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Acer Switch Alpha 12 hands-on review

ACER’S SWITCH ALPHA 12 is the company’s latest hybrid tablet-laptop ready to lock horns with the likes of Huawei’s MateBook and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4.

Due to be released in May and priced at $599, approximately £416, the device will have the tough task of entering the competitive 2-in-1 market filled with hybrids trying to be everything to all men.

We got our hands on the Switch Alpha 12 to see if it has what it takes to fend off its rivals.

Design
The Switch Alpha 12 is chunkier than the MateBook or Surface Pro 4, but it still has relatively slim design for a tablet that manages to squeeze in sixth generation Intel Core processors. Measuring in at 292mm by 201mm, the tablet part of the hybrid is 9.5mm thick, when the combined with the attachable keyboard that girth goes up to a still svelte 15.85mm.

A U shaped kickstand fints neatly into the Switch Alpha 12

It’s fairly light too, weighing in at 1.25kg, but like many tablets with a 12in display, you’d be hard pressed to hold it in one hand for too long. The brushed aluminium chassis makes it pleasant to fondle too, but to our hands it lacked the real premium feel of the Surface Pro 4 or the MateBook.

The Switch Alpha 12 makes liberal use of aluminium

The Switch Alpha 12 is a bit stingy with its ports, only offering one USB 3.1, a headphone jack, microSD slot and a single USB Type-C port. There is an optional dock that adds more connections, including extra USB slots, and an HDMI port.

Switch Alpha 12 offers a only a few ports

On the outside, the Switch Alpha 12 is a fairly standard hybrid, but under its hood Acer has done something pretty smart; fanless cooling. Claiming to be a world’s first for hybrids, Acer’s LiqiudLoop cooling, as the name would suggest, uses liquid coolant to keep its innards from melting down. This means no irritating whirr of fans, which is a rare example of adding something by taking another thing away.  

The keyboard, which can be specced with backlighting, attaches magnetically to the tablet with a reassuringly firm snap, offers little in the way of frills, and concentrating on function over form. The full-sized keys are nicely spaced and offer 1.4mm of travel, which makes hammering out emails less of a chore when compared to some hybrid keyboards we tapped away on.

The keyboard is attached using magnets

The trackpad is a bit on the small side but is responsive and offers a satisfying click to its buttons. The keyboard also doubles as a screen cover, handy for preventing nasty scratches when lugging it about.

A U-shaped kickstand keeps the tablet upright when used in its laptop mode, and can be fully adjusted up to 165 degrees. This means you can tilt the tablet to your heart’s content and find an angle that works for you.

Display
Like rival hybrids, the Acer Switch Alpha 12 offers a 12in display with a now standard resolution of 2160×1440. To our eyes, it lacks the sharpness of the Surface Pro 4, but text is clear and images crisp.

The display on the Switch Alpha 12 is a little glossy

While colours are natural we felt they lacked a little in contrast and don’t ‘pop’ as much as they do on the MateBook, despite the display’s glossy finish. And that’s another problem; the lack of a matte finish means it picks up a lot of reflections, effectively making it a bit of a black mirror, which can get irritating.

Still for a competitively priced hybrid, the screen is more than good enough and we’d be happy working and watching a HBO series or two on it.

Software
The Switch Alpha 12 comes running Windows 10 out of the box. Used in tablet and desktop mode it’s a decent experience, perhaps lacking the functionality of Android or the slickness of iOS when used just as a tablet, but in desktop mode it makes for a solid workhorse device.

The Switch Alpha 12 comes running Windows 10

Acer has added a few tools on top of Windows 10 to make navigating the OS a neater experience on the tablet. Thankfully, the company has avoided dropping a load of bloatware into the mix, which will prevent the need to flush all the crap off the system when you first boot it up.

Performance and battery life
We’ll have to wait to get a Swift Alpha 12 in for review to put its performance and battery life properly to the test. But from our first impressions, the use of Intel Core processors keeps Windows 10 running at a decent lick.

However, we did find it hung up a little bit when we were trying to select and close tabs in Mozilla’s Firefox browser using the touchscreen. That could be a minor glitch as everything else ran smoothly if not lighting quick.

The Switch Alpha 12 has a brushed aluminium design

When the hybrid launches, there will several processor options to choose from ranging from the low powered i3U to the beefier i7. Prices across the range have yet to be firmed up, but we reckon they could get quite steep if you spec an i7; an i5 should offer a sweet spot of plenty of processor bang for your buck.

RAM starts from 4GB and goes up to 8GB, which offers provides a good lump of memory to compliment the Intel chips. Storage begins at a relatively tight 128GB and goes up to 512GB of SSD space. Having a microSD slot is useful here as it allows for the on-board storage to be expanded, though Acer hasn’t said how much by.

Acer slates battery life at eight hours, but we have a sneaking suspicion that heavy use will cause that to fall by a couple of hours. Our reason for this is that the Swift Alpha 12 gets quite toasty, likely a symptom of its fanless cooling, which can be detrimental to battery life. But this is just speculation until we get a chance to do a battery burn test.

First impressions
Acer is up against some strong competition in the hybrid arena, so it needed to bring it’s A game to the fight. We’re not sure it’s quite managed that, but it’s well priced and a solid if unremarkable hybrid.

The Switch Alpha 12 is a Windows 10 running hybrid

As such, it will likely sell well, particularly if businesses looking to offer their staff more than just basic laptops snap it up. For individual consumers, Acer utilitarian hybrid may have a tough job attracting them away from the Microsoft’s Surface range and even the iPad Pro models.

Check back here for our full review when the tablet launches next month. µ

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