Can Acer make the hybrid PC an affordable option?
Having recently covered the high-end Dell Latitude 7350, I’ve been interested in seeing a similar concept that doesn’t cost nearly a grand.
The Acer Aspire Switch 11 has many design similarities but costs just a third of the Dell. The Acer might be more affordable, but does it address any of the other issues?
What we have here is another in the long list of Microsoft Surface-like designs, where the machine will operate as both a tablet and a laptop, depending on your specific needs.
The review model is the lower-spec version of the Switch 11, which uses a 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3745 quad-core CPU, has 2GB of RAM and 32GB of flash memory and a 500GB hard drive for storage. There’s a high-end option that uses the Core i3 i3-4012Y dual-core, which has double the RAM, a 1080p display and a 60GB SSD drive, but it costs twice the review model’s price.
Even using the Atom, I wasn’t immediately drawn to conclude this design was underpowered, but then it only has a 1366 x 768 display to drive.
Where this design is different from what Dell did is that the keyboard part of this solution is mostly just that – an input device. There are no batteries in the keyboard and only a single USB port, though I later discovered that it did have one other critical part inside it.
Separating the keyboard results in the disappearance of the 500GB hard drive and a system complaint that you should have ejected it first.
Even with what hardware is in the keyboard, it’s rather light in comparison with the rest of the system, making it somewhat unstable when the screen is tilted much out of the vertical. That said, it’s still more stable than the Surface with its flexible keyboards attached.
Pre-installed is Windows 8.1, though it took the installation of more than 70 patches before the computer was truly ready to use. At that point, only 14GB of the 32GB storage was left for my use, with over 10GB being disappeared to a recovery partition. Storage can be supplemented through a micro-SD card, but with the hard drive accessible with the keyboard, there seems little point unless you’re determined to use it exclusively in tablet mode.
For general office use, the system speed isn’t blazing, but it is workable for accessing the internet and typing modest documents. The 11″ display also isn’t suitable for working on large spreadsheets or photos, though I found it surprisingly sharp and clear.
The build, while mostly plastic isn’t rubbish, and the metal skin facing the back of the screen gives the impression of a much higher-end device. However, at 11m thick, the tablet isn’t going to concern Apple, and with the keyboard attached the system becomes a rather chunky 28.4mm deep and weight a portly 1.6kg.
Girth aside, the true weaknesses in this design are all familiar ones to those who’ve looked at any number of hybrid machines. The worst crimes against technology are the USB port – or rather their rarity.
The tablet part has a single micro-USB port and the keyboard just one full-size port. They’re also both only USB 2.0 standard, even if the hard drive in the keyboard inexplicably connects via USB 3.0. So it has this tech built in, but won’t give the user any access.
There are two other howlers on the tablet design that I find it hard to accept those developing the machine didn’t notice. The first of these is that to move the Windows button off the tablet face, it been put on the left edge. It’s almost identically sized to the power button and next to it, resulting in the joy of turning the system off when trying to return to the tiled menu.
The other mistake is thatthe Acer logo has been placed on the tablet back, and it has a serrated finish that feels horrible when your fingers come into contact with it, as they often do.
Putting those points aside, this is simply a modern netbook that can transform into a tablet when and if required. That idea falls down, as I’ve said before, because the Windows 8 tablet experience isn’t comparable with either Apple or Android at this time, so why would you want one?
That’s annoying, because in value for money terms, the Switch 11 seems a fantastic deal, even if some of the technical design details were ill-considered.
This machine is significantly better than the Switch 10 that it effectively replaces, though I’m still not sure, even at this price, that I’ve seen a concrete reason to want one. Mark Pickavance
A hybrid tablet/PC that doesn’t make a compelling case for either.