Acer’s 10 inch Windows tablet hasn’t been updated since Windows 8 first came out, and that was two years ago, so what has Acer been cooking up, and does it have the potential to replace your portable PC?
Inside the Acer Switch 10, it’s very familiar fare, with an Intel Atom powered by the Bay Trail generation (Z3735F) and clocked at 1.3GHz, running alongside 2GB RAM, and 32GB storage. Storage inside the tablet can be upgraded easily via a microSD slot found in this section.
Microsoft’s Windows 8 runs here and is preinstalled, working with connections such as 802.11a/b/g/n for WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and USB over a microUSB port found in the tablet section with a port converter accessory supplied in the box. HDMI is also included on the tablet, found in the form of a microHDMI port on the tablet.
All of these ports as well as the microSD card slot power port can be found on the left-most edge, while the 3.5mm jack for listening can be found on the right edge, sitting above buttons for power, volume rocker, and the Windows button, which has been relocated from the bottom of the screen to the right edge of the tablet.
A screen completes the package, providing a 10.1 inch display and rocking a 1280×800 In-Plane Switching panel protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. This screen relies on Zero Air Gap technology to boost viewing performance when more light is hitting the screen, such as use outside.
One camera is also included on the computer, with a 2 megapixel camera built into the front of the tablet section above the screen.
The tablet also arrives with a keyboard section in the box, fitted with an island-key (chiclet) keyboard, touchpad mouse, USB port, and a 500GB hard drive.
Acer’s Switch 10 tablet mounts to this keyboard section by way of docking extrusions, magnets, and a small docking port needed to provide power and functionality to this section.
We haven’t heard much from Acer this year, with the company’s efforts in Australia mostly focused on Google’s operating systems, specifically for the budget Android tablets and the new netbooks of the world, those made to work with Google’s Chromebook OS.
But even though we haven’t heard much from the company, it wants people to know it’s still working on Windows computers for Australia, and even has one ready for the end of the year, with the view to being an option for the school and work year in early 2015.
That model is the Acer Switch 10, a tablet with an apt name, specifically in that it can switch between being a tablet, a laptop, and an entertainment system without needing a button or release mechanism pressed, like so many devices it competes with.
In the hands, the tablet is better built than you might expect, with Acer moving to aluminium for the bulk of the body, giving the tablet a cool feeling at the back, though coming off a little thick, sitting at 8.9mm, which isn’t very thick, but comes off looking like it due to very noticeable edges.
That said, it’s relatively well built, just not overly stylish in the grand scheme of things.
Switch the tablet on using the power button on the right side and the tablet comes to life relatively quickly. We’re relying on an Intel Atom processor here, and one of the recent Bay Trail versions, at that, so while we expect it to be decent, you shouldn’t go in expecting Core performance here.
Rather, you’re more likely to see some solid Office and web power, along with enough to do some of the basic games, and not the really hardcore graphics or CPU intensive processes.
That said, Windows for the most part plods along quite well, with similar experiences offered to other Atom-powered laptops we’ve seen this year.
Overall, the Switch 10 isn’t the fastest kid on the block, but it does handle its own once everything is loaded and good to go. You may experience some lag here and there — we did — but for most productivity applications, the Switch will handle its own.
We’re also pleased to see a keyboard included, which is great, as it means you won’t have to spend an extra $100 on a keyboard case, but don’t make the assumption that you need the keyboard to work. You can use this solely as a tablet if you so choose, because the computer is in the tablet section, and that’s really something you need to remember.
Like other tablets, all of the guts are in that screen, and the included keyboard really only serves to house a keyboard, touchpad mouse, USB port, and a 500GB hard drive.
Connecting this section to the tablet screen is a several dot gold docking port, not totally dissimilar from the style Microsoft uses on its Surface tablets, though more three-dimensional, and basically requiring to be pushed in and mounted to the tablet section. The screen is also held in place by two dock extrusions, and is pulled into place by magnets, particularly strong magnets at that.
The thing about these magnets is that they’re good, but a little too good, and the pull is such that frequently when docking the keyboard with the Acer Switch 10 system, the locking extrusions won’t always connect into place where they should and throw the alignment off.
It’s easy to correct, but can sometimes get a little annoying making sure the docking pieces are actually in the right place. You’ll feel it when they’re not, and see it quite easily, as the screen won’t have the alignment you need, and the keyboard connection won’t be made, stopping the thing from working.
Still, it’s one of those things that you get used to fixing, and after a while, goes away and is little more than an annoying quirk from the design process than something totally frustrating.
Perhaps lose the dock connectors and rely on stronger magnets next time, Acer.
Aside for the obvious keyboard and mouse inclusion, there are two reasons why you’ll be wanting to use the Switch 10’s extra section.
The first of these is for its multi-mode capabilities, with Acer drawing on one of the ideas many manufacturers are relying on today, including Asus, HP, and Lenovo: using the keyboard as a stand.
