With the Acer Aspire Switch 11 V (starts at $499, £549, about AU$689) it's all about the hinge. It's the first thing you notice when you pull this 2-in-1 out of its box: the bloated gray tube growing out of the base. Apple designers are advised to take their blood pressure medication before viewing. Oncologists too.
The hinge is uncomplicated in all the good and bad ways that word implies. It allows the Aspire Switch 11 V's screen to effortlessly disengage, flip and tent with the base. But it's also ugly as all get out.
Other 2-in-1's in this category, like the Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA ($329, £207, AU$479) and the HP Spectre x2 ($799, £799, AU$1,699), may look a little better while offering similar convertibility, but the Aspire Switch 11 V has them beat when it comes to ease-of-use. Don't ignore this ugly duckling.
If its bulging hinge wasn't odd enough, the Aspire Switch 11 V's exterior features a crosshatched pattern in two tones of gunmetal grey. You won't mistake this Acer for any of its competitors – few other laptops are as unique looking as the 11 V.
A brow and chin section of dark and textured plastic frame an aluminum finished main body. This two-toned and two-surfaced design isn't arbitrary; rather, it is unglamorously functional. As I'll explain, the textured plastic gives needed grip for pulling the screen off its base.
The two-tone theme continues inside. Here, unlike the outside, it is aesthetically pleasing because the colors contrast rather than blend: the black screen panel and keys pop against the gray of the laptop's base. The Aspire Switch 11 V looks its best when it's open.
Keyboard and trackpad
The Aspire Switch 11 V's input devices make good use of the limited surface area available to them. With many 2-in-1's, the keyboard and trackpad feel like afterthoughts: cramped, squishy and unresponsive. Not so with Acer's laptop. In fact, the keyboard and trackpad are highlights.
The keyboard's chiclet-style keys provide great feedback and are well spaced – I never felt like I needed to "reach." My only complaint is the keys' travel – they could use a little more – but it's a minor quibble with a keyboard that overall feels good enough for even enterprise power users.
The trackpad occupies just enough real estate to be accessible without getting in the way. But this isn't even the trackpad's best feature: its real strength is its multi-touch support. Scrolling, zooming, double-clicking – all the multi-touch functions are responsive and lag-free.
There is one negative: quite a bit of force is required to "click" the track pad – way too much for an action that is used so frequently. Fortunately, it wasn't an experience-killer. I just had to use the old trackpad tap for all my clicking.
Hinges, heft and screen
Grab the Aspire Switch 11 V's screen by one of its upper corners and turn it like a steering wheel – that's all you need to do to convert this laptop into a tablet. Thank the Acer's ugly hinge for this easy conversion. Two clamps sit on the hinge that – when the screen is pulled in this wheel-like way – automatically disengage.
Want to convert the whole thing back into a laptop (or reverse the screen for tent mode)? Line up the clamps with the screen's docks and they'll lock up again like two Lego blocks on steroids. It's so satisfying you'll find yourself pulling the Aspire Switch 11 V apart and putting it back together – over and over. I did.
The hinge is smart enough to differentiate between a pull-to-convert and any other pull-to-lift. No wheel-off, no break. I dangled; I yanked; I jerked the full laptop by its screen and it always stayed engaged.
My one issue? The rear-facing camera lens is embedded in the upper left corner of the exterior panel. This is the exact spot where right-handed persons will grab the screen to pull it off. Lens smudge is thus inevitable. A better location for the camera would have been in the top-center of the exterior, where greasy hands have no reason to go.
At 3.22 pounds (1.46 kg) the Aspire Switch 11 V is no lightweight. In fact, it's one of the heavier laptops in its class. The HP Spectre x2 is only 2.68 pounds (1.22 kg) and the Asus Transformer Book TP 200SA is only 2.61 pounds (1.18 kg), even though they both sport similarly sized screens.
Most of the 11 V's weight is in its screen. While that's par for the course with 2-in-1's, the 11 V is particularly hefty. One-handed tablet holding is thus a short affair. For a long-term activity like movie watching, the 11 V's tent-mode is the best configuration.
Unfortunately, there is no comfortable configuration for using the 11 V in a lap.
That's because the 11 V doesn't sit flush against surfaces like other laptops – rather it rests on its hinge. This is fine for unmoving, flat surfaces like a desk, but in a lap, the hinge becomes a perfect pivot point. Thanks to the 11 V's weighty screen, the whole device tips over as soon as you take your hands off the keyboard.
The Aspire Switch 11 V's 11.6 inch screen is embedded in a 13.75 inch panel. I guess Acer wanted to make sure we have plenty of thumb room when holding the 11 V in tablet mode.
While the screen is a bit overwhelmed by the excess paneling, overall it's well designed. At 1080p resolution, it is quite clear and easy to see from multiple viewing angles. The touchscreen picks up on every swipe and drag and scrolls as well as any high-end smartphone. It also is plenty bright – just don't sit with a light behind you, as its glossy surface is prone to glare.
