When we see the Aspire brand we immediately think laptops. But Acer is on a mission to change in 2014, as the "four in one" Acer Aspire Switch 10 can attest. This is Aspire doing laptop, tablet and a number of in-between forms too.
The concept isn't new though. We've seen plenty of multi-positional devices able to deliver laptop, tablet, "stand" and "tent" positions appear in recent months and years, from the Lenovo Yoga and beyond. The Aspire Switch 10's point of difference is its entry-level price point: it will start at £299 in the UK.
Key to the Switch 10's design is a magnetic hinge which Acer calls Snap Hinge. There's no fiddling around with annoying switches, buttons or locks to release the 10.1-inch tablet screen from the device, which is a very cool idea. We were worried that the magnet might not be strong enough, but even holding the device by the keyboard upside down and giving it a little wiggle didn't cause it to separate. A firm tug at the screen will separate it from the keyboard.
Once separated you have a Windows 8.1 tablet. It's a bit chunky at 8.9mm, but we like the fact the keyboard dock doesn't remain affixed to the rear which would otherwise further bulk out the design.
The 10.1-inch screen is impressive at this price point. Certainly better than the likes of the HP Pavilion x360, for example. The reason is simple: it's an IPS display which means decent viewing angles. Budget laptops tend to lack this, but Acer is a winner from this point of view. Or should that be points of view?
READ: HP Pavilion x360 review
Resolution isn't exactly top spec, though, with the 1366 x 768 pixel display clearly an entry level panel. If it was Full HD we suspect it would cost more. But resolution isn't the be all and end all at this scale, and the ability to watch a 720p movie won't prove a problem. Zero Air Gap technology and LumixFlex are swanky marketing terms for panel brightness. And in the diffused New York warehouse where we saw the product it certainly looked bright and punchy.
When reattaching the tablet screen to the keyboard dock it can be positioned to face backwards, thus using the keyboard as a base. The hinge holds firm in any given direction too, so adjusting for the perfect viewpoint is easily achieved.
We like the way the magnetic hinge "sucks" the tablet back into position, assisted by two side supports to keep everything level. These two plastic protrustions aren't magnetic, though, only the centre section is, so a couple of times we "missed" and the screen didn't sit flush. It's easily corrected, but a trio of magnetic points might have resolved this.
The other thing that we can't come to love is the overall design. We know it's budget, but in its closed position the Switch 10 just isn't that pretty. It's all grey plastic and some boring etched lines and exposed screws on the underside. Go on, Acer, thrill us - we know you can do it.
But that's not the point of this product. It's all about being affordable and versatile. And for this price it'll give even the Asus Transformer Book T100 a run for its money.
READ: Asus T100 review
The all-important specs see the Switch 10 bag an Intel Atom Z3745 processor, which means 1.33GHz with 2GB of RAM to keep everything running. In our brief time we've not been able to put the device through its paces at all, but Windows 8.1 operated fluidly in our use. Heavyweight programmes will likely be out of bounds though.
Ports comprise a microSD slot, mini USB and mini HDMI sockets, plus a 3.5mm headphone jack on the tablet. There's just a single USB port on one side of the keyboard dock, which is a shame as we'd really liked to have seen two.
Overall the Aspire Switch 10 looks to be a well balanced product. Windows 8.1 on a budget with a screen that's usable and a hinge system that's effective. We just wish the overall design was a bit more inspirational. But for this price point it's hard to complain.
The Acer Aspire Switch 10 will be available in the UK from June, priced £299 for the 32GB eMMC model and £349 for the 64GB option.