Useful ports; Bright, vivid display; Strong performance
Poor battery life; Too much bloatware; Lackluster front camera; Warm back
The Acer Switch Alpha 12 is a 2-in-1 with liquid cooling, strong performance and a bright display, but its battery life is too short.
Does your laptop get louder than a jet engine? With the $650 Switch Alpha 12 ($800 as tested), Acer is selling you on complete silence; it’s the first liquid-cooled detachable on the market. It also happens to deliver strong performance and features a beautiful, bright 2160 x 1440 display. Plus, unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, the Alpha 12 includes a keyboard cover in the box. Unfortunately, this convertible’s battery life is even shorter than the Surface’s.
For the Switch Alpha 12, Acer opted for a Surface-inspired 2-in-1 design that combines a tablet, a kickstand and a keyboard. The kickstand pulls away from the aluminum rear of the device, which features a brushed motif and Acer’s logo, as well as a 5-megapixel camera.
The front of the device boasts a 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 display surrounded by a thick bezel. The bottom of the tablet features magnets that connect to the keyboard cover, which can be laid flat or propped up at an angle.
When paired with the keyboard cover, the Alpha 12 measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.6 inches and weighs 2.8 pounds. Without it, the dimensions shrink to 2 pounds and 0.4 inches thick. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is slightly thinner and lighter, at 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.4 inches and 2.4 pounds (with the keyboard attached). The Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 is longer, at 11.5 x 8.8 x 0.5 inches, but lighter, at 2.4 pounds. HP’s Spectre x2 is taller, at 11.8 x 8.2 x 0.5 inches, and weighs 2.7 pounds.
The Switch Alpha 12 has the most useful combination of ports of any 12-inch convertible we’ve tested. Its right side is home to a headphone/mic combo jack, a USB 3.0 port, a USB Type-C port, a power jack and a microSD card slot. Compare that to the Surface Pro 4’s lone USB port or the Miix 700, which has two USB 3.0 ports, but one of them doubles as the charging jack. The Spectre includes a Type-C port but also hosts a slower USB 2.0 port.
There are no vents or fans on the Switch Alpha 12, because it’s the first water-cooled 2-in-1 on the market. Competitors that use Intel’s low-power Core M CPUs, including the HP Spectre x2, also avoid fans but don’t need water cooling because their less powerful processors don’t generate as much heat.
The 2160 x 1440 touch screen on the Switch Alpha 12 is insanely bright and produces vivid, beautiful colors.
So how effective is the water cooling? The Switch Alpha 12 was able to perform at a high level throughout our tests, but it did get a little warm. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the rear of the device reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is higher than our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, you won’t notice this if you’re mostly using the keyboard and touchpad.
The 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 touch screen on the Switch Alpha 12 is insanely bright and produces vivid, beautiful colors, but it’s slightly on the warm side. When I watched the trailer for Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black, I was blown away by the rich oranges of the new inmate jumpsuits. I could see little details, such as the tears welling up in Morello’s eyes at visitation.
The panel reproduces an excellent 101 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is higher than the ultraportable notebook category average of 90 percent. The Surface Pro 4 was close, with 100 percent, while the Spectre x2 fell behind, showing off only 72 percent of the gamut. The Miix 700 fared better than the rest, covering 113 percent.
In our color accuracy tests, the Switch Alpha 12 had a Delta-E score of 3.7 (the closer to 0, the better), tying the Miix but missing the average of 3.6. The Spectre x2 and the Surface Pro 4 put them to shame, scoring 0.7 and 0.4, respectively.
However, nothing can touch the Switch Alpha 12’s brightness. The luminous display had an average screen brightness of 432 nits, which is far higher than the 306-nit category average. The Surface Pro 4 (382 nits), the Miix 700 (330 nits) and the Spectre x2 (322 nits) were all good but not as bright as the Acer.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Acer Switch Alpha 12’s bundled keyboard cover is surprisingly comfortable. The keys have 1.4 millimeters of travel and require 58 grams of force to be pressed down. That results in clicky keys that have good feedback and are enjoyable to use. When propped up toward the screen, the backlit keyboard buckled slightly, but I didn’t have this problem when I laid it flat.
On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 110 words per minute — the top of my average range of 100 to 110 wpm — with my standard 2 percent error rate.
The cover also includes a 3.7 x 2.1-inch touchpad that was a little short for my taste; I often found myself hitting the edge when I was scrolling with two fingers. Otherwise, I had more than enough room for gestures and navigation.
Be careful not to dangle metal chains near the right edge of the keyboard deck. As on many laptops and tablets, the Switch Alpha 12 has magnets in its lip that tell the device to go to sleep when you close the cover, bringing them into contact with a magnet in the bezel. However, the keyboard magnets were stronger than any we’ve ever seen. The stylus stuck to the deck, and our lab tester found her jewelry clinging to the cover as she carried it around. However, some metal objects, including a watchband and some pocket change, didn’t stick, so you might not have any issues. Whenever I connected the keyboard to the tablet, I was greeted with a message to “Please eject the device using the Safely Remove Hardware function in the system,” from Acer’s Quick Access app, but there is no option to eject it. I removed the keyboard without issue dozens of times during the course of reviewing the Switch Alpha 12 by simply pulling it.