Acer also equipped the screen with additional features (which can be toggled via the Quick Access app on the home screen) like adaptive brightness and the proprietary LumiFlex. These automatically adjust the screen's configuration (brightness and color saturation, respectively) based on ambient viewing conditions.
The two features, along with Acer's Blue Light Shield ensure the screen is always rich, warm and bright. And I appreciated that they were on by default. Optimal viewing requires minimal, if any, fiddling with settings.
Here is the Acer Aspire Switch 11 V's configuration sent to techradar for review:
CPU: 800 MHz Intel Core M 5Y10c (dual-core, 4M Cache, up to 2 GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5300
RAM: 4 GB LPDDR3 Memory
Screen: 11.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 FHD LED LCD, IPS, multi-touch
Storage: 128GB SSD
Ports: USB 3.0, Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, MicroSD card reader, Headphone jack
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 5MP Auto-Focus Rear Camera and HD Front Camera
Weight: 3.22 pounds
Size: 11.8 x 8.1 x 0.8 inches (W x D x H)
In terms of hardware, the Aspire Switch 11 V is smack in the middle of the budget 2-in-1 ranks. The cheaper Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA ($329, £207, AU$479) may have the same amount of RAM as the 11 V (4GB) but its Celeron processor isn't as efficient as the 11 V's Core M.
The HP Spectre x2, with its 1.2Ghz Intel Core m7-6Y75 and 8GB of RAM has both the 11 V and the TP200SA beat in terms of power, but it's also the most expensive ($799, £799, AU$1,699) of the three.
That being said, power is usually not the most important differentiator in this laptop class. Storage (and design and usability) is.
The TP 200SA at 64 GB has the least, while the Spectre x2 at 256 GB has the most. The 11 V, of course, is in between at 128 GB. At $499 (£549, about AU$689), the 11 V is perfectly reasonable.
The Spectre x2 unsurprisingly performs the best on our benchmark tests. Its Cloud Gate score is 917 points better than the 11 V's and a whopping 3,141 points better than the TP200SA. It also outshined its two competitors in Sky Diver and Fire Strike, as well.
But these aren't gaming laptops. In the budget 2-in-1 class, the ability to surf the web, run office applications and multitask are much more important than graphics. And in those tasks, the Aspire Switch 11 V more than holds its own.
On the PCMark 8 Home Test, the 11 V performs slightly worse than the Spectre x2, scoring a 2,003 to the HP device's 2,396. But the 11 V absolutely trumps the TP200SA, which only scores a 1,214. Not bad for the weird looking 2-in-1 that is nearly half the price of the Spectre x2 and only $170 more expensive than the TP200SA.
Benchmarks aside, the 11 V did not suffer from any lag or freezing when I had multiple applications and multiple tabs open at the same time. There is a noticeable delay when the screen flips in tablet mode, but all in all the 11 V is a ship that sails very smoothly.
Sadly, the 11 V is a juice hog. On the PCMark 8 Battery Life test it lasts only 3 hours and 38 minutes, falling behind both the TP200SA (7 hours, 36 minutes!) and the Spectre x2 (3 hours, 54 minutes). On my personal "movie" test (brightness and speakers at 50%) it performed even worse, lasting only 2 hours and 51 minutes.
Despite its supposedly efficient Broadwell chip, the 11 V's screen also runs a little hot after extended use. The base, fortunately, never heats up at all.
While it may not be the most powerful and energy efficient 2-in-1 in its class, the Acer Aspire Switch 11 V does provide a particularly unique and enjoyable user experience. If you can get over its looks, the 11 V has a lot to offer for its price.
Many 2-in-1's in its price range aren't nearly as convertible as the Aspire Switch 11 V – and those that are don't move between tablet, laptop and tent mode as smoothly (or as enjoyably) as the 11V. Its hinge is a delight.
Its keyboard, trackpad and touch screen deserve praise as well. For a device in this price range, its input devices are surprisingly responsive.
As much as the 11 V's hinge is a delight, it also gets in the way. It makes lap use uncomfortable, acts as a potentially disastrous pivot point and hurts any kind of aesthetic appeal the 11 V may have. Acer got the mechanics of the hinge right, it's unfortunate they couldn't do the same for its looks.
The battery is also a disappointment. Despite its Core M chip, the 11 V can't even muster 4 hours of unplugged usage. While not a disaster, it's certainly a big drawback for a device this small and underpowered.
Acer's Aspire Switch 11 V is no runway model, but devices in its budget category rarely are. It's function over form here and the 11 V is as functional as they come.
Yes, its battery is terrible, but its easy convertibility and rock-solid inputs more than make up for it. If you don't have a lot to spend (and you don't mind your devices a little homely), then the Aspire Switch 11 V is a 2-in-1 worth considering.