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Acer Switch Alpha 12 review: Good-value 2-in-1 hybrid takes aim at Microsoft's Surface Pro

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  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Good value, with keyboard and stylus included
  • Decent performance from Core i3 processor
  • Attractive, colourful display
  • Silent, fanless design

Cons

  • Modest battery life
  • Relatively heavy for 12-inch tablet
  • Few build-to-order options

It's tempting to dismiss Acer's new Switch Alpha 12 as just another Surface Pro clone, but this latest addition to the company's range of hybrid devices is neatly designed and considerably less expensive than many of its rivals. Previous models in the Switch range have been modest performers that relied on Intel's Core M processors, but the Alpha 12 steps up to true laptop levels of performance with the latest Skylake processors and provides a cost-effective alternative to Microsoft's Surface Pro 4.

UK prices for the Switch Alpha 12 start at just £549.99 (inc. VAT, or £458.32 ex. VAT) for the entry-level model reviewed here, which is based on a Core i3-6100U processor running at 2.3GHz. This model includes 4GB of RAM and 128GB of solid-state storage, along with a detachable keyboard and a stylus. In contrast, Microsoft's Surface Pro starts at £749 (inc. VAT, or £624.17 ex. VAT) with just a Core M processor, and no keyboard (which costs about £100 extra) so Acer certainly wins on sheer value for money.

There's also an i5 model with 8GB of RAM for £749.99 inc. VAT (or £625 ex. VAT), while the top-of-the-range i7 configuration includes 8GB memory and a 256GB SSD for a still-competitive £899.99 (inc. VAT or £750 ex. VAT). Those prices include Windows 10 Home, but Windows 10 Pro is also available for business users for an additional £50 (inc. VAT, or £41.67 ex. VAT).

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Acer's 12-inch Switch Alpha 12 runs on Core i3/5/7 processors and starts at £549.99 (inc. VAT), including stylus and keyboard.

Image: Acer

Taking the stand

The design of the Switch Alpha 12 is conventional enough, but still highly practical. On its own, the 12-inch tablet measures 10mm thick and weighs 0.9kg, which is a little heavy for a tablet of this size, and you'll probably need to hold it with both hands when it's not resting on your lap or on a desk. However, the aluminium case does feel very sturdy, and more than capable of surviving the occasional bump when you're travelling. We also like the fold-out stand on the back of the tablet, which can easily be adjusted to improve visibility.

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Connections include USB 3.0 and USB-C ports.

Image: Acer

There's a 2MP webcam on the front of the tablet, along with a 5MP rear-facing camera. Tucked onto the right-hand edge of the tablet you'll find both USB 3 and USB-C ports, along with a MicroSD card slot. However, we'd question the wisdom of putting the power socket and headphone socket so close together on that side of the device. We almost plugged the power supply into the headphone socket on more than one occasion -- which is something you'll probably want to avoid.

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The snap-on keyboard is a comfortable platform for fast typing, although we were less impressed with the trackpad.

Image: Acer

The keyboard works well, and is a welcome addition at this price. It snaps easily into place using magnetic contacts, and the keyboard panel is angled slightly upwards so that it feels more comfortable than simply lying flat on your desk. There's a decent amount of travel on the keys too, and it certainly feels more suited to fast typing than many of the flat-panel keyboards we've seen recently. The keyboard brings the total weight of the device to 1.25kg, but that's still lighter than many conventional laptops. In fact, our only complaint here is that the trackpad doesn't work quite so well. The pressure needed to click the trackpad seems to vary across the surface of the trackpad, and it sometimes rattles quite audibly when you tap to select items. That's a minor complaint though, and the keyboard will certainly allow you to use the Switch Alpha 12 as a serious working laptop when you need to.

Picture & performance

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The display of the Switch Alpha 12 is another strong point. The 12-inch IPS panel has a resolution of 2,160 by 1,440 pixels, which at 216ppi is lower than the 2,736 by 1,824 and 267ppi of the 12.3-inch Surface Pro, but still more than adequate for high-definition video. The image quality is extremely good too -- bright and colourful, with close to full 180-degree viewing angles all around, so it'll work well for impromptu presentations when you're on the road. The stereo speakers sound a little tinny, but they're loud enough for watching streaming video or giving a presentation in a coffee shop.

