For the last few years, manufacturers have been chasing the dream of an affordable laptop that converts into a tablet at a moment’s notice. A lot of these systems have unforgivable design flaws or drastic price and performance compromises, which has left us pessimistic there’s a system that comes anywhere close to that goal.
Acer’s Switch 10 E marries a compact, versatile design with improved storage and a super low price point. Under the hood, the Acer Switch 10 E is strikingly similar to the Intel Compute Stick. It carries the same Intel Atom Z3735F, a quad-core chip with a base clock of 1.3GHz, backed by just 2 gigabytes of RAM. For storage, the Acer 10 has a 64GB internal SSD, plus a 500GB data drive in the detachable keyboard. The display is a 10-inch multi-touch panel with a 1,280 x 800 resolution.
This system is similar to another laptop sold by Acer called the Switch 10. The Switch 10 E is roughly the same, except with a different processor and added HDD storage in the keyboard, which leads to slight increase in thickness, as well as a case redesign. Both laptops will be sold side by side, so you can choose whether you want to sacrifice thickness for that extra interior storage.
Despite our poor expectations for convertibles in general, the older Switch 10 won us over with a sturdy build and solid battery life. Is the updated version an improvement on an already decent system, or a step in the wrong direction?
Bigger, bulkier, and more awkward
The Switch 10 earns its namesake by packing all of the components behind the display, with the exception of the data drive, so you can remove the keyboard and use it as a tablet. You can re-attach the screen forward or backward, so you can use the keyboard as a stand and hard drive, or not at all.
For a small computer, the Switch 10 has an unfortunate weight distribution issue. I found myself in a constant battle that went something like this.
I’m sitting at my desk typing away, and decide to reach up and tap something on the screen. Doing so, even lightly, causes the system to flop over onto its back, weighed down by the heavy, detachable display. Setting it back upright doesn’t even solve the issue, because the screen is so heavy the hinge extend to its furthest point when it tips. Like a turtle stuck on its back, the Acer won’t sit properly until I help it out.
Apart from the functional design issues, the Switch 10 E isn’t a particularly attractive computer. The tablet is unnecessarily thick and heavy for only housing a 10-inch screen. It also sports a plastic coating that easily bends and flexes to the touch, and is textured to look like fabric – and effect that doesn’t really work.
Barely any ports
The Acer’s form factor and size limit the number of ports it can realistically have. On the left side of the upper tablet portion, there’s a single Mini-USB (for charging the system), Micro-HDMI, a combo in/out 3.5mm audio port, and a MicroSD slot. There’s a single full-sized USB port on the right side of the keyboard when it’s attached, but that’s it.
Wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi, which is fairly standard for portable systems nowadays.
A small computer like this inevitably has a small keyboard and touchpad – that’s to be expected – although there are a few saving graces. Many smaller keyboards cut space by reducing the size of the backspace key, but here Acer has left it wider and instead shrunk the tilde key, leaving you a nice wide area for correcting mistakes. You’ll also find yourself using the function keys quite a bit in daily activity, but that helps keep clutter down. The chiclet keys here are also a necessity of the form factor, as is the lack of backlighting.
The touchpad, on the other hand, has some issues, apart from just being too small. The buttons are built into the surface of the pad, which means the click action is dull and sticky, and the right click doesn’t work as often, or as well, as it should. Fortunately, an iffy trackpad is easily compensated for by plugging in a mouse. Unfortunately, the lone full-sized USB port on the Switch 10 E is only available when the keyboard is attached, so if you want to plug in a keyboard and mouse, you’ll need to be in stand or standard laptop mode, or use Bluetooth.
Low price, low resolution
Acer stepped the 1,366 x 768 screen on the older version down to 1,280 x 800 for the Switch 10 E, a change that’s close enough in terms of DPI to be negligible. The change in aspect ratio to 16:10 from 16:9 makes the system a bit more comfortable to use in tablet mode, and also provides slightly more horizontal real estate. That means having two windows side by side is a bit clearer, but it still doesn’t do much to set itself aside from similar displays when it comes to performance and accuracy.
Like a turtle stuck on its back, this Acer won’t sit up properly until you help it out.
With a maximum brightness of 313 lux, and a contrast ratio of 650:1, the Acer isn’t the best display we’ve ever tested, but it does sit right in line with the average numbers for those qualities. The Switch 10’s display is only capable of rendering 68 percent of the sRGB scale, however. That’s a far cry from the 90 percent or higher we’re used to seeing on most modern laptops and tablets.
In practice, the low resolution of the screen and its poor gamut are immediately visible when watching a movie trailer or even looking at high resolution images. There are blotches of colors that just blend together into bulky, patch chunks, and the screen doesn’t refresh fast enough to keep up with fast movements. The display is also very glossy, and while it’s bright enough to combat reflections aggressively, fingerprints and smudges are more obvious than on the best Android and iOS tablets.
Down low? Too slow
The Acer Aspire Switch 10 E holds the unique honor of being the slowest system we’ve tested in recent history. The system is powered by an Intel Atom Z3735F, a quad-core chip with a 1.3GHz base clock, supported by 2GB of RAM. For storage, our review unit includes a 64GB eMMC drive, and a 500GB mechanical drive in the keyboard.
It’s slower than the Intel Compute Stick, which packs the same specs into a much smaller housing, and only beats out the CTL version of the Compute Stick, which was only available briefly before it was discontinued.
Don’t think for a second that you won’t notice how slow the system is. It manifests in both the inability to run more demanding applications, and the time it takes for the machine to complete simple tasks and tackle lightweight software.
