The quest for the ideal hybrid continues. The Aspire Switch 11 is a 2-in-1 ($597 as tested) that gives you a laptop and tablet in a single device, complete with a Core i3 processor, 128GB SSD and full HD touch display. We like how easy it is to change modes using the magnetic hinge, the comfy keyboard dock and strong performance for the price. However, the design of this 2-in-1 is a bit too top heavy, and the battery life doesn't wow. Still, if you want something more like a laptop than the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the Switch 11 is worth considering.
I'm not going to lie. Before this 2-in-1 even made it into my hands, I knew it was going to be bulky. By itself, the tablet weighs 1.8 pounds, matching the Asus Transformer Book T200, and it's slightly heavier than the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (1.76 pounds).
When joined with the keyboard dock, the Switch 11's weight balloons to 3.4 pounds, which is heavier than the Surface Pro with its Type Cover attached (2.4 pounds), the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (3.1 pounds) and the T200 (3.2 pounds). Heck, the 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 3 pounds.
When joined with its keyboard dock, the Switch 11 measures a thick 11.7 x 8.1 x 1 inches, which is on a par with the T200's 12 x 7.9 x 1-inch frame. Compare that with the Surface Pro 3 (11.45 x 7.8 x 0.36 inches) and the Inspiron 11 (1.8 x 7.93 x 0.83 inches) and it's clear that the Switch 11 is the D.U.F.F. (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) of ultraportable laptops.
Once I got past the ungainly dimensions, the rest of the tablet is passably handsome. I like the silver aluminum panel with the brushed cross-hatching and the shiny raised chrome Acer logo in the center. However, the thick gray band of plastic at the top paired with the slim gray border cheapens the overall look. The bulky plastic gray hinge of the keyboard dock doesn't help.
The right side of the tablet houses a full-size USB 3.0 port, mini-HDMI, microSD slot, reset pinhole and a power port. Positioned on the left is the headset jack and buttons for power, volume and Windows.
For some reason, Acer just loves ergonomically challenged button placement. The location of the Windows button is at once perplexing and annoying, as it would be better served along the bottom display bezel where it's normally found on other systems. Instead, Acer chose to tag that prime real estate with a shiny Acer logo.
The keyboard dock employs a powerful set of magnets and two large prongs to hold the tablet safely in place. This allows consumers to use the hybrid as a traditional laptop or flip the tablet around for a variation of presentation mode, made popular by the Lenovo Yoga series notebooks. From this position, you can fold the tablet back on top of the dock if you don't feel like removing the tablet from the dock.
If you do remove the tablet from the dock, be sure to hit the remove hardware safely icon before doing so. If not, you'll get a series of reminders gently chastising you for your haste.
Despite the extra measures to ensure the tablet won't easily detach, the top-heavy tablet is still a bit much for the base. A few gentle shakes and the tablet sank from a 90-degree angle to 130 degrees. I never felt that the tablet was in danger of falling out, but such a significant wobble is a marker of lackluster design.
What the hybrid lacks in design, it makes up for in display quality. The Switch 11 is outfitted with a 1920 x 1080, IPS touch panel. The glossy 11.6-inch screen delivered dynamic color and fine detail.
As I watched the 1080p trailer of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I saw bright red explosions with yellow and orange plumes. Blues were particularly striking, as evidenced by an actress' steely yet inviting gaze. Details were fine enough that I could make out the pattern in the male lead's tweed suit jacket along with the multitude of glittering rainbows in the actress' diamond jewelry.
When measured for color reproduction, the Switch 11 displayed 101.7 percent of the sRBG gamut. That soundly beats the 71.6 percent average. The hybrid also fared better than the Surface Pro 3, the Inspiron 11 and the T200.
The Switch 11's color accuracy left something to be desired, as the device scored 11.3 on the Delta-E test, far from a perfect 0. The Surface Pro 3 and Inspiron 11 hit 9.9 and 9.3. However, the T200 had the best result at 3.5.
The Switch 11's panel is sufficiently bright, matching the 248-nit ultraportable average. It's far brighter than the Inspiron 11's 183 nits or the T200's 235 nits, but the Acer's panel pales in comparison to the Surface Pro 3 (298 nits).
The Gorilla Glass 3 display was more than a match for my probing hands, allowing me to swipe and pinch to my heart's content. The 10-finger capacitive touch screen was accurate and responsive.
Shh! The Switch 11 is trying to stream your music or play a video. Despite the front-facing speakers, the ultraportable never came close to praiseworthy audio. And when my home's radiator kicked in, I had to pick up the hybrid and hold it closer to my face to hear anything.
When the hybrid ran the Laptop Mag Audio Test (measuring a constant tone from 23 inches for laptops, 13 inches for tablets), the Switch 11 hit 77 decibels as a laptop and 70 dB as a standalone tablet. Both scores are well below the 88 dB ultraportable average. The Surface Pro 3 hit 88 dB while the Inspiron 11 and T200 achieved 82 decibels.
But even worse than the volume was the overall audio quality. When I listened to Jussie Smollett's "I Wanna Love You," what was already a nonaggressive bassline was even further submerged. The vocal sounded flat, as did the accompanying electronic instruments.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Switch 11's keyboard dock is a bright spot in what's essentially a mixed bag. Acer outfitted the dock with a full-size Chiclet keyboard and added an extra USB 2.0 port on the right. The keys are well-spaced and deliver decent feedback, thanks to a key travel of 1.5mm and an actuation (amount of force necessary to depress keys) of 70 grams. I hit 59 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, just below my usual 60 wpm.
