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Acer Switch 3 review

The Acer Switch 3 sacrifices speed and usability for an affordable price tag

Acer Switch 3
MSRP $449.99
“The Acer Switch 3 is inexpensive, but it’s also cheap.”
Pros
  • Low price
  • Solid build quality
Cons
  • Flimsy stand
  • Disappointing stylus
  • Slow processor
  • Slow hard drive

The Acer Switch 3 has an attractive price tag. At just $450, it’s well below what you’d pay for nearly any other Windows-based tablet or laptop — it’s even cheaper than most smartphones.

Your money buys an Intel Pentium N4200 processor, onboard Intel HD 505 graphics, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage space, and a 1,920 × 1,200 display. On paper, it seems like a good deal. You get a decent, if underwhelming, tablet and stylus, plus a keyboard cover, all for almost the same price as just the keyboard cover and stylus for the Microsoft Surface Pro.

But as our Acer Switch 3 review proves, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Can’t stand on its own two feet

The Switch 3 is inoffensive to look at, at the very least. Its simple design of black and silver plastic doesn’t draw attention to itself, and its bezels aren’t overlarge, as they can be on some tablets and 2-in-1s. It feels physically robust, and doesn’t crack or creak when you apply pressure or give it a good shake.

Unfortunately, once you start to use the Switch 3, it’s clear why this is a $450 tablet.

Like most tablet-based 2-in-1 laptops, the Switch 3 literally can’t stand on its own. There’s a kickstand around the back which folds out. The Surface Pro shares a similar design, but executes it much better than the Switch 3 does. The stand on the Switch 3 is fine when it’s sitting on a table, but it’s almost impossible to use as an actual laptop because it doesn’t fold back far enough for comfortable use. The stand is flimsy, too, which makes the Switch 3 feel unstable if it’s not on a perfectly flat, level surface.

Instead, you’ll want to flip the keyboard around to the back and just use it in tablet mode. Unfortunately, the included keyboard cover doesn’t adhere to the back of the tablet in any way, and often stays active when you fold it back.

The Acer Switch 3 feels physically robust, and doesn’t creak when you give it a good shake.

That means you’ll often end up pressing unintended keys unless you pop the keyboard off entirely. This isn’t a problem we had with the Samsung Galaxy Book, a 2-in-1 with a similar folio design. The keyboard stuck to the back of the tablet and always managed to deactivate itself when in tablet mode.

For the Switch 3, the keyboard is also the only place for the stylus to attach. If you’re using the tablet with the stylus, but without the keyboard, you’ll have to tuck the stylus behind your ear when you’re not using it — or risk losing it to the couch cushions.

If nothing else, the Switch 3 does an excellent job of proving why the Surface Pro is the premiere Windows-based tablet on the market. It solves all of the aforementioned issues, so you’ll never have to worry about where you put your stylus. With the Surface Pro, you can just stick it to the side of the tablet. Problem solved. Plus the Surface Pro’s stand allows a wide range of viewing angles, and it’s lap-friendly.

One port shy

The Acer Switch 3 features one USB type-A, an SDXC card slot, a power jack, a headphone jack … and that’s it. To be fair, it is a relatively slim device and the sides are mostly taken up by the kickstand, so there’s not much real estate to work with. Still, at least two USB ports would’ve been nice, and would’ve put it in league with the Samsung Chromebook Pro, which offers two USB Type-C ports.

Touch all the things

As a 2-in-1, the Acer Switch 3 features a few notable input methods – the touchscreen, the stylus, and the keyboard cover with touchpad. The touchscreen is responsive, quick, and accurate. We never had any issues when using our fingertips or the stylus. You’ll see a bit of input lag if you tap on icons quickly, open too many apps at once, or even type too fast with the on-screen keyboard, but the touchscreen itself is high quality.

Acer Switch 3 review full
Tomas Patlan/Digital Trends
Tomas Patlan/Digital Trends

Moving on to the keyboard and touchpad, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the included keyboard cover. The touchpad is small and a bit cramped, but thanks to Windows Precision Touchpad support, it’s quick and accurate and recognizes multi-touch gestures well enough. The keyboard is a joy to use on a flat surface, though when at an angle or on your lap, it flexes a bit too much to type comfortably for long periods of time.

Last and least, the included stylus was serviceable at best. It didn’t add much to the usability of the Switch 3, and it’s not sensitive enough or quick enough to capture that fluid note-taking experience you get using the Surface Pro, or even the iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. You can take handwritten notes with the Switch 3, but you might not want to after you spend time with the stylus. There are better stylus options.