Of the Acer’s two hard drives, the 64GB SSD is just very slow, while the 500GB data drive built into the keyboard is abysmally slow – on par with USB storage. The speed off the main SSD is slightly higher than the 32GB storage in the similarly paced Compute Stick, but is a far cry from the Yoga 3, a hybrid laptop with a 360-degree hinge.
For graphical benchmarking, the Switch 10 E is only competitive when compared to the Compute Stick, and to other, older convertible laptops. It’s not able to run the newest Fire Strike benchmark, reporting back an error similar to the Intel Compute Stick. Its Cloud Gate score of 1145 is less than a hundred points higher than the Compute Stick, a modest increase that’s likely attributed to a bit more room for cooling in the Acer. Even systems with integrated graphics and similar form factor like the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 beat out the Acer four or five times over.
Decent battery life
The Acer Switch 10 has put on some weight since the last time we’ve seen it, and it owes that almost entirely to the added storage in the keyboard. The rounder design means the total thickness of the system is up to 27mm from the 20.2 of the last Switch. It’s still a very portable system, but it’s abnormally thick for the small screen and weak specs.
With the keyboard attached, the system weighs a little over 2.7 pounds, which is also heavier than its predecessor, but not by much. Even without the keyboard, the system doesn’t immediately feel light, it’s still bulky, and the rounded edges don’t help alleviate that feeling.
If you do need to take it with you, the Switch 10 boasts long battery life. The laptop managed a healthy seven hours and 21 minutes on a single charge while running the Peacekeeper browser test. That beats out the Microsoft Surface 3 and Asus Zenbook UX305 by about an hour.
Sips power, because it has to
The Acer sips power. It idles at just under 7 watts, and maxes out at 12 watts, even while running 3DMark. That’s because charging is over MicroUSB, and its charger is only rated to technically 12 watts, based on its output.
That has a downside – it makes the Switch 10 E incredibly slow to charge. USB powers the system, but won’t charge the battery unless the system is asleep or turned off entirely.
Thankfully, the Acer is quiet. It’s not an absolutely silent machine, but there are no clear exhausts, and component noise is sporadic.
Some re-installation required
In order to bring down costs, the Switch 10 has Windows 8.1 with Bing installed on it. The only difference between the standard version of the OS and this is that Bing is the default search provider, and MSN is the home page, of the default browser. In exchange, Acer can install it on systems for free. The user is free to change the settings, or install another browser, and then the experience is the same as any other installation.
The Switch 10 E came installed with so much bloatware that it actually overflowed onto my other systems. The swath of Acer apps installed themselves on my other Windows 8 machine the next time I booted up, and the system also changed my wallpaper to an Acer wallpaper.
It’s also loaded with such a large suite of Acer tools and applications that there’s a special control panel just to keep track of them all. The list includes: abDocs, abFiles, abMedia, abPhoto, Acer Care Center, Acer Portal, Acer Quick Access, Acer Quick Access Switch Experience, Acer Recovery Management, Acer Screen Group, Acer Touch Tools, Acer User Experience Improvement Program, and of course a digital application version of your manual. There’s also the Acer Explorer, a weird blend of Live Tiles and links to open the Windows Store that, like the rest of included software, is largely unnecessary.
The Acer managed a healthy seven hours and 21 minutes on a single charge.
Acer Quick Access is the control panel for most of the other applications, and lets you quickly change some settings like Wi-Fi sharing and adaptive brightness. It also includes access to some of the Acer-specific settings, like an obnoxious feature that changes your theme, as well as your account settings on the cloud, every time you change the form factor of the computer.
In addition to the Acer suite of apps, the system comes preinstalled with fairly standard third-party apps like Evernote, Netflix, and Hulu. Acer includes an intrusive Dropbox offer that pops up constantly until you tell it not to in the app settings. Avast security is included, and it loses its cool when a new computer joins the network you’re connected to.
Thankfully, the Acer Switch 10 comes with Windows 8.1 pre-installed which includes a free upgrade to Windows 10. The first thing you should do with this PC when it comes out of the box is a clean install of Microsoft’s newest OS.
Each Acer Aspire Switch 10 includes a limited one-year warranty. That’s applied to software support for 90 days, and mail or carry-in service for one year after purchase.
There are better options
The Acer Switch 10 we reviewed in June of 2014 had a lot going for it. It had similar specs to this model, except the 2014 version had the Intel Atom chip with higher memory bandwidth and a slightly higher Turbo Boost clock, plus a slightly higher resolution display. It was still slow, but it was otherwise a decent budget PC.
Almost everything we liked about the original Switch 10 is gone in the Switch 10 E. Acer may have shaved $100 off, but we’d expect that from a system that’s a year old. The cost cutting here comes instead from allowing the machine to fatten up, skimp out on the processor, and pack in more bloatware.
Even in the one area it really has going for it – price – it isn’t too far ahead of the pack. Asus offers a number of Transformer Book T100s at similar prices, but whether through a faster processor or higher resolution display, they’re all better equipped. If you decide to go the Chromebook route, you’ll do even better, as the same $279 price tag will buy you an Acer C720P, one of the highest rated Chromebooks available. You can even buy the HDD-less version of the Switch for almost the same price, since Acer is still offering both models.
There are a two notable positives. I found the keyboard worked well for its size and the system’s battery life is extremely strong. Few systems in the same price range last as long on a charge – even Chromebooks. However, these traits don’t outweight the Switch 10 E’s many negatives. There are too many solid budget notebooks available to excuse buying this mediocre machine.
- Quiet operation
- Solid battery life
- Poor performance
- Awkward design
- Far too much bloatware