Let me be clear, I was a big fan of Google’s Nexus series. It started with the Galaxy Nexus, which impressed me so that I later bought a Nexus 4. In 2012 Google also released the first generation of the Nexus 7, which I also purchased.
The Nexus experience continued, so favorable that I didn’t even hesitate when they released a second generation Nexus 7 in 2013. I ordered one immediately.
The Nexus 7 saw heavy use around the house. I loved the Nexus 4 for a device on-the-go. It was the perfect size IMHO. Around the house, where fitting into my pocket was less of an issue, the Nexus 7’s larger screen made it my go-to device.
I’ve actually had three Nexus 7s over the years, replacing one with a shattered display, and later buying a spare when Google stopped offering them. I still have the Asus dock with micro-USB and HDMI ports that lets the tablet run on external power, even as you use it to feed a monitor or HDTV.
My love affair with the Nexus series continues, as I’m current carrying a Pixel, which is just a Nexus by another name.
In December of last year my last remaining Nexus 7 started to become unreliable, forcing me to consider alternatives. Further, I had an interesting little project pending. That project would benefit from a real HDMI output, which had finally started to show up on some tablets.
I did a little hunting and settled upon nVidia’s Shield K1 as a suitable upgrade from the aged and failed Nexus 7. Coming from nVidia, and billed as a tablet for gamers, the Shield K1 looked like it had the stuff.
The Shield K1 is #5 on the Techradar list of best tablets. Phandroid lists it as the second best Android tablet, behind the HTC-made Nexus 9. Although, it’s worth noting that their list is titled, “Best Android Tablets of 2017,” even thought the article is indicated as last updated December 15, 2015!
Referencing Passmark Labs Android performance benchmarks, at least on paper, it bests every Android device that I’ve used, save the Pixel, which is much more expensive.
- Google Pixel = 6345 (Passmark score)
- nVidia Shield K1 = 5937
- LG Nexus 5 = 3758
- Asus Nexus 7 (2013) = 3482
- LG Nexus 4 = 2519
- Asus Nexus 7 (2012) = 2283
I like the fact that it has HDMI output and a micro-SD memory slot. When connected to a display the K1 shows an prompt for action; mirror the display to the external monitor, or use just the external monitor. In that case it can drive a 4K display!
It’s bigger and heavier than the Nexus 7, but that’s not an issue for me.
I actually have two Shield K1s. That wasn’t intentional. I bought one for myself. The other was gift. Their behavior is identical, which is a pity since they have been a major disappointment.
The first little annoyance presented by the K1 comes when booting. nVidia unwisely decided to have the tablet show a static image while booting. That means that there’s no indication that the device IS actually booting up.
Literally every other Android device I have used shows some kind of animated boot screen. Whether appropriate or not, the animation delivers some comfort that the device hasn’t simply hung.
I spent some time in nVidia’s forums looking for solutions to my issues. Apparently there’s a design flaw in the RF portion of the K1. It struggles to stay connected to Wi-Fi. This is widely reported by users.
One of my K1’s was so prone to falling offline that I was able to get nVidia to replace it under warranty. If I’d reported the issue just a week earlier I would have been able to return it to Amazon. That would have been better. The replacement hasn’t even come out of the box as yet.
The thing about a Wi-Fi only tablet with flaky Wi-Fi is that it’s basically useless. Even simple web browsing is frustratingly slow and laggy. Forget about watching YouTube or TED videos. Unless I’m sitting on the AP it’s simply unreliable.
One of my K1’s does a better job of staying on the Wi-Fi, so I have kept using it a bit. Even so, I often find the user interface to be excruciatingly sluggish. It’s not clear why, but the tablet often takes many seconds to react to simple touch screen activity. Moving between running apps is very slow.
While I clearly don’t know what’s going on under the covers, it feels as if the Shield K1 has a serious bottleneck in either memory or storage access. It’s perfectly fine when manipulating a page or a document, but struggles to follow a link to another page or switch to a different app.
A Dedicated Tasker
There are precious few things that can done with a tablet that don’t require robust internet connectivity. My little environmental monitoring project happens to be one such task. That project has given the K1 something of a reprieve.
To measure sound level I connect a Dayton Audio iMM-6 reference microphone or Mini-DSP UMIK-1. I then run J.J. Bunn’s excellent AudioTool app. It delivers various types of measure from simple SPL, to LERG, and multi-band real-time analyzer, as shown below.
The tablet’s display is passed to recorded to an H264 encoder and onward to a network video recorder. The mini-HDMI output of the K1 makes this practical. The tablet was intended for gaming, so when a monitor is connected it prompts to allow the screen to be mirrored externally, which is perfect.
Alternative approaches, leveraging some kind of software screen capture, have proven to be troublesome and unreliable. Of course, flaky IP connectivity doesn’t help.
It turns out that a simple NVR is a very cost-effective tool for long-term recording of such material. In fact, retailers often leverage the massive NVR that captures their surveillance cameras in some novel ways. They use ONVIF encoding software(ex DeskCamera) that captures a PC screen to record all activity on their cash register screens to the same server that captures the surveillance cameras. That’s pretty smart.
The End Is Near
I’ve been meaning to offer an opinion on the nVidia Shield K1 for the past few months. Were it not for it’s utility in the project mentioned above I’d have sold them off or melted them down. Such is the level of disappointment and frustration they have wrought.
Some have noticed that the K1 seems to be fading from availability. It appears to be out-of-stock at retailers who have previously offered it. Availability has ebbed and flowed in the past. This time nVidia seems satisfied to support Nintendo in offering the Switch, which is basically a next-generation gaming tablet, based upon an nVidia chipset.
Without a doubt, the nVidia Shield K1 did one thing really well. It made me miss my Nexus 7.