What to do if you want all the functions of a tablet and a laptop, but you don't want to fork out for both? You've opened your wallet at just the right time.
Hybrids such as the Acer Switch 10 are everywhere. It started with the Android Asus Transformer back in 2011, but now there are loads of the things, the most high-profile of the lot being Microsoft’s rather excellent Surface Pro 3.
Generally speaking, what you get with these hybrids is a tablet that plugs into a keyboard base. What's special about the Acer Switch 10 and its big rival the Asus Transformer Book T100 is that they cost just under S$800 for the lot, where something such as the Surface Pro 3 costs at least S$1300 with the keyboard.
A Windows laptop and tablet for less than the price of an iPad Air? It sounds like a bobby dazzler of a bargain, doesn't it? In most ways it is. Just don't think that downgrading from a full-size 15.6-inch laptop to something like the Acer Switch 10 won't come without the odd nasty surprise.
READ MORE: Asus Transformer T100 review
As with most laptop-tablet hybrids, the Acer Switch 10 comes in two bits. There's the 10.1-inch tablet bit and the base bit it plugs into.
Acer has done its best to make fitting the two together easy. There are no release buttons, no complicated click-and-lock mechanisms. Instead everything is done with magnets, and a couple of plastic guides. It's a neat idea, but isn't perfect in practice.
First, let's start with the good stuff. The magnets are easily powerful enough to keep the Acer Switch 10's screen firmly attached to the base. The keyboard doesn't go flying off even if you lift the whole thing up by its screen and give it a wiggle – nice work Acer, nice work magnetism.
Using magnets also means you can put the screen on back-to-front with no issues. You might ask: why on earth would you want to do that? It's all part of Acer's 4-in-1 design for the Switch 10.
As the screen doesn't fold all the way back like the Lenovo Yoga, putting the screen on backwards turns the keyboard into a neat screen stand if you want to just browse the web or watch a movie, rather than type. And if space is super-tight (basically if you're on a plane or train), you can setup the Acer Switch 10 in its tent form – again, perfect for movies.
READ MORE: Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 review
A matter of balance
Acer gets a brownie point for flexibility, then, but what's wrong? We found that even after using the Switch 10 for a while it's still all-too easy to mis-align the tablet with the base. The inconvenience issue is one half of our beef, the other side that we are a teeny-tiny bit worried about the longevity of the thing.
The entire outside of the Acer Switch 10's hinge is plastic, including the guides that slot into the tablet part, where its arch rival Asus Transformer Pad T100 uses metal. Dodgy metal can shear off quicker than plastic might wear, but the Asus's hardier feel gives us that little bit more confidence in use.
Our top tip – treat the Acer Switch 10 as if you're on a first date with it, at least until you're better acquainted.
It is high-maintenance in another respect, too. As Acer has valued keeping the Switch 10 super-light, there's no extra ballast in the keyboard base to stop it tipping over when the screen is tilted back laptop-style.
On a flat surface such as a table it's fine as long as you don't give the Acer Switch 10's screen a poke, but it's a right old pain should you try and work with the tablet on your knees. It'll fall back like a toddler learning to walk as soon as you take your hands of it.
Where you benefit is weight. While loads heavier than a light tablet, as the Acer Switch 10 weighs just 1.11kg all-in it's very light for a laptop. That's just a few grammes heavier than the 11-inch MacBook Air, which is oh-so famed for its portability. Asus T100 is just as light, though, and that isn't so tip-happy.
Look a bit closer and it's pretty clear why the Acer Switch 10 is a lot cheaper than a MacBook Air. It's nowhere near as pretty, and is mostly plastic rather than metal. The keyboard is all-plastic, and while there's a sheet of brushed aluminium on the back of the tablet for that fancy-pants look, it's clearly not part of the structure of the thing. The sides, the frame – they're all plastic.
We don't really mind, though. Plastic can do the job just fine if it's part of a well-designed device.
The Acer Switch 10 feels pretty well-made for a cheap hybrid, but we do wish the tablet wasn't quite so angular. Like previous Acer Windows tablets, it has very boxy sides that don't even have the tiniest bit of bevelling.
No, your poor paws aren't going to be hurt by those sharp plastic edges. But the Switch 10 could feel a whole lot nicer as a tablet. We'd go as far as to say the tablet doesn't really make a lot of sense on its own.
Just look at the thing – those giant two-tone bezels make it look like a prop from a 70s sci-fi show. It's quite strange that the Switch 10 makes a pretty attractive laptop, but a really quite ugly tablet.
READ MORE: MacBook Air 11in review
But does the Acer Switch 10 really make a good laptop-replacer? It's actually not too bad at all.
We tried using the Acer Switch 10 as our main work computer for a couple of days, to give it a real road test. We will admit, the keyboard takes a little bit of getting used to. It's keys are shrunk down, to perhaps about 80 per cent the size of those of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but they are proper keys, sensibly-arranged, with all the usual sorts of secondary functions you'd get in a full-size laptop.
After a few days, it feels just like a miniature laptop. The key action could be improved, though. You get the same sort of key depth as an Ultrabook, but they're a little bit spongy – the Asus Transformer Pad T100 keys are a bit crisper. To be fair, you will get used to it, and we were typing away at full speed within hours. But keyboard quality is pretty important in a hybrid such as the Acer Switch 10.
Acer has tried to make the trackpad about as big as it can in a small package like this, but you can see a few of the budget cuts in it – you don't get down to less than S$800 without a few sacrifices. The plastic surface doesn't have anywhere near as smooth a drag as the glass surface you get with good Ultrabooks, which often use textured glass, and the click action is a bit clunky.
