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Looking for a better priced Surface Pro 4? The $600 Acer Switch Alpha 12 offers 90% of a Surface Pro, at almost half the cost. While Acer’s brand doesn’t portend quality, their latest 2-in-1 hybrid offers every bit the refinement of a Surface.

So should you buy the Acer Switch Alpha 12? If you’re looking for a 2-in-1 convertible tablet and can’t afford a Surface, the Alpha offers a reliable alternative. Those seeking perfection should look elsewhere.

If $600 is still a little out of your budget, then no worries: we’re giving ours away to one lucky reader! Enter below for your chance to win.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 Giveaway

Aesthetics, Design, and Hardware

Look and Feel

The Acer Switch Alpha 12 looks and feels like a premium tablet, with a somewhat dated brushed aluminum back and rounded corners. In terms of how it feels, Acer went a great deal out of its way to shave down every sharp edge. The streamlined result – while somewhat cumbersome – comes off as pleasant to hold, for brief periods of time. Most users won’t notice the difference between the heft of an Alpha compared to the Surface. In truth, there are few 12-inch tablets out there that you could comfortably hold for any period of time.

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Of particular note is the Switch Alpha’s kickstand, which allows users to reposition the tablet in several different configurations. Compared to the borderline defective kickstand on the Surface, the Switch Alpha’s design is robust, stiff, and comes with a rubber grip. The grip doubles as a handle, allowing users to hold the tablet in either hand with the keyboard detached. Users can also wield the Alpha with its keyboard folded back, although in this configuration the tablet weighs 2.8kg — which isn’t much less than a 12-inch laptop.

acer-switch-alpha-hinge-max-flex

While not aesthetically superior to the Surface, in terms of functionality, the Alpha possesses three distinct advantages: First, the kickstand maintains a much stronger, stiffer hinge than the angled flap on the Surface. Second, it’s completely fanless, which means the Alpha runs silently even with its processor running full blast. Third – a backlit keyboard comes included – and it doesn’t feel like a shabby, rattling piece of garbage. The keyboard feels and looks almost as good as the Surface’s, with one shortcoming: its backlighting offers only a single brightness level. A fair compromise, considering the Alpha costs $300 less than the base-model Surface Pro. The price gap increases with higher end models.

Hardware

Acer ships the Alpha in a dozen different variations. Of these, the three most common versions are the low-end, mid-range, and high-end models. The lowest end of the spectrum comes with a Core i3 (the difference between Core processors Intel Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7: Which One Do You Really Need? Intel Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7: Which One Do You Really Need? Shopping for a new computer but confused by whether to get an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor? Here's everything you need to know in layman's terms. Read More ), 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid state drive (what’s an SSD? How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few decades, there has been a considerable amount of work in the field of computer hardware. While computer technology is constantly improving and evolving, rarely do we experience moments where we simply... Read More ) for $600. The mid-tier platform includes a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD for $800. Finally, the high-end model uses a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD — and it runs for $1,000.

I’m unsure as to why Acer doesn’t offer any model with 16GB of RAM. Even though most modern computing tasks don’t require large amounts of RAM, enough users use virtual machines or do heavy-duty video editing, which might lead to sales for their ultra high-end models. Even so, 4GB should be sufficient for the majority of users as the current design of Windows 10, which uses RAM compression How RAM Compression Improves Memory Responsiveness in Windows 10 How RAM Compression Improves Memory Responsiveness in Windows 10 Windows 10 introduced a new feature called RAM compression. This new memory management routine improves system responsiveness. Here we show you how RAM compression works, how to turn it off, and how it impacts performance. Read More , makes 4GB of RAM an adequate amount.

The rest of the Alpha’s specifications are standard across all models. Although rumored to offer a 1080p variant, all models include a 2K screen, with a resolution of 2160 x 1440 pixels. It also uses a 2×2 MIMO 802.11ac dual-band (what’s dual band? How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes Using a router that supports the dual-band standard can significantly boost your Wi-Fi speeds in many circumstances. Read More ) wireless adapter.

acer-switch-alpha-screen

It’s also the heaviest out of all the Surface clones, weighing in at around 2.8 pounds, with the keyboard attached. That’s about 15% heavier than the Surface Pro 4. In truth though, it’s hard to differentiate between a 2.8-pound device and a 2.4-pound one.