The optional $50 Acer Active Stylus provides an easy way to draw or take quick notes on the Switch. From a distance, it could easily be mistaken for a regular pen, and it felt like one in my hand. The Active Stylus has 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, which I noticed when I messed with the brushes in the Fresh Paint app; I could easily make heavier or lighter strokes of paint. (In comparison, with 1,024 levels, the Surface Pro 4’s stylus is more sensitive.) The palm rejection was spotty, though; every once in a while, I would lift my hand to see some stray digital ink on my canvas.
The Acer Hover Access software lets you customize the buttons on the stylus to launch apps, and provides quick access to programs compatible with the pen, including Windows Journal, OneNote and Snipping Tool.
When you’re not using the stylus, it fits into a loop attached to the keyboard cover. The stylus is a handy addition, but it’s not as accurate as those from Microsoft and Lenovo.
The audio that emanates from the Switch Alpha 12’s two front-facing speakers is clear but not extremely loud. The audio was balanced, and I could easily make out the vocals, heavy drums and guitar on White Rabbits’ “Percussion Gun” — but it barely filled our medium-size conference room.The included HD Audio Manager software is mostly meant to help when the 2-in-1 is connected to external speakers, but there are a few presets buried in its settings. I would recommend leaving them alone, as they distorted the music when I tried them.
The 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD on our configuration of the Switch Alpha 12 make it a fine productivity machine. I browsed the web in Chrome with OpenOffice Writer open in the background and saw no lag, despite having 15 tabs open (one of which was streaming 1080p video from YouTube).
The Switch Alpha 12 earned a score of 6,398 on the Geekbench 3 synthetic benchmark of overall performance. That’s higher than the ultraportable average of 5,157 as well as the Spectre x2’s (Core m7-6Y75) 5,814 and the Miix 700’s (Core m5-6Y54) 5,068. The Surface Pro 4 (Core i5 6300U) scored higher (6,811).
It took 33 seconds for the Switch Alpha 12 to transfer 4.97GB of mixed media files, resulting in a rate of 152.4MB per second. The Surface Pro 4 blazed past it, at 318.1 MBps, but both of those rates are higher than the category average of 144.6 MBps. The Spectre x2 (149 MBps) also beat the average, while the Miix 700 (96.7 MBps) fell behind.
When you’re out and about with the Switch, you’ll need to bring the power cord along.
The Switch Alpha 12 took 4 minutes and 32 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses in our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro. Only the Surface Pro 4 (4:11) completed the task more quickly; the Spectre x2 (5:34) and the Miix 700 (5:59) took the longest.
The Switch’s integrated HD 520 graphics can’t handle demanding games like Overwatch or The Witcher, but casual fare, such as Words with Friends, will be just fine. Acer’s 2-in-1 notched a score of 64,550 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark. That’s higher than the 47,040 ultraportable average as well as the Surface Pro 4 (60,424), the Spectre x2 (52,450) and the Miix 700 (21,995).
When you’re out and about with the Switch Alpha 12, you’ll need to bring the power cord along. This 2-in-1 lasted only 4 hours and 49 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That’s far less than the ultraportable category average of 7:49. Other 2-in-1s, such as the HP Spectre X2 (6:31), the Surface Pro 4 (6:05) and the Miix 700 (5:43), offered more endurance.
The 720p selfie camera takes grainy images with inaccurate colors. When I used the camera to take a picture at my desk, my face appeared pixelated, my eyes were pitch black and the lights behind me were blown out.
I took the tablet to an area with better lighting, and although I saw a little more detail in my beard and the color of my shirt and eyes was more accurate, the image still had some pixelation.
I took the tablet down to the street outside our office to test out the 2560 x 1440 camera on the rear of the device. The resulting pictures were slightly out of focus (it had trouble adjusting when I started the camera app), but the colors were accurate. The yellow cabs zipping by and the orange traffic cones appeared bright and vivid. It also picked up little details, like the pebbly surface of the street.
The Switch Alpha 12 I reviewed included an 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a stylus and a backlit keyboard cover. It costs $800 and will launch exclusively at Costco in July.
The starting configuration costs $650 and includes a Core i5-6200U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a keyboard dock. If you want the stylus with this configuration, you can buy it separately for $50.
The most expensive model is $1,110 and features a Core i7-6500U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, a keyboard dock and a stylus.
Software and Warranty
The Switch Alpha 12 has a fair share of bloatware and some useful Acer utilities, which are mostly focused on the cloud. Acer Portal lets you organize files that you create in abFiles and abPhoto. Recovery Management assists in making backups and restoring data, while Quick Access lets you access features such as Bluelight shield and adaptive brightness.
The bloatware includes mainstays like Twitter, Flipboard and Candy Crush Soda Saga as well as Netflix, Amazon and Kindle apps, WildTangent games, Music Maker Jam, Firefox and a link to download Dashlane password manager. The 2-in-1 also comes with a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office.
Acer offers a two-year warranty with the Switch Alpha 12. See how Acer did in our Best and Worst Brands and Tech Support Showdown.
With a gorgeous display, solid performance and future-proof ports, the Acer Switch Alpha 12 comes frustratingly close to being one of the best 2-in-1s you can buy. But this system falls down hard in one critical area: battery life.To get a higher-resolution screen, better battery life and stronger performance, you should splurge on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. The caveat is that a configuration similar to that on the Switch we reviewed costs $1,150 before a $113 keyboard cover, so it’s about $463 more.Overall, the included keyboard cover (and, in some cases, a stylus) makes the Acer Switch Alpha 12 a pretty good bargain, as long as you don’t mind taking the charger with you.