Acer Spin 3 2020 hands-on review: More for the money
- Solid build quality
- Lovely 16:10 QHD+ display
- Thin and relatively light
- Docked rechargeable pen included
- Tiger Lake promises good performance
- Keyboard keycaps were a little slick
- Large top and bottom bezels look old-school
Acer’s Spin 3 is the company’s midrange entry in the 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 market. Its previous iteration was well-received as a 2-in-1 with some interesting features, such as a pen that recharged while docked in a convenient slot along the side, along with solid performance and build quality.
That wasn’t good enough for Acer, however, because it announced an updated version that alters the laptop’s design while promising to maintain what was best about the previous version. I went hands-on with a pre-release unit of the Acer Spin 3. Here are my initial impressions.
The most significant update to the Spin 3 is its switch to a display with a 16:10 aspect ratio rather than the usual 16:9. That makes the display taller, fitting in more information and reducing the need to scroll. Taller aspect ratios (16:10 and 3:2, mainly) are becoming more common, as laptops like Microsoft’s Surface line and most recently the Dell XPS 13 have led the charge, but Acer’s approach is different.
While Dell used close to the same display chassis size and simply filled it all with a 16:10 panel, leaving behind some tiny bezels and a 90% screen-to-body ratio, the Spin 3 has a large bezel on top and a surprisingly large chin on the bottom. The screen-to-body ratio is only 79%, meaning the Spin is not only less modern looking than the XPS 13, but it’s also larger than it could be. One benefit of Acer’s approach is that the wrist rest remains large and comfortable, unlike some tiny-bezel laptops where there’s barely enough room.
The Spin 3 feels far more solid than its price would suggest. Its lid resists any twisting, the keyboard deck has zero flex, and the bottom of the chassis doesn’t budge with rough handling. It’s an all-aluminum design this time around, where the previous version incorporated some plastic parts, and I can tell. I love the way the Spin 3 feels.
Speaking of how it feels, the Spin 3 weighs about 3.08 pounds and is 0.62 inches thin. That makes it heavy, but also thin, compared to the HP Spectre x360 13 at 0.67 inches and 2.88 pounds. Still, I found the Spin 3 comfortable to carry and use in all of its different modes. Tablet mode was a little chunky, but that’s true of all non-tablet 2-in-1s (including the Spectre x360 13).
The Spin 3 is an attractive if unsurprising 2-in-1. My unit came in the usual semi-gloss silver found on so many laptops, and had only a few chrome pieces, including the Acer logo on the lid and hinge.
The hinge is well-tuned, allowing the lid to be opened with one hand while holding the display in place through all four modes — clamshell, tent, media, and laptop. That’s an attribute typically found on more expensive machines.
Connectivity is another strength. There are two USB-C with Thunderbolt 4 ports along the left-hand side, to go with a full-size HDMI port, a USB-A 3.2 port, and a miniSD card reader. Along the right-hand side, you’ll find another USB-A 3.2 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a Kensington lock port. Wireless connectivity is provided by Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.
The Spin 3 looks good on paper. It offers up to an 11th-generation quad-core Intel Core i7-1165G7 with Intel Iris Xe graphics, up to 16GB of LPDDR4X RAM, and dual PCIe SSDs of either 512GB or 1TB. As an example, the machine I’m looking at is equipped with a Core i5-1135G7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.
We haven’t tested enough Tiger Lake machines to draw any firm conclusions, but what we’ve seen from Intel’s reference machine gives us hope for some solid performance. At the very least, Tiger Lake should help close the distance with AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series, which so far has proven to be considerably faster than Intel’s 15-watt CPUs.
The Spin 3’s display is a beauty. The 16:10 display comes in either FHD+ (1920 x 1200) or QHD+ (2560 x 1600) resolution, and my unit included the latter.
I found it plenty sharp (though I prefer 4K displays) with loads of contrast. Colors were natural and bright, and I thought the display did a wonderful job across all tasks I threw at it.
The 16:10 aspect ratio is great, too. It offers more vertical space, which is useful since documents and web pages are built to scroll vertically. You can simply see more on a 16:10 display than a 16:9 display.
The audio was competent, providing plenty of volume thanks to upward-firing speakers with zero distortion. Highs and mids were prominent and, as usual, the bass was at a minimum. I can see using the speakers for the occasional YouTube video and solo Netflix show, but for music and action movies I’d recommend a pair of headphones.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Spin 3 utilizes the usual island keyboard with black keycaps and white lettering. I don’t know if the keyboard is backlit — I couldn’t find a button to turn it on. I thought the keycaps themselves were a little small and that impacted the spacing, and they were also a touch slippery. The mechanism was comfortable, though, with a light touch and a soft bottoming action that’s not as crisp as I like but still allowed me to type at nearly full speed.
The touchpad was moderately sized and plastic-coated. It’s a Microsoft Precision touchpad and so it was responsive in swiping and using multitouch gestures. The display is touch-enabled, of course, and the included Wacom AES 1.0 pen worked well for Windows inking.
Interestingly, my unit didn’t have Windows 10 Hello support, neither a fingerprint reader nor an infrared camera for facial recognition. I understand that while that will remain true with the base model, upgraded machines will come with a fingerprint reader.
I couldn’t run our usual battery tests and so I can’t report on longevity. The Spin 3 houses 56 watt-hours of battery, which is average for a machine with this size of display. I imagine that the Core i5 and FHD+ version will get very good battery life, while the Core i7 and QHD+ will suffer thanks to the extra power and higher resolution.
Pricing and availability
The Acer Spin 3 will start at $850 for an 11th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). Other pricing and availability will be announced soon.
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