The Acer Aspire Switch 11 is a Windows tablet with an 11.6 inch display and a detachable keyboard which lets you use the computer as a notebook. It’s basically a larger version of the Switch 10 I reviewed last year… but the larger model comes with a few options that Acer doesn’t offer with its 10 inch 2-in-1 tablet.
Prices for the Aspire Switch 11 start at $350 for a model with an Intel Atom processor and a 1366 x 768 pixel display. But Acer loaned me a review unit with a more powerful Core i3 Haswell processor and a 1920 x 1080 pixel screen.
This model has a list price of about $650, but it’s on sale at the Microsoft Store for $450.
So is bigger better? Kind of. After spending a few weeks with the Acer Aspire Switch 11 I’ve been pretty impressed with the performance offered by this relatively low-power computer. But I’ve been less impressed with the computer’s battery life, the wonky touchpad, and a few other design quirks.
Depending on your needs, the Acer Aspire Switch 11 could easily be worth $450. But I’d probably have a hard time recommending you pay the full $650 asking price if the sale ends.
The model Acer loaned me for the purposes of this review is an Acer Aspire Switch 11 SW5-171-39LB. It features a full HD display, a 1.5 GHz Intel Core i3-4012y Haswell processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of solid state storage.
Acer also offers cheaper models with lower-resolution screens, Atom Z3745 processors, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage as well as a higher-priced model with similar specs to the model featured in this review, but with a more powerful Core i5-4202y processor.
The tablet connects to the keyboard dock via a magnetic docking mechanism. Hold the keyboard steady and give the tablet a tug and you can pull the pieces apart. But the magnets are strong enough to hold the tablet firmly in place when you’re not trying to separate the two parts.
You can pretty much treat the Switch 11 like a laptop. Lift it from the tablet section and the keyboard won’t fall off. You can even hold the keyboard upside down and be fairly certain that the screen won’t fall — although I wouldn’t recommend shaking the computer when it’s in this position.
One nifty thing that separates the Switch family from most 2-in-1 tablets is that the screen is reversible. Pop it out of the keyboard dock, flip it around 180 degrees and place the tablet back in the dock so it’s facing away from the keyboard and you can use the dock like a stand without the keyboard or touchpad getting in your way while you’re watching a movie or using touch-based apps or games.
As a laptop the system measures about an inch thick and weighs about 3.4 pounds. The tablet alone accounts for over half the weight — which makes the system a bit top heavy.
If you tilt the screen back too far, the laptop will fall over and wave its feet (the keyboard) in the air. This isn’t really a problem when you’re working on a table or desk because you probably won’t need to push the screen back as far as it’ll go. But I’ve had the notebook tip over and fall a few times when trying to use it on my lap.
On the right side of the tablet you’ll find a USB 3.0 port, a micro HDMI port, a microSD card slot, and a power jack. There’s also an inset reset button that you’ll need a pin to reach.
The left side features a 3.5mm headset jack, power, volume, and windows buttons.
There are front-facing stereo speakers at the bottom of the tablet, and a 720p webcam at the top. There’s no rear camera.
The keyboard dock has a full-sized USB 2.0 port, a full-sized QWERTY keyboard, and a touchpad. Select models also have a 500GB hard drive in the keyboard section, but the model I tested does not have this feature.
What I’d really like to see is a model with a spare battery in the keyboard — because if the Acer Aspire Switch 11 has an Achilles’ heel, it’s the battery life… well, maybe the battery life and the touchpad.
While the keyboard is good enough for everyday use, the touchpad is another story. It’s wide and supports multi-finger gestures such as two-finger tapping or swiping. But when you try to gently tap the touchpad it will sometimes click or wobble and I had a tough time tapping or scrolling with precision when using the touchpad.
Fortunately there’s another option: you can just reach up and tap or swipe the touchscreen display. As a tablet, the Acer Aspire Switch 11 felt quite responsive when running either full-screen Windows Store apps or desktop-style Windows software and I had few problems navigating by touch.
You can also connect a mouse… and during most of my time testing the Switch 11 I used the computer with a wireless mouse.
You can also use the system with an Acer Active Pen which lets you write or draw on the screen or hover the pen over the display to move an on-screen cursor. Acer sells the pen as an optional $50 accessory, but I haven’t had the chance to test it myself.
The full HD display is sort of a mixed blessing on a Windows computer with a relatively small screen. On the one hand images, movies, and other graphics look great: you can see far more detail and/or fit more of a picture on the screen than you would be able to on a tablet with a 1366 x 768 pixel screen.
On the other hand, it can be hard to use some desktop-style apps unless you adjust your display settings. With the default display settings I found web surfing to be a painful experience because the text on web pages was just too tiny to read.
So I fired up the Windows Display settings, chose the “make text and other items larger or smaller” option, and chose larger.
