Acer has a mixed history in the hybrid PC market. The company’s early attempts, like the Aspire R7 convertible and the Iconia W700, offered quick processors and attractive displays at affordable prices. More recent entries like the TravelMate X313, however, have spoiled that formula by raising the price without providing an equivalent increase in power. Acer’s hybrids, like so many other versatile computers on the market today, are often priced well outside what the average consumer wants to pay.
The new Acer Aspire Switch 10, however, looks like a return to form. This dockable tablet provides a 10-inch IPS touchscreen, a quad-core processor, and 2GB of RAM for just $379.99. Our review unit, which is upgraded with 64GB of internal storage, retails at a still-affordable $429.99.
All of this sounds great, but there’s reason for concern. The quad-core is a Bay Trail Atom CPU, not an Intel Core, which means performance could be an issue. The display is a compromise too, with Acer featuring a 1366×768 resolution screen, presumably to keep costs down. Let’s see if the Acer Switch 10 is a bargain – or merely cheap.
A solid little slab
Acer’s latest is unimpressive at first glance, as its simple silver design is merely a miniaturization of other Windows tablets the company has produced in the past. Little adorns the Switch 10 aside from a small chrome Acer logo, and a glossy black display bezel that contrasts with the rest of the chassis.
Plastic is the primary material found on the Switch 10, but the system’s small size and tight construction prevents it from causing any problems. There’s just not enough hardware here to threaten the strength of the chassis. The Switch 10 inspires confidence when handled, and flex is difficult to find even if you go looking for it.
The hinge holding the tablet to the keyboard dock is solid, yet it does not use a latch. Strong magnets are used instead, and are more than up to the task.
We held the Switch 10 upside down and shook it like a Polaroid picture to no avail. Unintentionally ejecting the tablet onto the floor is not impossible, but requires a quick, deliberate downwards swing that’s unlikely to occur by accident.
On the downside though, intentionally removing the tablet is equally difficult. You must hold the keyboard firmly with one hand while tugging the tablet with the other. Half-hearted attempts will only make passers-by wonder why you’re trying to rip your laptop in half.
The Switch 10 offers two USB ports. A standard 2.0 port hangs out on the dock’s right flank, and is paired with a mini-USB 2.0 port on the tablet’s right side. The tablet also provides mini-HDMI, a MicroSD card reader and a combo headphone/microphone jack. Wireless support comes via an 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter and Bluetooth 4.0.
One size does not fit all
As the name implies, the Switch 10 has a 10-inch display, the same as many netbooks. This means the typing experience is best described as cramped and may, in fact, become painful for those with large hands.
Acer makes great use of the space that is available and has managed a solid layout that downsizes important keys as little as possible. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s just not enough room. Backlighting is unavailable as well because of the system’s thin profile and low price.
The Switch 10 is the best Atom-powered PC we’ve reviewed this year.
The Switch 10’s spaciousness carries its own compromise, however, because it forces the user’s hands to the extremities of the laptop. There’s nearly no useable palmrest on the left side of the keyboard, and overlapping the touchpad with your palm can cause accidental activation.
The degree to which this will frustrate you depends on the size of your hands. Users with dainty mitts won’t mind, but those with plus-sized paws will never find comfort.
1366×768 drops the ball
The Switch 10 is available only with a 1366×768 touchscreen. This resolution, though far below the now common 1080p, looks sharp enough when the system is used as a laptop. When the tablet is used alone, however, rough edges begin to show. Fonts often have a pixelated or blurred look, and images don’t appear as crisp as they do on other tablets with more pixels.
Our tests found that the display can render only 67 percent of the sRGB gamut, the worst result we’ve seen since we reviewed the Acer Aspire E1 notebook. We also recorded a modest 480:1 contrast ratio, and poor black levels as well. Luminance proved to be the only redeeming quality, as we recorded a maximum output of 320 lux.
Such results don’t compare well to the Dell Venue 11 Pro, which renders 99 percent of sRGB, and offers a contrast ratio of 720:1. Even the Lenovo Yoga 2 11-inch, which didn’t impress us overall, can display 70 percent of the gamut while reaching a contrast ratio of 650:1. In fairness to the Switch 10 though, these alternatives cost $50-$100 more when equivalently equipped.
These faults aside, the Switch 10 does manage to provide a passable media experience. Images and video lack punch, but color accuracy is reasonably good, and the bright backlight overcomes reflections caused by the glossy panel. We were also surprised to find the speakers to be strong at maximum volume. You can’t use the Switch 10 as a boom box, but you can enjoy movies or podcasts from across a room.
Atom takes a step forward
Our review unit arrived with the Intel Atom Z3745, a quad-core processor with a base clock of 1.33 GHz and a Turbo Boost maximum clock of 1.86 GHz. This is a mid-tier incarnation of the new BayTrail architecture, but it manages to provide respectable performance in SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark.
