There are many 10-inch and 11-inch hybrids to choose from right now if you've got about $400 to spend and realistic expectations of performance and storage capacity. Recent versions from Lenovo, Dell, and HP all offer Atom or Pentium-powered ultraportable bodies that convert to Windows 8 tablets, although none are ready to take the place of your all-day, every day PC.
Acer says its Switch 10 hybrid is especially flexible and built to work in four distinct modes. That may be a somewhat generous description, but it's similar to what other detachable or Yoga-style hybrids can do. There's the traditional clamshell mode, then the screen pops off and can be replaced facing outwards, forming a kind of kiosk mode, which Acer calls "display" mode. The kiosk shape can be flipped upside down to form a table tent, a form commonly cited by PC makers, but one that I've never seen a hybrid owner use in real life. Finally, the screen can detach as a full standalone slate-style tablet.
The 10.1-inch screen attaches via something Acer calls the Snap Hinge. It's essentially the same two-pronged connector found on many detachable hybrids, but instead of snapping together with a physical switch, powerful magnets pull the two halves together and keep them attached, a connection that held even when I picked up the system by the screen and shook it.
Being a smaller hybrid, the Switch 10 has similar components to what we've seen in recent 8-inch and 10-inch Windows 8 tablets. In this case, that's an Intel Atom CPU, 2GB of RAM, and up to a 64GB SSD for storage. For the base price of $380 (also available for about £300), however, you only get a 32GB SSD, and once you account for the actual footprint of Windows 8, that doesn't leave much room for anything else. The 64GB version is listed on Acer's website for $429, but I've seen it, and the 32GB version on sale at $400/$350 respectively.
At $400 for the 64GB version, I'm willing to consider the performance tradeoffs demanded of the Switch 10 and its Atom processor versus the slightly zipper (and more expensive)and hybrids, in return for what I consider a more functional hybrid design, which kept me coming back to the Switch 10 day after day, even with more powerful hardware at hand.
|Acer Aspire Switch 10||Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)||HP Pavilion 11 x360|
|Price as reviewed||$429||$449||$474|
|Display size/resolution||10.1-inch 1,366x768 touchscreen||11.6-inch 1,366x768 touchscreen||11.6-inch 1,366x768 touchscreen|
|PC CPU||1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3745||2.16GHz Intel Pentium N3520||2.16GHz Intel Pentium N3520|
|PC Memory||2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz|
|Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics|
|Storage||64GB SSD||500GB 5,400rpm HDD||500GB 5,400rpm HDD|
|Networking||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (32-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
Design and features
In the hand, the Switch 10 feels solid, with less of the plastic flimsy feel of so many low-cost Windows systems. But its design is also boxy and squared off, and a more tapered shape might help it feel even thinner.
As with nearly all two-in-one systems, what you're getting is a base with a keyboard and touchpad, plus in this case, a single USB 2.0 port; and a tablet screen that packs all the internal components inside. That means the CPU, RAM, SSD, and motherboard are all crammed behind the 10.1-inch screen, which makes it heavier than the base. When connected in clamshell form, it made the entire thing prone to tipping over backward. It's not an uncommon problem with hybrids, but it feels especially unbalanced here.
It's the actual method of connecting the two halves that strikes me as the big talking point of the Switch 10. Some hybrids use Yoga-style fold-back hinges that keep the base and screen permanently connected -- those are generally well-engineered, but you're always stuck with a keyboard behind a bulky tablet. Others have physical switches for releasing a latch holding the two halves together. I've found those models to be clunky, with big, ugly release buttons that are hard to hit cleanly.
In contrast, the Switch 10 uses a powerful magnetic catch that connects two prongs on the top of the hinge to two openings on the bottom edge of the tablet screen. A small connective strip between the prongs forms the electrical connection between the keyboard and the screen -- unlike some hybrids with a Bluetooth connection, the screen and dock need to be physically connected to work together.
