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NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Review

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Parting Thoughts; Android TV Is a Work in Progress

Let’s call this The Tale of Two Reviews. In one corner we have NVIDIA’s SHIELD, a device that boasts incredible hardware specifications packed into a minute chassis, its a set top box that feels well ahead of its time. In the other corner there’s Android TV, a pretty looking OS with its roots firmly planted in a safe zone but still able to deliver a great overall experience. At first these two may seem like an odd couple but they end up working quite well together.

We’ll start off with the star of this show: NVIDIA’s SHIELD. What an amazing little piece of hardware this is. It is compact, well designed and absolutely silent even though it packs an almighty hardware-based punch. With the pace of mobile processor technology moving along so quickly, the Tegra X1 won’t be the fastest SoC on the block forever but there’s a huge amount of longevity packed into its confines. You can buy the SHIELD feeling confident it will have no problem playing future Android games, streaming 4K60 content or blasting through other tasks for some time to come.

In creating the SHIELD, NVIDIA could have very well fallen into the same “jack of all trades, master of none” rut that so many of its competitors have found themselves in. We’ve seen it time and again; throw too many features into a device and it becomes a mishmash of half developed ideas and missed opportunities. Somehow NVIDIA deftly avoided those potential problems and have created a device that feels polished, well designed and properly supported. It has been asked to wear numerous hats but manages to deliver a convincingly holistic experience regardless of what you ask it to do.

The only real flaw we can find with SHIELD is that without the optional remote, the Android TV experience feels a bit clunky despite its well-integrated voice commands. The SHIELD Controller is a perfect companion for gaming but it is a poor substitute for a proper remote.

Despite how good the hardware is, NVIDIA’s SHIELD will ultimately live or die based upon the success of Google’s Android TV platform. Therein lies a bit of a problem for now. Unless you absolutely need seamless integration of 4K content, there are better, more mature options out there. Android TV is immature and it shows. We’d actually go so far as to say Google left the door wide open for Apple to come in with an updated, more functional version of their Apple TV, completely burying their Android competitor in the process.

One-upping Google won’t take much since there’s really nothing that feels particularly innovative here. There was an opportunity to make their next generation streaming platform a leap forward rather than yet another set-top product that tows the status quo. That didn’t happen. Android’s app system is vast, allowing for limitless expansion opportunities but only a fraction of it can be accessed through Android TV right now.

Much of the stymied potential lies in Google’s bewildering choice to launch such a well-connected OS but avoid porting over many of the functions that make their current ecosystem feel so tightly integrated. Google Drive, Google Now and even their Calendar, News and Docs applications are all compelling reasons to choose Android but they are conspicuous by their absence. Want an internet browser? Good luck with that. The lack of any ability to move apps around within their categories is infuriating as well. These omissions will likely (or hopefully) change in the near future though.

On the flip side of that coin, there’s actually a lot to like about Android TV. It boasts fluid animations, there’s true plug and play functionality, the integration of OTA TV signals is very well done, Netflix looks and feels right at home and the voice commands are actually useful. Plus, many of the issues with the OS we mentioned above can be alleviated via side-loading or just connecting your phone to the SHIELD via the integrated Chrome Cast function. In its TV form, Android is still a very adaptable OS, you’ll just need to be a bit creative to get the most out of it.

NVIDIA’s SHIELD is an almost flawless piece of machinery which feels right at home with Android TV. When combined, these two elements become one of the best and least expensive 4K experiences available on the market. All Google needs to do now is step up their OS game to better align with the hardware advantage SHIELD gives them.

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