The next-gen Tegra Note tablet: A 2014 tablet in 2013

Posted by Rob Enderle

Nvidia is doing some fascinating things this year. First the company debuted a gaming device known as "Shield" which outperformed every portable gaming handset on the market and could even replace consoles by placing the performance in a real gaming controller. 

An additional benefit was that Shield became the best personal drone controller in the market.

This week Nvidia released the Tegra Note tablet and it is a very different beast than the $200 products currently on the market. So Let’s chat about what makes this device kind of magical.

EM’s As Channel Partners

At the core of this product is a fully specified offering sold through a variety of OEMs that mostly don’t compete with each other. Since Nvidia is a parts company, it doesn't have the shelf space or distribution for a full tablet under its own name and doesn't want to be seen as a competitor for anyone who is buying their parts. So while the tablets were designed by Nvidia they are sold by OEMs who place their brand on the devices. This allows Nvidia to get the product to market very quickly after a technology update but not upset the OEMs who buy for them.  

This is very similar to what Intel often did with PC motherboards. The first ones to come hit the market were from Intel, allowing both hobbyists and OEMs to get the technology to the market far more quickly than would have been the case if a third party had to build the boards initially. This is because Intel could build the boards and the processors side by side, while other board manufacturers had to wait until far later in the process to start - particularly if they were going to use non-Intel chipsets.  

By doing it this way, Nvidia was able to get Tegra 4 based tablets into market before the end of the year. Using a more traditional method would have likely delayed Tegra 4 tablets until 2014 - missing the all-important holiday quarter. 

Creation Media Oriented

We are pretty much up to our armpits in 7” tablets and the new Amazon products haven’t even launched yet (they are typically the high volume provider in this class). So Nvidia needed its product to stand out but still had to fall within the $200 price limit for the class. The tablet’s advantages are a far better sound system than you’d typically get in a tablet of this class with full range speakers and even a small dedicated speaker for the low end (I really can’t call it a sub-woofer with a straight face).  

The other unique capability is stylus input (it comes with a tip that will emulate a paint brush)which is something iPads haven’t been able to do well, yet this is critical if you want to draw on the device. Drawing on a tablet was thought to be the killer application for this class of product both when they first were created in the 1990s - and then once again when Microsoft re-launched them last decade. It is something that has been lacking in the current generation but thought to be critical for products used for education or as part of a portable tablet photo enhancement solution.    

Clearly the performance of the product will tend to favor games as well, but I think Nvidia's Shield offering is far superior for this use. But not everyone will want to carry another device for games and the Tegra 4 engine should, pending benchmarks, make this one of the strongest small screen gaming solutions in its own right.  

Wrapping Up: Tegra 4 A Year Early

What makes this most interesting is that by doing this Nvidia was able to get a technology into user’s hands in 2013 rather than 2014. Meaning, you can give or get the tablet for Christmas this year. While some have pointed out that the tablet features a 720p rather than a 1080p display, given that in a 25” TV you can’t really tell the difference (I do TV reviews from time to time) it is very unlikely you’ll see the difference on a 7” screen. The 1080p crap on a small device is little more than bragging rights and it would make the tablet too expensive. Then again, I’ve had a chance to see pictures of the product and its actually dammed good looking and an incredible bargain for something under $200.