Hands on with Acer's Aspire Switch 10

Acer's hybrid is primarily a tablet, but a magnetic keyboard base lets users give it different shapes

Acer Aspire Switch 10

Acer Aspire Switch 10

Acer's dual-purpose Aspire Switch 10 can function as a Windows 8 tablet and laptop, but the shape-shifting product's uniqueness is in its magnetic keyboard base, an element not found on other hybrid devices.

The Aspire Switch 10 is first a tablet, but it can be attached in multiple ways to a keyboard base, so it can be used as a laptop or as a screen to conduct video chats or watch movies. The keyboard base has a rotating roller with snap-on hinges and magnets that allow the tablet to be placed in multiple positions.

During a brief hands-on test at an event in New York, the tablet securely snapped on to the hard keyboard dock base. The tablet can also be docked to the base in the opposite direction, which Acer calls "display mode." It also can adopt a reverse V shape, which the company calls "tent mode."

The Switch 10 incorporates ideas from other hybrids already available, but the differentiating factor is the magnetic keyboard base. Lenovo's heavier Flex and Yoga hybrids can be placed in similar positions as the Switch 10, but the screens are hardwired to the keyboard base. Detachable hybrids like Hewlett-Packard's Split X2 and Acer's Transformer Book T100 have tablet screens that dock to the base only in laptop mode.

Microsoft's 10.6-inch Surface Pro 2 has an optional soft keyboard that attaches to the tablet through magnets, but a kickstand is needed to secure the tablet.

As a tablet, the Switch 10 had a sharp screen and felt responsive. It runs on a dual-core Intel Atom Z3745 processor -- code-named Bay Trail -- with a clock speed of 1.33GHz. The tablet has a screen resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, which is close to 720p, and not full HD.

At 585 grams, the Switch 10 isn't as light as the iPad, but it feels light enough to carry around. Acer missed on some features -- it has only one front-facing, 2-megapixel webcam. Many tablets in the class of Switch 10 have two cameras, one on the front and one on the back.

The Switch 10 will ship with a basic keyboard dock, and with it the product weighs roughly 1.2 kilograms. Acer plans to sell an option dock with a hard drive, which will appeal to laptop users. Internal storage on the Switch 10 is only 32GB or 64GB.

The product starts at US$379 and will ship in June in the U.S. and Canada. The company didn't comment on worldwide availability. Other similar-sized tablets include the $375 HP Omni 10, which has a faster Bay Trail processor and more cameras, but no keyboard base.

The Switch 10 is an example of how hybrid device makers are trying out a variety of designs. But in a stagnant PC market desperate for innovation, companies are hoping one of these designs will become a hit.

"At the end of the day what they are trying to do is combine the capabilities of a PC and tablet in a device," said Bob O'Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research.

PC makers are trying to get the weight, size and price point of hybrid devices right, O'Donnell said. There has been some adoption of hybrids among business users, who want a tablet yet need a PC to run business applications.

The success of hybrids also depends on the willingness of users to run Windows 8 in tablet form, and early signs of adoption are encouraging, he said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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