A display that gets the job done

The Acer Switch 3’s display is sharp, vibrant, and at 1,920 × 1,200, it’s a slight step above the more common 1,920 × 1,080 resolution, offering a little more real estate to work with. Movies and videos look nice on this display, shadows are dark without losing definition, and we didn’t notice any visible banding.

[Display graphs]

Compared to a few other 2-in-1s, the Acer Switch 3 holds its own with a respectable contrast ratio of 640:1. It’s not the highest out there, but for $450, the Switch 3 doesn’t skimp on image quality. The color gamut is right around what we’d expect at this price point, and right around what you’ll see even on mid and high-end laptops.

Color accuracy is a bit off, but it’s not very noticeable to the naked eye. You’d notice it if you were doing any professional photo editing with the Switch 3 — provided you could get a professional photo editing software suite to even run on the Switch’s underpowered Pentium processor. More on that, later.

The Switch CPU’s low power draw is great for battery life — but not anything else.

Next to similarly priced systems, the Switch 3 has a better display overall than the Acer Swift 3, but it still falls behind the Asus Zenbook UX330UA, and the Microsoft Surface Pro. That’s not too surprising since both are more expensive than the Switch 3.

While 2-in-1s like the Samsung Galaxy Book are more expensive than the Acer Switch 3, the display is one area where the extra cash pays off. The Galaxy Book, for instance, hits 98 percent of the AdobeRGB spectrum, and its Super AMOLED display is ludicrously sharp with a reported contrast ratio around 300,000:1. That number might seem high, and it is, but that’s what you get with OLED displays – unbelievable contrast.

While some competitors perform better, we think the display is arguably the Switch 3’s best feature. It looks good in day-to-day use, rendering both documents and movies with pleasant colors and a vibrant look. Yes, better displays are available, but we doubt you’ll find one on a $450 Windows 2-in-1.

The Asus Chromebook Flip, for instance, comes in at just $300, and the display is clearly one of the corners Asus cut to hit that price point. With a low-quality display barely capable of hitting 50 percent of the NTSC color space, the Chromebook Flip is a cheap laptop with a cheap display. The slightly higher price on the Switch 3 is clearly justified in this regard.

Underwhelming, underpowered, and insufficient

Normally, when we bemoan a processor’s speed, we’re talking about a minor shortfall of some kind. Maybe a 6th-generation Core i5 doesn’t quite keep up with a 7th-generation Core i5, or maybe a laptop takes a little longer to run through a 4K video encode than it should. It’s rare during our testing that a recently released laptop or Chromebook will exhibit significant slowdown during everyday tasks like web browsing or running Microsoft Word. The Acer Switch 3 is a trailblazer in that respect.

With its Intel Pentium N4200 processor, which has more in common with Atom processors than full-power Intel Core processors based on the latest Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake hardware, the Switch 3 is severely underpowered.

[Geekbench Graph]

The Switch 3’s Pentium N4200 scores poorly in Geekbench, despite technically being a quad-core processor. Just to put it in perspective — your smartphone likely has more horsepower than this CPU. For instance, using the iOS version of Geekbench, the iPhone 7 Plus scored 3,537 in single-core performance, and 5,967 in multi-core performance. The Switch 3 hit 1,385 in single-core, and 4,502 in multi-core.

The Chromebook Flip, another cheap 2-in-1, also features a mobile processor, and it too was easily outperformed by the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPad Pro — even the Switch 3 edged it out in overall performance. The Chromebook Flip hit 1,333 on the single core test, and 3,200 on the multi-core test.

Acer Switch 3 review kickstand
Tomas Patlan/Digital Trends
Tomas Patlan/Digital Trends

If you’re in the market for a low-cost travel PC, the Switch 3 might seem like a good choice, and might seem to have a leg up over Chromebooks because it’s running a full version of Windows. Because the Switch 3 is so underpowered, however, running those Windows-specific apps you might want to run — like Microsoft Word and Excel — is a bit of a chore.

With the Switch 3 we experienced input lag, slowdown, and shoddy performance any time we attempted to do even some light multi-tasking — like opening a few of browser tabs. Moving on to another real-world test, and cautionary tale, let’s look at Handbrake. This test encodes a 4K video from h.264 to h.265. It’s a heavy-load test that stresses all available cores.

[Handbrake Graph]

Ouch. That score isn’t a typo. The Switch 3 took about an hour to encode a 4K movie trailer, while even the most modest laptops can blaze through this benchmark in about 20 minutes.

Your phone has more storage space, too

The Acer Switch 3 ships with 64GB of storage space, about the same amount as most entry-level smartphones. It’s not much, but thankfully you won’t have to worry about it filling up with big apps and games, because the Switch 3 doesn’t really have the horsepower for that kind of use. Let’s see how quick its onboard storage is.

