The NVIDIA SHIELD tablet is an impressive specimen on its own, thanks to its Tegra K1 processor, eight-inch HD display, and DirectStylus 2 capabilities. But one of the best just got better, thanks to a very timely OTA2 update that includes the latest version of Google’s Android operating system. Android 5.0, or Lollipop for the sweet-tooth crowd, is now available on everyone’s favorite Tegra-powered slab, and the new OS has plenty in store for Android enthusiasts.
First, let’s start with what everyone sees, namely the new Material Design scheme cooked up by Google. Lollipop still feels like the Androids of old, but with a fresh coat of paint that brings flat, restrained design into the mix. Colors are softer, the UI has a minimalist bent—the Back, Home, and Overview/Recent buttons have been replaced by a triangle, circle, and square, for example —and virtually every method of interface has been simplified to its core. Everything seems to be a bit brighter, too, while being softer. The app drawer, for example, now sports an off-white background instead of the jet black you’re probably used to. These new colors and palettes are accompanied by new transition animations, and shadows. In the end, Lollipop is an effort to make Android an OS for everyone (even more than it was before), and that’s exactly what color and UI changes can lead to.
These kinds of changes lead into the revamped notification system, which is more a change in style than function. Banner notifications are all the rage now—not that they didn’t exist in KitKat, but they are the focus going forward. Low battery alerts, messages, and alarms pop up as a banner notification instead of a brand new screen. Even the lock screen got plenty of attention, as notifications now show up there, too.
But it’s not all cosmetic with Lollipop, as Google has added plenty of power under the hood. For starters, Lollipop is all about 64-bit hardware, as the OS is optimized from the ground-up to support the architecture. But it gets better, as the Android Extension Pack (AEP) is one of the most important performance changes to Android in years. Android devices now have access to PC-class graphics APIs. This is something Google partnered with chipmakers on—NVIDIA included—to ensure that OpenGL ES and the rest of its AEP was up to snuff. The end result? Games like Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode One, and tech demos like Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 “Rivalry” run-through have never looked better, or been more portable. NVIDIA has always been a champion of tessellation (breaking down polygons into finer structures), and the new AEP is very tessellation-friendly, indeed.
ART, short for Android Runtime, is another performance enhancement that’s stock in Lollipop. While ART was available to Android 4.4.x users, it was optional at best, while 5.0 makes it the norm. Because of the optional transition implemented in older versions of Android, most any app you’re using is ART-compatible, so the transition will be a buttery smooth one. Apps run smoother and faster, battery life is conserved when compared to the older DALVIK runtime, and less memory is consumed per-app. In short: ART is better for apps and games. And since the SHIELD tablet separates itself from the rest of the pack through both top-notch hardware and killer apps—GameStream, ShadowPlay, Dabbler 2.0, baked-in Twitch support, and so on— smoother apps means a better experience for SHIELD users everywhere.
And there are plenty of other goodies baked into Lollipop, too. One of my favorites is Trusted Places, which is an added layer of security for your SHIELD tablet. While on-device security like strong account passwords and the lock screen are crucial, Trusted Places takes it one step further. Once enabled, your SHIELD tablet will stay unlocked in certain, curated scenarios, like when its on your home WiFi network, or linked to a specific Bluetooth device. This allows you to maintain a high level of security, while maintaining some convenience in your day-to-day routine.
There are plenty of new tips and tricks to keep in mind with Lollipop and Google-made apps, too. Did you know that you can now add non-Google email addresses to your Gmail now? Now that old Yahoo! email address you use for fantasy football can be fed through the Gmail app you rely on for work and social to-do, too. Or do you fancy yourself a Google Drive fanatic? Make sure you limit Drive-friendly apps to WiFi-only syncing so you’re not racking up a huge data bill on that 4G LTE-enabled SHIELD tablet of yours. Need more tips? You came to the right place, my Android-addicted friend.
There’s plenty to dig into in Lollipop, but NVIDIA has its own new features on the SHIELD tablet as well. 4K Console Mode is here, which allows you to push 4K content from your SHIELD to an appropriate display. This makes the SHIELD tablet a great way to get 4K content on your 4K display. There’s also the inclusion of USB Y-cable support, so you can charge your SHIELD tablet while also using USB for Ethernet or peripheral access. And along with all of the SHIELD ecosystem apps, Dabbler has been rebuilt from the ground-up as well with Dabbler 2.0, meaning your DirectStylus will get plenty of use going forward.
Class-leading hardware has now been paired with world-leading software, as Android 5.0 Lollipop meets the SHIELD tablet. With a near-stock OS, a commitment to timely updates, and the best selection of PC-quality games around, the SHIELD tablet just got even better.
And with a new LTE-capable model now available for $399, the ultimate tablet for gamers is now a true globetrotter.