Ports, Cameras, and Buttons

The Switch Alpha includes a generous serving of ports – more than any other 2-in-1 on the planet. The right-side of the tablet houses a 3.5″ audio jack, a USB 3.0 port, a USB 3.1 Type-C port (what’s USB-C? What Is USB Type-C? What Is USB Type-C? Ah, the USB plug. It is as ubiquitous now as it is notorious for never being able to be plugged in right the first time. Read More ), a proprietary charging port, and a microSD card slot. It’s worth mentioning that the Alpha can receive a charge from its USB-C port at the same rate of speed as the barrel jack connector. That’s fantastic design. It charges at around 19v/2.37a, which means it can receive 45-watts of power — with the right charger. Unfortunately, many USB-C chargers simply won’t function as advertised. I tested the Alpha’s USB-C charging capabilities using a Lumsing 48-watt USB-C charger. The Lumsing charger manages to output around 20-watts, which indicates power delivery somewhere around 12.5v/2a. Lumsing scores an F on FakeSpot, though. But it is confirmed to work with the Switch Alpha.

acer-switch-alpha-ports

On the left-side of the tablet rests three aluminum buttons: A home-screen button, volume rocker, and power button.

acer-switch-alpha-buttons

It also sports two cameras: a front-facing web camera and a rear-facing 5MP camera. Neither camera works with Windows Hello How to Log Into Windows 10 With Finger Scans & Facial Recognition How to Log Into Windows 10 With Finger Scans & Facial Recognition Instead of using a password or PIN, you might be better off using fingerprint scans or facial recognition! But there are a few risks associated with them. Here's what you need to know. Read More , so unlocking the device with your face won’t ever happen. Apparently, Windows Hello requires infrared capabilities, which most of today’s web-cameras lack. Even so, the Surface Pro 4 does offer Windows Hello, and that’s a fairly significant advantage.

windows hello incompatible

Screen Quality

While writing this review, a question gnawed at me – where did Acer cut corners to hit a $600 entry-level price point? The second cheapest alternative to the Alpha is the HP Spectre x2, which costs $200 more and comes with a Core M processor. And HP cut a lot off its display – the Spectre includes only a 1080p resolution screen. But Acer’s 2-in-1 comes with a 2160 x 1440 screen.

acer-switch-alpha-display-front

One of the places Acer cut corners: battery life. The LCD panel used in the Alpha doesn’t appear to offer the latest standard in power stretching technology – Panel Self Refresh (PSR). PSR allows devices to switch off the device’s graphics processor for as long as the image displayed does not change. PSR on average extends battery life by about an hour. But when a device shows a still image most of the time (such as reading), the battery life can skyrocket by as much as 26%, according to the consortium governing the Embedded DisplayPort standard. Unfortunately, the LCD panel used in the Alpha doesn’t appear to offer PSR technology. This is an unfortunate omission for a 2-in-1 device that might often function as an e-reader. Even so, the tradeoff between quality and price might not deter someone looking to save hundreds over a Surface.

Performance

Because you more than likely won’t use the Switch Alpha with manufacturer bloatware included, I’m performing benchmarks on a clean configuration. Windows 10 makes the de-bloat process How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 Windows 10 comes with several pre-installed apps that take up space on your device and aren't easy to remove. Sounds like bloatware, doesn't it? We show you how to remove these apps. Read More simple: Just run the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool How to Get the Windows 10 Anniversary Update Now How to Get the Windows 10 Anniversary Update Now Windows 10 is receiving a major upgrade this month. The Anniversary Update is rolling out slowly. We show you how to upgrade now, how to delay the upgrade, and which pitfalls to watch out for. Read More .