Because the keyboard section can technically act as a counterbalance, you can have more than just the regular perpendicular laptop arrangement, with a stand “display” mode for playing games occurring when you detach the screen and reorient the display facing away from the keyboard, a tent mode when you leave the screen like this and prop the laptop up inverted like a tent, or like a pad by either collapsing the screen onto the keyboard or removing the screen altogether.
These modes may prove useful for entertainment purposes, but if you’re a tablet owner, the two you’ll most likely use are the laptop mode and the tablet by itself, since they’re pretty much the height of the Switch 10’s productivity.
The second reason for using the keyboard is probably the best one, because the offering of a 500GB hard drive built into the included keyboard of Switch 10 makes it one of the most compelling reasons to choose this tablet over other products in the market.
We’re not huge fans of the 32GB storage on the Switch 10, and we need to say that up front. Even though it’s called a 32GB drive, as is per usual on computers, you don’t actually get 32GB, but rather 22, and after Windows 8 is installed, you’re really only left with 14GB.
Granted, you can upgrade this easily with the microSD slot on the side of the tablet, but this won’t increase the storage on C, adding an extra drive to the mix. And that’s fine; that’s the Windows way.
But 14GB isn’t enough for Windows, and it’s not enough if you plan on installing any substantial apps, or storing movies or music on your laptop, and so the inclusion of a 500GB drive (465GB available) actually makes a lot of sense, and makes the Switch 10 worthwhile, especially since it also brings a USB port to the mix. There is a microUSB to USB breakout converter in the box for the tablet section, but unless you bring this everywhere you go, the USB port on the keyboard is more likely to be used.
Acer’s keyboard section isn’t new for a tablet, mind you, though the inclusion of a hard drive is, especially since this is the part of a hybrid machine that will normally come with a battery.
But not here, and that may be a line not all are willing to tread, especially with a relatively mediocre battery life of up to five hours.
It’s one of those things you have to wonder about, especially if Acer has done market research for what people want: would a battery be preferred, or maybe a hard drive?
You might say “why not go both?” but that would change the weight and thickness situation altogether, and so Acer has done one.
For a tablet, five-ish hours isn’t particularly strong, and sits well in the mediocre category, which an Atom-powered machine should be able to best with no issues.
But that’s only the start of the issues, and there are some obvious signs that this is a first-generation product, with the hope that things will be better next time around.
One of these is in the screen, and while it’s been two years since Acer introduced Windows 8 in a portable 10.1 inch tablet form-factor, we’re still running with the decidedly mediocre 1280×800 resolution, a lower than necessary display size, especially when most manufacturers aim for a little higher.
Acer has improved things with a zero-gap display, a feature which puts the LCD closer to the Gorilla Glass protecting it from the odd scratch or drop, but this only helps to make it work better in sunlight, and there’s still a degree of pixellation here and there, which is surprising given how almost every other aspect of the screen — In-Plane Switching panel, Gorilla Glass 3, Zero Gap — makes this display not too bad.
Why, Acer? Why?!
The odd thing about Acer’s Switch 10 is that even the 8 inch Acer W4 manages to pack more pixels per inch into the screen because of the 1280×800 display in a smaller body. This is one area where Acer could have improved things before releasing a new product, and the display feels more like a recycled element than something wholly new.
Some more brightness would have been welcome, but really, that higher resolution is something we’re after, and is even coming in a slightly different version of the Switch, called the Pro, which wasn’t available at the time of this review.
Another notable issue is the keyboard which is soft to type on, and shallow enough that your fingers can feel off mark when you’re typing. The keys are island-like, and resemble the more modern keyboards we’re used to seeing, but the feedback is soft and the travel shallow, making the whole thing feel cheap, and not lending itself to an altogether fulfilling keyboard experience.
In fact, we even found we’d lose a keystroke here and there, with the first letter of every 100th or 200th word missing somewhere, suggesting to us a form of keyboard lag. Hopefully, we’ll see this one fixed with a patch later on, and we’re honestly hoping Acer brings in backlighting in the next iteration.
There are also some noticeable bugs with that keyboard dock included in the box.
For instance, if you eject the tablet from the keyboard dock while in the Windows desktop mode, Windows itself may crash. Just like that. We’ve seen it happen.
Some of the time, Windows will even point out that before removing the keyboard from the screen, you should eject the hardware properly from Windows. This is, more or less, a Windows problem, but it’s also one Acer should find a way of dealing with, as the notion that removing the keyboard quickly and easily is one of the primary reasons you get something like the Switch to begin with.
For what it’s worth, we suspect this has more to do with the 500GB hard drive inside the Switch keyboard than the keyboard itself, but it’s an issue that could pop up, especially if you’re watching or playing content from that substantial storage selection.
Acer’s play for the hybrid tablet space is an interesting one, but there are clear signs of it being a first generation product, with some design issues and a battery that needs some serious work, especially with Acer’s suggestion of up to eight hours for the HD screen missing our mark by a good three or so.
That said, the inclusion of a 500GB drive could make the Acer Switch 10 particularly compelling for people who want a tablet most of the time, but still want more room to move than the tablets normally offer, and we’ll be intrigued to see where this development goes for Acer, we really will.