There've been several Surface Pro competitors, if not outright clones, and we've reviewed most of them. One difference that stands out is the Surface Pro's Core i5 and Core i7 CPU options, that grant performance equal to 13" Ultrabooks in the premium range. Competitors like the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, Huawei MateBook, Lenovo Miix 700 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet have run on the lower power and slower Intel Core M family of CPUs. Acer's here to finally change that with their Switch Alpha 12 Windows 10 tablet with companion removable keyboard. It's available with Intel 6th generation Intel Core i5 and i7 dual core CPUs and Intel HD 520 graphics, so it packs as much horsepower as the Surface Pro 4. Acer's previous Switch models were budget tablets with plenty of plastic and weaker Intel Atom and more recently Core M CPUs, and the premium design, materials and CPU on the Alpha model set it so far apart we wish that Acer had come up with an entirely new name.
Though the Switch Alpha 12 has many compelling qualities, two things stand out: it's an unabashed Surface Pro 3/4 clone and it's considerably less expensive than Surface Pro 4. Our review unit lists for $750 (Costco is selling it for $700) with a hearty Intel Core i5-6200U 2.3 GHz CPU, 8 gigs of RAM, a 256 gig SSD and both keyboard and active pen included. Nice! That's a $400 savings compared to a similarly configured Surface Pro 4. The Acer keyboard is an almost exact copy of the Microsoft Type Cover for Surface Pro 4, right down to dimensions, faux suede covering, overall design and magnetic pogo pin connection. The 12" tablet is also nearly an exact match for the Surface Pro 4 in terms of dimensions and weight, but it has a very important trick up its sleeve: liquid cooling. There's no noisy fan inside (something that Surface Pro 3 owners complained about, though the fan on the Pro 4 is much less intrusive). That's incredibly rare for a tablet or laptop--liquid cooling is something we normally see on higher end gaming desktops. It works well here too--no noise, no undue thermal throttling (even after running back to back benchmarks) and the conductive aluminum back gets warm but not hot. Granted, if you really push it and play a game like Civ 5, the back will get quite warm to hot, but with average energetic use it's not any hotter than Surface Pro 4 with fan.
Design and Ergonomics
The Acer Switch Alpha 12 has a good deal of style and it's made of premium materials like aluminum. This isn't an Acer Chromebook or budget Windows tablet, even if the price tag undercuts much of the competition. The casing has its own style with a cutout for the pull-out stand that's similar to the HP Elite X2's and firm metal sides. The back is brushed aluminum and though it has the same overall dimensions and heft as Surface Pro 4, there's no way you'd confuse them. The Surface Pro 4 has a literally more edgy look while the competitors from Huawei and Samsung are very rounded and Android tablet thin. The Switch is somewhere in between, with a 0.6" thickness and a rectangular design with subtly curved edges--- it's neither wildly thin nor as angular as Surface. The Acer weighs 2.76 lbs. with the included keyboard and around 1.7 lbs. without, which matches the competition (it's 3 ounces heavier than Surface Pro 4). The tablet is rigid and sturdy, and shows fingerprints only modestly on the back.
The stand has a rubber covering along the bottom edge, so there's no metal digging into your legs. The infinite position stand offers a variety of positions from upright to around 20 degrees short of flat on the table. When fully extended, it has a comfortable position for writing and drawing, and when not locked at max extension the stand is firm, but not firm enough to stand up to a heavy hand.
This is a tablet, so ports are few. The Switch Alpha 12 has a USB 3.0 port, 3.5mm audio, a microSD card slot and a USB-C 3.1 port (it does not support Thunderbolt 3). You can use Acer's palm-sized USB-C dock, or another manufacturer's, and there are USB-C dongle adapters on the market to add HDMI, DisplayPort, USB-A and Ethernet. The charger plugs into a dedicated charging port, so it doesn't take up the lone USB-C port (though you can use USB-C chargers like the Apple MacBook's if you wish).
Display and Pen
Like its more expensive competitors, the Acer Switch Alpha 12 has a high resolution display with wide viewing angles and good color gamut. The 12" IPS display supports both touch and Synaptics active pens like Acer's own pen and older Synaptics pens like Dell's short-lived Active Stylus and HP's pen for the Spectre x360. It isn't compatible with Wacom EMR or AES pens like those used with ThinkPads nor is it compatible with N-Trig pens used in Surface Pro 3 and 4. Synaptics has come a long way, and this isn't the nightmare that was their first try with early Dell Venue Pro Windows tablets. Palm rejection and hover distance are decent, though not as good as N-Trig and Wacom. The 256 levels of pressure sensitivity might seem low compared to N-Trig and Wacom, but that's plenty enough levels to get a reasonably natural feel when drawing. For writing, 256 levels are more than enough to mimic writing with a pencil or ballpoint pen.
The pen's butt can act as an eraser, but the flattened diamond facets create edges I'd rather not have digging into my screen. The pen has two buttons and you can assign one to launch a program if you wish. There's no Bluetooth here, but honestly I've always thought that Bluetooth was mostly a gimmick with Surface Pro 4. For note taking, the Switch Alpha 12 is a fine solution. For art, it still falls behind Wacom and N-Trig for pressure levels, ink flow and precise tip placement.
The 2160 x 1440 IPS display has good color gamut for the price, but it does fall a few points short of the more expensive competition. Given the price tag, that's fair, and you're still getting a very good looking display that offers good enough gamut and color accuracy for hobbyist photo and video editing. It covers 89% of sRGB and 66% of Adobe RGB (vs. full sRGB and 75% Adobe RGB or higher from the pricier competition). Gamma is perfect at 2.2 and the display is extremely bright at 376 nits (you may have to turn off auto-brightness in settings to reach max brightness). The display has a 0.65 black level for a contrast ratio of 580:1. The panel makes a good impression in terms of brightness, contrast and colors, but it is too cool (whites veer toward blue) due to a very high native white point of 8300K.