Acer Aspire Switch 10 review
The PC era is on its deathbed and manufacturers are reacting in experimental and interesting ways to evolve the market. The Acer Switch 10 is a multi-positional laptop-meets-tablet device, and while it's far from the first device to proposition such a concept, it is the most affordable full Windows 8.1 machine with keyboard that we've seen in the UK.
That's the key for the Switch 10: its price point. At £300 upon launch it'll challenge the Chromebook market, make people question their prospective tablet choice and, it seems, continue to hammer the nail into the home PC coffin. It even undercuts the Asus Transformer Book T100 by fifty quid.
But are we excited? Well, not really. Despite the positives of pocketing the change compared to a more premium device, you'll need to accept the various shortcuts made to deliver a product at this price point. However, Acer gets a number of the key things right: the magnetised connector to attach tablet screen to keyboard dock is great, the screen's commendable angle of view trounces most Chromebooks, and if you want a Windows 8.1 machine then it's one of a handful of keyboard-donning devices at this price.
With that in mind is the Acer Aspire Switch 10 budget brilliance or does the competition see it come second best?
The review sample Acer Switch 10 we have in the office is finished in a textured grey-blue exterior with a raised Acer logo clad in shiny silver. This is mounted in a more casual grey plastic finish that hardly exudes quality, but then we'll keep reverting back to the price point to forgive that. The same sentiment can be levelled at the crude exposed screws on the base of the device - none too pretty, but fitting for the price we suppose.
But less-than-exciting materials are met with some glimmers of brilliance. The Switch 10 comes in two parts - the heavier tablet-esque 10.1-inch screen (although the diagonal measures 12.9-inches given the bezel surround) and the lighter keyboard dock - that "snap" together with ease thanks to a magnetised connector. It's a faff-free way to quickly and easily switch between the various positional modes on offer.
You'll need to swiftly line up three points - a magnetic power connector to the centre and two "wings" to the left and right sides for support - and when that magnet takes hold it's a solid connection. It is possible to miss one of the left- or right-positioned wings from time to time, which can slip in front or behind the main tablet screen but it's no major problem to try again. Frankly, we'd rather that than the need for a big, ugly button or switch to release one part from the other.
There's the conventional laptop-esque position, or detach the keyboard dock for tablet use. Mount the screen "backwards" and use the dock as if it were a built-in stand. Or, in the same docked position, flip it over into "tent" mode which is useful if there's table space available... of you're one of those lay-on-the-ground sorts as the Aspire advert seems to suggest.
All the positional modes provide a wide range of angle adjustment. It's only in the typical laptop position we had an issue with: the screen is so much heavier than the keyboard dock that it can be top-heavy and tip over when used on a lap. Wrists resting on the dock when typing hold everything into position, but this was still an annoyance that persisted throughout our use.
The Switch 10's screen might not have the most outstanding resolution - it's a 1366 x 768 pixel display - but it copes well when viewed from various angles. That's an essential when a device is built around the very concept of being multi-use. So we take our hats off to the IPS panel deployed here.
Colours are punchy enough, although not ultra vivide, while screen brightness is more than ample from our use indoors, even during those sunshine summer days. However, reflections from the glossy finish can be a nuisance - we had the same moan about the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 HD+ too.
We've been using the Switch 10 on long-haul trans-Atlantic flights to catch up on Boardwalk Empire and the 720p files have looked top notch to us, only occasionally ruined by a sunburnt face reflection staring back.
It's worth calling that particular Lenovo competitor into the picture because it offers a higher resolution display for the same asking price, but ditches the keyboard and swaps out Windows 8.1 for Android. Add a Bluetooth keyboard and it's a viable alternative device we would think, unless Android OS is no good for your needs.
Compared to its nearest direct competition and Acer has got its screen on par. Yes we'd like more resolution, but the number of pixels on a screen isn't the be all and end all - being able to actually see the display is the most important factor, and that's something a lot of Chromebooks aren't yet up to speed on.
Windows 8.1 is Microsoft's push for touchscreen, but we didn't always find the Switch 10 to be hyper responsive. As there's not a huge resolution it's easy enough to hit all the "x" markers to close windows when browsing, or swipe from one picture to the next and all that straightforward but important interactive stuf. Sometimes we would need to tap a second time, particularly with the Windows button to the bottom centre of the screen.
