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Nvidia Project Shield hands-on preview: Sonic, Hawken and Steam on-the-go

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Nvidia announced its own dedicated gaming hardware earlier this week: Project Shield, the Android-based, Tegra 4-powered device that blurs the line between gaming handheld and console. Add in the capability to wirelessly stream games from a PC equipped with a GeForce GTX graphics card and Nvidia has a potentially powerful gaming device on its hands — even if the message about what the Shield is, and who it might be for, seems a tad mixed.

After going hands-on with Project Shield, I felt a bit more positive about Nvidia's chances. Given Nvidia's relative inexperience in creating consumer products like the Shield — no small undertaking — it's surprising how market ready Project Shield currently feels.

In hand, the Shield feels like a quality-built product with a gorgeous, 720p resolution, 5-inch display and a capable gamepad that fans of the Xbox 360's controller will likely appreciate. My initial concerns with the hardware were the Shield's clamshell lid, which felt a touch loose and tricky to pry open, and the D-pad, which required too much force to register inputs.

Project Shield doesn't look like it will supplant the Nintendo 3DS and iPhone as my go-to gaming handhelds, but for Android games built with smart gamepad support, it's likely to find a place.

Get a longer look at Nvidia's Project Shield in our hands-on video above, in which I argue its viability will depend on the available content — but should have also mentioned the handheld's retail price, still an unknown factor.

Project Shield is planned for release in the United States and Canada in Q2 2013.