I found this method of connecting the two halves of a two-in-one hybrid to be one of my favorites to date, mostly because you're not asked to fumble with a big ugly physical button and hook-style catches that often take two hands and several tries to connect properly. In the case of the Switch 10, I still didn't score a 100-percent success rate, but it was easier, thanks to the magnetic connection. I still needed two hands to pull the halves apart, but replacing the screen usually worked on the first try, except when the very strong magnetic connection pulled the screen down too quickly, missing one of the prongs.
The keyboard feels more cramped than some other small-screen hybrids, because this is a 10.1-inch system, while most of the competition is using 11.6-inch displays. Still, the thick, chunky island-style keys are easy to hit, and important keys such as Enter, Shift, and Tab are large. The touchpad is a good size for an ultraportable, and works well enough with multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling, but no one will confuse it with glass-topped models found in more premium laptops.
The 10.1-inch display has a 1,366x768 native resolution. Once the standard on laptops from ultraportable to midsize, it's now mostly restricted to systems that both have smaller screens and budget prices. For the size, it's perfectly usable, but some low-cost tablets running other operating systems (Android, iOS) are getting consumers accustomed to higher resolutions. Off-axis viewing wasn't great, but it was better than the HP x360, an otherwise excellent hybrid held back by a poor display.
Acer Aspire Switch 10 ports and connections
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack|
|Data||1 micro-USB 2.0 (tablet), 1 USB 2.0 (base), micro-SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Connections, performance, and battery
The Switch 10 offers a fairly minimal set of ports and connections, perhaps because of its diminutive size. Except for connecting an external mouse, these systems are usually very self-contained, but if you do want to use most of the micro-style connections, you'll need an adapter or dongle.
While many of the small-screen hybrids we've tested this year look and feel similar, there are some important performance differences. Some models, such as the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 and HP x360 have Intel Pentium CPUs, which are faster than the Intel Atom CPU found here (there are exceptions, but that's the general rule of thumb for this generation -- and Intel's Core i-series chips are faster still, but more expensive).
When using the tile-based Windows 8 menu, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference, and Windows 8 optimized apps, such as Internet Explorer and the excellent News app, feel fast and responsive, no matter what processor you're using.
In the traditional Windows desktop view, things can bog down a bit. While the Pentium-powered Yoga 2 11 wasn't too annoyingly slow, I found myself tapping my fingers on the table at times with the Atom-powered Switch 10. If you stick to basic Web-surfing and social media, or Netflix playback, you're unlikely to get too frustrated, as long as your performance expectations are realistic, much as we advised for netbook shoppers several years ago.
With few extra features, a low-power CPU, and a small, low-res screen, you might expect very long battery life from the Switch 10. In our video playback battery drain test, the system ran for 6:12, which is decent, but not what we'd call all-day battery life, and you'd be pushing it on a cross-country airline flight. The, a Yoga-style hybrid, ran 7:41 on the same test, but the HP x360 hybrid ran for only 4:47.
The Acer Aspire Switch 10 costs a bit less than other small-screen hybrids, but also gives you less -- a slower processor, less RAM, and a smaller hard drive. But when it comes to actually using the system, and taking advantage of its tablet and hybrid shapes, I found it easier to use, and more fun, than some recent fold-back or pull-apart hinge hybrids.
For short-term use, such as a trip to the coffee shop, airplane or train travel, or a few offsite business meetings, the performance deficit is something you should be able to live with, but this isn't going to become your full-time PC.
Acer Aspire Switch 10
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3745; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 64GB SSD
Lenovo Yoga 2 (11-inch)
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.16GHZ Intel Pentium N3520; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 500GB HDD
Dell Inspiron 3000 11
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.16 Intel Pentium N3530; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 500GB, 5,400rpm HDD
Lenovo Ideatab Miix 2
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 128GB SSD
HP Pavilion 11 x360
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.16GHZ Intel Pentium N3520 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 500GB HDD
Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.