Comes with keyboard cover and stylus. Typist-friendly keyboard cover. USB-C and USB 3.0 ports.
Underwhelming battery life. 64GB versus rivals' 128GB of storage. Tiny, difficult-to-push power button.
- Bottom Line
For half the price of Microsoft's least-expensive Surface Pro with keyboard cover and stylus, Acer's Switch 3 offers an appealing 12.2-inch detachable with a winning keyboard and USB-C connectivity.
Microsoft's Surface Pro has created a booming market—for tablet/laptop 2-in-1s for buyers who can't afford that premium-priced model. The latest entry is the Acer Switch 3, a detachable hybrid priced at $449.99 including the tablet, keyboard cover, and stylus. The least expensive Surface Pro is $799 for the tablet alone or north of $1,000 if you spring for the keyboard and pen. On the other end of the price spectrum, the $299 Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 320 is our Editors' Choice for budget 2-in-1 detachables for its solid feature set and sturdy design, but the Switch 3, with its more muscular components, is well worth a look if you don't need to stay under $300.
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All Modern Conveniences
Available in a single configuration, the Acer Switch 3 has a gray metal back that picks up a few finger smudges, while the black bezel around its glass screen collects thumbprints like crazy. The keyboard cover continues the dark gray theme—none of the burgundy or blue available from Microsoft. Measuring 0.39 by 11.6 by 7.9 inches (HWD), the tablet is virtually the same size as a Surface Pro, and substantially larger than the Transformer Mini's 0.5 by 10.2 by 6.7 inches. The extra width makes for more comfortable typing.
It's also relatively heavy—1.98 pounds without the keyboard cover, compared with 1.75 for the Asus Transformer Mini (including its keyboard cover), 2.2 pounds for the Miix 320, and 1.69 for the Core m3 Surface Pro. The keyboard cover adds a quarter-inch of thickness and three-quarters of a pound, making the Switch no burden in a briefcase but a bit much to carry by hand for long periods. A loop on the side of the keyboard holds the supplied stylus.
As you hold the tablet in landscape mode, screen facing you, the ports are on the left edge: a connector for the AC adapter, a microSD card slot, a USB 3.0 port, a USB-C port, and a headphone jack. Acer says the USB-C port can charge low-wattage devices as well as serving as a data port and DisplayPort video output, but is not used to charge the Switch 3—the proprietary plug takes care of that. Tiny, shallow buttons for power, volume, and the Windows menu are on the top edge (the power button in particular was hard to engage). The U-shaped kickstand opens as far as 165 degrees from flush with the back of the tablet.
A 2-megapixel webcam takes attractive selfies and Skype videos, with good exposure and crisp details. We are less impressed with the 5-megapixel camera on the back of the tablet, which captures adequate shots when you need it but generally can't do anything your smartphone camera can't. The speakers near the front corners produce enough volume to fill a room, but sound is flat and tinny, with no bass to speak of.
Attaching the tablet to the keyboard cover is simply a matter of centering the former's Acer logo over the latter's pogo pins and letting the built-in magnets snap the two together. An additional magnetic flap in the keyboard cover props it at a slight angle for comfortable typing. Undocking is as easy as grasping the tablet and pulling it free. Like the Surface Pro and pretty much all detachables with kickstands, the Switch 3 felt a little unsteady when used as a laptop—the kickstand is prone to slide off your knees—but solid when resting on a desk or table.
The keyboard is full-sized (the A through apostrophe keys span the desktop regulation 8 inches) and well laid out, with inverted-T cursor arrows, albeit small ones, and with Control and Delete keys in their proper lower left and upper right corners, respectively. There are dedicated Page Up and Page Down keys—they team with the Fn key for Home and End—and large Backspace, Enter, and right Shift keys.
Typing feel is better than expected, and better than the Asus Mini's—travel is naturally shallow and in the first few minutes it feels as if there's a piece of cardboard under the keys, but feedback is perky and maintaining a good typing speed isn't difficult. The touchpad is small but glides and taps smoothly. Touch screen operations are smooth too, with minimal lag, and the two-button stylus works accurately, with good palm rejection.
The 12.2-inch IPS screen offers 1,920-by-1,200 resolution, with ample brightness and wide viewing angles. Colors are true, if maybe very slightly muted instead of bold or popping, but fine details are sharp and contrast is excellent. Videos we sampled looked great in our testing, even if letterboxed for the Acer's 16:10 rather than 16:9 aspect ratio.
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The Right Tool for the Job
The Switch 3 comes packed with a 1.1GHz (2.5GHz turbo) Pentium N4200 quad-core CPU with Intel HD 505 integrated graphics. Along with 4GB of memory and 64GB of Hynix eMMC flash storage—a weak spot if you hope to install a lot of applications—it powered the Switch 3 to a respectable score of 1,868 points in our PCMark 8 Work productivity test. That's far from a record-setting result (it's some 600 points shy of our favorite budget convertible, the Lenovo Yoga 710), but it's 400-odd points up on the Miix 320.
The Acer also did reasonably well in our multimedia benchmarks, finishing our Adobe Photoshop workflow in 7 minutes and 43 seconds—almost 10 minutes quicker than the Miix 320, though trailing the Yoga and the Dell Inspiron 3179—and completing our Handbrake video encoding test in less than 4 minutes. That's sluggish by desktop or desktop replacement laptop standards (and no one is going to do much video editing on a budget tablet anyway), but earns respect.
In our graphics and gaming benchmarks, by contrast, the Acer and its competitors were also-rans, nowhere near the 30 frames per second threshold for smooth gameplay. They're destined strictly for solitaire and casual games, not fast-twitch fragging.
Ideally, you'd use your detachable throughout a workday of word processing and spreadsheeting, then jettison the keyboard and get comfortable with the tablet for a relaxing evening of web and video viewing. The Acer can get you through the first part of that scenario, but not the second—at 8 hours and 38 minutes in our battery life test, you'll need to plug in for after-hours use. The Miix 320's time of 13:25 is much more along the lines of what we like to see in this segment.
Pick a Size, Pick a Portable
Better battery life, more storage, and a lower price help the Lenovo Miix 320 retain its Editors' Choice crown among budget detachable hybrids, but the Acer Switch 3 is a first-class contender with a superior keyboard and a larger (12.2 versus 10.1 inches) screen. We'd advise you to make your choice based on display size and price: the Lenovo if portability and budget matter most, the Acer if you want to do less squinting and get work done faster.
Other Acer First Looks
By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Old Greenwich, CT. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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