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Acer Spin 5 review

Need an Echo that runs Excel? We tried out the first Alexa-enabled laptop

Acer Spin 5 Review
Acer Spin 5
MSRP $799.99
“The Acer Spin 5 brings Alexa to the midrange 2-in-1 market, to go with good performance and a solid build.”
  • Solid build quality
  • Excellent performance
  • Good productivity battery life
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • The display is dim, with below-average contrast
  • Bezels are way too big
  • SATA SSD is a relatively poor performer

If you want to say “Alexa!” and access some of Amazon’s digital assistant intelligence, you’ll now be able to do it on new PCs. Acer’s Spin 5 slots in at the midrange, but it brings that extra special something to the party – it’s the first laptop with Amazon Alexa enabled out of the box.

Our review unit was equipped with an 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SATA solid-state drive (SSD), and a 13.3-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 166 PPI) display. That’s an increasingly common configuration lately, and the Spin 5 brings it in at a reasonable $900. You can save $100 if you’re willing to settle for a Core i5-8250U and slightly lower performance.

These are pedestrian components and pricing, but Alexa support places the Spin 5 – at least for the short term — in a unique position. Is that enough to give the Spin 5 a leg up on its competition?

Squint and you might not notice it’s there

We can’t really knock the Spin 5’s aesthetic design. It sports the common dark gray color scheme, a sort of metallic hatch effect on the lid, and chrome accents along the keyboard deck and touchpad inset. Overall, it’s a design that we like, both because of and in spite of the fact that it doesn’t stand out in a crowded field – not everyone wants their notebook to be a fashion statement. Lenovo’s Yoga 730 is similarly priced and it, too, implements the same safe design, but we wouldn’t fault you if you jumped up in price to something like the HP Spectre x360 13 with a bolder style.

One area where the Spin 5 stands out, and not in a good way, is in its relatively massive bezels. The Yoga 730’s bezels are so much smaller, they make the Spin 5’s look comically large in comparison. That, in turn, makes the Spin 5 larger than it needs to be, as well as heavier at 3.31 pounds (compared to the Yoga 730’s much more svelte 2.47 pounds). The Spin 5 manages to be reasonably thin at 0.63 inches, compared to the Yoga 730’s 0.62 inches, but the Spectre x360 13 beats them both at 0.53 inches thin.

The Spin 5 is solidly built, with minimal flex in the lid and keyboard deck.

Fortunately, the Spin 5 is solidly built, with minimal flex in the lid and keyboard deck. It’s easily the Yoga 720’s equal in this regard, and it beats out the thinner Spectre x360 13 that demonstrated a somewhat bendy display. We’re glad to see lower-priced machines bringing such robust build quality. The hinge is smooth and holds the display in place through the 2-in-1s laptop, display, tent, and tablet modes.

Another strength is all the connectivity that Acer packed into the Spin 5. You’ll find a USB-C 3.1 port with data, power, and display support, two USB-A 3.0 ports, and one USB-A 2.0 port for solid legacy support. Then, there’s an Ethernet port – an unusual addition in this form factor — for easy access to gigabit ethernet, a full-size HDMI port, and an SD card reader. Power is provided by a proprietary charger, and you’ll find the usual 2X2 MU-MIMO 802.11AC Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 radios. That’s better than the Yoga 730, with the unfortunate exception that Acer omitted Thunderbolt 3 support and so external GPU enclosures are out of the question.

Able input options make entering information a breeze, and Alexa is at your command

The Spin 5 equips the usual backlit island keyboard with black keys and white lettering, and while key travel is slightly shallow, Acer used a mechanism that’s responsive and provides a bouncy bottoming action. We found it to be a more comfortable keyboard for long typing sessions than the Yoga 730’s keyboard, which felt shallower and more abrupt, but it didn’t quite hold up to the Spectre x360 13’s excellent version.

