Two products that have gained some buzz on the showroom floor at CES this year are the Razer Edge gaming tablet and the NVIDIA Shield handheld console system. Both are aimed at gamers, both put the playing experience in your hands, complete with screen. And both promise to deliver top-notch graphic performance along with smooth gameplay. Let's take a closer look.
I saw the Razer Edge last year when it was called Project Fiona. The tablet now runs the Windows 8 operating system. It boasts a 10.1-inch screen, an Intel processor and an Nvidia graphics chip. It packs a serious punch for gaming fans. An optional case provides two controller grips on either side of the tablet, complete with thumbsticks and buttons. The graphics on this device look crisp and video moves smoothly. There are two models -- the basic model and the pro model. The base model's processor is an Intel Core i5 chip and has 4 gigabytes of RAM. The pro model ups the ante with an Intel Core i7 chip, 8 gigabytes of RAM and up to 256 gigabytes in SSD storage capacity. All of this hardware pushes the Edge to a hefty price tag -- the basic model will run about $999 and the pro model will be around $1,299. It should begin shipping in the next couple of months.
The NVIDIA Shield is a different beast. It looks like a game controller (it particularly resembles the Xbox controller) with a clamshell screen attached to it. The screen measures about five inches. The Shield's operating system is Android and you can run Android-based games anywhere. But the real attraction to the device is its ability to run full-scale computer games. It does this over Wi-Fi, streaming game content from a PC to the handheld unit. That means you must be tethered to a computer system over Wi-Fi before you can launch into these games. The gameplay on the device looks amazing -- the graphics are gorgeous and the controller seems like a good size. I've heard some people say the controller doesn't feel quite as responsive as it needs to be (I wouldn't know -- they didn't let me hold it). NVIDIA plans to ship the Shield to market in 2013 and won't say what it might cost -- they only say it won't be a loss leader so you can expect a healthy price tag.
Both devices look amazing. Gamers who want a portable experience will be pleased. I have to say the Shield's method of operation -- streaming games over Wi-Fi -- troubles me. It's not the latency issue. Everyone I've talked to who had a demo of the device say latency isn't really detectable. It's the idea that I have to be connected to a computer over Wi-Fi to play the device. This isn't something you can whip out anywhere and play a quick match on Call of Duty. And while the graphics are great and the gameplay looks smooth, I scratch my head at the thought of playing such beautiful games on a tiny screen. It has an HDMI-out port so you can hook it up to a television but at that point I wonder why you wouldn't just buy (or build) a gaming PC and hook it up to your TV directly. I think it's the duality of the form factor, which suggests portability, and the reality of having to stay connected to a Wi-Fi network to play most games. What do you guys think?