Best Microsoft Surface Alternative: Acer Switch Alpha 12

The Microsoft Surface has turned heads since it’s debut in 2012, with its iconic kickstand and ability to use as a tablet or a laptop. Showcasing the seamless experience where users can move between “work and play” with a Windows device, has always been the idea behind the Surface.

The Surface itself is targeted towards high-end users, with a 3K QHD display, magnesium alloy casing, and a steep price tag to match. The Surface Pro 4’s base model starts at $899.99, with a modest Intel Core m3 processor and 128 GB SSD, and that’s not including the click-in keyboard. Luckily for those looking for a Surface alternative, other PC makers have introduced their own 2-in-1 laptops. For an alternative that mimicks Microsoft Surface all the way down to the kickstand, you’ll want to take a look at the Acer Switch Alpha 12.

The Acer Switch Alpha 12 has a starting MSRP of just $599.99, packing more performance per dollar with an Intel Core i3 processor at that price. A Core i5 model will set you back just $50 more, at $649.99. Is it worth “switching” to the Acer Switch Alpha as a Microsoft Surface alternative?

Comparison Between Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Acer Aspire Switch 12

Below we are comparing the Core i5 models of the Surface Pro 4 versus the Aspire Switch 12. The product with the advantage in each category is highlighted in yellow.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Acer Aspire Switch 12
Processor Intel Core i5-6200U (Skylake), up to 2.30 GHz Intel Core i5-6200U (Skylake), up to 2.30 GHz
Memory 4 GB RAM 4 GB RAM
Display 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824 (267 PPI) 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 (216 PPI)
Storage 128 GB SSD 128 GB SSD
Read/Write Speed1 318.1 MB/s 152.37 MB/s
Display Brightness2 382 nits 431.6 nits
sRGB Color Gamut3 100% 101.4%
Weight 1.73 lb. 2.76 lb.
Battery 38.2 Wh (5,087 MAh) 37 Wh (4,870 MAh)
Real-World Battery Life4 6 hours, 5 minutes 4 hours, 49 minutes
Price $899.99 – Best Price on Amazon $649.99 – Best Price on Amazon
Price incl. keyboard $1029.98 ($129.99 for Type Cover) Keyboard included
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1, 2, 3, 4 – Laptop Mag benchmarks

You might be wondering what the press had to say about the Acer Switch Alpha 12. The Verge, aptly described the Switch Alpha 12 as a budget Surface alternative, saying “it’s way cheaper but gives you almost all of the same benefits.”

In all fairness to Microsoft’s Surface team, the Switch Alpha 12 launched in April 2016, months after the Surface Pro 4 was announced in October 2015. 6 months is long enough for Skylake components to come down in cost, making it easy for Acer to come in at such an attractive price point.

On paper, the Surface Pro 4 and Switch Alpha 12 are practically the same devices. It’s in the fit and finish, and real-world usage where your mileage may vary.

Build Quality and Design

Microsoft Surface Alternative: Acer Switch Alpha 12
Rear view, showing the Acer Switch Alpha 12’s kickstand
  • The Switch Alpha 12 has an aluminum bar kickstand with a rubberized strip at the bottom. The included keyboard is not backlit.
  • The Surface Pro 4 uses a entire pane of magnesium alloy, much like the rest of its casing, as a kickstand. The Microsoft Type Cover (purchased separately) is backlit, with a fingerprint authentication option.

Expert Reviews described the Switch Alpha 12 as having “fantastic build quality.” The case is anodized aluminum, which in fact, is less prone to nicks and scratches than the Surface’s VaporMg material. The device feels solid in the hands. Despite its greater heft at over a pound more, Acer’s device fits neatly into a laptop/messenger bag.

Keyboard: The 1.4mm key travel of the keyboard is excellent with a Laptop Mag reviewer being able to achieve 110wpm, which is excellent for an ultra-portable device like this one.

Kickstand: Both the Switch Alpha 12 and Surface Pro 4’s multi-angle kickstands are sturdy. You can adjust both to the desired angle, but reviewers who have been hands on with the devices noted that the Surface Pro 4 was easier to steady in their lap when using the 2-in-1s in “laptop mode.”

Speakers: The stereo speakers in the Switch Alpha 12 are somewhat soft, so if you must have decent audio when plugged out of headphones, the Surface Pro 4’s Dolby Audio speakers may be more satisfactory. Trusted Reviews described the SP4’s speakers as “well above average” for a laptop.

Display Quality

Interestingly, the bargain-priced Alpha Switch 12 has a display with a larger color gamut and higher brightness compared to the Surface Pro 4, despite a slightly lower pixels-per-inch (216 vs 267 PPI). This is one of the areas that many manufacturers skimp on for “value oriented” devices, but it looks like Acer had the sense to fit their Surface competitor with a first-rate display.

Connectivity and Ports

  • The Switch Alpha 12 has 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB-C and a proprietary, Acer power port.
  • The Surface Pro 4 has a single USB 3.0 port and Microsoft’s magnetic power connector.

USB-C is poised to become a standard feature in all new laptops, so it’s promising to see that Acer has included it on the Switch Alpha 12. You can use it to power the 2-in-1 itself, or connect to a larger peripheral like Acer’s docking station or a standalone monitor.

Heat and Battery Life:

  • The Switch Alpha 12 has a passive liquid cooling system, foregoing a fan.
  • Microsoft retained a fan in the Surface Pro 4, with a hybrid liquid cooling system.

If you thought liquid cooling was reserved for power-hungry gaming desktops, think again. Both the Surface Pro 4 and Switch Alpha 12 are fitted with liquid cooling systems which dissipate heat by continuously circulating a fluid over the heatsink of the CPU.

If your laptop’s fan noise has bothered you in the past (hasn’t it bothered us all?), you might be tempted to choose the Switch Alpha 12 for its fanless design. Unfortunately, it looks like Acer has some fine-tuning to do to its passive liquid cooling system, as the Switch Alpha 12 gets warm under load.

Real-world battery life is also much better with the Surface Pro 4, clocking it at 6:05 (hours:minutes) in Laptop Mag’s battery benchmark simulating continuous web browsing. The Switch Alpha 12 only lasted for 4:49 under the same test.

Other Features:

Both 2-in-1 laptops are compatible with an optional, active stylus, enabling you to write notes on-screen with Microsoft OneNote or annotate the web using Windows 10’s new browser, Microsoft Edge. The Switch Alpha 12’s stylus pen costs $50.

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