Product Reviews

Acer Aspire Switch Alpha 12

The success of the Microsoft Surface has proved that there’s a market for tablets that can replace your laptop. We loved the Surface Pro 4 for its sharp screen, excellent Type Cover keyboard and precise Surface Pen – and it’s still the benchmark for Windows tablets today.

However, the Surface Pro 4 is not cheap. The Pro 4 starts at $899 (£749, AU$1,349), but configuring the tablet with a faster processor, more RAM and storage bumps the price up quite significantly. This doesn’t account for the extra money you’ll need to drop on the Type Cover and Surface Pen.

Acer, capitalizing on the premium price of the Surface Pro 4, has created a rival device called the Switch Alpha 12 that is significantly cheaper. With a starting price of $599 (£599, AU$780) which includes a keyboard, the Switch Alpha 12 is a Surface clone that most of us can afford. But is good enough to be a Surface alternative? Let’s find out.

Spec sheet

CPU: 2.30GHz Intel Core i5-6200U (dual-core, 3M Cache, 2.80GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM
Screen: 12-inch, 2,160 x 1,440 LED backlit IPS touch screen
Storage: 256GB SSD SATA/600
Ports: USB 3.1 Type-C, USB-A 3.0, 3.5mm headset jack, microSD card reader
Connectivity: Wireless AC, Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 5MP FHD rear camera, 2MP HD front camera
Weight: 2.76 lb (1.25 kg)
Size: 11.5” x 7.9” x 0.6” (29.21 x 20.06 x 1.52 cm; W x D x H) 

Design and display

 There’s no doubt the Acer Switch Alpha 12 was designed to look and feel like the Microsoft Surface. Both tablets have kickstands built in, a thin removable keyboard and support styluses. While Microsoft chose to make the Surface into a single slab of magnesium with aggressive angles, Acer chose to give its aluminum clad tablet rounded edges and a kickstand frame.

The kickstand features a ton of articulation so you can choose the most optimal screen angle. There’s a rubber strip on the bottom of the kickstand to stop the tablet from sliding around. Overall, the kickstand hinge is very sturdy and did not flex when using touching the screen.

The screen of the Switch Alpha 12 is slightly smaller than that of the Surface Pro 3, 12 inches vs 12.3 inches respectively.  The Switch Alpha 12 also features more prominent bezels that are about an inch wide, which is good for holding the tablet without triggering the touch screen but they can be a bit of an eyesore compared to slim-bezeled devices out there.

As for resolution, the Switch Alpha 12 features a 2160 x 1440 LED backlit display that makes colors pop, offers deep blacks and gets very bright for outdoor use. Contrast isn’t as good as OLED panels but you wouldn’t expect an OLED display on a budget machine like this.

For reference, the Surface Pro 4 features a slightly higher 2,736 x 1,824 resolution, something you’re not likely to notice in day to day use as text, images and video are crisp on both machines. Both tablets feature a 3:2 aspect ratio that makes the tablets ideal for design work and reading.

Keyboard and stylus

To get the Switch Alpha 12 to be cheaper than the Surface, Acer had to cut costs somewhere. That somewhere turns out to be the keyboard. Typing on the magnetically attached  keyboard is pretty bad, featuring a ton of flex, rattling keys and a small trackpad. 

It’s a stark contrast to Microsoft’s excellent Type Cover, which features a quieter – but, not silent –  typing experience due to its increased rigidity. However, you will have to fork over $129 (£110, AU$199) for a Type Cover for the Surface Pro 4, whereas it comes included with the Switch Alpha 12. Microsoft also offers a more expensive Type Cover with a fingerprint reader, something Acer doesn’t have.

Other quirks of Acer’s keyboard include small Page Up and Down buttons that are placed frustratingly close to the left and right arrow keys. This led to many mis-presses when trying to select text.

While Acer includes a keyboard with the Switch Alpha 12, you’ll need to fork over $50 (£30, about AU$ 67) for the Acer Active Stylus. The Active Stylus feels great in the hand and acts much like a normal pen. It features 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, which you’ll notice when using apps like Fresh Paint to create different brush strokes.

Compared to the Surface Pen, the Active Stylus lags behind in accuracy and sensitivity. The Surface Pen features 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and less of a delay than Acer’s pen. This translates to a more natural feeling writing and drawing experience on the Surface Pro 4. 

Acer does include a few handy tweaks in its software though, allowing you to hover over the screen to quickly launch apps like OneNote and Windows Journal. 

The Active Stylus is a nice accessory to have if you plan on handwriting or using it for illustrations, but it’s by no means a necessity.

Bring your dongles

Like the Surface, the Switch Alpha 12 has a limited port selection. You get one USB-A sized port with 3.0 speeds, a microSD card reader and a single USB-C port. Where the Surface features a mini DisplayPort for connecting a monitor to without a dongle, you’ll have to bring your own USB-C adapters if you want to hook up the Switch Alpha 12 to an external monitor.

Liquid core

While the Switch might pull a lot of inspiration from Microsoft’s legendary tablet, it makes a statement for itself as the world’s first liquid cooled tablet.

Thanks to this cooling method, the Switch forgoes the cooling vents found on most other Core i-powered tablets while featuring a similar fanless design seen on the HP Spectre x2 and Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 700. However, as a trade off the Switch is also a denser and larger than most rival slates and other devices.

Acer’s 2-in-1 comes in relatively bulky 11.5” x 7.9” x 0.6” (29.21 x 20.06 x 1.52 cm; W x D x H) compared to the Surface Pro 4’s 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.33 inches (29.21 x 20.14 x 0.84 cm).

Compared to slim ultrabooks like the Apple MacBook Air, which comes in at 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.68 inches (32.5 x 22.7 x 1.7cm), the Switch Alpha is more compact and easier to transport. However, the convertible Asus Zenbook Flip UX360 is even thinner than the Switch Alpha 12, coming in at 12.71 x 8.66 x 0.54 inch (32.28 x 21.99 x 1.37 cm).


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Ola Thomas

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