The Switch 10 scores almost as well as the TravelMate X313 in this test, which is surprising because the X313 was reviewed with a Core i5-3229Y processor. On the other hand, that X313’s Core i5 was a dual-core, so the Switch 10’s score represents better per-core performance. The Dell XPS 13, however, easily defeats all the alternatives, which demonstrates that Atom is still far behind the Core i5-4200U dual-core processor, which is found in most mid-range notebooks and Ultrabooks.
We also tested processor performance with 7-Zip, a file compression benchmark that’s heavily multi-threaded. In this test, the Switch 10 reached a score of 4,754 MIPS, which is better than the X313’s result of 4,167, but behind the Dell Venue 11 Pro’s score of 5,749. The Dell XPS 13 maintains dominance with its score of 7,079.
The Switch’s hard drive, like its processor, performs adequately but not exceptionally, reaching a score of 3,792. This result is low for a system with solid state storage, but not unexpected, as the Dell Venue Pro 11 scored 4,277 (about 700 less than the Dell XPS 13). In any case, this score beats the pants off the Lenovo Yoga 2 11-inch, which has a mechanical drive, and thus scored only 1,965.
Graphics performance is the soft underbelly of every Atom system. The processor’s Intel HD graphics run at a much lower clock speed, and features fewer compute units than an Intel HD 4600 GPU. These issues translate to a 3DMark Cloud Gate score of only 1,285.
As you can see, the Switch 10’s score is well below the TravelMate X313, which is already handicapped compared to Ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13. The Atom-powered Switch couldn’t even complete the 3DMark Fire Strike test; it simply crashed out every time we tried it.
We attempted to test gaming performance with League of Legends, which is the least demanding title in our test suite. As was the case with the Lenovo Yoga 11 2, we were thwarted by performance so bad that the game was rendered unplayable. Only 2D games and very old 3D titles stand a chance on this hybrid.
One for the road
Stuffing the Switch 10 into a bag is easy thanks to its small screen and slim profile, which measures 20.2 millimeters with the keyboard attached, and 8.9 millimeters without. That’s only a millimeter and a half thicker than an iPad Air. The tablet weighs a mere three-tenths of a pound more than Apple’s tablet as well, though adding the keyboard increases weight to two and a half pounds.
We held the Switch 10 upside down and shook it like a Polaroid picture to no avail.
These results are a bit surprising because of the Acer’s small battery, but low power draw makes the most of what’s available. Our watt-meter measured eight watts of power draw at idle with the display at maximum, a number that increased to just 14 watts at full load. These figures are about a watt less across the board compared to Lenovo’s Yoga 2 11-inch, and much less than the Acer TravelMate X313, which drew a maximum of 27 watts.
Atom’s modest power draw translates to modest heat output. The system’s maximum external temperature never exceeded 81.2 degrees Fahrenheit at idle, and this did not change when we threw the system into the 7-Zip benchmark. Stressing the GPU with FurMark, however, raised temperatures as high as 93 degrees.
That’s warm, but it’s cooler than the Yoga 2 11-inch (which reached 96.9 degrees) and the Acer TravelMate X313 (which hit 95.3 degrees). The Dell Venue Pro 11 performs almost identically, reaching a maximum of 92 .
The Switch 10, like other Atom hybrids, is fanless. It doesn’t make a sound regardless of the load placed on it. Anyone who loves silence will also love the Switch.
Packed with extras
Though inexpensive, Acer has packed the Switch 10 to the gills with extra software. Buyers receive a copy of Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 and access to AcerCloud, the company’s proprietary sync service. Apps for Netflix, Evernote, Hulu and StumbleUpon are installed by default, as well.
One thing you won’t find, thankfully, is an annoying anti-virus trial. No such app ships with the Acer, leaving the user to pick whatever is desired without being harassed.
In a recent criticism of hybrid PCs, we pointed out several factors that are holding them back, including a lack of ideal display size, so-so performance, and Windows itself. Acer’s Aspire Switch 10 does not address any of these problems and, as a result, it’s a bit flawed from the start.
Yet, Acer has done whatever possible to make the best of the situation, and the result is a surprisingly likeable product. No, its tablet is not as enjoyable as an iPad, and many people will have difficulty using it as their only PC, but the Switch 10’s low price, adequate performance, light weight, and long battery life hits a sweet spot.
The Switch’s $379 price is important in this entry-level market, because it’s one of the only options with a true entry-level MSRP. Dell’s Venue 11 Pro starts at $429 with a slim 32GB hard drive, the Lenovo Yoga 2 11-inch sells for no less than $499, and Core-powered alternatives are usually $800 and up. Acer’s only competitor is the Asus Transformer Book T100, a system that starts at $369 with 64GB of storage.
Asus has yet to grace us with a T100 review unit, so we can’t definitively say if the Switch 10 is better or worse. What we can say, though, is that the Switch 10 is the best Atom-powered PC we’ve reviewed this year, and provides great value. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into, as small systems like the Switch 10 can frustrate users expecting a full notebook experience from a pint-sized PC like this.
- Solid construction
- Sturdy docking hinge
- Light and slim
- Long battery life
- Microsoft Office 2013 included
- Runs cool and silent
- Good value
- Small keyboard
- Lackluster display
- Poor 3D performance