The Acer Aspire Switch 10 is a Windows tablet that you can use as a notebook… although I prefer to think of it the other way around. It makes a pretty great portable notebook which you can use as a tablet when the need arises.
The system consists of a 10 inch tablet with an Intel Atom Bay Trail processor and a detachable keyboard dock. It’s pretty clear where the tablet gets its the “Switch” in its name: Not only can you switch from notebook to tablet and back again by slapping the tablet and keyboard together using the magnetic hinges, but you can also flip the screen around so it faces away from the keyboard.
Acer loaned me an Aspire Switch 10 to test for a few weeks, and in a lot of ways it’s a nice little computer that you could even use as your primary laptop if you don’t need a high-performance machine.
But the Aspire Switch 10 isn’t the only 2-in-1 tablet in this space. It has to compete with last year’s Asus Transformer Book T100 which offers similar performance, a similar design, and better battery life at a lower price.
Does that mean you shouldn’t consider the Acer Aspire Switch 10? Not at all: the magnetic hinge is an intriguing feature that some folks might find more useful and Acer’s little laptop/tablet hybrid has a sleek design that some folks might prefer.
Read on for more details.
The Switch 10 features a 10.1 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel toucshcreen display, 2GB of RAM, and an Intel Atom Z3745 quad-core Bay Trail processor.
Acer offers models with 32GB and 64GB of storage for $379 and $429, respectively — although you can often find the Switch 10 for lower prices. There’s also a microSD card slot if you want extra storage space.
The tablet has a 5-point capacitive touchscreen and an IPS LCD display with excellent viewing angles. It features front-facing stereo speakers and there are micro HDMI and micro USB 2.0 ports as well as a headset jack on the tablet.
The keyboard dock has a single full-sized USB 2.0 port, a QWERTY keyboard with nearly full-sized keys, and a touchpad. You won’t find a battery or hard drive in the keyboard — although there’s space in the case, which suggests Acer could eventually offer models with those extra features.
Acer’s tablet features 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a front-facing camera (but no rear camera).
The tablet measures 10.3″ x 7″ x 0.35″ and weighs 1.3 pounds. Add the keyboard dock and the system measures 10.3″ x 7.6″ x 0.8″ and weighs 2.6 pounds, which makes it pretty compact for a notebook.
As a Windows 8.1 tablet with an Intel processor, you can easily treat the Switch 10 like a traditional Windows system. Just configure Windows to boot straight to the desktop, pin shortcuts for your favorite apps to the taskbar or add icons to the desktop and it’d be easy to ignore the Windows Start Screen, Windows Store, and full-screen apps.
But you can also tap into the tablet-friendly features of Windows by picking some of the better apps from the Windows Store such as the Netflix, Kindle, or Songza apps for videos, eBooks, or music.
Acer also loads up the tablet with a bunch of its own apps including music, video, and photo apps, utilities for adjusting your settings, and some third-party apps such as Spotify. You can ignore or uninstall most of these apps if you don’t need them.
More useful is the free license for Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 that comes with the Aspire Switch 10. Microsoft Office comes pre-loaded on the tablet, but you’ll have to enter the license key included in the box to activate the software.
The tablet has an aluminum back, but the front is plastic, as is the keyboard dock. It looks metallic, but the silver/gray color is just paint. Still, it’s not a bad look and helps the Switch 10 look a little more classy than you might expect from a cheap tablet or notebook.
What may be the most unusual thing about the Switch 10 is the magnetic locking mechanism that attaches the tablet to the keyboard. You don’t need to slide a switch or press a button to detach the tablet: just give it a good, firm tug. But the magnets are strong enough to hold the two parts together even if you lift the computer by the screen or hold it upside down by the keyboard section.
This magnetic hinge works whether the tablet is facing the keyboard or facing away from it, so you can pop out the screen, flip it around, and attach it so that the keyboard basically acts as a kickstand that hides out of view while you’re watching movies or using touchscreen-only apps.
The tablet is heavier than the keyboard, so if you’re using the system as a laptop and fold back the screen as far as it will go, the notebook will tip over. But if you just open the screen almost as far as it will go, this isn’t a problem.
I’m not a huge fan of the way Acer crams the arrow, page up and down, volume, and brightness functions into the lower right-hand corner of its keyboards on computers with small screens. Essentially Acer packs 6 half-height keys into the space that 3 normal keys would use, and this can make it hard to hit the right key without looking at times… at least until you get used to the layout.
There’s also a bit of flex in the center of the keyboard, but with the exception of the arrow key section, I found typing to be pretty comfortable and had no problem writing blog posts for Liliputing, email messages, and other documents on the Switch 10.
It’d be nice if there were more than a single USB port in the keyboard dock, and it’d be nice if Acer offered optional docking stations with additional features such as a hard drive or an extra battery (especially considering the fact that the Switch 10 doesn’t exactly get stellar battery life). But the keyboard dock certainly serves it purpose and makes this computer at least as much a notebook as a tablet.
The glossy 1366 x 768 pixel display has excellent viewing angles and I didn’t have any problems watching videos or looking at pictures while the tablet was flat on a table, propped up on the keyboard dock, or held in my hands.
