If you're in the market for a 2-in-1 device then there's an increasing amount of choice when it comes to powerful Windows tablets with magnetic clip-on keyboards. And the Acer Switch 5 has all the spec prowess to take on the Microsoft Surface.
It's not the first time we've seen this form clip-on-keyboard form factor, as last year's Acer Switch Alpha 12 delivered a similar 12.2-inch design with liquid cooling that was, we thought, an ace on account of its price point.
The Switch 5 does things a little differently: it's more powerful than the Alpha yet retains the liquid cooling for silent operation, comes with a one-hand adjustable stand, fingerprint scanner and, as you might expect, a higher starting price tag of £899 (for the Intel Core i5 model on review).
Is the Switch 5 the 2-in-1 to go for?
Acer Switch 5 review: Design
- One-handed kick-stand control
- Side-positioned fingerprint scanner
- 9.6mm tablet only / 12mm with keyboard / 1.27kg all-in
- 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB Type-C, separate charging port
To look at the Switch 5 is a lot like the Switch Alpha 12, then. Except when you look up close: the metal has an almost serrated forward edge which looks both bizarre and distinctive in equal measure.
The kick-stand is perhaps the most interesting part of the design. It pops out into an initial position when pulled from its near-flush stowage, then a simple push on the screen with one hand sees the Switch descend fluidly through its non-click breadth of angles and remain in position. The moment the Switch is lifted from the surface it's on, however, the stand will pop back into its initial upright position.
When we first used this stand we thought its "clever hold-in-place solution stopped stand adjustment being at all fiddly". However, after living with the Switch 5 for two weeks, the stand's minor design imperfections show. Push in the wrong place and the whole device can lean back on the stand; with the keyboard attached a press can see that to lump forward on the desk rather inelegantly. The stand is a savvy design idea that's about 90 per cent there, but pressing on the right part of the screen is an essential to its maneouvre - it's not as deft as, say, the Microsoft Surface Studio's ultra-smooth hinge design (different product categories, sure, but a best-in-class example nonetheless).
Another advanced feature is the fingerprint scanner which is integrated into the power button around the left side (when facing) for a simple touch/swipe to login. It's inconspicuous and a decent addition in an ever-more biometrically secure tech environment. Setting up Windows Hello and the associated password, PIN and fingerprint is a simple process and the scanner's response is highly effective - especially given its position on the power button, where you'll naturally press to wake the device and log-in in an all-in-one motion.
Connection-wise, the Switch 5 stradles the two worlds of USB by offering both a full-size USB 3.0 port and a USB Type-C port. Charging is handled separately via a bespoke input, which is bizarrely positioned close to all these ports (it should be lower down on the opposite side of the device in our view), while a 3.5mm headphone jack handles audio (although we had some issues with it disengaging and sending the speakers blasting out, much to the, um, entertainment of everyone around us).
Acer Switch 5 review: Screen
- 12.2-inch, 2160 x 1440 resolution IPS LCD screen
With a price tag of £899 - which is still far more than the Stateside price of $799 - the Switch 5 is keen to make an impression with its screen, which pushes a FHD+ resolution panel to rival the Surface Pro 5 / 2017.
At least it sounds like a rival on paper. In reality, however, the key thing that's lacking from the Switch 5 is brightness. Straight out of the box it simply can't bust out big-time brightness; even on its "brightest" settings when plugged into the mains it's not as bright as our years-old MacBook Air.
There is one way to coax some additional illumination from the screen: dig into settings and switch off the "Change brightness automatically when lighting changes" ensuring that the overzealous ambient lighting sensor isn't allowed to cut back on the levels. Even so, the cool colour cast of the screen and slightly reflective surface don't give the most involved experience and, still, the brightness level isn't as high as it should be from such a machine.
Brightness issue aside, the viewing angles - at up to 178-degrees - are excellent and there's all the resolution that you could need. But with large bezels by today's standards and that brightness issue, it's not a screen as formidable as its spec suggests.
