Acer Switch 3

Hybrid tablet PCs are filling up the market right now. They're versatile, they're highly portable, and they're desirable – with Microsoft's Surface Pro leading the charge. But it's far from the only horse in town; below it sits the Lenovo Yoga series, the Asus Transformer line, and many budget badged devices, like the Linx 12X64.

Acer has previous form – the Aspire One was one of the early trendsetters in the hybrid market, and previous Switch hybrid laptops have impressed.

You might expect the Switch 3, priced to land in the lower end of the market, to pale in comparison to its competition, but nothing could be further from the truth – this is a machine with features and build quality strong enough to stand up to the Surface Pro, if you'll forgive lacks a little in the power department.

Price and availability

The Acer Switch 3 is hitting shelves alongside the Core-toting Switch 5 (which should be around $1000/£1000/AU, though at only $439 (around £450, AU$560) this is a far more wallet-friendly option. 

The Pentium architecture means it's pricier than Atom-based competitors like the similarly-specced Lenovo Miix, but not by much, and the performance increase is significant.

You won't struggle to get hold of one, though it appears Acer is staggering the release; it's currently available in the US, and will hit UK shelves any time now. Like the Switch 12 before it, this latest model may take a little time to make its way to Antipodean shores.

Design

One thing is immediately clear as soon as you hold this hybrid: Acer's engineers have done a supreme engineering job. It's weighty, it's solid, and it's well put together. The unit feels as if it's been made of quality components and materials, and it'll certainly withstand a knock or two.

Even the included keyboard cover, clad in a sturdy matt fabric which won't stay pretty for long, has a stiffness to it that you wouldn't expect at this price point. It attaches via the usual magnetic strip you'll see on other hybrids, with an additional hinged magnet that attaches to the bottom edge of the screen and angles the keys while you're typing.

Acer's choice of screen, an extremely colorful 1920 x 1200 IPS panel, has decent viewing angles and, at 12.2-inches corner-to-corner, impressive pixel density. Its bezels are noticeable but inoffensive. You might even say they're useful, considering the keyboard riser.

Angles

Much of the Switch 3's strength comes from the rigid metal frame running around its edge, which extends into a u-shaped stand, technically adjustable to just about any angle. Technically.

Deeper angles reduce the resistance — damn those pesky laws of physics and leverage – and without any notching or locking, you're pretty much stuck to the full 165 degrees if you're laying it flat for drawing. We found this completely acceptable, but your personal tablet tastes may vary.

The design genius continues inside the shell. For an entirely passively cooled device, the Switch 3 doesn't ever seem to get outrageously hot, even when the Pentium N4200 hits boost mode and pulls its full 2.5GHz.

While that Pentium architecture gives the Switch 3 a slightly thicker profile than typically slender Atom-based devices – and adds a chunk to the price – it's hard to argue that it isn't worth it.

You're not going to be gaming on this device, but for everything else it never feels as if it's lacking power. Web browsing is fast, general Windows operation typically snappy, and screen drawing about as lag-free as it could possibly be.

There's nothing outstanding and nothing in our benchmarks, bar the PCMark battery life test, that's particularly disappointing. Under light load, like our movie test, the Switch 3 performs nicely.

In this machine the benchmarks really don't tell the story, though. If you buy a sub-$500 tablet and expect it to be a performance powerhouse, you've badly misjudged the machine you were looking for. 

Middling performance that's slick enough to impress for the price, though? That's a win, and the Switch 3 never feels close to sluggish.

Digitiser

The Switch 3's consistent speed and syrupy slickness means the Switch 3's active digitiser and pressure-sensitive pen is particularly useable, particularly once you've switched on Windows 10's 'ignore touch input when you're using the pen' setting to skirt around some iffy palm rejection.

We tested Windows' own Ink collection and more intense software like Clip Studio, and there was negligible lag; while there's no angle sensing going on, and we'd suspect this wouldn't play nice with heavier art packages, this could be the best choice around for the sketcher on a budget.

We liked

In short, this is brilliantly constructed tablet that's a joy to use. The added flexibility of an active stylus, decent performance, and its sturdy build quality mean the Acer Switch 3 is far better than its price would suggest.

We disliked

It's not without its flaws. That finicky hinge, the less-than-stellar battery, and the lack of capability next to the Surface Pro might make you look the other way – particularly if you have enough funds to invest in something heftier.

Final verdict

Yes, there are problems. But they're small ones. For us, and for many of you, the Switch 3 is going to do precisely enough to warrant a purchase, particularly considering that it's half the price of its key competitor. This may not turn the tablet market on its head, but it's absolutely changed our view of it.

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