Acer Aspire Switch 10 2-in-1 Windows tablet review

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.

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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.

Overview

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.

switch_03Acer 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.

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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.

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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.

Design

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Performance 

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Batterylife

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.

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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.

Other notes

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.

Verdict

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.

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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.

  • Alan

    I wonder when it’ll be a plug and play thing to boot a Linux install USB/distro.

    A secondary micro-USB charging port for a 10 W slow overnight charge would have been nice. An optional second battery in the keyboard would be good too.

  • AmiRami

    Maybe its just me but Acer hardware always seem MEH compared to the competition.

  • tsog

    I wonder why Acer didn’t follow suit and use microUSB charging. I just bought a Venue 11 i5 model, and it appears even that model uses microUSB charging despite having a high power draw due to Haswell and 1080P screen.

    Standardizing charging standards lets me charge my T100 with my phone charger, even if it means (even) slower charging. For a mobile user, less cables/chargers is desirable.

    • isdo

      I understand them choosing a dedicated 18 W charger vs 10 W for USB if they were using only one charging input. I would have liked 10 W micro-USB charging as a backup charging method though like the Dell Latitude 10.

      • tsog

        Just got my Venue 11 and its adapter is 24W.

        >if they were using only one charging input
        Is there any laptop/tablet that uses two charging inputs?

      • me

        The Dell Latitude 10 did.

      • tsog

        The docking connector? I am pouring through pics right now and that’s the only other charging port I see.

        Do they offer a wall adapter to charger through the docking connector without using a dock?

      • Platos

        Ya, the Latitude 10 can charge either via the dock connector or the micro-USB connector next to it.
        http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/latitude-10-tablet/pd
        Tech Specs:
        “30 Watt AC adapter
        Charge via micro-USB charging port”

      • tsog

        Found a pic of the charger. Yup, looks like it does support charging through dock connector off the wall.

      • Platos

        Wow, 24 W through a USB cable? Have you used a regular USB cable to charge your Venue 11 yet? Any issues (ie. can only charge far below 24 W, sparking, heat, etc.)?

      • tsog

        Not yet. Haven’t even turned it on yet.

        With all the issues I’ve read about this tablet, I think charging is far from a pressing issue.

        FWIW the charger supports 1.2A at 19.5V or 2A at 5V, the former being the full 24W. Charger has a USB port so I imagine microUSB is the only accepted input for this charger.

  • patstar5

    Have you had problems with auto rotate, got one for my aunt and it will rotate at startup but then will be stuck in that position until restart.
    For people looking at this and t100, please get acer, feels much better than t100 glossy back and my t100 screen cracked with one drop, left side of touchscreen does not work. Have dell venue 11 pro now and I like it, it is a bit heavy and thick, I broke battery cover so I have a case on which makes it even thicker, still a great tablet. But it sometimes won’t turn on and I have to reboot it, also freezes and have to lock and unlock screen. Acer and asus never did that.

    • isdo

      I never liked the shiny backs/lids ASUS uses on its ultrabooks/notebooks/devices. They all look tacky and ugly. I’m glad Acer seems to be moving away from shiny notebooks.

      Sounds like you’re pretty rough on your notebooks. Were you having those issues with your Dell when you first got it?

      • patstar5

        It did have issues when I first got it, other people had same issues. I did some googling and the dell isn’t freezing anymore, had to turn off some performance booster with intel rapid technology or something. I got the dell from ebay and dell’s site does not recognize it as valid model so can’t use warranty to replace battery cover. I paid $20 and ordered one, it said it was the right model for mine but it doesn’t fit and to send it back I would have to pay return shipping so might as well keep it. (About asus: Alot of people had there screens crack on asus t100, I dropped mine in a carrying sleeve about 3 ft drop on Christmas Day, and when I got to relatives house, I opened it and it was cracked…. Wasn’t that happy. Will costs $200 to get it fix so I rather just leave it alone.)

      • isdo

        Thanks for the info on the Dell. I’m considering buying the Venue 11 Pro. Your experience concerned me. I’ll go search for more user experiences. I hope it’s not a widespread issue.

      • tsog

        I did a lot of searching AFTER I submitted the order, but thankfully it sounds like the vPro models have fewer issues (something about Intel Rapid Start/Storage only available on vPro but is enabled on non-vPro versions anyway).

        Having used my T100 for a few months now I went for the increased RAM in the Haswell versions for a smoother experience (paging is slow, especially given the slower eMMC in the Bay-Trail version). It also appears that the Haswell version has WWAN antennae installed so you can aftermarket upgrade to 4G with the right Dell card if you didn’t pick up one with WWAN.

        Two things I will miss though are lighter weight and longer battery life, though I’m stationary much of the time so neither are big misses.

  • Charlie Strive

    Are you going to review the new (small) refresh of the T100?

    Amazon has a version with a Intel Atom Z3775 for $399

  • emy

    Asus t100 is better or acer aspire switch 10? which one is preferred?
    why? (battery life is not so important) If you want to buy, which do you
    prefer and why????????
    Based on the performance comparison, the acer
    switch 10 is at least the same asus t100 and its lcd is more bright.
    what is your Idea?

  • http://pfmotorsports.com/ Anthony Thomas

    I saw this in BB earlier today. The Asus looks good, but as was said the T100 is cheaper and has longer batter life and virtually the same performance. The older T100 is even cheaper (under $300 in some cases).

    I am thinking of using this in my return to mobile DJ gigs. The Surface tablets are just too expensive and I don’t need video playback.

  • dodgem

    Can I use this for AutoCAD and google sketch up?