[Hard Drive Graphs]

Hitting a read speed of 269 megabytes per second, and a write speed of 143MB/s, the on-board storage isn’t as quick as it could be. You’re definitely going to notice how long it takes to move large files around.

These are the kinds of speeds you’d expect out of a mechanical drive as part of the trade-off of getting a large amount of storage at a low price. On the Switch 3, it’s hard to forgive, since the amount of storage is so low to begin with. At the very least it could be quick.

The perils of onboard graphics

The Acer Switch 3 doesn’t have a discrete GPU, which isn’t surprising given its slim profile. What is a surprise, though, is just how poorly the Intel HD 505 graphics perform in day-to-day use. Just look at these numbers.

[3DM Graphs]

In 3DMark, the Acer Switch 3 and its Intel Pentium N4200 processor achieve some of the lowest scores we’ve seen in recent years. When the benchmarks were running, even comparatively lightweight Sky Diver was a slide-show.

[Gaming Graphs]

Just to make sure the benchmarks weren’t misleading, we gave the Acer Switch 3 another shot. We fired up Civilization VI, turned the settings down to Medium, and gave its internal benchmark a whirl. The results were, well, less than satisfactory. The Acer Switch 3 managed about 4 frames per second on average.

To be fair, that’s probably about what you’d get out of a Chromebook — if there were a Chrome OS version of Civilization VI. Still, it’s always disappointing to see a Windows system fail this badly at games. It definitely limits the appeal of the system overall, since it means the Switch 3 can only be used for work, not play.

Lightweight, but not long-lived

The Switch 3 is compact, lightweight, and easy to carry around — even its power cord is small and unobtrusive. The keyboard cover stays shut even when it’s jostled around in a bag with a few other items, and during our time with the Switch 3, it never inadvertently turned itself on or woke from sleep while being carried around in a messenger bag.

In that way it’s very portable, but when it comes to actual battery life, its portability starts to fall apart.

[Battery Graph]

To be fair, it did last through most of a day when it was left idle, with the brightness turned way down and with the power saving options enabled. When using the tablet, though, we only got about three hours of mixed use before it started to redline.

In Basemark, a heavy load benchmark, the Switch 3 managed around two and a half hours, which was a bit more than the Asus Transformer T304, which managed a little over two hours. The ultra-lightweight Asus Chromebook Flip, on the other hand, managed just over five hours on the same test.

The Switch 3 is well behind the Samsung Chromebook Pro, the Galaxy Book, and the Microsoft Surface Pro, all three of which managed to last for around five hours before going flat.

Almost bloatware-free

The software included with the Acer Switch 3 is minimal, with one exception. The Acer Switch 3 ships with a trial version of Norton antivirus that continually reminds you that you need to scan your system – and that you need to buy a license because your trial expires in a few days.

Warranty information

The Acer Switch 3 is covered by a one-year limited warranty, covering parts and labor in the event of any manufacturer defects. That’s a fairly standard warranty for a 2-in-1, no matter its price.

Our Take

The Acer Switch 3 is lightweight, affordable, and runs Windows. But it’s not great at taking advantage of what Windows offers, lacking the power needed to use Windows-specific productivity apps with any real success.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. If you need an inexpensive, reliable laptop, you really should look no further than the Samsung Chromebook Plus. It’s stylish, well-built, and quick despite its low price. If Google’s G Suite doesn’t offer enough flexibility for you, and if you have a Microsoft 365 subscription, you’ll be able to use Microsoft Word and Excel right in your browser.

If you’re just looking for a good tablet as an in-between device to bridge the gap between your phone and your computer, then the iPad Pro 10.5 is probably your best bet. It’s a bit more expensive than the Acer Switch 3, but it’s a lot more powerful, a lot more capable, and it benefits from Apple’s massive app ecosystem. Even the standard iPad is a step up in everyday performance.

You even have a wealth of options in the Windows 2-in-1 market. The Asus Transformer T304 offers a similar experience with a beefier processor, and the Samsung Galaxy Book gives you just as much versatility with a much better display. Both are more expensive than the Acer Switch 3, but your money goes further.

How long will it last?

Given that the Acer Switch 3 is already having trouble keeping up with everyday tasks, that Pentium N4200 CPU is going to show its age very quickly. We’d be surprised if you manage to make it through the year without returning and replacing the Switch 3 with something a bit quicker.

Should you buy it?

No. If you need an inexpensive travel laptop, there are plenty of options available, the best of which is the Samsung Chromebook Plus, which runs circles around the Acer Switch 3.

Editors' Recommendations