A higher-resolution screen might be nice for some apps, but I found that the Dell Inspiron 11 Pro tablet with a 1080p screen felt a bit more sluggish despite having a similar processor. I suspect the higher-resolution display might have been at least partially to blame.
Acer’s tablet is powered by a 1.33 GHz Intel Atom Z3745 quad-core processor. The chip is similar to the Atom Z3740 processor used in the Asus Transformer Book T100, which explains why the two tablets perform almost identically in most benchmarks.
Intel Atom chips are low-power processors designed for inexpensive smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktops. While the older Atom chips used in netbooks suffered from pretty lackluster performance, the more recent “Bay Trail” chips do a pretty good job of balancing decent performance and low power consumption.
The results can be seen in tablets which offer long battery life and decent performance. When running full-screen Windows Store apps, the Aspire Switch 10 never feels sluggish. It can also handle most Windows desktop tasks… it just might not be as fast as machine with an Intel Core i5 Haswell processor.
To illustrate the point, I ran a couple of different performance tests looking at how long it takes to transcode audio and video files or create a ZIP archive on the Acer Aspire Switch 10, the Asus Transformer Book T100, Dell Venue 11 Pro, and Dell XPS 11. The last machine has a relatively low-power Core i5 Haswell processor, but the other models all have Intel Atom chips.
The Haswell-powered machine was nearly twice as fast at completing some tasks… but Atom-powered devices have come a long way in the past few years. Here’s a chart from a review an Intel Atom N450-powered netbook I reviewed in 2010:
The Acer Aspire Switch 10 may look like an old-school netbook, but it’s at least twice as fast as a model from a few years ago.
Things really pick up when you’re running apps that can tap into special features of the chipset. For instance, you can use Handbrake to encode videos in half the time it takes using the VirtualDub + Xvid test shown in the charts above. Handbrake is even faster if you use a recent nightly build which supports Intel QuickSync technology.
I was able to convert a 4.5 minutes, 330MB video file into a 66MB H.264 file in under a minute using the QuickSync option.
In terms of real-world performance, I was able to use the Acer Aspire Switch 10 as my primary work machine for hours at a time. I had no problem surfing the web with a dozen browser tabs open at once while composing documents and occasionally watching videos or listening to music.
I was even able to plug in an external display and watch videos on the big screen while doing work on the tablet at the same time.
In other words, just like the benchmarks suggest, it works just as well as the Asus Transformer Book T100.
Unfortunately it doesn’t get the same battery life as the Asus tablet. In my tests I was never able to get much more than 5 hours of run time, and sometimes the battery ran out in even less time.
To be fair, I’ve largely been treating the Aspire Switch 10 as a notebook rather than as a tablet so you might get longer battery life if you use it as a handheld device for running just one or two tasks at a time. But the Dell Venue 11 Pro tablet lasts for twice as long under the same conditions — and even longer if the battery in the keyboard dock for that tablet is fully charged.
Dell’s tablet costs more than the $379 Acer Aspire Switch 10… but the Asus Transformer Book T100 does not — and that tablet runs for up to 8 hours when used as a laptop.
Some folks have managed to squeeze longer battery life out of the Aspire Switch 10 than I have by using it in different ways, but it’s pretty clear that this tablet doesn’t have the same kind of all-day battery life as some of its peers.
That’s not surprising, since this tablet has a 24Whr battery while the Transformer Book T100 has a 34Whr battery. But it is still a little disappointing.
There was a time when a 1.3 pound tablet and/or a 2.6 pound notebook with 5 hours of battery life and a sub-$400 price tag would have been a steal. That time has come and gone.
The good news is the power adapter for the Acer Aspire Switch 10 is quite compact, so if you do need to use the tablet for more than 5 hours at a time all you have to do is throw the palm-sized adapter in your bag and hope that you’ll be able to find a power outlet at some point during the day.
Acer’s power adapter doesn’t have a separate power brick like a typical notebook charger. But it also doesn’t use a micro USB port like many tablet adapters.
Not a fan of Microsoft Windows? This might not be the best tablet for you. While Windows 8.1 lets you enter an advanced boot menu option, I wasn’t able to get the device to boot from a USB drive which could make loading a Linux distribution or other operating system tricky.
Update: There may be a way to boot from a USB drive after all. I cannot confirm this, because I’ve already returned the Aspire Switch 10 to Acer, but when testing another recent Windows device from Acer I discovered that you can enter the UEFI settings, disable UEFI mode, enable legacy boot mode, and boot from a removable device.
In this mode I was unable to boot Windows on the Acer Aspire V11, but I was able to boot Ubuntu from a USB DVD drive. You may be able to do something similar with the Acer Aspire Switch 10. If you have any success running Linux on this machine, let me know and I’ll update this section!
The touchscreen supports 5-finger multitouch, which should be good enough for most purposes — but if you really need 10 finger multitouch input, you might need to look elsewhere.
The Acer Aspire Switch 10 is a portable computer than you can use as a notebook or a tablet. It offers decent performance in a compact package, and it’d be easy to recommend… if the Asus Transformer Book T100 didn’t do all of those things as well, while offering longer battery life.
Still, there are a few reasons to consider the Acer 2-in-1 tablet. It’s attractive. It has an unusual hinge that makes it more of a 3-in-1 system. And it’s bright IPS display and front-facing speakers make it a pretty good device for media consumption.