Acer Switch 7 Black Edition
“The Acer Switch 7 Black Edition is a bulky tablet 2-in-1 with a trick - it can game.”
- Solid build quality
- Excellent productivity performance
- Decent entry-level gaming for a tablet
- Class-leading display
- Disappointing battery life
- Kickstand is overly complicated and fussy
- Pen is smaller than we like
Jealous of those Microsoft Surface Pro users who can tear off the keyboard and use their notebook like a tablet, but hate anemic integrated graphics? If so, Acer might have the 2-in-1 for you. Its new Switch 7 Black Edition promises stealth gaming chops in the increasingly popular detachable tablet format, with a discrete Nvidia MX150 GPU packed inside its slate-like chassis.
Our review unit was a pre-production model, and so things could change when the final version rolls out. It came equipped with the excellent quad-core eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SATA solid-state drive (SSD), and a 13.5-inch display. When the 2-in-1 ships, this configuration will be priced at a very premium $1,700.
Can you pack a discrete GPU into a detachable tablet 2-in-1 and maintain the appropriate level of productivity? You certainly can, but as we’ve found out, there are compromises to be had.
A tablet that’s heavier than a laptop
The Switch 7 Black Edition looks just like its name implies – it sports a striking all-black design that’s refreshing among the sea of silver 2-in-1s. Its metal chassis has rounded edges highlighted in chrome, and a matte finish along the sides and the back. It’s attractive and elegant without crossing over into gaudy territory. It’s more reminiscent of HP’s Spectre x2 than it is Microsoft’s more conservative Surface Pro, and that’s not at all a bad thing.
Its build quality is solid, even on our pre-production unit, certainly befitting of a premium tablet today. But that also contributes to the Switch 7’s heft, which is a bit much for a tablet at 2.6 pounds. That compares less than favorably to the Surface Pro at 1.73 pounds and the Microsoft Surface Book 2 13’s tablet portion at just 1.6 pounds. These tablets are all roughly the same thickness, however, with the Switch 7 being only fractions of an inch less thin at 0.39 inches. With its keyboard included, the Switch 7 weighs in at 3.53 pounds, which is heavier than standard laptop like the MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 13. Not exactly what you’re looking for in the portability aspect.
Acer touts the Switch 7’s 13.5-inch display as being larger than most of the detachable tablet competition, and that’s a legitimate boast. Unfortunately, the display bezels are also quite large, making the tablet wider and taller (and uglier) than it needs to be. Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 13-inch also has a 13.5-inch display, but the bezels are smaller, and thus it’s considerably smaller in those dimensions as well. And the Switch 7 absolutely dwarfs the Surface Pro with its smaller 12.3-inch display and more reasonable bezels.
Some impressive engineering, with a little over-engineering tossed in
The Switch 7 boast an advanced “Dual Liquidloop” cooling system that utilizes heat pipes to move heat via evaporation and condensation out of the chassis. That means that the 2-in-1 is completely fanless despite using a quad-core processor and discrete GPU, saving on both noise and battery life. We found the system to be effective, with the rear of the tablet getting warm during intensive benchmarking and gaming but never too hot to hold.
Most of the Switch 7’s engineering results in real user benefits. The kickstand, on the other hand, is an example of where clever engineering can go too far. Acer was clearly aiming for a more automated experience allowing users to adjust the kickstand angle with only one hand, but it ended up with a contraption that’s finicky and hard to use in some typical scenarios.
Here’s how it works: The patented AutoStand has magnets that hold the stainless-steel kickstand in place when stowed, and then two buttons on the bottom of the tablet are depressed when the machine is placed on a flat surface. That pushes the magnets away from the spring-loaded kickstand, which then pops open to a 120-degree angle (on our pre-production unit, which might change by up to five degrees in the final design). The kickstand can be opened to 165 degrees, allowing the tablet to lay close to flat on a table, and return to the original 120 degrees as you lift the tablet.
The Switch 7’s display is near the top of the detachable tablet field.
Unfortunately, the default angle is too large, meaning the display cannot be held in a more upright (and less glaring) angle. The buttons also take a bit of force to depress, meaning that if you’re using it on your lap or other soft surface, you’ll have to clumsily depress the buttons to pop open the kickstand. The Surface Pro’s kickstand holds that tablet at more acute angles and thus more upright positions, and it’s much easier to open when you’re not working on a flat surface.
When it’s time to connect to external peripherals, you’ll find yourself in relatively good shape for a detachable tablet. Contrasted with the single USB-A 3.0 port and DisplayPort on the Surface Pro, the Switch 7 offers both a USB-A 3.1 port for legacy devices and a futureproof USB-C 3.1 port with Thunderbolt 3 (up to 40 gigabits per second). There’s also a microSD card reader, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a proprietary charger connection.
