We’ve had many opportunities to play with Nvidia’s Tegra 4-based SHIELD device, which is designed to be a mobile gaming platform. As we’ve talked about before, the SHIELD is a product that could potentially disrupt the mobile gaming industry as we stated when the product was launched at CES this year. If you don’t know much about SHIELD we recommend you check out our coverage of the Nvidia SHIELD announcement as well as watch a video.

Many of Nvidia’s critics and competitors have all stated that SHIELD is simply Nvidia’s way to enable them to ship more Tegra 4 chips, which they also announced at the same event as SHIELD. The truth is that Tegra 4 was announced back in January of this year and we are only saw the first shipping devices this past week. To be fair, Qualcomm is still in the same boat with their Snapdragon 800 with no shipping devices as of yet but the Xperia Z Ultra has been announced and will ship shortly. Nvidia has won the battle of who ships first with the 10.1" Toshiba Excite Write tablet which features a Tegra 4 SoC and Android 4.2.1 with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 at $600. This tablet has officially been available since last week, so it seems like Nvidia beat Qualcomm to shipping their SoC in a consumer product first. In addition to that, Slowly but surely, Nvidia has been picking up design wins for the Tegra 4 even with their competitors speaking ill of the product and its perceived lack of design wins. Technically, Nvidia has more rumored/known design wins than Qualcomm does with the Tegra 4 when compared to the Snapdragon 800. However, it remains to be seen who will be able to ship more of their chips and who’s SoC is really the fastest, especially when you consider that when we benchmarked the Snapdragon 800 no Tegra 4 devices were available for us to compare against. Once I do get my hands on a Tegra 4 device, you bet I will be testing it to compare it against our available Snapdragon 800 scores.

Another thing that some people might have missed is that Nvidia had originally slated the price of the SHIELD at $349 and a release of June. Since May, Nvidia dropped the price to $299 and extended the release date to July, and now we know that the exact date is July 31st, just barely making it inside of July and for all realistic people this is effectively an August launch. Also do note that Nvidia has posted a disclaimer about PC streaming (their most well-known feature) that states, "The PC streaming BETA will feature a select number of supported games from Steam and a set of recommended routers. After conclusion of the BETA period, users will receive a free software patch to the official release that includes expanded game support, broader Wi-Fi compatibility, feature enhancements, and any needed bug fixes based on BETA feedback." If you get a SHIELD and want to play with it over Wi-Fi, you better hope you have the right router and that you understand that PC streaming is still in BETA, which will possibly mean crashes, artifacts, etc. The minimum GPU required will be a GeForce GTX 650 or higher desktop GPU (Notebook GPUs are not supported at this time). You will also need an 802.11n router, preferably one with dual-band capability since the 2.4 GHz channels are so overloaded with older routers and you’ll likely want to run it on 5 GHz.

As you can tell above, I was playing some Skyrim on the SHIELD with PC Streaming with almost no artifacts. The overall experience was fairly good, however, since this was during GDC, Nvidia had spent a lot more time fine tuning the device’s controls and software. Nvidia treated E3 like a soft launch of sorts for SHIELD even though it wouldn’t actually be available for another month and a half but it still wasn’t completely finished yet.

I can’t wait to see the finished product in my hands and to test it to see how well Tegra 4 stacks up. I still have a feeling that Tegra 4 is merely a half-step from Nvidia and that the real horsepower will come with Tegra 5 next year which should offer us desktop gaming and performance in a mobile form factor. It remains to be seen whether or not Tegra 4 can really compete with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Samsung’s Exynos, but I really hope it can so that someone can put some pressure on Qualcomm to be more competitive. I also really wish someone would build a device with an amazing camera sensor so that we could test out the Tegra 4′s own unique imaging pipeline.

Fundamentally, I think that the SHIELD is a great device and I hope that it spurs developers to want to develop for Tegra 4 because of the device’s relative openess compared to other devices out there. I see the SHIELD as a dual purpose gaming device and development platform for Tegra 4. I’m excited to see what kind of unique use cases can be made up for the SHIELD that haven’t already been thought of purely because of the device’s controller, display and Tegra 4 SoC. Whether or not it it is actually a great device remains to be seen.

You can still pre-order your SHIELD at Newegg, from NVIDIA or go to GameStop, Micro Center or Canada Computers for $299 with a release date of July 31st, which could mean that they may ship to pre-order customers for delivery on the 31st.