Acer have a history of throwing unusual form factors into the market and the device we’re going to review here, the Acer Aspire Switch 12 SW5-271 (2014 edition), is one of their weirdest designs, next to the Aspire R13 or the R15.
That probably hasn’t been the most successful strategy for them, after all the latest announcements do stick to more conventional builds, but did make their products unique, different from what the competitors had to offer.
The Aspire Switch 12 is a fanless ultraportable built on Intel Core M hardware. It offers a 12.5 inch display and sells for $699 an up, thus it’s a close competitor to the Asus Transformer Book Chi T300 we reviewed a few weeks ago. A follow-up of this model is in the works for 2015, of which we had a very short glimpse at the launch event, but there are still not many details about it or its due date. So until then, this one remains Acer’s top-of-the-line in its narrow segment of premium convertibles.
The form factor is the one that sets the Aspire Switch 12 apart from all the other Core M 2-in-1s out there and it’s at the same time its biggest drawback (or the source of most of my nits with it). Stick with me for the next few minutes and you’ll find out exactly why.
This is the Acer Aspire Switch 12 – a Core M ultraportable with an atypical form-factor
The specs sheet
|Acer Aspire Switch 12 SW5-271|
|Screen||12.5 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, touch, glossy|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Y Core M-5Y10c CPU|
|Graphics||integrated Intel 5300 HD|
|Memory||4 GB LPDDR3 dual-channel|
|Storage||128 GB SSD (LiteON L8H-128V2G)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel 7265 Dual Band), Bluetooth|
|Ports||USB 2.0, micro-USB 3.0, micro-HDMI, microSD card reader, headphone jack|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||318 x 220 x 17 mm (12.50” x 8.70” x 0.69”)|
|Weight||Tablet only: 1.08 kg (2.39 lbs)|
Tablet + keyboard: 1.41 kg (3.11 lbs)
|Extras||the keyboard is not backlit, faux-leather envelope included|
Design and exterior
When you get this thing out of its box you’ll realize something’s a bit weird. It looks like a regular clamshell laptop, with an upper side that includes a screen sitting on top of a lower part that includes a keyboard. But, the screen is facing upwards, which means that lifting it up actually leaves you looking at its plastic made black case. Weird, but here’s the trick: grab the keyboard and pull hard. It will pop-out of its magnetic latches, because what we have here is actually an independent Bluetooth keyboard that can be latched to the tablet in two modes: on the back, for storage and charging, or on the front, if you want to use it (although that’s not a must, as you’ll see in a bit). Connecting it to the slate in both cases is extremely simple, as the latches are guided by some strong magnets.
Note: Excuse me for interrupting, I'm gathering my favorite Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on ultraportable laptops over here, if you're interested.
If that makes little sense, the video and the pictures below will definitely help.
Ok, so once you disconnected the keyboard from the back, you’ll be left with the actual computer sitting on an adjustable stand, and the independent keyboard. That one can be latched to the front side of the tablet if you want to, and in this case the machine becomes fairly lapable (can be used on your lap, like a regular clamshell device). However, notice that you don’t have any palm-rest at all and no trackpad either, and these are going to take a lot of time to get used to.
5 different modes on the Switch 12
If you keep the Switch on a desk, the former aspect is not going to be that much of a problem. Try to use it on the sofa, leaned to your legs though, and you’ll find the lack of space for your arms annoying. On top of that, the keyboard is cramped and the fact that you have to deal with a trackpoint and not a more commonly used trackpad aren’t helping its cause either. At least not when you look at it as a laptop, which is one of the reasons people buy a 2-in-1. In fact, it’s probably the main reason.
There’s one more thing to add here: the IO. This device offers a single full-size USB slot, on its foot, as well as one microUSB and microHDMI connector on the actual slate. There’s also a slot for a microSD card. In other words, you’ll struggle when you’ll need to connect peripherals.
As a tablet, the Switch 12 left me with mixed feelings. On one side it’s very sturdy built, with a matte textured plastic case and a Gorilla Glass covered display. On the other, it’s rather bulky and heavy and doesn’t look as fancy, as premium as some of the other options out there. This latter aspect is of course highly subjective. I for one appreciate the overall looks, as it reminds me of the simple design of the ThinkPads, but some of you might not. I’d advise to see it in person and experience the quality finishing and strong craftsmanship, if possible.
The former, well… it’s definitely not very comfortable to hold a 2.4 pounds slate in your hands for a while. That’s with the keyboard disconnected. Together they weigh around 3.1 lbs, which is heavier than the average modern 13 inch ultrabook. On the other hand, the real estate provided by a 12.5 inch screen opens up extra possibilities, but there’s still a lot of bezel around the display that hopefully will be shaved off on the future releases.