Unlike the majority of Surface clones, the Switch Alpha doesn’t use the slower Core M processor Intel Core M: What's so Great About the Processor? Intel Core M: What's so Great About the Processor? The Intel Core M is the most hyped processor in years, and with good reason: it's at the heart of a new revolution in laptops. Read More , which is a fanless, reduced-power variant of Intel’s “mainstream” mobile Core i processors. The Core M processors typically offer better performance than Intel’s Atom processors, such as those used in regular Surface 3, but with worse performance than even a Core i3-6100U. So, comparing the low-end Switch Alpha to the entry-level Surface 4 Pro, you get better performance for around $400 less. The one area in which it compares poorly to the Surface Pro: battery life.

Battery Life

The worst, perhaps deal-breaking, feature of the Switch Alpha: poor battery life. Users won’t get more than 5 hours of uptime on a single charge. In truth, no 2-in-1 device with a mainstream Intel processor offers more than 6 hours of standard use. The reason stems from the thinness of the tablet form-factor; the thinner a device, the smaller its battery size. In theory, Acer’s fanless cooling system should help offset its diminutive battery. In practice, it loses at least an hour of uptime compared to its competition.

Tinkerers can increase the length of their device’s battery life by optimizing their wireless connection (at the expense of connection reliability), optimizing their graphics processor for maximum battery life, de-bloating their system of apps, and entering battery life mode. With these modifications, battery life increases substantially, but I found that the length of up-time relates more closely to the kind of activities being performed, rather than the implementation of any specific or combination of user-configurable battery life optimizations. In short, here’s what I found out:

  • Battery life for standard use: ~5 hours.
  • Reading: ~8-10 hours.
  • Gaming: 3-4 hours.

By any standard, these are mediocre at best battery life numbers. While you could easily find budget laptops with worse battery lives, in the $600 price range, some devices can outlast the Alpha by a factor of two or even three. Of course, none of those devices would be 2-in-1 hybrids with mainstream Intel processors.

Windows Ink

In the Windows Anniversary Update (AU), Microsoft added a unique feature for Windows convertible 2-in-1 tablets: Windows Ink. It’s little more than a note-taking application, but it makes drawing notes using a stylus much easier. Users only need to click on the Ink icon in the taskbar to begin sketching. However, Acer did not include a stylus with its Alpha starter package, and so I was unable to test this feature. The pressure-sensitive stylus offers 256 degrees of pressure, which makes it on par with the Surface Pro 3.

Liquid Cooling

Traditionally, laptops use mobile processors that require a fan. Fans come with four problems: First, they can suck up a fair amount of wattage, thus they incur additional drain on the battery. Second, fans can produce a lot of noise. Third, fans take up a lot of space, which results in a thicker tablet. Lastly, fans break down over time through a combination of wear and tear, and dust accumulation.

Acer’s LiquidLoop cooling system dispenses with a fan. It uses a heat pipe design, which transmits thermal waste energy from the processor into the aluminum shell of the tablet. The loop style design helps distribute heat throughout the entirety of the metal shell, which aids thermal dissipation. After stress testing (using Prime95) the Acer for an hour, the temperature rose as high as 75 degrees Celsius, which approaches the thermal shutdown limit of the processor (which is probably somewhere between 80 and 90 degrees Celsius).

acer-switch-alpha-temperatures

I don’t have a thermal temperature reader, but I estimate the metal body of the Acer to reach somewhere around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Not exactly burn-inducing, but definitely on the threshold of discomfort. Fanless cooling systems rely extensively on the ambient temperature. The hotter the weather, the less efficient the cooling system. Therefore, someone living along the equator might prefer an active cooling system.

Fortunately, no one in their right mind runs software similar to Prime95 for an hour on a 2-in-1 device. Overall, I would judge Acer’s cooling system as excellent. Hopefully, other manufacturers adopt it. Otherwise, we’re stuck with the lackluster Core M processor in the short term.

Warranty and Reliability

Acer bumped up the Alpha’s warranty to a whopping two years! That’s double the warranty offered by the Surface Pro 4 and beats all competitors within the 2-in-1 hybrid tablet market — which is amazing on a $600 device. Acer might feel confident about the long-term durability because of its fanless cooling system and lack of moving parts. It’s not a standard warranty, either. It’s a “traveler’s warranty” which covers multiple regions and includes both ship-in and ship-out costs. Here’s a discussion I had with Acer’s customer service:

warranty-terms-acer-switch-alpha

I’m still waiting on an iFixit teardown (this review will receive an update once that becomes available). From what I can tell, the Switch Alpha employs standard Phillips screws, which anchor its rear panel in place. It seems that with a little bit of heat gun action, the rear panel detaches from the Alpha, revealings its guts.

