Price (RRP): $1729
I’ve previously written about my choice of a Surface Pro 4, and the main reason I selected the Core M3-powered version. Well, Acer has come along with a nifty tablet/notebook hybrid of its own which manages to eliminate any need for a low powered processor. The Acer Switch Alpha 12 comes with a choice of processors from the Core i3 through to the Core i7, and because they are all liquid-cooled, not one of them is fitted with a noisy fan.
I’m old enough to remember the near universal expressions of horror when the 80486 processor came out. At least, I think that’s the one. Perhaps it was the 80386 before it, or the Pentium following it. Whichever, the outrage was because the processor needed a cooling fan clipped directly onto the chip. Previously, there may have been cooling for the case, but that was it.
That the outrage has now dissipated – indeed, been pretty much forgotten – is attested to by the failure of my Google skills when I tried confirm which processor led to it in the first place.
But I, for one, hate the white noise of a cooling fan that’s in top operating order, and even more the rattle or whine of one that’s seen a fair bit of use. So the idea of liquid cooling is wonderful because it means silence.
The Acer Switch Alpha 12 consists of a twelve inch (306mm by my measurement) Windows 10 tablet with all the computery bits built in, a separate, attachable keyboard that doubles as a screen cover, and a stylus. In short, it’s like a fully equipped Surface Pro, with a slightly smaller (by a third of an inch) screen. The case is a lovely brushed metal – aluminium perhaps. There’s also a web cam on the front and a rear camera.
The tablet has a kick stand. The keyboard (included in the price … score one for Acer!) snaps on magnetically and has a cloth loop for holding the stylus. I’d guess that the keyboard comes out of the same factory that makes the Surface Pro keyboard. Some details are a little different, but the look is the same, the feel is similar and full size keys are offered. Unlike the Surface Pro, opening the keyboard on Acer Switch Alpha 12 wakes up the computer (score two for Acer!)
The display is QHD resolution, which is to say 2160 by 1440 pixels, which makes the pixels invisibly small for a fine looking picture. Viewing angle can be extreme with no effect on contrast or colour.
The review unit came with a Core i5-6200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, but there are six models from which you can choose. The entry level model uses a Core i3-6100U processor with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and costs $1390. The top of the line model employs a Core i7-6500U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB hard drive, and pushes the price to $2159.
And all of them operate silently with liquid cooling rather than whirring fans.
Acer specifies the unit as being 15.9mm thick. That includes the keyboard. Without it the thickness comes to around 12mm by my measure, 9.5mm by Acer’s. The difference is there’s additional thickness around the base of the kick stand. Acer also says it weighs 1.25 kilograms. I made it 1285 grams with keyboard, 915 grams without. Remember, it can run in tablet mode, so you may not need the keyboard depending on your application.
The stylus is pressure sensitive (I had trouble finding how many levels are detectable). The press release said this was an option. The website was unclear. I confirmed via email with Acer that the stylus (elsewhere referred to Active Pen) definitely is included. It runs on a single AAAA (yes, four As) battery that ought to be good for well over a year.
The WiFi support extends to 802.11ac. There’s a USB 3.0 socket on the side, plus a USB Type-C socket with USB 3.1 support, plus a 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo port. The unit is expandable using the new Acer WiGIG dock, which offers 4.6Gbps wireless connectivity and has Display Port and HDMI outputs, plus Ethernet. I used a generic USB Type-C expansion unit to provide more USB 3.0 sockets plus Ethernet, and that worked perfectly well.
There’s a side-mounted microSD card slot. You can use it, obviously, for transfer of content from devices that are compatible with this storage. But for most of us, the best use is simply to expand the space available by dropping in a large capacity microSD card … say 128GB or bigger. You shouldn’t put software on there because it’s not going to run as fast as the SSD, but it’s perfect for media and any bulky documents you need.