Acer Switch 5 review: Typing, trackpad and stylus
- Keyboard and Active Pen stylus included
With both keyboard and Acer Active Pen stylus included in the box you're getting everything you could need all in the one package. That's a criticism we often lay at the Microsoft Surface - a device which lacks anything in the box, thus further adding to its price point when having to buy the extras.
Adding the keyboard makes the whole Acer Switch 5 package just 12mm thick, ensuring it's easy to cart around. There's also a loop on the keyboard's side to store the stylus, ensuring it doesn't go walkies.
The magnetic clip-on keyboard connects in an instant without fuss and can be positioned flat against the desk or popped to an angle against the bottom lip of the screen for what we find the more comfortable typing experience. The material finish and curved runoff ensure it doesn't dig into the wrists, which is ideal for long-term typing.
The keyboard is backlit, which is handy for low-light typing, while the keys themselves have a decent amount of travel, are full sized and well spaced to make for a laptop-like experience. There's not excess flex from the board either, which occurs in some budget competitors - although position it flat and, well, it doesn't sit flush with the surface which can see it jump up and down a little during use.
The trackpad is positioned slightly to the left (when facing), but is wide enough to ensure it's always in reach. There's a deep click action to each nearside corner, with left and right sides acting like left/right mouse buttons. Fingers glide over the trackpad's surface for a decent response, but when slowing pace there's a slightly "tacky" resistance to the pad's plastic top, which isn't as elegant as the glass or metal topped trackpads of some laptops.
The stylus is handy if that's what you like to use. It's rather pen-like, features two command buttons and comes with interchangeable nibs for greater flexibility.
Acer Switch 5 review: Performance
- LiquidLoop fanless cooling system for silent operation
- Review device: Intel Core i5 (7200U at 2.5GHz), 8GB RAM
Under the hood, the fairly slender tablet has Acer's liquid cooling system, known as LiquidLoop, which means a fanless and, therefore, silent operation. Given the incessant whirring of the fan in the Lenovo Yoga 910, for example, the total silent experience from the Switch 5 is one of its best features.
Especially given this machine features "full-fat" Intel Core i processors. In this review model it's an Intel Core i5 processor paired with 8GB RAM. When we were first shown the Switch 5, it was in a Core i7 format, so more powerful skews will be available in the future - but the i5 will be the entry model for the UK market, which we think hits the perfect balance in terms of power and longevity per charge.
We've been using the Switch 5 for a number of weeks and have found it to be a great laster. It's travelled with us throughout Europe and the States, where it's acted as our Netflix central machine for the journeys. In dimmed cabins that screen brightness hasn't proved to be an issue and, actually, it's helped a lot in terms of longevity.
As an ad-hoc test, streaming a 2160p YouTube video at maximum brightness with sound on drained 20 per cent battery in an hour - around a fifth better than the 24 per cent drained by the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 in the same period of time. The Surface does look brighter and better, however.
All in all, with mixed application, including Word processing, multiple apps running, both online and offline work, we've been getting around eight hours of use from the Switch. That's pretty good going. It'll be less if you run heavyweight games and such, but at least with the processor and RAM on board that is plausible.
The Acer Switch 5 is a largely successful progression of the series, with decent battery life, silent operation, ample power, plus other great features such as the one-handed stand adjustment and the fingerprint scanner being built into the power button.
Its issues are with the way it sits among the competition. It's not as well built or strikingly designed as the Microsoft Surface Pro. Its screen, while resolute, isn't quite bright enough to truly shine (helpful as this is for battery life).
However, while it's not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, it does undercut the 2017 Surface Pro's equivalent £1,249 price tag, plus the Acer includes both a keyboard and stylus included in the box.
Note: This review was updated on 27 July 2017 to reflect a change in pricing decision from Acer
Alternatives to consider
Acer Switch Alpha 12
Much of the same for much less cash, that's the Alpha's appeal. Following Acer's readjusted prices, however, it's not dramatically different in price terms.
Read the full article: Acer Switch Alpha 12 review
Microsoft Surface Pro 2017
It's pricier and doesn't last as long, but Microsoft has perfected the art of the 2-in-1 with be best design to date... even if there is no keyboard included in the box.
Read the full article: Microsoft Surface Pro 5 review