There are many 10-inch and 11-inch hybrids to choose from right now if you’ve got about $400 to spend and realistic expectations of performance and storage capacity. Recent versions from Lenovo, Dell, and HP all offer Atom or Pentium-powered ultraportable bodies that convert to Windows 8 tablets, although none are ready to take the place of your all-day, every day PC. Acer says its Switch 10 hybrid is especially flexible and built to work in four distinct modes. That may be a somewhat generous description, but it’s similar to what other detachable or Yoga-style hybrids can do. There’s the traditional clamshell mode, then the screen pops off and can be replaced facing outwards, forming a kind of kiosk mode, which Acer calls “display” mode. The kiosk shape can be flipped upside down to form a table tent, a form commonly cited by PC makers, but one that I’ve never seen a hybrid owner use in real life. Finally, the screen can detach as a full standalone slate-style tablet.
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.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.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.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.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.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.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.
There’s no need to press a button or latch to separate the tablet from the keyboard dock—just hold the latter down with one hand while giving the tablet a firm pull with the other. What Acer calls a Snap Hinge is a magnetic connection rated to hold about six pounds, so you can lift and carry the laptop by the screen or keyboard without worrying that the two pieces will come apart (our worry with the flimsy-feeling connection of the Miix 2 10, say). The opened laptop is a little top-heavy, however; you want to tap and swipe the screen gently lest the unit tip over backward.
Reattaching the screen is as simple as aligning it with two hooks on the keyboard base and pushing down—and, in perhaps the Aspire’s main attraction and advantage over the T100, you can attach the screen backward or facing away from the keyboard as well as forward. Do that and partially close the lid, and you’ve got an easel or stand mode akin to that of Lenovo’s Yoga convertibles, suitable for touch-screen sessions or giving presentations.Close the lid a little more and prop the Switch 10 on its edges, and you’ve got a Yoga-style tent mode suitable for watching videos, leaving the Acer on a counter or coffee table, or propping it up in a confined space such as an airline tray table.Whichever mode you prefer, the Acer’s display is one of the best 1,366×768 screens we’ve seen (not that we’re great fans of the minimal 1,366×768 resolution in larger laptops, but it works well at the 10.1-inch size). It’s an in-plane switching (IPS) panel with what Acer calls Zero Air Gap technology—the former provides extra-wide viewing angles, while the latter yields sharper and crisper images by eliminating the space between the LCD and touch glass overlay. Reflections from the glossy panel are noticeable, but colors are vivid and contrast is good.Hold the tablet—at 0.35 inch thick, it’s a little slimmer than the 0.41-inch Asus—in landscape orientation, and the power button and volume rocker, along with a headphone jack, are on the left edge. On the right edge are the power jack, a Micro HDMI port, Micro USB, a Micro SD card slot that accepts cards up to 32GB, and a pinhole microphone.The keyboard dock has no second battery or other ports except for a lone USB 2.0 port at its right rear, which compares unfavorably to the Asus dock’s USB 3.0 port. Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi are standard.Like the T100’s, the Aspire’s keyboard is slightly shrunken, netbook style—the A through apostrophe keys span 7.4 instead of the usual 8 inches. That’s offset by a soft, smooth typing feel with no annoying flex; we felt as if we were gliding, rather than clattering, along at a good clip after a few minutes’ practice to allow for the tiny cursor-control and directional-arrow keys in the lower right corner. (The keys above the left and right arrows are Page-Up and Page-Down, not Home and End as shown in the stock photo below; they pair with the Fn key for Home and End.).
Acer preloads the Aspire Switch 10 with apps and shopping offers ranging from Skype, Kindle, and Netflix to Amazon, eBay, and Booking.com, along with Evernote, StumbleUpon, and both Zinio and NextIssue magazine readers. In a touch we always appreciate, there’s a hidden recovery partition on the flash drive, so you can restore the system to factory-fresh status in case of a malware attack or other catastrophe.
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.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.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.
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.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.
The Acer Aspire Switch 10 costs a bit less than other small-screen hybrids, but also gives you less – a slower processor, less RAM, and a smaller hard drive. But when it comes to actually using the system, and taking advantage of its tablet and hybrid shapes, I found it easier to use, and more fun, than some recent fold-back or pull-apart hinge hybrids.For short-term use, such as a trip to the coffee shop, airplane or train travel, or a few offsite business meetings, the performance deficit is something you should be able to live with, but this isn’t going to become your full-time PC.