There's no denying – not even from Acer – that the Surface Pro line has inspired Microsoft's partners to follow suit in the 2-in-1 laptop category. With that forgone conclusion out of the way, Acer's success with its new Switch Alpha 12 depends more on how Acer iterated on the design than whether it iterated at all.
With a 12-inch device that boasts a liquid-cooled, Intel Core i Series processors powering an IPS, QHD (2,160 x 1,440) display for up to eight hours – all starting at $699 (£550) – something tells me Acer is on the right track.
Sure, the device looks an awful lot like the Surface Pro 4 and HP Spectre x2, but Acer's product undercuts the competition by $200 and $100, respectively. And, that's all while offering a backlit keyboard cover in the box to boot.
Design and display
Like I said, Acer's design approach with the Switch Alpha 12 isn't necessarily groundbreaking if all that unique to begin with. Acer has even slapped magnets inside the tablet's lower bezel for more typing angles. Sound familiar?
Speaking of which, the keyboard cover feels quite similar to HP's as well, which isn't a bad thing. Travel is short, but feedback is punchy enough to maintain some semblance of your words per minute – if you're into that sort of thing. Plus, the touchpad is wide enough to make it actually useful, so another win there.
As for backpack appeal, you're treated with a 9.5mm-thin (0.37 inches) tablet running full Windows 10 and weighing 1.98 pounds (0.9kg). With the keyboard cover, those figures rise by about 50%, but this is a seriously thin and light – but dense-feeling – tablet either way.
The 165-degree kickstand employed in this device is nigh identical to HP's, but where Acer's differs is the use of a more roughly anodized metal along the bottom of the ring. The idea here is likely to reduce instances of the device slipping during use – especially on your lap. It looks like a solution that might do the trick, but I'll have to test it for longer to come down either way on that.
Overall, the Switch Alpha 12 looks and feels about as versatile as the 2-in-1 devices it's obviously aimed at: very much so. The slate intelligently switches between tablet and laptop modes when it senses a keyboard or lackthereof, just like any other.
As for the display, following what I like to call "The Surface Standard," Acer went with a 3:2 aspect ratio for the Switch Alpha 12. While not quite as sharp as the Surface Pro 4, images and text look crisp all the same.
This resolution and panel tech will be perfect for not only watching movies and playing light games alone, but with a bunch of friends or family, thanks to the wide viewing angles of IPS. Honestly, I'm impressed by the screen tech employed here given the price.
As for touch, I noticed nothing that would indicate problems with speed or responsiveness. At this point, though, we shouldn't expect anything less.
Performance and ports
Rounding out the Switch Alpha 12's spec sheet are up to 8GB of RAM, as much as 512GB of solid-state storage and graphics courtesy of Intel's integrated HD Graphics 520 solution. USB-C is on tap but it's not the only port available as there's also one full-sized USB 3.0.
[Editors Note: We incorrectly stated the Alpha 12 was only equipped with one USB Type-C port and have since corrected our hands on review]
Unlike other USB 3.1 equipped devices, the port of the Alpha 12 only serves up fast data transfers, charging other devices and as a dock connector. Of course, there's always Bluetooth for all your wireless peripherals, but I'd rather keep as much of that 8-hour battery life as possible.
Supporting Intel's Skylake-generation Core i Series processors from i3 through i7, the Switch Alpha 12 should be a fine fit for all sorts of end users. Folks looking for a sleek device that can take notes in class and serve up moves in the dorm would just as well served by a Core i3 Switch Alpha 12 system as a photographer using Lightroom would be by Core i7 model.
Acer is putting a lot of weight behind its liquid-cooling system, LiquidLoop, which allows the Switch Alpha 12 to operate without fans, meaning a quieter, thinner lighter tablet that's less prone to dust and therefore makes a sealed design easier to stomach where repairs are concerned.
It's an exciting thing to mention on a stage and in press releases, but at first glance I haven't seen anything about the liquid-cooling system that gives the tablet a tangible, unique advantage over the competition. But, perhaps that will come through in deeper testing.
This is an unabashed "me too" moment for Acer. While that's tough to ignore when considering fluffy concepts like "innovation", it's easy to forget when considering the bottom line: price.
Acer's spin on this idea is that it's making the most cutting-edge tech available to more people, and that's tough to refute. The Switch Alpha 12 is by no means a 100% original device, but those fawning at the Surface tablets without quite that much cash on hand would likely be served just fine here.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and we'll have that in due time. Until then, you're looking at what could be a fine 2-in-1 tablet for way less than the competition.