In search of the smallest – Acer Switch 10 Edition

Updated September 6th – More information, readbility

August 11th – Read my latest post- I got another Switch 10 and am using Fedora on it…

 

In my never-ending search for the smallest of functional laptops it’s almost been impossible to find something that meets at the nebulous intersection of light and small and actually useful. Useful usually means powerful enough. My drawers are littered with the plastic corpses of netbooks and just-too-slow laptops that compromised speed for size and weight. Or maybe technology just hadn’t caught up yet.

The closest I’ve come has been the 11 inch MacBook Air. Any model, post-2012, with it’s small size, backlit keyboard and amazing speed due to SSD and a Corei5, I’d almost reached nirvana. But there was one last thing- the 2-in-1 category. A tablet plus a real keyboard that was designed for the system to allow for both a satisfying laptop and a nice tablet experience.

Apple comes close with the iPad Air and a nice keyboard- but BT keyboards are still kludgy when connecting and the iPad iOS experience won’t replace a real laptop (for me) at this point. 

The Acer Switch 10 caught my eye. The Swich 10 seemed like the best of both worlds – strong, integrated keyboard for laptop use and a nice tablet for couch surfing.

 

AspireSwitch10 SW5 012 sku main

It seems like the near perfect size and format- but for one thing- Windows 8. But I could overlook that if the experience was as strong as it seemed to be. The review at Liliputing seemed to indicate it could be.

The price is compelling, the 64GB (drive) version has been dropping and was $399. It’s now $387 on Amazon, and will probably drop some more as a new version with a higher-res screen. There is an even more in-expensive 32GB version (both have 2GB ram, there are no other options for that) but I know that Windows 8 takes up a significant chunk of the internal storage- and the 32GB option is too constrained for me.


What I like about it

1. The screen. It’s very nice and the touch interface is excellent. Very responsive, sharp and high quality.

2. Windows 8. Many hate Metro but I found the few apps that exist to be really nice. The Ebay, Netflix and email app were nicely integrated and worked well with touch.

3. The Tablet itself- pulling the tablet off and using it as a tablet was really a great experience. I didn’t miss my iPad once. The locking mechanism (magnets) is very well done and it feels like a laptop when the keyboard is attached.

4. Efficiency – it only had 2GB ram – Windows actually seems very efficient with the ram. I know first hand that OSX chokes very easily with 2GB, I never felt like there was a slowdown with 2GB.

5. USB on the keyboard – this was nice for connecting ethernet.

 

What I didn’t like about it

1. The keyboard- mostly the trackpad. The keyboard itself was actually nicely sized and fit my larger hands well, I could type comfortably. However the keyboard itself had a bad plastic feel- a kind of hollow, hard feel. The trackpad is atrocious, and is too wide and the tactile sensing is just off. Unlike OSX you can’t disable it when you plug in a mouse. Going to type one of my fingers would invariably touch it and jerk the cursor away. They really need better sensors for when you are typing or if you have a mouse connected.

2. Power connection – very badly executed. It’s a L-shape, tiny plug that has to go right into the side of the tablet and was way to short. The battery life however was nice and decently long.

3. Windows Desktop – the classic windows interface – it was kind of nice to have this when in laptop mode, but it was also annoying using a touch interface with it. I could use the keyboard, bluetooth mouse and a gigabit USB ethernet adapter and it was a nice workstation. However the Meto/Desktop integration is just schizo. I hope Microsoft can work this out better in 9, but I’d hate to see the Metro apps disappear all together- I really enjoyed using some of them.

 

Linux

With a Secure UEFI boot I couldn’t get this to boot off a Ubuntu 64 thumb-drive I put together. It seems like it should have worked, but I also didn’t want to brick this device. The Atom CPU used on the Switch 10 is 64bit however they only installed a 32bit version of Windows for some reason. Only the 64bit version of Ubuntu supports the Secure UEFI. Linux on this (assuming the drivers exist out there for the screen) would be a dream, I look forward to someday being able to have a Linux 2-in-1 laptop.

 

Wrapup

In the end, I couldn’t handle the trackpad issues so I returned it. I would have kept if if they had a better trackpad, but it’s really hard to get over the issues with the trackpad when trying to type for extended periods. And having a nice keyboard experience was the reason I wanted this.

I really liked some of the Meto apps, and the tablet itself. It was a hard decision to return this, and I’m looking for another 2-in-1, I can live with Windows 8 and am looking forward to 9.

 

Other Options

If I had $1500 I bet the Helix is amazing… However for now I’m going to go back to my MBA 11” until I find a 2-in-1 with a really nice keyboard- even if it ends up running Windows.

The Asus Transformer pretty much matches the Switch 10 spec for spec.

Helix 2

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