There's certainly a market for entry-level Windows tablets. Plenty of people would prefer to run their favourite desktop software, such as desktop web browsers, rather than having to use alternatives from Apple and Google's app stores with an iPad or Android tablet.
The Surface Pro 3 is without a doubt the best in this class, but its cost and performance approaches that of a fairly high-end laptop, which somewhat limits its audience. If you're not looking to run demanding software like Photoshop or would prefer a simple device for little more than Microsoft Office on the move, then a hybrid could be the perfect alternative – less powerful, but much more affordable.
The Switch 11 is designed to fill that gap. It can be used as a tablet when detached from the dock, or like a laptop when the two are conjoined. It comes with an 11.6-inch screen, an upgrade from the 10.1-inch screen in the Switch 10, providing a bigger desktop area to work in, which many people will prefer when using Windows. But aside from that change, the design remains just about the same.
It costs a bit more than its predecessor too. The Switch 11 retails for about £369 (around $550, AU$720), while the Switch 10 was £299 (around $445, AU$580). Being less affordable eliminates one of the key advantages of the Switch 10, and means the shortcomings of the new model are less forgivable.
The dock and trackpad feel like they were taken straight from a netbook, with a cheap feeling plastic keyboard. There's a single USB 2.0 port on the side of this section. With the tablet and dock connected together, the Switch 11 weighs a hefty 1.6kg.
The tablet part is 11mm thick and weighs 840g, considerably more than many other tablets, but not an absolute show-stopper. The rest of the connectors and ports are built into this section – there's mini-HDMI, mini-USB, a MicroSD card reader, the volume controls and the power button.
The screen has a standard 1366 x 768 resolution, is coated in Gorilla Glass, and delivers a crisp, picture with bright colours. It looks okay even when viewed at different angles. It's perhaps the high point of the hardware, as with its predecessor. I've used far worse displays on laptops and have no real complaints.
Spec and performance
The hardware specification is designed to maximise battery life as much as possible, and for this reason, you get really low performance. There's a 1.3GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3745 Bay Trail processor, with 2GB of video memory, and a burst frequency of 1.8GHz. On paper, it sounds okay, but Windows 8.1 noticeably chugs at times on the Switch 11, made worse by some of Acer's policies and design choices.
There's a more powerful version too, with a 1920 x 1080 display and a 64-bit 1.5GHz Core i3-4012Y processor, 4GB of memory and a 60GB SSD.
The Switch 11 we tested has a 32GB Hynix HBG4e eMMC flash drive with a 500GB Western Digital hard disk. It's dreadful. The useful SSD-Z application reported TRIM was not running, its performance was no better than a hard disk and its formatted capacity was only 29.13GB – not much once Windows is installed.
The Switch 11 uses WIMBoot though, with 7GB consumed by the recovery partition, so the reported capacity is only 21.8GB – pretty tiny indeed.
It's not helped by Acer bundling so much near-useless bloatware. The desktop is covered in affiliate links – there's abFiles, abDocs, abPhoto and abMedia, Acer's store, Acer Care Centre, and the ubiquitous McAfee Antivirus and its torrent of endless popups. This doesn't even cover everything…
With all this junk installed, the C: drive filled up quickly, to the point where benchmarks were crashing. It took hours to get PCMark to perform reliably, even when it was installed on the D: drive, since temporary files still filled up the C: drive.
Be warned – without changing the default installation path to the D: drive whenever you install software onto the Switch 11, you'll run into this problem too. If you buy a Switch 11 for a less technical family member, it's worth explaining this point.
Here are the full specs of our review model:
CPU: Intel Atom Z3745
Screen: 11.6-inch 1366 x 768
Storage: 32GB eMMC
Optical drive: none
Ports: 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x Micro-HDMI, 1 x Micro-USB, 1 x MicroSD
Connectivity: 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
Weight: 840g (1.55kg with dock)
Size: 298 x 205 x 11mm (W x D x H) with dock 25mm high
The benchmark results for the Switch 11 were as follows:
Now, this Acer hybrid isn't designed to be a supercomputer, so low performance results are to be expected. PCMark 8's Conventional test result of 1163 points was notably slightly lower than the Switch 10's 1240 points. A typical score from a gaming laptop is around 3500 points, so it's clear the Switch 11 is no powerhouse.
Graphics performance is similarly limited, as seen from the Cinebench tests. As the Atom Z3745 is only a 32-bit chip, I could only use Cinebench 11.5. An OpenGL score of 6.74 fps looks bad, and a CPU score of 1.72 not much better, but once again, this isn't a system designed to replace a high-end laptop. To judge it on these scores alone would be missing the point a bit.
The Fire Strike section of 3DMark wouldn't run, seemingly since the Switch 11 only supports DirectX 9 graphics. And the scores that I could get from 3DMark weren't great, but again, this is expected.
However, real-world usage is where the Switch 11 shines. Sure, it's slower than a normal laptop, but it will run Office, and crucially, could play back 1080p HD video from a connected USB hard disk without any problems. So it's certainly powerful enough for basic tasks.
Battery life is good too. Almost six hours in PCMark 8 when docked is a decent result.
The Switch 11 provides a netbook-like Windows 8.1 environment, with both a tablet and keyboard dock for a fairly reasonable price.
It lets you run (32-bit only) Windows software, without being restricted to an app store, and therefore you can use the same software you have on your desktop PC in a tablet. That is something a lot of people will definitely want.
Battery life is pretty good. You'd expect that, since it's one of the main driving forces behind Intel's Bay Trail processors – but credit is still due. PCMark 8 is quite a tough test for battery life, and any score over five hours is good, so the Switch 11 does well here.
The Switch 11 is really not very well designed. Nearly every aspect of its build feels cheap, notably excluding the display. It's heavier than most tablets, and even some laptops when docked.
It's full of bloatware too, which takes up a chunk of the very limited space on the C: drive, and really makes the Windows experience less pleasurable.
While we can forgive its slow application performance, loading times seem quite long, and the overall feel of the device is a bit clunky. It's Windows 8.1, but not at its best. The slow performance may lead to frustration at times, made worse when the C: drive fills up and the Switch 11 no longer behaves itself.
Just as happened when I tested its predecessor, my feelings about the Switch 11 changed during use. The initial grumbles at the low benchmark scores were put to one side when it handled a 1080p video with ease, bearing in mind the price tag is still lower than Apple's starting price for a 16GB iPad Air 2.
The concept of hybrid tablets has some legs, and they bear a strong resemblance to netbooks, but Acer's execution falls short with the Switch 11. With limited hardware resources, lean and mean is the way to go, but the Switch 11 is loaded with junk. Uninstalling the whole lot makes the experience a good deal better.
Given the higher price than its predecessor, I feel the shortcomings of the Switch 11 cannot be ignored. It's not a great tablet, laptop or Windows 8.1 system. It's not particularly portable, it feels cheap and it's most definitely not powerful. But it works okay as long as it isn't given anything stressful to do.