However, when it comes to watching movies or anything that only requires to leave the device standing on a flat surface, the form factor proves versatile, thanks to its adjustable foot that does an excellent job at keeping this thing exactly how you set it up. The base is very well made and stable, thus this approach is imo superior to the Surface’s Pro 3 hinge, although bulkier. It even has rubber feet on the bottom.
The problem with this device though is that very few are going to buy it primarily for watching movies, where it excels. People are going to expect more from a 2-in-1, are going to expect to use the keyboard and the ports, where this implementation falls rather short.
The larger screen has its benefits in tablet mode, but the hefty weigh does hinder the overall experience
Keyboard and trackpad
Let’s turn out attention on the keyboard.
The good part is that typing on it proved to be more comfortable and more precise than I was expecting. While slim, this keyboard doesn’t flex or bulge at all, and the keys are firm and responsive. Their stroke is limited and that will take some time to get used to, but even so, imo this implementation provides some of the better feedback I’ve felt on a thin and light computer in the last few months.
The layout on the other hand is an entirely different story, as Acer stuck with the one implemented on the Aspire S7 and a few of their other ultraportables. That means there’s no 6th row of F keys, which are instead comboed with the row of numeric keys, there’s no dedicated End or Home key, there’s a shrunk down CapsLock key and there’s no right CTRL, which is instead replaced by the Del key. If you’re not typing for a living and you’re willing to give this approach a try, you’ll probably get used to the screwed-up layout. For an experienced user though the changes are a nightmare.
As a side note, the keyboard isn’t backlit.
I do have to add a few more things here. Like I said before, this is a Bluetooth keyboard. That means it doesn’t have to be physically connected to the actual base, which does offer an amount of extra freedom. But you will have to charge the keyboard though and the only way to do it is to connect it to the back of the device, behind the screen. However, the keyboard cannot be used while it’s docked and charges. In other words, there’s no way to use and charge this thing at the same time, which is plain stupid.
Besides that, I couldn’t exactly find a Pairing mode, so that means this keyboard will probably only work with the Switch 12 and not with other Bluetooth capable devices. Shouldn’t really matter, but worth mentioned.
Anyway, as you might have noticed by now, this keyboard lacks a touchpad and only relies on a trackpoint and two physical click buttons, which are small, but work really well. The trackpoint on the other hand isn’t as good. As a ThinkPad user I’m more accustomed to TrackPoints than most, but this one has two major flaws. First of all, it’s small and stiff. And second, it only seems to handle two speeds, with no progression in between: very slow and very fast, which makes controlling the cursor extremely challenging. With patience and practice, you can probably overcome this aspect, but there’s little that can be done about the former.
Acer put a 12.5 inch touchscreen on the Switch 12, with an IPS panel, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, a digitizer layer and a layer of Gorilla Glass 3 on top with an anti-fingerprint coating. That means you can use this device for inking and taking notes with an appropriate Pen/Stylus, although none is included in the pack and you’ll need to buy it yourself.
The resolution is ideal for the display’s size, but you’ll probably want to scale up the interface and fonts, otherwise they’ll be a bit too small. You’ll still encounter occasional scaling artifacts, but nothing extremely annoying, nothing like on an UHD or 4K panel.
The screen’s image quality is quite good. The panel only falls short when it comes to color reproduction, as it only covers 54% of the Adobe RGB spectrum according to my tests and has a red tint that could not be fixed by any calibration run. That aside though, the contrast and viewing angles are solid, the white point is close to the ideal value of 6500K and the brightness is top notch, even good enough to make this usable outdoors, despite the glare.
In fact, I found the panel too bright when using it during the night, as the the minimum brightness setting was still too powerful for my eyes.
As a side note, this thing does come with a Light sensor and the screen is set to Automatically adjust brightness by default, something you can disable from the Power Modes’ options if you want to.
If you’re interested in the technical details, here’s what you should expect from this display, according to the Spyder4Elite:
- Panel HardwareID: LG LGD0437 (LP125WF2-SPB2)
- Coverage: 72% sRGB, 51% NTSC, 54% AdobeRGB;
- measured gamma: 2.3;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 380 cd/m2 on power;
- contrast at max brightness: 570:1;
- white point: 6800 K;
- black on max brightness: 0.66 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 3.07 uncalibrated, 3.02 calibrated .
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
There’s an Intel Core M platform powering up the Switch 12, to be more exact the Intel Core M 5Y10c processor with Intel HD 5300 graphics, 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD.