Impressive and flexible input options
The Switch 7 ships with a detachable keyboard that attaches magnetically to the bottom of the tablet portion, as with so many similar 2-in-1s. That’s a plus as well compared to the Surface Pro whose Type Cover is a $160 option. The inside of the keyboard is covered in a soft-touch material that’s quite comfortable, whereas the rear is cloth-covered and offers a soft touch when carrying the combination around.
In terms of typing feel, the backlit keyboard (one brightness level) has sufficient travel and a nice click that contributes to a precise experience for fast typists. It’s comparable to the Surface Pro’s Type Cover and better than many similar detachable keyboards, with the only real problem the mashed together arrow and home, page up, and page down keys mucking things up a bit.
The keyboard exhibits the usual flex given it’s a thin slice held at an angle by the magnetic attachment (and can be laid flat if desired), but it’s no worse than its competitors. The keyboard does need to support the kickstand buttons, and the necessary mechanism adds some extra height to the tablet when the keyboard is attached.
The automated kickstand is an example of clever engineering gone too far.
The touchpad is large enough to be comfortable and offers a surface that’s just the right combination of slick and tactile. It’s a Microsoft Precision touchpad, meaning that its Windows 10 multitouch gestures are precise and responsive. Touchpads have gotten so much better on Windows notebooks, and the Switch 7 is a great example of that progress.
Another area of input strength is the newest Acer active pen that ships with the Switch 7. It’s a smaller pen than average, because it’s stored in a slot on the side of the chassis, similar to the one that comes with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga. The pen provides a very competitive 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and enjoys tilt support as well. We wish it were larger, but it’s still good enough for entering notes and making quick sketches using Windows 10 Ink.
Finally, Windows 10 Hello support will be provided by a fingerprint scanner embedded behind the display glass on the lower right bezel. That wasn’t enabled yet in our pre-production unit, so we couldn’t test it. However, we’ll note that it’s in a convenient location for quickly logging in with, say, a thumbprint.
A Microsoft Surface-busting display
The Switch 7 Black Edition comes with a 13.5-inch IPS touchscreen at 2,256 x 1,504 resolution (201 PPI). That’s a bit large for a tablet, and so the question arises: Was it worth adding that much bulk to equip this particular display?
According to our colorimeter, the answer is a resounding yes. Normally, we put Microsoft’s Surface displays at the top of a given class, and in this case that means the Surface Pro is the standard. Simply put, the Switch 7 Black Edition’s display is at least the Surface Pro’s equal. Its brightness is just slightly lower, although it’s still excellent at 366 nits. Its contrast is roughly as good as the Surface Pro’s – meaning that it’s superior to most other notebooks – and it has a slightly wider color gamut and more accurate colors. It’s even scores a perfect gamma of 2.2, meaning video and pictures won’t be too light or too dark.
Our subjective experience backs up these objective results. The Switch 7’s display is not only larger and sharp enough, but it’s also a great viewing experience. Text and images are nice and deep thanks to the great contrast, there’s plenty of brightness to match ambient lighting, and video looks great. It’s simply a wonderful display that’s near the top of the detachable tablet field.
Audio quality is a different ballgame. There’s plenty of volume but also some distortion at maximum loudness. Things just get a bit muffled, and as usual bass is lacking while midrange and treble comes out sounding tinny. Simply put, you’ll want to pull out your favorite headphones if you want your audio quality to match your video quality when watching Netflix.
Solid performance the usual productivity tasks
The Switch 7 is one of the first detachable tablets to embrace Intel’s quad-core 8th-generation Core processors. In this case, it’s the Core i7-8550U, a 15-watt CPU that’s been a very strong performer in other notebooks we’ve reviewed while also providing some real efficiency gains.
Unsurprisingly, the Switch 7 turned in a solid performance in our testing. Its Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark scores were at the top of the detachable tablet heap, beating out the Surface Pro with its 7th-generation Intel CPU. The Acer was also competitive with similarly equipped convertible 2-in-1s like the Asus ZenBook Flip 14.
Once concern with a very thin machine like the Swift 7 is how well it manages heat and avoids throttling in longer real-world tasks. Acer’s innovative cooling system did a decent job, allowing the fanless and completely silent Switch 7 to maintain competent performance throughout our Handbrake video encoding test. It couldn’t keep up with some of the fastest notebooks on our list, such as the ZenBook Flip 14, but it was still a reasonable performer and it managed to beat the Samsung Notebook 9 Pen.
If you must have a gaming tablet, you now have an entry-level option.
Overall, the Switch 7’s processor performance is admirable for a detachable tablet that’s so quiet, making it a great option for anyone who wants to use it to take notes in a classroom or a conference room. It’s not the absolute speediest notebook around, but it’s quite fast for a very thin machine.