Should You Buy the Acer Switch Alpha 12?

What’s Great?

  • By far the least expensive Surface Pro 4 clone around
  • High-quality construction
  • Fanless Mainstream Intel Processor
  • Charges over both USB-C and its barrel connector
  • 2 years of international warranty with covered shipping costs!

What’s Not So Good?

  • Not compatible with Windows Hello
  • Loaded with bloatware
  • Stylus loop seems flimsy

What’s Terrible?

  • 3-4 Hours of battery life for gaming

The price difference is so enormous; I can’t see myself recommending the Surface over a Switch Alpha. The 2 years of warranty really put the Switch Alpha over the top.

Those looking for a cheaper version of the Surface should check out the Switch Alpha. It performs on the same level, offers superior build quality, but loses about an hour (or more) of battery life in comparison. For those looking for a perfect 2-in-1, you’re better off with a Surface.

Our verdict of the Acer Switch Alpha 12:
Buy if you want, but can’t afford, a Surface Pro 4.
1010

  1. Biplav Shrestha
    September 21, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    The giveaway ended almost 2 weeks ago. Where have you announced the winner?

    • Kannon Y
      September 21, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      Thanks for checking back in. The winner was Ben Harris. It's strange, I don't see any mention of this on the website. Nor is there any location where this information might be listed. I'll contact the editor in charge to see what's going on.

  2. Biplav Shrestha
    September 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Who won? Where do you guys publish the winner?

    • Kannon Y
      September 12, 2016 at 4:03 pm

      The winner will be displayed at the very end of the article. Before the winners get posted, we need to get a response from the winner. A large number of contestants don't even bother responding to emails. After a week (or so) of not getting replies, the person picking the winner has to do a redraw. So that delays the results for yet another week. Oftentimes we have to do several redraws before someone bothers responding to emails.

  3. mostafa
    September 11, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    hope to win

  4. Hirak Sarkar
    September 10, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Have declared the winner of the giveaway?

    • Kannon Y
      September 10, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      When giveaways end on weekends, it can take another few days to announce the winner. Oftentimes we find that the winner doesn't even respond to emails, so we have to do a redraw after a few weeks. It seems a lot of people create dozens of accounts in order to improve their chances of winning giveaways -- but checking that many accounts is difficult. The end result is that we end up having to do multiple draws before we find someone who actually responds to emails. It's sad.

  5. SamCal
    August 31, 2016 at 6:04 am

    1st impressions. I bought the Acer Switch Alpha 12 (i5-6200U, 8GB, 256GB SSD) at Costco last week for $699, which includes the stylus, keyboard, 90-day money back return privilege, Concierge technical support, and 2nd-year free warranty. I am a longtime 'Tablet PC' user. In fact, the Switch will replace my beloved Lenovo X200T. So far I am very impressed with this little machine, although I am still learning some of the quirks. It's smaller and lighter than most of the folders I carry back forth between work & home. Battery life has been fine for me - lasts all day long at work doing typical office tasks including PDF editing. I also watch a few YouTube Excel tutorials during the day. The Switch feels as solid as my iPad 2 and I am pleased with its build quality so far. My stylus' buttons tended to stick at first but loosened with use; they're fine now. The stylus is fine for my tasks; I'm not an artist trying to do serious graphics work on a low-cost portable. The stylus uses one (1) AAAA (four A) battery, and it appears to turn itself odd after a period of nonuse. Clicking one of its buttons wakes it up instantly. The screen is gorgeous. The stand is very sturdy, as reported, and the keyboard can flip alt the way around and tuck under the display (if you don't want to detach it). The keyboard has a raised perimeter to protect the keys when the keyboard is tucked under, and the keys are disabled in that mode. Attached to the left side of the keyboard is a simple loop to store the stylus. I would have preferred something on the tablet itself for when the keyboard is left behind. I am not a fan of Apple-style click trackpads but this one seems to work OK. I am still learning the different touch gestures and such (screen as well as the trackpad). Mine did not have much 'bloatware' preinstalled although there were a couple of shortcuts to install some extras if desired. The included Acer utilities are minimalist. Or maybe I was just spoiled by Lenovo's ThnkVantage suite. I have not yet updated to the Windows 10 Anniversary edition but plan to do so soon.