This made it much easier to read text… but it also meant that when I placed two desktop apps or browser windows side-by-side I’d see less content on each than I would have if I’d left the default settings in place.
Powered by an Intel Core i3-4012Y dual-core processor with Intel HD 4200 graphics, the Acer Aspire Switch 11 is more than fast enough for most common tasks. It’s not the speediest computer I’ve ever tested… but I had no problems web surfing, streaming videos, editing photos, compressing videos, or creating documents with this machine.
While the processor is a relatively low-power chip with a TDP of 11.5 watts, the machine feels very responsive.
Benchmark results bear that out. The system was able to transcode audio and video files and perform other CPU-intensive tasks more quickly than just about any other computer I’ve tested recently with the exception of the Dell XPS 13 laptop with a Core i5 Broadwell processor.
Interestingly the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series convertible notebook held its own against the Acer Switch 11 when I used VirtualDub to transcode a video file rather than Handbrake. But honestly, the only reason I still run the VirtualDub test is because I’ve been using it for years, which means I can compare scores with dozens of older laptops and tablets. Handbrake is just about always faster.
This isn’t a gaming machine though, and while it has enough graphics prowess to handle HD video playback, you’ll probably be disappointed if you try to play bleeding-edge video games. Older or less resource-intensive games should run just fine.
The 3DMark scores for this laptop aren’t all that much better than scores for computers with Intel Bay Trail processors. If you want a gaming system, you should probably invest in a computer with NVIDIA or AMD graphics… or at least a model with higher-performance Intel HD integrated graphics.
The tablet has excellent viewing angles. Colors don’t look washed out when you tilt the screen back or to the side, which means you should be able to watch a movie with a friend without worrying whether that person can see the screen, and you should be able to hold the tablet at just about any angle… although the glossy screen will reflect glare if it’s pointing at a light source.
The front-facing stereo speakers are reasonably clear but not particularly loud. Expect to hear more treble than bass.
One thing you won’t hear is any fan noise: the tablet uses passive cooling, so there are no vents in the case and no moving parts under the hood.
In tablet mode, you could theoretically hold the Switch 11 in portrait or landscape mode… but the 11.6 inch tablet is kind of heavy and clunky to hold in one hand if it’s in portrait position.
It’s much more comfortable to hold the tablet horizontally with two hands.
You’ll also want to pack the power adapter if you plan to use the computer for more than 4.5 hours at a time: while Acer says you should be able to get up to 6.5 hours of run time I was never able to get more than 5 hours of battery life from the Switch 11.
To be fair, I spent most of my time using the computer like a notebook which means that I was running desktop-style apps while using the keyboard and a wireless mouse with the screen set to around 60 or 70 percent brightness. You might be able to get longer battery life by using the tablet on its own, dimming the screen, or maybe turning off the WiFi.
Speaking of WiFi, the tablet supports 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. While it’d be nice to have a faster 802.11ac connection, the wireless performance of the Switch 11 seems pretty strong: I never lost a connection to my home network even while using the tablet in a room that’s two floors up from my WiFi router.
Want to run Ubuntu or another Linux-based operating system on the Acer Switch 11? You can do that… sort of. I was able to boot a pre-release build of Ubuntu 15.04 by disabling UEFI Secure Boot and enabling Legacy Boot. But while the operating system boots and recognizes my WiFi network, it does not recognize the Switch 11’s keyboard.
The touchpad works, the touchscreen works, and the display works. But you’ll need to connect a third-party keyboard or enable an on-screen keyboard if you want to input text.
It’s possible that there might be a way to enable support for the keyboard that Acer ships with the Switch 11. But I’m not the first person to discover that it doesn’t work automatically with Ubuntu.
The Acer Aspire Switch 11 with a Core i3 processor is a reasonably powerful, reasonably compact computer that’s available for a reasonably good price (at least when it’s on sale for $450).
It features more memory, more storage, and a faster processor than you’d find in many other affordable 2-in-1 tablets. But the Switch 11 also has some shortcomings.
The computer suffers from short battery life, a lousy touchpad, and an unusually top-heavy design that can make it awkward to use as a laptop on your actual lap… top.
If you plan to use the system mostly as a tablet, it’s a bit bulky. If you plan to use it primarily as a notebook it works pretty well — as long as you connect a mouse and don’t need more than 4 or 5 hours of battery life.
All told, I quite like the little machine and I’ve enjoyed using it for the past few weeks. But I’ve had to temper my expectations. I can’t take it to a coffee shop and expect to get a full day of usage unless I pack a power adapter. And since I’ve adjusted the text and graphics size to make reading comfortable, I can’t expect to fit as much content on the screen at once as I would with a machine featuring a 13 inch or larger display.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Switch 11 for everyone looking for a compact convertible laptop. But if performance and price are more important to you than battery life, the Switch 11 could be worth considering.