In addition to the full-size keyboard, the dock features a generous 4.1 x 2.3-inch touchpad. I encountered no problems navigating documents or Web pages and performed Windows 8.1 gestures with ease.
For those instances when you're going sans dock, the Windows 8.1 Touch Keyboard is there to handle the bulk of your typing needs. The software occupies a large portion of the display in landscape and portrait modes, so I don't expect anyone activating this feature unless absolutely necessary.
The company also sells an optional Acer Active Pen, a stylus for writing and drawing, for an additional $49.99.
With no built-in fans, the Switch 11 can get hot under the collar -- well, at least the part with the bulk of the components. After streaming full-screen Hulu videos for 15 minutes, the touchpad and space between the G and H keys measured a cool 76 degrees. However, the right side of the tablets' rear panel reached a hot 100 degrees, easily above our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The integrated webcam captures stills and video in 720p. The test shots I took in my apartment added a yellowish tinge to my skin tone as well as the white stripes in my sweater. The visual noise was so prolific that it was difficult to make out the color of the royal blue wall in the background.
Outfitted with a 1.5-GHz Intel Core i3-4012Y processor and 4GB of RAM, the Acer Aspire Switch 11 is a capable workhorse. The hybrid streamed Superman/Batman: Apocalypse from Netflix while performing a full system scan with eight open tabs in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the Switch 11 hit 3,459, missing the 3,839 ultraportable average. The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 and its 2.16-GHz Intel Pentium Quad Core N3530 CPU notched 3,395, while the Asus Transformer Book T200's 1.59-GHz Intel Atom Bay Trail Z3795 CPU hit 3,299. The Surface Pro 3's 1.9-GHz Intel Core i5-4300U CPU laid a virtual smackdown with 5,665, but that version of Microsoft's 2-in-1 is also a lot more expensive at $899 without a keyboard
The 2-in-1's 128GB SSD duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 36 seconds for a transfer rate of 141.4 MBps, soundly defeating the 99.5 MBps ultraportable average, the Dell Inspiron 11 3000's (500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive) 30.5 MBps and the T200's (64GB eMMC SSD) 44.6 MBps. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 delivered a comparable 145.4 MBps.
The Switch 11 took 9 minutes and 2 seconds to complete the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test (matching 20,000 names and addresses). That's enough to best the 11:02 average, as well as the times posted by the T200 (16:44) and the Inspiron 11 (15:22). The Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 destroyed the competition with 4:43.
You're not going to hunt monsters in Evolve or explore the beautiful world of Far Cry 4 with the Switch 11's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4200 GPU. However, if you want to play casual games like Candy Crush Saga, this ultraportable is for you.
During the World of Warcraft benchmark, the hybrid hit 31 fps at 1366 x 768 on auto-detect, just missing the 33 fps ultraportable average. Still it was enough to beat the Dell Inspiron's 11 3000, which notched 20 fps.
At its native 1080p resolution, the Switch mustered only 17 fps on auto-detect, well below the 32 fps average.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the Switch 11 scored 33,435, beating the 29,477 average. The Surface Pro 3 notched 33,614, while the Inspiron 11 hit 20,316. The T200 scraped together a measly 16,567.
Whether you use the Switch 11 as a laptop or tablet, you're going to get subpar battery life. On the notebook version of the Laptop Mag Battery Test, (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 ntis), the hybrid lasted 6 hours and 5 minutes. During the tablet iteration of the test (Web surfing at 150 nits), the time dropped to 5:36. That's well below the ultraportable (7:15) and tablet (8:37) averages.
The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 lasted 6:14, while the Asus Transformer T200 posted a time of 6:27. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was the last hybrid standing at 7:27.
Software and Warranty
It's nice to see that the Acer Aspire Switch 11 isn't besieged by bloatware. The Acer Care system offers a clean and colorful way to check out your system's diagnostics, offering system tuneups and checkups. Recovery Management lets you perform a full system restore or a customized version in case of a crash.
Flipboard and Fresh Paint are the only third-party apps pre-installed on the system.
The Acer Aspire Switch 11 comes with a one-year limited warranty.
The $649 model of the Acer Aspire Switch 11 I reviewed has a 1.5-GHz Intel Core i3-4012Y processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, an Intel HD Graphics 4200 GPU and a 1080p screen.
The $349 base model features a 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Z3745 CPU, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of Flash Memory, Intel HD Graphics and a 1366 x 768 touch-screen display.
Those searching for a bit more oomph will be interested in the $799 configuration with its 1.6-GHz Intel Core-i5-4202Y CPU, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD with a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 4200 GPU and a 1080p touch panel.
The Acer Aspire Switch 11 is neither a slayer of notebooks nor of tablets, but a fairly good compromise between the two. For $649, you get a hybrid with solid performance, a nice 1080p display and a speedy SSD. It's $180 cheaper than the base model of the Surface Pro 3 when equipped with a keyboard cover -- and you get a more comfortable typing experience than Microsoft's 2-in-1 and twice the storage for your money.
However, that doesn't make up for the top-heavy design, disappointing audio and subpar battery life. Those on a budget would be better off with the Asus Transformer Book T200, a lighter 2-in-1 whose Atom processor provides fairly good performance for the price. Have more to spend? I'd recommend saving your pennies and purchasing a Core i5 Surface Pro 3. Priced at $899 ($1,028 with keyboard cover), you'll get better performance, audio and battery life than the Switch 11, and the Surface Pro has a sharper display.
But if you're looking for an affordable hybrid system, the Acer Aspire Switch 11 is a sound choice.