    • Kannon Y
      September 10, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      That's also my impression of the Switch Alpha: Great tablet, low price. I hope more people buy this thing because it's definitely worth the money.

    • Kannon Yamada
      November 15, 2016 at 3:24 am

      Hi SamCal, I contacted Acer regarding some of the points that you've brought up. The Switch is fully Windows 10 AU compliant, so it updated without a hitch. So far I'm getting improved battery life. Also, they confirmed that the warranty includes 2-years (SHIPPING COSTS PAID BY ACER!). The warranty is what put it over the top for me. I went out and bought one for myself and bumped the score up to 10/10, based mainly on the degree of value it offers. It's a really stellar 2-in-1.

  6. ali alaga
    August 29, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I want this device because I do not like him I have a device or any other device like him and I want him to Tensa programs and Alaab and use it for social networking

    • ali alaga
      August 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm

      And he needed to discover the universe

  7. Scottly MacDonald
    August 29, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Would be a nice addition for sure.

  8. Jaysus
    August 29, 2016 at 7:30 am

    I Need this to start practicing and discover my skill on photo manipulation using photoshop. :)

  9. Miguel
    August 28, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Alpha switch for life!! Need this to start my dreams as an art director for an agency!

  10. Ashik
    August 28, 2016 at 8:27 am

    I would love to win this very much.....

  11. Hancko Kruger
    August 27, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    I would love to win one, totally better than the surface.

  12. Connie Newell
    August 26, 2016 at 5:11 am

    LOVE TO WIN.

  13. Cheryl Burns
    August 25, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I would love to have one

  14. Sumeet Kumar
    August 24, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Review was good, Would love to see exact temperature of device when it heats up, although i am not going to buy that expensive system/hybrid.

    Sir, I found a link pointing to wrong article, kindly correct it. "difference between Core processors" links to article entitled "How RAM Compression Improves Memory".

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 24, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      Hello Summet, thanks for the comment and correction! It should be fixed now.

      The max temp is in the article. The Alpha hits 75 C after an hour of stress testing. The skin temperature is somewhere around 38 C, which means it's pretty hot, but not skin-burning hot.

  15. Nikhil Narkhede
    August 24, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Perfect gadget for me . hope to win .

  16. Mike Kivits
    August 24, 2016 at 5:44 am

    I wonder if everything in this review is correct. Of course there is only one way to figure this out, to test it myself. Let's hope I'll get the opportunity to do so.

  17. Joel Goldfarb
    August 23, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    This would be a career saver--my laptop is going fast! Thanks for the opportunity.

  18. Patty
    August 23, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Great looking tablet!

  19. Umassmom1013@hotmail.com
    August 23, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    would love this computer

  20. Alfred C
    August 23, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    A good to have gadget!! Love it.

  21. Miguel Morales
    August 22, 2016 at 9:22 am

    It would be great if I won this hahaha in need of a laptop as new grad. Help a brother out :D

  22. Edmond
    August 22, 2016 at 1:49 am

    Holy batman. Pick me, pick me! Your next winner!!! Show me the money!!! It would be a dream come true and means more to me than anyone else to win. Starving artist here desperately needs the tablet to work and eat. Winner, winnner. Chicken dinner. A life changing experience. Top of my bucket list. Thank you for the awesomeness, the contest, and generosity. Dear Santa: I’ve been nice. My X-Mas wish this year is to win this contest.

  23. Max Graham
    August 21, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    Great prize. I like it's versatility.

  24. Christina Moore
    August 21, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I would love to win this for my daughter

  25. timm
    August 20, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    Some day I hope to win.

  26. Prabhath K
    August 20, 2016 at 4:34 am

    Another try to win.hope this time

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