The RAM is not upgradeable and all the hardware is tucked inside the slate, while the battery resides in the foot. The LiteON L8H-128V2G SSD Acer put in this machine offers fast read speeds and below-average write speeds, but it’s overall a decent solution and does help with the performance. This is an M.2 SSD and is replaceable, you’ll find some pics of the inner components in this forum thread.
I’ve tested a few different Core M implementations in the last few months and this one proved to be one of the fastest and coolest. However, Acer does bundle a fair amount of Bloatware on their machine and you’ll want to get rid of most Acer programs, McAfee and all the trial software (eBay, Spotify, Office, among others) to speed this thing up.
There’s still so much you can expect from this low-power platform though, but as long as you stick to basic activities like browsing, watching videos, listening to music, editing documents, this thing will deliver. Chrome performance is still rather bad and inefficient, especially when it comes to streaming video, so you’ll want to use IE for that, which can easily handle up-to 4K Youtube streams, while Chrome cannot.
On the other hand, if you’ll push this too much it will choke, thus try to keep multitasking at bay and don’t expect to run modern games or complex software on it. You can still occasionally load Photoshop or Movie Maker for some quick projects and you can play older/simpler titles like Age of Empires 2, WOW or Minecraft, but make sure you understand exactly what this machine can and cannot do, if you’re to make good with it.
I tried to edit a clip in Premiere or run Need for Speed Most Wanted on this Switch 12, just to see how it will handle them, and it ended up throttling quite fast, which is exactly what I expected, and what you should expect as well. Throttling was somewhat visible in a few benchmarks as well, for instance when running Cinebench 11.5 for several times in a loop, and it mostly occurs once the hardware reaches a temperature of about 80 degrees Celsius, which is again on par with what I encountered on other Core M powered ultraportables.
Here are the benchmark results, if you’re interested in the numbers:
- 3DMark 11: P671;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 29593, Cloud Gate – 3056, Sky Diver – 1473, Fire Strike – 445;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 14.95 fps, CPU 1.87 pts, CPU Single Core 0.93 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 19.08 fps, CPU 151 pts, CPU Single Core 79 pts.
- x264 Benchmark 4.0: Pass 1 – 59.23 fps, Pass 2 – 10.02 fps.
The results are just about average, mostly on par with those I got on the Asus Zenbook UX305, but poorer than on the Transformer Book Chi T300 (read the review, it explains why this one got such spectacular scores).
Long story short though, as long as you expect to use this for daily activities and have a small tolerance for occasional chokes and waiting times, you’ll get along fine with the Acer Aspire Switch 12. If you do need a powerful ultraportable though, there are better options for you out there.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
Performance aside, this machine is of course completely silent and does run cooler than the other Core M devices I tested. The chunkier body gets the “blame” for that, since the hardware does reach high values under stress, as mentioned above.
Regardless, you won’t have a problem using this thing as a tablet and holding it in your hands when sticking to casual activities. See the pictures below for details.
*Daily Use – 1080p Youtube clip in IE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing Need for Speed Most Wanted for 30 minutes
As a side note, because the keyboard is independent, it’s not affected by the hardware heating up in any way, thus sweaty hands are not going to be a problem here.
Connectivity wise, the Switch offers Bluetooth and AC Wireless, through the Dual-Band Intel 7265 module inside. Wireless performance was fairly good as long as I stayed within close proximity of my router, although I’ve definitely seen faster devices. However, once I got a bit further away the signal strength and download speeds began to suffer, to the point where 1080p Youtube streaming needed occasional buffering time and did not run smoothly. That happened once I got past 30 feet away from my router, with 2 walls in between. So keep in mind that if you have dodgy wifi in your place the Aspire Switch 12 might not deliver the browsing/streaming/downloading experience you’d expect.
That aside, let’s talk about the speakers. There are two of them and they are placed on the front face, below the screen and close to each other, so you shouldn’t expect any stereo effect. The Audio quality is average, enough for some Youtube clips and movies, but with little bass and treble. The volume is slightly above average, enough to fill a medium room. Slight distortions are pushed through the frame at max volume, but because the speakers are actually placed on the tablet’s base/foot and not on the slate itself, those are hardly going to bother you.
Last but not least we have the webcam, placed on top of the screen, with microphone pins on the tablet’s lateral edges. Again, nothing out of ordinary, but alright for occasional Skype/Google calls as long as you’re in a proper lit room.
Acer put a 36 Wh battery inside the Switch 12, which is averages-sized for a 12.5 inch device, but smaller than what the clamshell ultraportables offer. Despite that, this thing proved to be fairly efficient in daily use and more efficient than most other tested Core M machines when it comes to playing videos (both streamed from Youtube and stored on the SSD).
