I don’t know if anybody is actually buying these things, but Little Windows Tablets are proving themselves to be quite the capable category of on-the-go productivity devices. Available for just a few hundred bucks, they’re rapidly becoming the netbooks of the ’10s, only with some unique tricks that make them considerably more worthwhile.
The latest entry in the category is Acer’s Aspire Switch 10. It’s called Switch because it features a slate-style tablet that attaches to a removable keyboard. Using a magnetic design, it makes for one of the most seamless and speedy connections I’ve yet to encounter in a device like this. It can also be reversed, so the keyboard also doubles as a stand which lets you invert the tablet and prop the screen up, tent style.
The centerpiece of the unit is a 10.1-inch slate running a full version of Windows 8.1 (plus, copies of Office Home and Student 2013 are included). It’s fine to look at but nothing special: The 5-point touchscreen offers a slightly disappointing resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, and it’s quite dim even at full brightness. Other specs aren’t likely to surprise you either, with the unit featuring a 1.33GHz Atom CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD, and just a smattering of ports. On the slate, you’ll find micro USB, HDMI, and SD card slots. On the keyboard unit, an extra (full size) USB 2.0 is added to the mix.
All of this is crammed into quite a compact package. The slate itself weighs just 1.3 pounds and measures 11mm thick. When connected, the keyboard adds another 1.1 pounds and an extra 10mm of girth, making it easy to tote in either configuration.
With such minimalistic specs, you probably won’t be surprised to hear the Switch 10 is far from a dazzling performer. Benchmarks are about in line with the similar Lenovo ThinkPad 8 tablet, which is to say it’s largely unusable for anything involving serious graphics but surprisingly responsive and capable at managing everyday tasks involving productivity apps, web browsing, and the like.
Clad in silvery plastic and aluminum, the Switch is humbly designed but still manages to feel sturdy and tough. I’m not in love with the keyboard attachment. The keyboard is smallish (as expected on a device this small) and on the mushy side, and the touchpad can be erratic. The touchscreen is much more responsive and accurate, though, and I found myself using it for primary navigation even when I had the keyboard attached.
Many of my complaints are fairly minor, however. And they belie the simple fact that the Switch 10 is often a pleasure to use. On the whole, it’s a capable and very portable tablet, giving you the full Windows experience in a package that’s easy to toss into a bag or backpack. Keyboard gripes aside, I actually enjoyed spending time with the device, and frequently found myself using it as a standard slate, leaving the keyboard attachment behind. A little more polish—perhaps a better screen and a beefier battery that offers more than the sub-6 hours of life you get here—and Acer could have a minor masterwork on its hands.