Crucial to the Switch 10's design, of course, is its keyboard dock because, on paper at least, this is a device that could potentially replace a laptop. Problem is we never really got on that well with the keyboard dock for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, albeit temporarily until your brain adjusts, the keys are a little on the small side. After three days of use our digits were tapping in the right places though, and then moving back to a larger keyboard proved to be the reverse problem.
Secondly, and this is something we never got over, is the trackpad. Admittedly we're used to the comparatively giant trackpads of a 13-inch MacBook Air and 15.6-inch MacBook Pro, but the Switch 10's small trackpad is positioned too close to the end of the dock and functions with a deep press. Just about every laptop we've used in the last year has provided a far more subtle trackpad press. The Switch 10 feels cheap in this regard; it's a nuisance to use when the device is sat on your lap.
Software-wise Windows 8.1 runs well enough. It's the usual bloatware from FastClean Pro, Norton Security Scan and Any Protector that can be a nuisance. We know it's trying to help, but all of these systems seem to lob various popups out whenever they feel like it.
Acer Portal is the company's own software which, through its AcerCloud and Remote Files applications for iOS and Android devices, is Acer's apparent take on cloud storgae - at least that's what was suggested at the Switch 10 launch conference. But there's no cloud storage involved at all - it just so happens you can access your PC files from your mobile, for example, with the right apps installed. Now that's certainlyhandy but isn't exactly sold under the best possible banner. We don't anticipate this will replace Dropbox, Google Drive, or physical wires between devices in truth.
Under the hood
In terms of raw power the all-important specs see the Switch 10 match the aforementioned Asus T100 device. That sees an Intel Atom Z3745 processor clocked at 1.33GHz with 2GB of RAM to keep everything running. The Asus ran with the Z3740 version which is almost identical, bar for slightly less impressive integrated graphics performance. Between the two we couldn't sense any difference in performance for day to day tasks.
In short, you've got all the power you need to run the 32-bit Windows 8.1 operating system and any app you so wish to install. Now don't go and install Battlefield 4 as this isn't a hardcore gaming laptop, but for the mix of video playback, browsing, word processing and such like we found the Switch 10 to skip along with no major issues.
Battery life when performing such tasks can last out to around either hours - which was enough juice to cover a long haul flight no problems. It's not as impressive as the Asus T100 on this front, but that's down to the lower capacity 22Whr cell (not 31Whr like the Asus). It's also about half of what you'll get out of the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 HD+, so if ultra longevity is what you need then, again, that's a product to take a look at.
Also under the hood is a 32GB solid state drive to store all your goodies. There's a slightly pricier 64GB offering also available, but as both models include an exposed microSD slot to their sides you can easily top-up that capacity with a card. With the base 32GB model only around 24GB is available due to software installs, so bear that in mind.
Other ports include a mini HDMI, mini USB, a power port, and 3.5mm headphones jack. The keyboard dock has a full size USB port that we found particularly useful for dragging larger files in via USB stick.
On the cameras front Acer has kept things simple in the Switch 10, featuring a solitary front-facing camera on the screen that does the job for Skype and video calls. That'll do us just fine, as we don't want to be using a tablet or a laptop to be taking pictures. Yes, Mr iPad at a gig, put it down.
Audio is catered for through two front-facing speakers to the base of the device that sound pretty good all things considered. As they're small don't expect big bass by any means, but volume is ample and clarity isn't jarring - there's none of that eardrum-flexing resonance here. And if you want better sound then plug in a pair of headphones and, assuming you own a good pair, everything sounds top notch.
Although the Acer Aspire Switch 10 doesn't offer any striking new innovations, it will hook its customers in from a price perspective. Because this device ticks enough boxes to see all out war between itself and the Asus T100. If you're after Windows 8.1 on a budget then the Switch 10 is one of the few viable options in our view.
Some things do annoy though: the keyboard dock has a naff trackpad and the battery isn't quite as good as the Asus offering. It's not a luxury, premium device either - but the £300 asking price already told you that.
What the Switch 10 does well is ensure easy adjustment between its multi-positional modes. That magnetic connector is so quick to separate the screen from the dock and each of the stand, tent and laptop modes hold rigid - even if the laptop mode is top-heavy in terms of balance.
There's enough power on board to handle those day to day tasks, the 590g weight is easily transportable, and even if it's a bit chubby as a standalone tablet, Acer has locked in on what many budget buyers will be looking for. Although thrills and spills lack, when it comes to a budget buy the Switch 10 is a definite device for the shortlist.