Check out the numbers below (30% brightness equals ~120 nits):
- 3 W (~12 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
- 5.5 W (~6 h 30 min of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.5 W (~6 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6 W (~6 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen .mkv video in VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 7 W (~5 h of use) – heavy browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 6.5 W (~5 h 30 min of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON.
That’s not spectacular, but it’s not that bad either. The sleeker Asus Transformer Book Chi T300, which is this slate’s closest competitor, performed worse (it does have a smaller battery though, and a higher resolution display).
The Switch 12 offers between 5 to 7 hours of use on a charge
The slate is bundled with a 45 Wh brick and charging the battery from 10% to 100% takes around 2 hours. The keyboard houses a battery of its own, which needs to be charged independently by latching the keyboard to the back of the slate.
The laptop does not offer a Connected Standby mode.
Price and availability
The Aspire Switch 12 SW5-271 has been available in stores around the world for a while now.
The version tested here has a suggested retail price of $699, and can be found slightly discounted online from time to time.
Besides it, Acer also offers a lower-end model, with an Intel Core M 5Y10a processor and only a 60 GB SSD for $649. Personally, I’d stay away from this version as the storage space is too limited for a Windows computer. However, it would be a good pick if you plan on upgrading the storage anyway; you’d save $50 in the process.
The Switch 12 is competitively priced, selling for $649 and up
The Switch 12 gets two direct competitors: the Asus Transformer Book Chi T300 and a Dell Venue 11 Pro 7140, both 2-in-1 detachables built on Core M platforms.
The Chi T300 starts at $699 as well and that kind of money will get you the exact same configuration as on the Acer: Core M 5Y10c processor, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 12.5-inch FHD touchscreen, bar only a wireless N module.
The Chi T300 is a more comfortable to use tablet (smaller and lighter, lacks the stand/foot) and a more capable laptop, as it does offer a trackpad and full-size keyboard, but trails the Acer in terms of IO and battery life, lacks digitizer and pen support, is heavier when you take both the tablet and the dock into account and reaches higher case temperatures. Those interested in aesthetics will probably appreciate the Chi as well, with its Dark-Blue/White metallic construction and sleek silhouette.
The Asus CHi T300 is its main rival
It’s also worth adding that the Transformer Book Chi T300 is available in a higher end configuration as well, with a 3200 x 1800 px display, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD, for closer to $1000. Follow this link for more details on configurations and their latest prices.
The Venue Pro 11 isn’t such a close match though, as it’s a premium looking device as well, but it actually packs a smaller 10.8 inch display with digitizer support. And while $699 will buy you a similar configuration to the ones on the Asus and Acer machines above, it won’t buy you a keyboard dock as well, you’ll need to pay extra for it (MSRP of $150, but it’s usually cheaper).
At the end of the day, the Acer Aspire Switch 12 is not a bad device, but after using it for the last week or so, I think it fails to excel either as a tablet or as a laptop, which people would actually expect from a 2-in-1. And that’s unfortunate, cause the basics are done right here: it’s fast for its class, runs cool and lasts a fair amount of time each charge, and those are corroborated with a good screen that includes a digitizer layer and an overall sturdy built and light body, if you look at it as a whole.
Once you start using the Switch 12 though, you’ll find out it’s bulky and heavy for a tablet, or incomplete for a laptop, and both are caused by the form factor. The slate gets the irremovable foot, which does act great as a stand, but is a nuisance when you’ll want to take the device in your hands. The laptop lacks a proper keyboard/trackpad and instead has to make due with a Bluetooth external keyboard with no palm-rest at all, ruined by an deficient layout and a wacky trackpoint. On top of that, it lacks the ports offered by a standard ultrabook (and no, that new Macbook does NOT count here :P).
The Aspire Switch does not excel either as tablet or as a laptop
That’s why I can’t see myself buying the Acer Aspire Switch 12 or recommend it to others as a daily driver. It can be a good pick for some users with specific needs, those that require a digitizer-capable slate and will occasionally use the keyboard as well, those that want a fanless Windows slate for watching movies… I truly enjoyed using it for that, but in all fairness, I’d never pay nearly 700 bucks for a glorified mini-TV. Would you?
The updated Switch 12 2015 though, which is going to be a sleek metallic detachable from what we know at the time of this post, well, that could be an entirely different machine altogether and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Still, that’s something for the future.
For now, we’ll wrap it up on the 2014 edition of the Switch 12. If you have any questions or if you want to share your thoughts on it, the comments section is open and I’m around to reply. Stay close.