Storage speeds were something of a different story. Acer chose the LiteOn CV3 SATA SSD for the Switch 7, and as is usually the case with such slower drives the tablet’s storage performance was relatively low. That’s not to say it’s a problem, however, as it still starts up quickly and opens files without delay. It’s just not the fastest SSD you’ll find.
Decent gaming for a PC tablet, for what it’s worth
Acer managed to sneak an Nvidia GeForce MX150 into the Switch 7’s svelte chassis, making it unique for a detachable tablet. The MX150 isn’t the most power discrete GPU — in fact it’s decidedly entry-level. Nevertheless, it promises much better graphics performance than the more typical integrated Intel graphics on competitive tablets.
And as it turns out, the Switch 7 performs in line with what you’d expect from its GPU. Its 3DMark synthetic benchmark results are close enough to the ZenBook Flip 14 and other MX150-equipped notebooks to indicate that there’s no meaningful penalty being imposed by the Switch 7’s tablet format.
In terms of actual gaming, again, the Switch 7 delivered – at least given its MX150 GPU. It managed the expected 33 frames per second (FPS) in Civilization VI at 1080p and medium graphics, matching other MX150 machines. Rocket League was also comparable to equivalent systems, being quite playable at 46 FPS in 1080p even at extreme detail. As usual, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Battlefield 1 were both unplayable at 1080p with decent graphics, and so unsurprisingly this isn’t the machine for demanding titles.
As usual, this class of GPU is good enough in the Switch 7 for some older titles, some newer titles at lower resolutions and graphics, and for esports games like Rocket League. That makes the Switch 7 Black Edition a remarkably good gamer when it comes to Windows 10 tablets – in a class of its own, as long as you make an exception for the Surface Book 2. If you just must have a tablet, you now have a choice that won’t leave you completely high and dry when it comes to some entry-level gaming.
Heavy and short-lasting for a detachable tablet
The Switch 7 has a rather small 37 watt-hour battery, which is considerably less than the Surface Pro’s 45 watt-hours. It’s main hope for some decent longevity away from a charger is the efficiency afforded by the Core i7-8550U.
Unfortunately, this isn’t one of the Switch 7’s strengths. In our most demanding Basemark battery test, the tablet managed just over three hours, which was competitive with the Surface Pro at just ten minutes less. But that’s where the similarity ended.
In our web browsing test, the Switch 7 only managed around four and a half hours, not a terrible result but around an hour less than the Surface Pro. And while the Surface Pro lasted for over 10 hours in our local video looping test, the Switch 7 could manage only a little more than six hours. And the discrepancy only increases when you compare the tablet to convertible 2-in-1s and traditional notebooks.
In short, the Switch 7 provides a lot of power for a tablet, but you pay for it with seriously reduced portability.
The Switch 7 Black Edition is an odd machine. It’s a bona fide detachable tablet, complete with its (slightly over-engineered) kickstand and slate format with good pen support. It’s also very powerful, both in terms of its modern CPU and its class-leading discrete GPU. But it’s also a large tablet, so much so that it nearly defies the point of its mobile form factor.
We’ll note again that our review unit was a pre-production model, and so Acer could make significant performance, battery life, and other changes in the final version. If any changes are particularly notable, then we’ll be sure to update this review.
Is there a better alternative?
The Swift 7 dwarfs its most obvious competitor, the Microsoft Surface Pro, in both size and performance. It’s less expensive at $1,700 than the Surface Pro, which is $2,200 for a 7th-generation Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB PCIe SSD without the $160 Signature Type Cover add-on and $100 Surface Pen.
Then again, the Acer also provides less battery life. If you’re looking for a true tablet that’s easy to carry around and use for taking notes, then the Surface Pro is likely the better option, but you’ll pay a lot more for the privilege.
Then there’s the Asus ZenBook Flip 14, which is a convertible tablet that also sports the same MX150 discrete GPU as the Acer. Although the ZenBook’s keyboard doesn’t detach, at $1,300 for the same configuration (with a faster PCIe SSD), the ZenBook is considerably cheaper – making it the better choice unless you really want to tear off the keyboard.
Finally, if you don’t care about having a 2-in-1 at all but like the idea of a thin and light notebook with a discrete GPU, then the Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UN is a great choice. It, too, offers the MX150, although it’s a more limited configuration at $1,000 for a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Again, portability and battery life do better, but you’d lose the pen-enabled tablet concept.
How long will it last?
The Switch 7 Black Edition is very well-built and should last for a good long while without concerns about it falling apart. The tablet uses the latest Intel CPU and a decent GPU, and it has a future-proof USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3. Simply put, it’s made for the long haul.
Should you buy it?
No. If you really want a tablet, then you’re probably looking for something that’s lighter and easier to use for taking notes. If you want a stealth gaming notebook, then you’ll probably want to look at something that’s more traditionally designed.