to-touch mapping will work with any controller. There's always the potential for technical issues with this sort of feature, yes. Some games have touch controls that don't actually work well with controllers, of course. But in general, it's a killer feature. The crowdsourced controller setups are handy. And I'm glad it works beyond just the official Nvidia accessory. I would suggest picking up the Shield Controller if you don't have one. If you buy the Shield TV, you can pair that controller with the Shield K1 if you care to swap between devices.

The Shield K1 has an HDMI port, though it's an odd mini-HDMI port, instead of being the more common micro-HDMI or a full-size HDMI port.

Mini-HDMI is still a workable standard and the cables can be found without much difficulty. It's just another little addition to the cost of ownership.  The Shield K1 boasts a console mode, which doesn't go into full Android TV but does optimize the interface for using on a TV. This doesn't completely negate the Shield TV, though. That device has a more powerful processor and convenience is an intangible value you need to judge for yourself.

The Shield's software is stock Android, and in fact, this was one of the first devices to get an update for Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Nvidia pretty much just adds in the controller mapping, and ability to record and stream gameplay to Twitch with ease. 

You can stream games from a PC if you have a PC with a compatible Nvidia card using Nvidia GameStream. I wasn't able to test this out, as my laptop with an 840M never quite worked. But you can sign up for a 3-month trial of GeForce Now to stream from a limited library of games to your device. And while I think this might be a killer feature for the Shield TV, in particular, the performance is hard to fault. It works well right now, even with performance in a house full of internet-connected devices on a Uverse internet connection. GeForce Now needs more games to stream or buy (many of which come with keys to play on your PC), but it shows that the technology is here. It's just a matter of content for these services.

Even if the Shield K1 was just a stock Android tablet and didn't boast any Nvidia add-ons, the Shield K1 out of the box is an amazing tablet.

It gives you a pure form of Android, the tablet is amazing to play games on, and everything that's exclusive actually adds to the device's value. Having to buy the charger or bring your own is annoying, but not as bad as when the Nintendo 3DS XL did it, because of the ubiquity of micro-USB chargers and cables. You will need to invest more than the $200 entry price to properly enjoy the Shield K1, yes. Regardless, you're getting a fantastic tablet here.

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