Hands on: Acer Switch Alpha 12

Acer's liquid-cooled Switch 12 is a no-nonsense 2-in-1 with real power

Acer’s Switch Alpha 12 is a versatile, powerful, no-nonsense machine that you can actually afford.

At the April 21 Next@Acer press event, CEO Jason Chen said the company’s research suggested there are two distinct markets for convertible laptops. PC makers tend to build devices priced for users on a budget, under $400, or go for a premium product that retails for at least $700. Acer claimed last year’s line of Switch 2-in-1 laptops has dominated the lower cost market, and he hopes its new premium tablet/laptop hybrid, the Switch Alpha 12, will be just as compelling for customers with more expensive tastes.

We’d take that a step further. With a $600 base price, the Switch Alpha 12 may become one of best little 2-in-1s around. It has the makings of a quality notebook, including up to an Intel Core i7 processor, an Intel HD Graphics 520 graphics card, 512GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. But the screen can be detached for tablet use, just like the Surface Pro.

To keep the hardware cool within the confines of a tablet form factor, Acer ditched fans for a new liquid-based cooling system, which they call “LiquidLoop.” To hear Acer tell it, the closed loop system uses the gas formed by the coolant passing over hot components to keep the liquid pumping. It seemed to work. The device didn’t felt hot to the touch even after several hours on Acer’s demo floor.

The display is a 12-inch, 2,160 x 1,440 IPS touchscreen. Visually, the screen is sharp — colors look bright and contrast seems solid. Touch response feels extremely accurate when performing gestures and dragging your finger across the screen. Accuracy is enhanced further when paired with the optional Active Pen stylus, which was able to navigate menus with precision you can’t manage with a finger. The Switch 12 is clearly meant to be used with a stylus — there’s a pen loop hanging off the side — and in tablet mode we definitely felt more comfortable cradling the device, which weighs just under two pounds on its own, and using the pen rather than holding it straight on and tapping.

There’s a kickstand built in to the tablet’s back, which is made from the same anodized aluminum as the chassis, but with a rubberized grip. While it can be a little tough to find by feel, the stand is sturdy and gives you a full range of viewing angles.

Acer Switch Alpha 12
Mike Epstein/Digital Trends
Mike Epstein/Digital Trends

The keyboard, which comes standard with the device, feels slightly compact compared to a laptop, but features a comparatively large trackpad. The keys have a little more travel than the average keyboard, which made typing feel familiar. As with the kickstand, the keyboard is sturdy. While slimness is always a mark of quality, in this case the device’s slightly thick dimensions — at .62 inches thick, the Alpha is slightly larger than Acer’s premium ultrabook, the Aspire S 13 —felt like a sign the keyboard can handle long work sessions.

Coincidentally, long work sessions may be the Switch 12’s main flaw. The estimated eight hours of endurance sounds like a lot, but we imagine that real-world use will be a few hours less (as manufacturers are often optimistic). Acer also quotes several additional hours of life in specifications for its ultrabooks.

Even after hours on Acer’s demo floor, the device remained cooled.

Lack of ports is another drawback, and may stop enthusiasts from swapping to the Switch 12 wholesale. The device itself sports a USB 3.1 Type-C port, and that’s it. With an optional dock you can add all the essentials — audio in and out, two USB Type C, three USB type-A, HDMI, and DisplayPort. But that costs extra, and you’ll have to carry an adapter around.

In general, the Acer Switch Alpha 12 feels like a powerful, no-nonsense machine for users who want a light, versatile productivity device. Like many 2-in-1 devices, it doesn’t feel capable of replacing a powerful laptop, but someone looking for a to-go compliment to a desktop, or a personal device to carry while traveling on business, will feel right at home here. All of these can also be said of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, or Dell’s Latitude 12 7000 Series 2-in-1. But those alternatives are much, much more expensive. Acer clearly hopes its value will bring the 2-in-1 to a whole new market of users who simply can’t afford the current, high-end models.

The Acer Switch Alpha 12 will ship to North America in June. The company will begin taking pre-orders soon on the Acer Store.

Highs

  • Attractive, and lightweight
  • Great soft keyboard packed in
  • Highly responsive touchscreen
  • Fast hardware
  • Affordable price

Lows

  • Optional features, including stylus and ports, feel essential
  • Battery life is a bit on the short side compared to laptops
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