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Performance and ports
In terms of value, the Acer Switch Alpha 12 offers a better value over the Surface Pro 4. The base Surface Pro 4 comes with an Intel Core m3, 128GB SSD, and 4GB of RAM for $899 (£749, AU$1,349). The base Switch Alpha 12 comes with an faster Intel Core i3, 128GB SSD 4GB of RAM, and keyboard for $599 (£599, AU$780).
Our test configuration comes in at $750 or AU$1,729, and in the UK the closest model comes with half the amount of storage for £749. A comparably configured Microsoft Surface costs $1,299 (£1,079, AU$1,999) before you add a Type Cover or Surface Pen. Acer definitely has the stronger value proposition here.
Although the Microsoft Surface is quite a bit more expensive, there’s something to be said about Microsoft’s build quality, better accessories and in-store support. If these things don’t matter to you, the Acer is a no-brainer.
Here’s how the Acer Switch Alpha 12 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
3DMark: Cloud Gate: 5,239; Sky Diver: 3,386; Fire Strike: 784
Cinebench CPU: 285 points; Graphics: 39.70 fps
GeekBench: 3,033 (single-core); 6,301 (multi-core)
PCMark 8 (Home Test): 2,536
PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 19 min
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 6 hours and 29 minutes
In order for the Switch Alpha 12 to be a true productivity machine, Acer went with the Intel Core “i” series of processors instead of the lower powered, more battery efficient Core M. This means the Switch Alpha 12 can tackle just about everything you throw at it, except for gaming and video editing, which is no surprise since the tablet doesn’t have a dedicated GPU.
With Chrome and Firefox open with 10 tabs each, the Switch Alpha 12 had no issues keeping pace. The 8GB of RAM helped with keeping the browsing experience speedy and the SSD loaded apps quickly.
As you can see from the benchmarks, the Switch Alpha 12 is plenty capable, though it struggles with 3D graphics. Video editors and gamers should check out the Microsoft Surface Book instead, which features a dedicated graphics card in its keyboard.
I also used Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom with no issues. The apps loaded quickly and image exports were speedy as well.
Another thing you’ll notice from the benchmarks is that battery life is pretty poor. The Switch Alpha 12 only managed 3 hours and 19 minutes in the PCMark 8 battery life test. I found this estimate to be spot on with my daily workload.
However, looping a 1080p movie locally resulted in a more impressive 6 hour and 29 minute battery life. But most people won’t have big movie files stored locally on the SSD. Once you start streaming anything, whether it be music or video, battery life drops significantly.
This is the Achilles heel of the Switch Alpha 12. The tablet is well designed, performs strongly and is a great value but its middling battery life will give many users pause, especially when there are alternatives that last a whole day away from the charger.
For comparison, the HP Spectre x360 lasted 4 hours and 38 minutes in the PCMark 8 battery test. Another convertible, the Asus Zenbook Flip UX360 managed 5 hours and 51 minutes in the same PCMark 8 battery test.
If you hate bloatware, you’re going to hate the Switch Alpha 12. To keep costs down, Acer has partnered with a ton of software makers to bundle their apps with the tablet. For example, Firefox, Dashlane, McAfee, Music Maker Jam, and WildTangent are all pre-installed.
Acer also includes its own apps with the tablet, some of which are useful – but most aren’t at all. The most useful software revolves around the stylus, letting you customize quick actions. There's also a blue light filter for reading at night, but the other apps Acer includes are either redundant or not useful.
If you decide to buy the Switch Alpha 12, set aside an hour or two to uninstall apps and clean up the operating system.
The Acer Switch Alpha 12 is an unabashed Microsoft Surface Clone, but it’s a very good one. For a fraction of the price, the Acer replicates the form factor and most important features of the Microsoft Surface. It’s aluminum body may not be as light or premium feeling as the Surface’s magnesium, but it’s hard to complain too much for the price.
Reading and watching movies on the Switch Alpha 12 are a pleasure because of its bright and vibrant screen. Its resolution is high enough that text always looks crisp, though you do trade battery life for such a pixel-dense display.
Multitaskers will be satisfied with the Switch Alpha 12’s performance and while its stylus is not as accurate or sensitive as the Surface Pen, most non-professionals likely won’t notice.
Below average battery life makes the Acer Switch Alpha 12 hard to recommend for users who can’t be around an outlet constantly. For many, it may be a deal breaker.
While the Switch Alpha 12 is a good value compared to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, you’ll notice cost cutting when it comes the to included keyboard. It’s noisy, flexes and its trackpad struggles with multitouch gestures. The Surface Type Cover is much better.
Lastly, Acer’s included bloatware ruins the unboxing experience, especially when McAfee starts hounding you to pay.
Want a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 but can’t justify its high price? The Acer Switch Alpha 12 is your best bet. It undercuts Microsoft’s offering by hundreds of smackers and manages to replicate its performance and features. However, battery life is short which will be a disappointment for many who aren’t around an outlet all the time.
But if you’re in the market for a tablet that can actually replace your laptop, the Switch Alpha 12 isn’t a bad choice. Its screen produces gorgeous colors and its high pixel count makes reading and watching movies a pleasure. Its includes speakers are a bit weak so you’ll want to use headphones.
Is the Switch Alpha 12 as good as the Microsoft Surface? No, but if you can live with its compromises, it’s a great deal. Just remember to bring your charger with you.