More and more, we're starting top see thin tablets that don't compromise on performance to deliver a normal and usable computing experience. You can equally use these devices for everyday productivity, for watching movies on a long plane trip, or for checking Facebook and Twitter on the train into work. Acer's new Switch 10 convertible laptop runs proper Windows, and has a proper detachable keyboard, but has the form factor of an entirely portable (but powerful) tablet.
What Is It?
- Display: 10.1-inch, 1366x768 pixel LCD
- CPU: Intel Atom Z3745
- RAM: 2GB
- GPU: Intel Atom integrated
- HDD: 32GB eMMC, 500GB hard drive
- Dimensions: 262x177x8.6mm, 1.17kg
Taking over from the venerable, but aged Iconia W510, the $599 Acer Switch 10 is the epitome of "convertible" -- it's a tablet paired with a clip-in, detachable keyboard. Said keyboard can be attached facing forward, making the Switch 10 as usable as a regular laptop, with the screen facing you as you type away on keyboard and swipe around on trackpad. If you want to use the Switch to watch a movie, or to tap away on the touchscreen, you can clip the keyboard in the opposite direction and use it as a hinged stand.
Or, of course, you can use the Switch 10 entirely without the keyboard dock, where it functions just like any other Windows tablet. Its 10.1-inch screen has a moderately sized bezel, which means it's comfortable to hold with thumb and forefinger as you're swiping around the Windows 8.1 touch-optimised interface and typing on the pop-up touch keyboard. The entire experience of using Acer's Switch 10 is vaguely reminiscent of using the Asus Transformer Pad, where you're equally able to use a device with or without the docked keyboard and not make any sacrifices.
The hardware inside the Acer Switch 10 is standard convertible tablet fare -- you get a quad-core, 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z3745 system-on-chip processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of eMMC flash storage paired with a 500GB mechanical hard drive (inside the docking keyboard base). Wi-Fi is 802.11b/g/n -- no -ac -- and the 10.1-inch touchscreen has a middling 1366x768 pixel resolution. The integrated 2-cell battery is good for 8 hours of usage, at least according to Acer. All of this is up to spec for the Acer's $599 asking price, but it's nothing too special or noteworthy at the same time.
If you want to expand the Switch 10's integrated flash storage, there's a microSD card slot on the tablet portion's left side, alongside a microUSB charging-capable port, mini-HDMI and an AC power jack for the bundled power adapter. On the keyboard portion, there's a full-size USB port, which makes sense considering you'll probably want a proper keyboard if you're attaching external storage (likely to have a presentation or Word doc on it).
What Is It Good At?
The 1366x768 pixel screen on the Switch 10 may seem mediocre on specifications alone -- it has an unspectacular 155ppi pixel density, for one -- but when you're actually driving the tablet and looking at the display, you don't notice the resolution. The minimum-to-maximum brightness range is appreciably large, colours are relatively vibrant without being oversaturated or particularly biased to either a too-blue or too-yellow white balanced, and detail is good enough to use the Switch 10 for reading the 'net or watching HD movies. It's a good screen when you're actually using it for everyday tasks, and although there are certainly higher resolution 10-inch displays out there, this is a good one.
The styling of the Switch 10 may be a little off, but the tablet itself, as well as the keyboard dock, is well constructed. The frame of the Switch 10 is aluminium, and there's a generally good ratio of painted plastic to proper metal; the edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass 3 panel on the front seems acceptably resilient to scratches and scrapes, too. The tablet will probably stand up to a little more punishment than its docking keyboard, purely because it's heavier and more sturdy, but both should stand the test of time.
There is a sense of no nonsense with the Acer Switch 10, as with most Acer products -- it's simple, straightforward, and doesn't present any impediment to actually getting work done. Windows 8.1 is pre-installed out of the box and, at least on our test unit, was almost entirely up to date with only a few security patches needing install via Windows Update. Acer doesn't even pre-install a huge amount of unnecessary software to get in the way of actually using the Switch 10 as some manufacturers are wont to do -- Windows 8.1 on this machine is almost entirely stock and runs just as it should. If you want a tablet/laptop that just works as soon as you buy it, the Switch 10 is the device for you.
Running a low-powered Atom processor, the Switch 10 doesn't quite have the same outright performance as a gutsier Core series processor, but it's more than adequate for 99 per cent of your daily computing tasks. Running Chrome to browse the 'net, loading up the occasional file in GIMP, and sending and receiving emails in the (usually sluggish) Outlook.com web interface were all taken care of with no noticeable delay or slowdown, and VLC didn't stutter on high bit-rate 1080p video. The power of the Atom extends just about as far as editing photos in Lightroom, where a large multiple export can bring the machine to its knees -- in this case, keeping the tablet plugged into the dock and on AC power is advisable.
What Is It Not Good At?
For the most part, the Switch 10 is entirely capable as a computing device without the keyboard. Moreso than just containing a keyboard, though, the Switch 10's clip-on dock has a 500GB spinning-disk hard drive inside, which functions as an external disk within Windows 8.1. The 500GB drive makes sense for storing all your large files and for cataloguing media like music and videos. If you want to access the files you have stored on the more capacious drive, you'll have to have the keyboard segment with you -- which means you'll have to plan ahead and do a quick transfer between the two drives if you want to watch a movie on the train or bus into work, for example. It's a minor issue but points to the compromise in the Switch 10's hardware layout.
Battery life in our testing was OK, but don't expect any miracles despite the low-energy Intel Atom and flash storage inside the tablet. During a day of practical usage, I managed to get a solid six hours of battery life in Windows 8.1's default Balanced power profile, which is a decent result but still a fair distance off Acer's claimed eight hour figure. This isn't an "all-day" tablet like the Surface Pro 3, or of a complete laptop like Apple's still-an-amazing-benchmark MacBook Air.
While the docking itself is generally trouble-free, and does let you use the hinge of the keyboard to tilt the Switch 10's screen to any angle that you might desire (although the standard laptop tilt range is all I really used), I still question the long-term reliability of mechanical clipping keyboard docks. I've heard horror stories about Asus convertible tablets just not working after a few years of regular use, and I'd honestly be a little more comfortable with an entirely electrical and magnetic connector and tilting kickstand like that on Microsoft's surface range.
Should You Buy It?
Do you need a tablet that can also function (almost) perfectly well as a proper laptop? Do you have basic to mid-range computing needs -- nothing too strenuous, but just a regular everyday mix of web browsing, email, video and a tiny bit of gaming or photo editing? The Acer Switch 10 handles that kind of workload with aplomb, and while it won't be up to the tasks of a full-time PC user, it's a great device for the mums and dads and uni students out there.
The design may be a little less than fashion forward, but the Switch 10's construction is mostly solid. I still have slight concerns about the long term reliability of the docking connector, but that's not an issue confined to Acer or to the Switch 10. The keyboard is, for an external unit, quite well constructed and should stand up to a fair amount of use and abuse.
$599 is a reasonable price for the mid-range Switch 10; at $100 cheaper it'd be a great buy. The model we've reviewed here is available exclusively from Officeworks, and an up-spec model with a high resolution Full HD display and 64GB of flash storage will be $699 from Harvey Norman from the end of the month onwards. If you want Windows 8.1 on a portable device, but don't always need a keyboard, the Switch 10 is definitely worth considering.