The Switch 12 Alpha will also be fast enough to handle presentations and other Microsoft Office apps, even with the entry-level Core i3/4GB configuration. Our review unit achieved a multiprocessor score of 5540 when running the Geekbench 3 test suite, compared to 4863 for the entry-level Core M version of the Surface Pro, or 5474 for Apple's even more expensive 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Graphics performance was a pleasant surprise too, with the integrated HD 520 graphics managing a quite respectable 39fps when running the Cinebench R15 OpenGL graphics benchmark. That's only a sliver behind the 40.3fps of the more expensive i5 version of the Surface Pro 4. We were also pleased to see -- or rather hear -- that the Switch Alpha 12 runs silently, thanks to Acer's fanless LiquidLoop cooling system. And, of course, if you need even more power then the i5 and i7 models are available at equally competitive prices.

The only real disappointment is battery life. The sheer brightness of the display allowed us to turn the brightness down to 50 percent while streaming video from the BBC iPlayer, but even then the 37Wh battery in the Switch Alpha 12 only managed to last for a modest 4 hours 20 minutes. Less intensive use might allow you to stretch that closer to five hours, but that's still below par for a modern tablet or laptop.

Conclusions

There's room for improvement when it comes to battery life, and business travellers who spend a lot of time on trains and planes might want to pay a little extra for a longer-lasting device. Even so, Acer's Switch Alpha 12 is still very good value for money, and delivering decent performance and a high-quality display for a device costing just £550 (inc. VAT). And, with the keyboard and stylus included as standard features, the Switch Alpha 12 has a real edge over most of its convertible rivals.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Security Chip
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i5 (6th Gen) 6200U / 2.3 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 2.8 GHz
Number of Cores Dual-Core
Cache 3 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Smart Cache, Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
Display
Touchscreen Yes
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size 12 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 30.5 cm
Native Resolution 2160 x 1440
Resolution 2160 x 1440 (WQHD)
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 3:2
Monitor Features CineCrystal, Zero Air Gap technology, glare
RAM
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Installed Size 8 GB
Memory
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Processor
Type Core i5
64-bit Computing Yes
Number of Cores Dual-Core
Processor Number i5-6200U
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2.3 GHz
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 520
Memory Allocation Technology shared video memory (UMA)
Integrated Webcam Yes
Sound Stereo speakers, microphone
Input
Type detachable keyboard, touchpad
Localization & Layout US International
Features Palm Rejection Technology, precision touchpad
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Wireless Controller M.2 Card
Input Device
Type detachable keyboard, touchpad
Card Reader
Type card reader
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 45 Watt, 19 V
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
Headphone/microphone combo jack
USB 3.0
Memory Card Reader Yes (microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC)
Header
Brand Acer
Product Line Acer Switch Alpha 12
Model SA5-271-596M
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Monitor
Diagonal Size 12 in
Image Brightness 350 cd/m2
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Interface (Bus) Type M.2 Card
System
Platform Windows
Miscellaneous
Color gray
Case Material anodized aluminum
Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Security Chip
Features MU-MIMO technology, Windows button, fanless, liquid cooling system, multi-position Kickstand, non-slip rubber frame, volume control
Included Accessories keyboard, power adapter
Color Category gray
Dimensions & Weight
Width 11.5 in
Depth 7.9 in
Height 0.4 in
Audio Input
Type microphone
Physical Characteristics
Weight 31.74 oz
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Home 64-bit Edition
Battery
Capacity 4870 mAh
Cells 2-cell
Technology lithium polymer
Digital Camera
Features 720p HD movie recording, autofocus
OS Provided
Type Windows 10 Home 64-bit Edition
Power Device
Nominal Voltage AC 120/230 V
Frequency Required 50/60 Hz