Hands-on with NVIDIA Shield: NVIDIA's project turned product

Handson with NVIDIA's project turned product, NVIDIA Shield

NVIDIA's Project Shield now has an official name (NVIDIA Shield), a release window ("by the end of June") and a price tag ($350). That's a full $100 more than the PlayStation Vita -- arguably the most competent competition for Shield's hardcore skewing demographic -- and even a smidgen over the cost of various full-on game consoles. Despite the high barrier to entry, NVIDIA tells us Shield will follow the same annualized model that its mobile phone counterparts do: a new internal upgrade each year to keep up with the times. And we already know what that future looks like. Given all that baggage, we can't help but approach our last hands-on before launch with an eye toward whether or not this is a worthy purchase. Is NVIDIA's Shield worth getting in on early? %Gallery-188226%

We're inclined to say yes, solely based on the Shield's curiosity factor, but less so when it comes down to actual use (more on that in a minute). Shield remains a bizarre, left field entry from a company known for making PC internals; heck, Shield is a bizarre, left field entry from virtually anyone (aside from Razer, perhaps). It's a "premium" product, which is marketing speak for "expensive," and the Shield feels expensive. There's a delectable heft and solidity to Shield, and its triggers, dual analog thumbsticks, and gorgeous 5-inch screen all serve to highlight its cohesion. Though the clamshell design is a bit clumsy, the Shield is a rather pretty device -- especially while open -- adding all the more to its allure.

However, it's easy to enjoy the fleeting moments of early love with Shield. Then you start thinking about its limitations. It's an Android device, and even with Tegra 4 it's unlikely we'll see Vita-quality games. Ah, but it has PC streaming! Should your computer run GeForce Experience software and a GTX 650 GPU or better, that is.

NVIDIA doesn't seem to mind that Shield isn't for everyone -- the company's targeting the folks who already own its GPUs -- but we want to love it as much as those folks. Its promise is certainly a thrilling one; beyond just Android games, the fact that Shield can stream a huge library of Steam games is incredibly enticing. That promise, however, wears thin when you begin factoring in not just the added cost of a PC (should you not own one), but one potentially problematic control issue. Due to the Shield's clamshell design, its two analog sticks are depressed deep into the handheld's cavity. Resultantly, the left thumstick always feels just out of reach, while the right one is far enough away that it's easy to rub your thumb against the controller's X and A face buttons. We'll have to see how this stands up to longer term use in our review, but for now it's a worrisome issue at very least.

So, should you buy one in June? The answer to that likely depends more on your expendable income and whether you own a PC with a powerful enough NVIDIA GPU to stream games than anything else. Let's be honest: the Shield is a niche, boutique device that, while enticing to many, probably won't fit into your life without some meaty prerequisites. For you diehard PC folks, however, this is your gaming handheld. For the rest of us ... well, doesn't it look neat?