Review: Acer Aspire Switch 10 flips the price tag

If you're looking for a bargain-basement, light-duty Windows 8.1 machine, the Switch 10 is a solid choice

Acer Aspire Switch 10

While it's easy to find shortcomings with this 10.1-inch, Windows 8.1 touch tablet with detachable swing-around keyboard, the price can't be beat. With 2GB of memory and a 32GB solid-state drive, the base SW5-011 unit lists for $380, but you can get it online from several well-known hardware vendors for $300. At that price, it's worth a second look.

The Switch 10 keyboard sports a solid magnetic hinge that lets you tug the tablet off, flip it around, and turn the machine into a tent or a sit-and-squint presentation surface. The hinge won't lie flat; if the keyboard's sitting on a table, the screen can tilt back only so far before the whole unit topples over. The tablet part weighs in at 1.3 pounds and the keyboard is almost the same, so there's a tendency for the Switch 10 to flip with the slightest provocation. It's not the easiest machine to balance on your knee.

The 10.1-inch, multitouch IPS display, running at 1,366-by-768 resolution, won't win any awards, but it's serviceable, with reasonably accurate colors and good brightness; you can view it from a wide range of angles. Plus, the screen is framed by a sturdy, wide border/bezel, so it should stand up to serious abuse.

The front-facing camera registers a ho-hum 2 megapixels and runs 1,920 by 1,080 -- yes, a higher definition than the screen. There's also a micro HDMI slot that supports 1,920 by 1,080, but the standard Intel HD graphics support is sluggish at best.

Speaking of sluggish, you wouldn't expect much from an Atom Bay Trail Z3745, and this machine lived up to the promise. You can look forward to decent performance with a Web browser and light applications, but note that working with Word is painful. While the Z3745 is a 64-bit processor, the version of Windows 8.1 that ships with the machine is 32-bit.

The tiny 32GB SSD has only about 16GB of free space available -- the 64GB model, which I tested, provided 35GB free -- primarily because of Windows, but also because of the crapware Acer ships with the machine. Fortunately, storage is readily expandable via MicroSD, via Micro USB 2 on the tablet, and via full USB 2 on the keyboard.

A 64GB SSD, 2GB RAM unit -- with an improved 1,280-by-800 display, similar Atom Bay Trail Z3735F chip, and 64-bit Windows 8.1 with Bing -- lists at $430, but you can find it at discounters for $350. Look for model SW5-012.

I found the keyboard cramped -- a congenital defect on a 10-inch laptop -- and hard for my oversized hands to use for any length of time. The keys have decent throw and a tiny amount of tactile feedback, and the keys are located where you would expect. Home/PgUp and End/PgDn are to the left and right of the up arrow. The trackpad works reasonably well -- it's 3.6 inches wide, thus not tiny -- although I had trouble at times with my finger drifting into the left and right click zones.

Unfortunately, Acer didn't design an auxiliary battery into the keyboard. As a result, battery life fared poorly on my standard drain test. With audio and Wi-Fi turned off, 70 percent brightness, running full loops of the Windows 7 wildlife.wmv clip on Media Player, the machine chugged along for little more than 3.5 hours before turning belly up. That compares to 4.5 hours for the Dell Venue 11 Pro tablet and 8 hours for the Venue 11 Pro with Dell's keyboard/backup battery attached.

The price of the Switch 10 also includes Microsoft Office. Check the details on your order site, but the sites I've seen say that the Switch 10 comes with Office Home and Student 2013 -- that's Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote licensed for one PC, list $139, widely available for $115 (not to be confused with an Office 365 Personal subscription).

Bottom line: If you want a touch Windows 8.1 computer, like the two-in-one "tentable" form factor, and don't intend to push it very hard, the Switch 10 comes at a price point that's hard to beat.

Acer recently announced a 12-inch addition to the Acer Aspire Switch family. No doubt intended to bump up the line -- the 11.6-inch Switch 11, model SW5-111, hasn't exactly taken the market by storm -- the Switch 12 is said to have a 12.5-inch display running at 1,920 by 1,080. Acer says the Switch 12 will use the new Intel Core M processor. No idea about prices or availability, as it won't hit the U.S. market until 2015.

This story, "Review: Acer Aspire Switch 10 flips the price tag" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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