Acer Spin 5 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The touchpad was also very good and only slightly off-center, with just enough size and full Microsoft Precision touchpad support. Windows 10 gestures were precise and reliable, and the button had a nice click without being too loud. The touchscreen display did its job, responding to swipes and taps without hesitation. The Spin 5 supports a digital pen, but it’s a $50 option that wasn’t included with our review unit and so we couldn’t test the 2-in-1s inking performance. More and more 2-in-1s are including the stylus, and so this is an extra expense we’d rather avoid.

A responsive fingerprint reader provides Windows 10 Hello password-less login support, but it’s located inconveniently in the upper left corner of the touchpad. It’s great for lefties, but if you’re right-handed, then you’ll find yourself swiping a few times to get accustomed to the location.

The Spin 5’s display was dimmer than we like, and contrast below average.

Finally, as we mentioned earlier, Acer is the first company to ship a laptop with Amazon’s Alexa ready to go. Lenovo will implement Alexa support on a few of its laptops soon, but we were able to give it a try on the Spin 5 right away. Simply put, Alexa works just as you would expect: (Almost) like an Amazon Echo device built into a notebook format.

We were able to ask the usual questions from across a room, thanks to four far-field microphones and Intel’s Smart Sound digital signal processor (DSP). You can ask for weather and traffic reports, control Amazon Music and iHeartRadio (no Spotify or Pandora support for now), and access Alexa skills. If we had smart home devices, then we could have controlled those as well.

Alexa for PC doesn’t yet support everything that Echo devices support, but it’s a nice subset of Alexa capabilities. If you’re an Amazon user and rely on Alexa, you’ll find it convenient to access her capabilities on the Spin 5. If you don’t use digital assistants or have placed your bets on an Alexa competitor like Google Assistant or Siri, then Alexa support won’t impress.

A dim display with better than average colors

The Spin 5 comes equipped with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 166PPI) display, the new standard for midrange and premium notebooks. Acer doesn’t offer a 4K UHD display option, and so pixel-peepers will need to look elsewhere.

According to our colorimeter, the Acer Spin 5 offers better-than-average color gamut support, beating out the Yoga 730 and Spectre x360 13, and its color accuracy was also very good at 1.48 (where less than one is considered excellent). Unfortunately, the brightness was a bit low at 279 nits, where we like to see 300 nits or more, and contrast was average at 750:1 – although that’s better than the HP and Lenovo, many other recent notebooks offer higher contrast.

In subjective use, the Spin 5’s display was pleasant, with nice whites and colors that pop relative to other notebooks without professional-level displays. Gamma was perfect at 2.2, meaning that images and video were spot-on in terms of brightness, and watching Netflix was more than good enough.

Acer Spin 5 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The audio was a mixed bag. Volume was excellent with surprisingly good stereo separation, but unfortunately, there was some distortion when at full blast. As usual with thin and light notebooks, bass was lacking, and treble was a little tinny. Sound quality is fine for the occasional YouTube video, but you’ll want to pull out your headphones for watching movies or listening to music.

The usual solid productivity performance

We feel like a broken record lately, talking about how Intel’s 8th-generation Core processors provide great productivity performance while maintaining impressive efficiency. Heading into our Spin 5 review, we fully anticipated the same old story.

We weren’t disappointed. The Spin 5 performed right in line with the competition, scoring better on the Geekbench 4 single-core test than the Yoga 730 and slightly less quick on the multi-core test. Overall synthetic benchmark performance was in line with our comparison group.

The results were similar when we compared the Spin 5’s ability to churn through a video encoding task using Handbrake. It managed to process a 420MB trailer in close to four and three-quarters minutes, which is competitive with our comparison group. Only notebooks equipped with full-power Intel quad-core CPUs are meaningfully faster.

The Spin 5 should last a full workday if you’re running the usual productivity tasks.

Acer wasn’t quite so generous with its SSD choice, however, equipping the Spin 5 with a slower SATA SSD compared to the PCIe SSD you’ll find in machines like the Yoga 730. That made it significantly slower in reading and writing information, although still faster than old-school spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) and plenty fast for the 2-in-1s intended purposes.

These test results culminated in a subjective experience that was speedy enough in real-life usage. We noticed no slowdowns no matter the task, although we were slightly disappointed with fan noise. It’s not that the fans were particularly loud, it’s that they ran too often, even when we were only browsing the web. The chassis never got too hot, but the fans were a bit annoying.

