We last spoke with Nvidia about SHIELD at GDC 2013 in San Francisco, and back then they were still tweaking with the hardware and design and had made some final adjustments. It looks like those final adjustments have been completed as Nvidia today announced that they would start taking pre-orders of the SHIELD hand-held Tegra 4-based gaming device.

We’ve talked countless times about Nvidia’s special project, which they announced along with the launch of their new Tegra 4 and Tegra 4i processors. Some say that Nvidia’s project shield is an attempt to find a way to ship more Tegra 4 chips, which may be true considering the lacking amount of design wins for Tegra 4. While we still have almost 6 more months left in the year, Nvidia hasn’t made many Tegra 4 design wins. It also puts Nvidia in the mobile gaming device business, one that they have never competed in before.

The mobile gaming device market is an incredibly volatile one, especially with the plethora of handheld devices being cannibalized by smartphones and tablets. There have been many successes and failures in the mobile gaming device market, but as of late, most of them have struggled to compete with smartphones and tablets. SHIELD is different in the fact that it has many of the attributes of many smartphones and tablets as it features a Tegra 4 mobile applications processor and a 5" 720P display, commonly found on many phones.

Some people believe that Nvidia created the SHIELD as a response to not having any console design wins. This is also a possibility, since the next generation Wii features AMD graphics, as does the next generation PS4 and the rumor is that the next generation Xbox will as well. With Nvidia not in the ‘console’ game, some people may start asking Nvidia questions about their commitment to gaming, SHIELD would quickly quiet any of those doubters. SHIELD is a console in itself, and it’s actually the most open console of them all. It features a completely open and stock version of Android, something that no other console can brag about. This could potentially lend to some very interesting use cases for the SHIELD as it would enable people to go nuts with the device and do with it whatever they please.

SHIELD, ignoring all of the possible back story behind it is fundamentally a very interesting device at a fairly reasonable price. Nvidia is offering SHIELD for $349 going on pre-order starting May 20th and shipping to consumers in June. SHIELD will be available for purchase and pre-order from Newegg, GameStop, Micro Center and Canada Computers. We find it odd that Nvidia didn’t manage to get Best Buy or Fry’s on board, but it could be because these stores tend to be more pay-to-play operations.

At $349, Nvidia puts this device square between the $199 featureless tablets and between the $499 fully featured tablets. The performance of the device itself should be somewhere near the $499 tablet segment, but it will be relatively portable and have many applications beyond a $199 featureless tablet. When you consider that this device has a Tegra 4 chip, full connectivity, both wired and wireless, and a 720P display, the $349 price seems pretty reasonable. I don’t know how many of these Nvidia will be able to sell at $349, but I don’t think we’ll see many curious buyers grabbing these because of the price. Most of the people that we see buying this device will either be Nvidia fanboys initially and then people that will wait to hear how the experience is. I suspect that there will be a lot of fence-sitters but I do not believe that Nvidia will ship crazy volumes of this device under their own brand.

SHIELD is no doubt a niche product, but then again, so is GeForce Titan. Looking at Nvidia’s earnings for the past quarter, you can see that the company’s betting on high-end niche gaming has paid off and likely will continue to do so in the coming year. While we’re not sure how successful the SHIELD will be, there is no doubt that it still has a lot of potential to be unlocked by developers and hackers. Not to mention, it will probably be the one of, if not the, first Tegra 4 device to ship to consumers.