Things such as the slightly cramped keyboard and the just-ok trackpad just mean that the Acer Switch 10 works much better as a portable backup to a main laptop or desktop. We wouldn't recommend using it as your main laptop.
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Will the Acer Switch 10 get you through a full day's work if you need it to? Not quite. During its time as our tiny little workhorse, we got around five and a half hours from a single charge.
That was with brightness set to 60 per cent, running a word processing app, doing the occasional bit of browsing and performing a few downloads in the background on occasion.
It's not a bad performance, but still not quite as good as the Asus Transformer T100, which lasts for up to 10.5 hours (Acer claims up to 8 hours). And neither has an extra battery in the keyboard base (some hybrids do).
Talents on display
So far, it seems as though the Acer Switch 10 is a bit of a poor (distant) relation of the Asus Transformer Book T100, but it does have a few advantages.
Most important, its screen is better. The Switch 10 brings much more vibrant colours, which is great for the more fun side of owning a hybrid. You don't need nice reds to work on that screenplay that's never going to get made, but for watching the movie you nicked the ideas off? Certainly.
Specs-wise, the Acer Switch 10 display is fairly basic. It uses a 10.1-inch screen with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. It's the same sort of resolution you'd see in a laptop at the price, and doesn't have that super-sharp look you can get with some under S$800 tablets. It's certainly not Retina-grade.
However, it's decent, and display quality is a good deal better than a cheapo laptop. As the Switch 10 uses an IPS screen, people can crowd around it to watch that video of a cat riding a robot vacuum cleaner without rubbish viewing angles ruining the (rubbish) party.
Being a tablet at heart, the screen is a touch display. It uses a glass top layer, too, but we're pretty sure it's not Gorilla Glass as it flexes a bit too readily for our liking.
The muscle for full-fat Windows?
As we look into each aspect of the Acer Switch 10, we see more of the sort of little finishing touches you miss out on compared with something perhaps 2-3 times the price. However, the real compromise is power.
The Acer Switch 10 uses an Intel Atom Z3745 CPU and 2GB of RAM. While using full Windows 8.1 rather than a cut-down RT-style version means you can have a go at installing anything you like, from Peggle to Adobe Premiere Pro, you're not going to want to edit videos or batch process 15MB RAW photo files on this little guy. It just doesn’t have the power for hardcore tasks such as that.
However, unlike some slightly earlier Atom-based Windows computers, the Switch 10 does have enough grunt to do the basics in style. There's no significant lag flicking around the interface, and while just doing simple writing and browsing, you won't be held back. It's when loading things up you'll notice those little annoying pauses. Again, it's more evidence that you probably don't want this as your no. 1 computer.
To really push the Acer Switch 10 to its limits, we tried running a few Steam games, the most challenging being Two Worlds 2, a 3D RPG released way back in 2010. We needed to strip away all the fancier graphical effects and reduce the resolution to 720p (below the display resolution) to make the game playable. Even then the frame rate isn't great.
You're not going to be playing the latest Call of Duty on the Switch 10 then, but it'll do the trick for older games and the more simple indie titles out there, and there sure are plenty of those. You could always use it for Steam In-Home Streaming, too.
The Switch 10 is a bit more powerful than the Transformer T100, using a Z3745 chipset to the Asus's Z3740. They're pretty similar, but the Acer's processor has a bit more graphics power. This added to the better screen makes the Switch 10 a slightly better gaming hybrid – don't go trading in your PS4, though.
Acer has tried to further jazz-up the Switch 10's entertainment cred with front-firing stereo speakers – under the display – but it hasn't entirely worked. Any kind of stereo is welcome, but the sound quality is more-or-less the norm for a tablet: zero bass, and fairly boxy sound. For games and movies, you'll want headphones.
The 32GB standard version of the Switch 10 only leaves you with about 11GB of storage to play with anyway.
READ MORE: Steam In-Home Streaming review
Operating System - Windows 8.1
Screen - 10.1in IPS LCD with 1366 x 768 resolution
CPU - Intel Atom Z3745
GPU - Integrated graphics
RAM - 2GB
Storage - 32GB or 64GB
Optical drive - None
Connectivity - 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, microSD, microHDMI
Dimensions - 177 x 262 x 8.9mm
Weight - 1.1kg
While the Acer Switch 10 works perfectly well on its own, there are lots of ways to supercharge its powers. On the tablet there's a microSD card slot to let you add storage, and – just as important – there's a microHDMI socket next to it. This lets you hook up a monitor, or even a TV. There's no cable in the box for this, but you can pick them up online for a couple of quid.
What really levels-up the Switch 10's potential as a little laptop is the full-size USB port on the keyboard base. With this you can attach a USB stick, an external hard drive or – most likely – a mouse.
Carry around a little mouse with you and you'll have a pretty good little solution for a dinky little laptop to use when you're away from home. It won't take up loads of room, and a 1kg laptop is not going to give you shoulder ache.
Acer Aspire Switch 10 verdict
The Acer Switch 10 is the best Windows tablet Acer has so far produced. It's affordable, portable and flexible.
Look at it as a pure tablet and the square-edged ergonomics and battery life are issues, but as a whole package it makes quite a lot of sense.
The only other issue is the Switch 10's big rival, the Asus Transformer Book T100. The Acer is the better movie and game player, but the battery life and keyboard make the Asus a better laptop-replacer, and that’s why it just wins out in this two-device mini-showdown.
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