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Acer Aspire Switch Alpha 12 review: A hybrid for all reasons

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The Good For its price class, the Acer Aspire Switch Alpha 12 delivers excellent performance in a well-thought-out design, and it includes a great keyboard.

The Bad While the display is good, it's not as contrasty or vivid as the OLED models on other 2-in-1s. And it's got a middling pen system.

The Bottom Line The Acer Switch Alpha offers a surprisingly great design and feature set in a 2-in-1 for the money without sacrificing power.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 8

Review Sections

Acer manages to roll premium construction and smart design, better-than-average performance, decent battery life and an excellent keyboard into a reasonably priced 2-in-1 tablet. The battery life could be a little better and the easily hit power button made me nuts every now and then, but overall the company's Surface wannabe, the Aspire Switch Alpha 12, makes a compelling compromise for folks who need enough power for working and gaming but don't need top-level stylus performance, a stellar display or a great camera.

The configuration I tested packs way-above-average specs for its $750 (AU$1,730) price; the equivalent Surpace Pro 4 setup costs almost $500 more (though it also has a much better display). Our particular test configuration doesn't seem to be offered in the UK: the closest is a £750 version that differs by a smaller 128GB drive or a £599.99 model with 4GB RAM, and i3-6100U processor and a 128GB SSD. Oddly, the Acer Active Stylus is a $50 (£20) option in the US and Australia (I can't find the stylus for Australia), but comes bundled in the UK. Other US configurations range from a $700 model with a 128GB SSD to a $1,000 model with a Core i7-6500U processor. In Australia there are options as low as AU$1,390 4GB memory and Core i3-6100U to AU$2,159 for an i7-6500U with a 512GB SSD.

Of all the models attempting to emulate or improve on the Microsoft Surface's design, I think this one succeeds best. The system feels high quality and durable: it even passed an impromptu pushed-off-the-table-at-Starbucks test. (It fell face down on the display, so I don't know if it would have cracked if it had fallen on an edge.) One of the big attractions is its novel fanless, liquid-cooled architecture (Acer's LiquidLoop Cooling System). It's not only silent, like a tablet, but it can stream Netflix all night and not get warm. It gets a little more heated against my legs, but remains tolerable.

Acer Aspire Switch Alpha 12

Price as reviewed $750/£750/AU$1,730
Display size/resolution 12-inch, 2,160 x 1,440 touch display
PC CPU 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U
PC memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Like many 2-in-1s, the Switch Alpha 12 is comprised of a 12-inch touchscreen tablet section running Windows 10 with a bundled, magnetically attachable keyboard; the keyboard cover has a loop to hold the stylus. The magnet is surprisingly strong -- it latched onto my badge holder at one point when I held the tablet up to take a picture -- but it serves as a place to attach the stylus when using it as a slate.

The kickstand design works very well. You can tilt it to any angle between almost perfectly flat to almost vertical, and it has a rubberized section on the bottom to keep it from sliding and to keep it stable on, say, a bed. It's not quite as comfortable to use as a notebook on your lap, but it's not a bad compromise.

I really like the keyboard as well. It has full size, backlit keys that have great tactile feedback; I'm a keyboard pounder and picky about feel. The touchpad is in a good spot and appropriately responsive. You will probably need to configure it to make it behave the way you expect, though.

acer-switch-alpha-12-08.jpg

The keyboard cover got pretty scuffed in normal use after a couple weeks. But it didn't attract cat hair.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Switch Alpha 12's a good size (roughly letter/A4), but weighs a bit more than competitors: about 2.9 pounds/1.3 kg with keyboard and stylus or 2 pounds/906g for the slate portion. Though Acer fails to say so anywhere, you can charge it via USB-C -- though you'll have to spring for a 45W charger, the type used to charge Chromebooks and MacBooks. Otherwise, you may have to schlep the AC adapter if you need more than 5.5 hours of battery life. That'll add another 11 ounces to your burden.

On the top, when holding the tablet vertically (or on the left in landscape), sit a power button, volume switch and dedicated Windows button. I do find it hard to juggle the tablet without accidentally pressing the somewhat twitchy power button. On the bottom (right side in landscape) are the headphone jack, a USB 3 and a USB-C connector and the power connector. On the same side below the kickstand hinge is a microSD slot for storage expansion.

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