Acer goes for affordable in its new laptop lineup

It's hard to remake a company, especially one that's so associated with what is now considered a more old-fashioned area of technology: laptops and desktops. CEO and corporate president of Acer Jason Chen (who just came onboard last December) did his best today to convince an audience of international journalists that his company was on its way to a turnaround by introducing a variety of products at reasonable prices. (Complete coverage of the entire range of products can be found here.)

For example, he showed an Aspire E series of 11-in., 14-in. and 15-in. Windows 8.1 laptops with a variety of options, including touch and non-touch displays, starting at $400 for the E 11 non-touch version. The company also presented a new 7-in. tablet, the $130 Iconia One 7; another, the Iconia Tab 7, has 3G connectivity and a better processor but won't be available in the U.S. 

A new Android smartphone called the Liquid Jade, along with a smartband called the Liquid Leap, is also on the agenda, but again, may not be available in the U.S. And there is a new Chromebook in the works that promises, according to Acer, to be the fastest yet with an Intel Core i3 processor; since Acer's  Chromebook C720 got very good marks, it isn't surprising that the company intends to stay in that market.

The most interesting product, however, was a Windows 8.1 hybrid called the Aspire Switch 10; a touchscreen tablet that attaches via magnetic hinges to a dedicated keyboard.

Acer Aspire Switch 10

I spent a little time with the Switch 10 and it seemed, for the few minutes I was able to play with it, a decent (although not outstanding) example of the genre. The tablet attaches to the keyboard via what Acer calls its "snap hinge" -- like the hinge of Microsoft's Surface tablet, it uses magnets to secure the two parts together. However, unlike the Surface, the display fits into two protruding metal hinges in the keyboard; this allows you to move the display easily into whatever position you want (as if it were a laptop). However, it also means that the display takes a bit of practice to line up with its hinges and that the two parts can feel joined (because of the magnets) even when they are not.

Besides using the Switch 10 as a normal laptop, you can also remove and replace the display so that it faces outwards and can be used as a presentation device; "tent" it so that the hinge is upwards and so that it can stand by itself as a tablet; or remove the display altogether and use the tablet independently.

Hybrids are one of the ways that manufacturers and users today are trying to find a useable compromise between today's highly mobile worker and the still extant need for a keyboard to do much of our work. Up to now, they have not been completely satisfactory answers: Hybrids have tended to be slightly heavier and more expensive than similar notebooks, and the keyboard/display interface can sometimes mean a slower response time.

But a number of users have them and like them; they fill a need that straightforward laptops and the tablet/Bluetooth keyboad combo does not.

And hybrids are getting better. Acer's new Aspire V 11 Touch laptop, with an 11.6-in. display, is 2.84 lb. as compared to the Switch 10's weight of 2.58 lb., and the Switch 10 will start at $380, only $10 more than the Aspire V 11.

We hope to have a full review of the Switch 10 when it ships in late May; we'll be able to better judge it then.

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