The same winning formula, now a year older and $100 less.
In July of last year NVIDIA launched the Shield Tablet, which took over from the ho-hum Tegra Note 7 and was really one of the best mid-sized tablets available through that year and into 2015. It had a super-powerful processor, solid screen, good battery life and exceptional gaming chops — but you had to be committed to buying it with its accessories for a total of $400 to get the best experience. Still, I used it as my main tablet (the LTE model, actually) and recommended it to others.
Rather than tear it all down and start from scratch 16 months after the launch of the original Shield Tablet, NVIDIA is releasing a refreshed model simply called the Shield Tablet K1. It has the same specs, screen and performance as the original, but now with a few tweaks in the hardware and a notable reduction in price to $199.
Read on for our impressions of the new version.
Shield Tablet K1 Hardware
Saying that nothing has changed externally between the original Shield Tablet and the new Tablet K1 isn't entirely true, but it's pretty darn close. the 8-inch screen is surrounded by the same basic design, with a plastic exterior coated in soft touch material wrapping the entire outside of the tablet. You'll still find big front-facing speakers on the shorter ends, ported out the sides where you'll find the necessary ports — USB, HDMI, SD card and headphones — and buttons.
A few cosmetic changes made, but there wasn't much to complain about here before.
There are just three visible changes between the generations, and they're small ones. The front-facing speakers are now surrounded by a different matte soft touch material instead of glossy hard plastic, and that same hard plastic on the original that stretched around the top edges around the display is also gone. Those changes make the tablet a bit softer in your hands all around, and will surely be less prone to scratching and cracking over time like the glossy hard plastic was. The third difference? There's no longer a slot for a stylus, which coincides with the Shield Tablet K1 no longer shipping with one. Though you can buy one separately for $20 (14.99£ / 19,99€), if you wish.
And I'm totally OK with nothing really changing on the Shield Tablet K1. I never had an issue with the design aside from the somewhat-cheap looking glossy plastic bits, and the addition of more soft touch plastic makes it even easier to hold in landscape mode. My gripes on the original of the power and volume buttons being too flush to the side still remain, but I can live with that if it's the biggest complaint I can make.
On the inside, things haven't changed at all. We're looking at the same computing platform all around — a Tegra K1 processor with its 192-core GPU, 2GB of RAM and a base 16GB of storage that's expandable by SD card. Having just 2GB of RAM in 2015 is starting to be a bit on the low side, but there's nothing dated about the capabilities of this processor. And when we're talking about just a 1920x1200 display instead of the higher-end QHD panels in other tablets, it's hard to argue with keeping with the solid formula.
That 8-inch 1920x1200 display seems to be identical to the one found on the first Shield Tablet to my eyes, which is to say it's squarely in the "more than good enough" range. It doesn't get amazingly bright for use outside in the direct sun, but for every other task it performs admirably. And although the Shield Tablet K1 no longer has a stylus built in, the display and tablet software still support all of the stylus' capabilities if you choose to buy one separately.
Shield Tablet K1 Software and experience
NVIDIA does a great job of shipping its devices with a very stock-like experience, and what you get on the Shield Tablet K1 is exactly where we left off with the original Shield Tablet. This is Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with very few visual changes — stock Google apps are installed, and NVIDIA includes very few of its own.
NVIDIA doesn't change much visually in the software, and adds some great features.
The big changes you'll notice in the software are inclusions for NVIDIA's Shield Controller, the Shield Hub for games and content, and Twitch for live streaming directly to the service. Oddly the Dabbler app — geared toward use with a stylus — is still included, but you can disable it if you'd like.
Performance-wise, the Shield Tablet K1 flies just like the original does. After a bit of a hiccup with the Android 5.0 release on the Shield Tablet the subsequent 5.1.1 update smoothed things out considerably, and I'm seeing the same now on the Shield Tablet K1. Just as I explained back then the Shield Tablet K1 can handle all of your daily tablet tasks like media consumption and some social networking, while also kicking it up for heavy games when you need it. That includes both local Android gaming with Shield-only titles, but also GeForce Now game streaming from the cloud provided you have a good internet connection for the $7.99 per month service.
NVIDIA says Marshmallow is on the horizon for the Shield Tablet K1, as you'd expect, but given how well this tablet performs I can't be too disappointed with Lollipop shipping out of the box. Historically NVIDIA has handled updates pretty well, and I have no reason to believe Marshmallow will be any different.
What you don't get
So NVIDIA managed to save some money here by re-releasing much the same hardware and internals in the Shield Tablet K1 as the previous Shield Tablet, but that doesn't explain the entire $100 price drop. Other corners were also cut here to keep the price down.
Not including a charger rubs me the wrong way, but the price drop had to come from something.
Beyond the aforementioned omission of the stylus (which I doubt many bought the Shield Tablet for), the Tablet K1 doesn't actually ship with a power brick or USB cable. Of course the tablet comes charged out of the box, but you'll have to repurpose an old charger to get this tablet juiced back up — and if all you have is a phone charger that may be a slow proess. That's really rubbing me the wrong way, no matter how much I know that most tablet buyers (especially those buying a Shield Tablet) likely already have a charger at home. Of course NVIDIA is selling its versatile world charger pack for $29 (17.99£ / 24,99€), but you can probably do better for less with a name brand one from Amazon.
NVIDIA has also streamlined the SKUs available for the Shield Tablet K1. You can only get it with 16GB of internal storage, of course with an SD card slot providing up to 128GB more, but there isn't an LTE version or one with more internal storage if you want to buy it. At release there aren't any sort of bundles, either — you'll buy each piece as you want it.
A new value proposition
After reviewing the original Shield Tablet (and again looking at it when the LTE model launched), I didn't have many complaints even when the retail price was $299. Now just a year later the tablet itself has stayed nearly the same, but the price has dropped to an absolutely fantastic $199. Sure you don't get a stylus or charger in the box, but the $100 savings very importantly open up some money for you to buy the $39 Shield Tablet Cover and $59 Shield Controller — both of which are almost required if you want the best gaming experience.
If you plan on gaming with a tablet — especially on the go — it's hard to go wrong with the Shield Tablet K1, especially now that you can get the accessories that make the gaming experience so great without going over the starting price of the original version of the tablet. And for those who have less-intense tasks and just want a mid-sized tablet at a solid price, the Shield Tablet K1 can also be on your list.
You're getting a lot for $199 here, and it's great to see.