Last week, NVIDIA spilled the beans and released some new information regarding its Android Lollipop update for the SHIELD Tablet and also revealed a new game bundle, which included Half Life 2: Episode One, and a revamped GRID beta featuring new games, additional servers, and a commitment to steadily offer even more games moving forward. We’ve got many of details regarding the updates and additions coming to the SHIELD Tablet right here, if you didn’t catch them the first time around.
A couple of days after that post went up, NVIDIA gave us early access to the Android Lollipop update and we’ve been poking around on it with our SHIELD Tablet since. Some of the changes are subtle, but others are more significant and definitely give the tablet a different look and feel over the original Android KitKat release.
Android Lollipop introduces a new “material design” that further flattens out the look of the OS. Google seems to have taken a more minimalist approach as everything from the keyboard to the settings menus have been cleaned up considerably. Many parts of the interface don’t have any markings except for the absolute necessities. Take a look at the stock keyboard, for instance—there aren’t even markings to separate the keys.
Overall, we’re still getting used to the changes in Lollipop, and while the OS definitely feels more fluid and responsive, the default look isn’t always better in our opinion. The app tray for example has a plain, white background which looks kind of jarring if you’ve using a colorful background. And finding the proper touch points for things like a settings menu or clearing notifications isn’t always clear. The great thing with Android though, is that all of this can be customized to your liking, so it’s not a big deal at all. We’ll take the smoothness and other improvements over a couple of minor interface niggles any day.
There’s more to Lollipop than just tweaks to the UI, however. Animations have been optimized, there’s a new notification area, new graphics APIs for advanced gaming, Android Runtime (ART) for better responsiveness, and several other improvements that should enhance battery life and security as well. The SHIELD Tablet also supports 4K output to an HDTV when in console mode. In addition, it also has USB Y-Cable support that allows you to charge your SHIELD tablet when using Ethernet with a micro-USB Host OTG Y-Cable.
To see how Lollipop impacted the SHIELD Tablet’s performance, we ran a few quick benchmarks of course as well...
In 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, the SHIED Tablet's performance decreased somewhat over the KitKat ROM. The differences aren't huge, and the SHIELD Tablet still has no problem decimating all other tablets in this test, but there was a decrease in performance nonetheless.
Mobile XPRT, however, showed some nice performance gains in many categories with the Lollipop ROM (label SHIELD Tablet L above, second column). The tablet's overall score increased and performance in every test went up, save for the "Create Photo Collage" test. The speed at which personal content can be encrypted increased dramatically and frame rates in all of the UX tests were so fast they were limited by VSYNC in all tests but on. We thought Lollipop felt faster and more fluid--and this benchmark confirms it.
We should note that a number of other benchmarks wouldn’t run properly on our SHIELD Tablet, like BrowserMark and GeekBench, for example. This was also the case with early KitKat builds though, and it was eventually fixed with later OTA updates.
Unfortunately, the updated SHIELD Hub app, which is required to access the new GRID beta wouldn’t install on our device. We’ve got a note out to NVIDIA and hope to get that taken care of soon. I did, however, have the chance to see GRID in action on the SHIELD Tablet and get some hands-on time at a briefing a few days ago and it is every bit as good, if not better, than the GRID beta that's been available on the SHIELD Portable. In side by side comparisons with Sony's PlayStation Now streaming service, similar games on GRID (like Dead Island) clearly looked better in terms of graphics fidelity, despite both services streaming at the same resolution--the PC version of the game simply has better graphics. And the frame rate with GRID was much smoother--60 FPS versus 30 FPS.
If you've got a SHIELD Tablet and are itching for the Lollipop update, it will begin rolling out to devices today. North American 32GB/LTE SHIELD Tablets are completing carrier certification, however, so that update will be coming a little later.