Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – early comparison

Is the Acer Switch Alpha 12 a Surface Pro 4 on a budget?

This certainly looks to be the case at a quick glance as the two models have much to share but the Acer offers friendlier price. There doesn’t appear to be anything original here – this is yet another Surface Pro 4 clone. But at a cheaper price point, it certainly looks attractive.

Is this something a prospective Surface Pro 4 buyer would consider? Read on.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Design

Visually, they are very similar. I would certainly call the Switch Alpha 12 a clone of the Surface Pro 4. The keyboard can be used in two settings just like the Surface Pro 4. Just about the biggest difference can be seen on the kickstand designs – the Surface Pro 4 uses a thin solid piece of sheet while the Switch Alpha 12 uses a frame based design as seen below:

Which design is better? It is probably subjective, but I personally like the Surface Pro 4 better.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Size

  • Thickness – The Switch Alpha 12 measures 0.6-inches with the keyboard attached, 0.4-inches without. The Surface Pro 4 is quite a bit thinner at 0.4-inches with the keyboard attached.
  • Weight – The Switch Alpha 12 weighs 2.8 lb with the keyboard attached, 2.0 lb without. Once again the Surface Pro 4 weighs slightly less, coming in at 2.4 lb with the keyboard.
  • Dimension – The Switch Alpha 12 measures 11.5 x 7.9 inches. Interestingly, the Surface Pro 4 measures exactly the same!

In a nut shell, the Surface Pro 4 is thinner and lighter while featuring a bigger screen. Can’t loose with that combination… Well, at a higher price point.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Keyboard

In terms of keyboard design, both models offer similar offerings. Both allow users to use the keyboard laying flat on the table or raise the rear portion for more comfortable typing experience. Both are held with magnets.

But here’s a big difference – the standard version that comes with the Switch Alpha 12 is NOT back-lit! I personally find this very useful in just about all situations except for bright environment. But this keyboard is free, unlike the Surface Pro 4’s keyboard.

There is also a small difference in the keyboard layout. As an example, the ‘Page Up’ and ‘Page Down’ keys are not located at the same locations. I personally much prefer them to be at the top (like the Surface Pro 4) rather than crammed near the cursor keys (like the Switch Alpha 12).

The Switch Alpha 12 keyboard features keys with 1.4 mm travel. This compares favorably to the Surface Pro 4’s 1.3 mm travel. Ok, that probably won’t be detectable by any human on this planet but nevertheless, there is a theoretical edge. 🙂

Both keyboard are backlit (optional on the Switch Alpha 12) and individual keys are clicky kinds with good feedback/responses. You are going to be happy with either.

The touchpad on the the Switch Alpha 12 is a little smaller which could bother some. The touchpad on the Surface Pro 4 is already somewhat on the small side.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Pen

The Switch Alpha 12 does not come with a pen in a standard package. But it is available as an option for $50US. This pen has 256 levels of sensitivity vs Suface Pro 4’s 1024 levels.

When not in use, the Switch Alpha 12 provides a loop attached to the keyboard to store the pen. It works but not as elegant as the Surface Pro 4’s magnet based solution.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – External Ports

These are the ports the Switch Alpha 12 features:

  • USB-A port
  • USB-C port – this can also be used to drive displays and power the laptop. But the unit also has a normal Acer power port so if you have another device with USB-C port and you want to carry just one power supply, this could be useful. Also, this could be a nice solution if you own a large external battery that is capable of feeding into USB-C.
  • MicroSD Card Reader
  • 3.5mm headphone socket

Compare the above with the Surface Pro 4:

  • USB 3.0 port
  • MicroSD Card Reader
  • 3.5mm headphone socket
  • Mini Display port

The Switch Alpha 12 has the edge here in the area of external ports. Note that the Switch Alpha 12 does NOT come with a Mini Display port. Theoretically, the USB-C port can replace this role (and more), so Mini Display port is not really needed in case of the Switch Alpha 12. I personally wouldn’t mind other manufacturers going towards this direction in the future.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Screen

  • Size – Switch Alpha 12 uses 12.0-inch display while the Surface Pro 4 uses 12.3-inch display.
  • Resolution –  Switch Alpha 12 uses 2160 x 1440 variety while the Surface Pro 4 uses 2736 x 1824 display.
  • Pixel Density –  Based on the above numbers, the Switch Alpha 12 works out to be 216 dpi, while the Surface Pro 4 works out to be 267 dpi.

The Surface Pro 4 features a bigger screen with a higher dpi number. So although the differences are small, its a win-win situation for the Surface Pro 4 as far as the display is concerned.

Apparently, the Switch Alpha 12 screen is the brightest amongst all of its competitions including the Surface Pro 4, if that is important to you. But pay attention to the battery life portion of the article below.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Processor

The Switch Alpha 12 is available with the usual group of Intel processors – Core i3-6100U, Core i5-6200U and Core i7-6500U. Note that they do not have any models with Intel Core m3 processor which is lower performing but offers better power consumption.

Video card situation is identical on both models since they both use the same (well, except for the m3) processors and they both do not offer any dedicated GPU options. You are stuck with whatever GPU you get built into the processor.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Battery

This is where the Switch Alpha 12 looses badly. Every review published so far reports that the Switch Alpha 12 ranks as one of the worst of the group. This is by no means a disaster, but having another 30% worth of running time could be useful for some situations.

Officially, the Switch Alpha pro uses a 37 Wh battery while the Surface Pro 4 uses a 39.5 Wh battery. So there must be other factors contributing towards worse overall battery life. Could it be the (brighter) screen used in the Switch Alpha 12?

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Cooling

This is where the Switch Alpha 12 appears to have an edge if you are not reading carefully. They claim the whole unit is “liquid cooled” with no active fans within the unit. This makes the unit totally silent even when the processor is driven hard. They are making big deals about it. Great! Right?

Well…

Did you know that your Surface Pro 4 or the Surface Book also uses liquid cooling mechanism? This method of cooling is really not all that new anymore even in portable devices. When you need to move some heat from one area (especially from the central area of the unit where it is impossible to create any kind of air flow) to another without sacrificing significant amount of air space, you really don’t have much of a choice. The liquid gets boiled near a hot source (usually on top of a CPU), the gas travels to another location to much cooler location (or where the fan is located) through a tube, then cools back to the liquid form. Then the cycle repeats.

In case of Surface Pro 4, the boiled gas gets directed to two locations – to the fan and also to the lower back area where the kickstand normally sits when fully folded. This is also why the Surface Pro 4 gets hot in that area under load.

Surface Pro 4 vs Acer Switch Alpha 12 – Conclusion

At the hardware level, the Switch Alpha 12 does appears to offer 90% of what the Surface Pro 4 offers but at a discounted price. In some areas (external ports), it is more future-proof than the Surface Pro 4. The main area where it falls short is the battery life. At least at a higher level, it does appear to be a good competitor to the Surface Pro 4.

We will be receiving this unit shortly, so a more detailed comparison article will be published within few weeks.

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