Acer's Switch 10 puts a new spin on hybrid design

The company also shows off what it says is the world's fastest Chromebook

Acer has given a fresh look to detachable hybrids with its magnetic Aspire Switch 10 tablet, which it showed off at an event Tuesday, where it also demonstrated what it says is the fastest Chromebook yet.

The Switch 10 is primarily a 10.1-inch tablet, but it can magnetically latch on to a keyboard base to become a laptop. A snap hinge and two magnets are used to place the tablet on the base in the opposite direction, what Acer calls "display mode."

Company executives at a press event in New York also showed off the first Chromebook with Intel's Core i3 processor -- Chromebooks are Acer's most popular PCs. Most Chromebooks come with Intel's slower Celeron 2955U processor.

The Switch 10 and Chromebook were announced along with four laptops, two low-cost Android tablets and multiple all-in-one PCs. The products will be on sale for the back-to-school season in the U.S. and Canada, said Jason Chen, CEO of Acer, during the event.

The magnetic snap-on of Switch 10 is more flexible than other detachable hybrids, which mainly latch on to a base. Acer's technology draws from the magnetic snap-on soft keyboard that is optional with Microsoft's Surface tablet, which needs an attached kickstand to be truly secured. Lenovo sells "multi-mode" Flex and Yoga hybrids, but the display is hardwired to the keyboard base in those models.

The Switch 10 will be available in the U.S. and Canada starting at US$379.99. The tablet runs on an Intel Atom Z3745 processor, code-named Bay Trail. The tablet runs Windows 8.1, and an optional keyboard with more storage will be sold by Acer.

Acer has struggled in the PC market and is trying to revitalize its business under Chen, who became CEO in December following the abrupt resignation of Jim Wong, the former president who was to be the next CEO. Acer's worldwide PC shipments dropped to 5 million units during the first quarter this year, down 20.2 percent from the same quarter a year ago, according to IDC.

With the PC market weakening, Acer is also looking to smartphones, tablets and the "Internet of Things" for growth, Chen said.

Acer's new Aspire E 11 non-touch and V 11 touchscreen laptops also have Bay Trail chips. The E 11 starts at $299.99 and the V 11 at $369.99. Both have 11.6-inch screens.

For small-screen laptops, the PCs pack quite a punch, with up to 1TB of storage and 8GB of RAM. The laptops, which are 21-mm thick, come with quad-core Pentium or Celeron processors. They will ship in June.

The faster Aspire E 14 (14-inch screen) and E 15 (15-inch screen) laptops, also announced Tuesday, are available in touch or non-touch versions, with 720p or full 1080p screens. The laptops provide seven hours of battery life and are for productivity, entertainment, gaming and Internet use.

The laptops support up to 16GB of DRAM and 1TB of storage. An optional M-Disc drive will allow users to burn 25GB of data on DVDs. It comes with Intel's latest Haswell or Advanced Micro Devices' new A-series chips, and graphics options include Nvidia's GeForce or AMD's Radeon chips.

The E 14 starts at $499.99, and the E 15 starts at $399.99. The laptops will be available in the U.S.

A pair of low-cost 7-inch Android tablets, the Iconia One 7 and Iconia Tab 7, were also announced.

The Iconia One 7, which starts at $129.99, is for Web browsing and other basic computing activities. It weighs 331 grams, is 8.8 millimeters thick and offers seven hours of battery life.

The display can show images at a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. It has an older Intel Atom Z2560 processor code-named Clover Trail+, which is a generation behind the newer Bay Trail chips. The device's Android 4.2 OS is eligible for upgrade to Android 4.4, code-named KitKat. It will ship in the U.S. and Canada in May.

The Iconia Tab 7 is almost similar to the Iconia One 7, but it has 3G connectivity and a quad-core MediaTek processor. It has Android 4.4, and will be available in Latin America, Europe and Asia, but not in the U.S. and Canada.

Acer also announced the U5-620 and Z3-615 all-in-one PCs with 23-inch full HD screens.

The $999 U5-620 has a flexible hinge that allows it to be placed in different angles. The Z3-615 isn't as flexible, and is targeted at budget buyers. The Z3-615 is priced at $599 without a touchscreen and will ship only in the U.S., and start at $799 with a touchscreen, which will ship in the U.S. and Canada.

The all-in-one PCs have Intel's Haswell processors and USB 3.0 ports. Nvidia graphics cards are optional.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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