Gaming was par for the course, as well

You’ll have to look elsewhere for anything but casual gaming, as the Spin 5 is limited to Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics. If you want moderately better gaming performance, you’ll need to look for a 2-in-1 like the Asus ZenBook Flip 14, which includes a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU.

The Spin 5 scored pretty much as we predicted in the 3DMark synthetic benchmark, with results that matched up with other machines sporting integrated graphics. And real-life gaming results were the same as well, with the Spin 5 able to manage 54 frames per second (FPS) in Rocket League at 1080p with graphics turned down to Performance Mode. It dropped down to 26 FPS in High Quality mode, making the 2-in-1 best for older titles at lower graphics and less-demanding esports and casual Windows 10 games.

Thin and light enough to carry around, but battery life takes a step back

The Spin 5 packs in 54 watt-hours of battery capacity, which at the high end for this class of machine. It’s more than the Yoga 730’s 48 watt-hours, for example, and so we were expecting at least slightly better longevity away from a plug.

Our results were mixed. In our CPU-intensive Basemark web benchmark test, the Spin 5 managed to last just over three and a half hours before running down. That’s better than the Yoga 730, which hit just over three hours, but worse than the Spectre x360 13 that managed over four hours.

On our web browsing test, though, the Spin 5 did much better, lasting for nine hours. That’s much longer than the Yoga 730’s roughly six hours and even beats the Spectre x360 13’s eight and three-quarters hours. In fact, the Spin 5 was surprisingly competitive with the class leader, Microsoft’s Surface Book 13. On the other hand, the Spin 5 managed nine and a half hours in our video loop test. That’s an okay score that beats the Yoga 730’s roughly eight hours, but it falls well behind the Spectre x360’s 14 hours.

Acer Spin 5 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

These are good – but not great – results for a midrange 2-in-1 today. They indicate that the Spin 5 should last a full workday if you’re running the usual productivity tasks. Push the CPU, though, and you’ll be reaching for the power supply sooner than you’d like.

The Spin 5 is just svelte enough to be comfortable in a backpack. It’s heavy at 3.31 pounds (compared to the Yoga 730’s 2.47 pounds), and its large bezels make for a wider and deeper chassis than is common today for 13.3-inch notebooks. But it’s thin enough to carry comfortably at 0.62 inches, which is close to the Yoga 730’s 0.62 inches.

Our Take

Acer perfectly positioned the Spin 5 in the midrange convertible 2-in-1 niche. It’s attractively priced, well-built, and it provides solid performance and good battery life. Input options are very good, and it tosses Alexa support into the mix. Only a rather dim and slightly low-contrast display holds it back from being an excellent option in this price range.

Is there a better alternative?

The most direct comparison to the Spin 7 is Lenovo’s Yoga 730, which costs $850 for a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, and a Full HD 13.3-inch display. It’s also well-built, performs well, and is a bit cheaper — though the Spin 5 provides meaningfully better battery life.

You could also jump up to the HP Spectre x360 13, another convertible 13.3-inch 2-in-1 that we’ve long included on our our list of favorites. You’ll find the Spectre to be a much more attractive machine that offers similar performance to go with a better keyboard but lesser battery life. You’ll also pay more for the sleeker design, at $1,120 for a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB PCIe SSD. That price also includes an active pen, a $70 extra for the Yoga 730.

How long will it last?

The Spin 5 is well-built with an up-to-date processor and solid connectivity. Only the lack of Thunderbolt 3 and the industry-standard one-year warranty is likely to become an issue over time.

Should you buy it?

No. The Spin 5 is a decent enough midrange convertible 2-in-1 option, but it’s held back by its dated bezels (and thus overly large chassis) and dim display. The ability to access Alexa is a nice addition, but it’s coming to other machines and doesn’t stand out as a vital feature.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Coppock
Mark has been a geek since MS-DOS gave way to Windows and the PalmPilot was a thing. He’s translated his love for…
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