Selling for $649.99 as tested, Acer’s latest revision of its Spin 3 would be a good value even if it didn’t come with a carrying sleeve and a stylus pen. This 14-inch convertible 2-in-1 laptop combines an Intel 10th Generation Core i5 CPU with an adequate 8GB of memory and 256GB solid-state drive. It’s a handsome design, if at 3.3 pounds a little heavy to hold in your hands as opposed to resting in your lap in tablet mode. It performs capably, though it’s no speed demon like the AMD Ryzen 5-powered Editors’ Choice Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14 that it competes with. If you’re looking for a flip-and-fold laptop/tablet/kiosk/easel design on a tight budget, the Spin 3 deserves a spot on your short list.
Good-Looking, in a Generic Way
The Spin 3 is a silver-gray slab with an Acer logo centered in the lid. (My test unit is the Costco model SP314-54N-58Q7; other e-tailers have similar configurations.) Two chrome hinges hold the touch screen; there’s a small amount of flex if you grasp the screen corners or press the keyboard deck. The system measures 0.67 by 12.8 by 9.1 inches, a fraction larger than the Lenovo Flex 5 14 mentioned above (0.82 by 12.7 by 8.6 inches) or the soon-to-be-reviewed HP Pavilion x360 14 LTE (0.71 by 12.8 by 8.7 inches). It’s no burden in a briefcase or backpack.
The black bezels around the display are medium-size on the sides and thick on the top and bottom, where they accommodate a webcam and an Acer logo, respectively. The webcam lacks face recognition, but you can still use Windows Hello to bypass password input thanks to a fingerprint reader in one corner of the touchpad. A speaker grille spans the top of the keyboard deck between the hinges.
On the laptop’s left side, you’ll find the connector for the compact AC adapter, a Thunderbolt 3 port, an HDMI video output, a USB 3.2 Type-A port, and a microSD card slot…
A security lock slot, an audio jack, a second USB-A port, and the power button are on the right, as is the parking and charging “garage” for the active stylus…
Acer says that 15 seconds in its slot is enough to charge the pen for 90 minutes of use.
Oddly, the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) adapter didn’t work out of the box; I used another notebook to download the Intel driver and transferred it to the Acer using a flash drive. After installing the fresh driver, the wireless worked perfectly. Just under five inches long, the one-button stylus supports 4,096 levels of pressure with good palm rejection; it kept up with my fastest swoops and scribbles as I wrote and drew on the touch screen.
Screen and Sound: Nothing to Complain (or Write Home) About
The onboard speakers produce loud but slightly muddy sound. Highs and midtones are clear, but there’s no bass to speak of, and overlapping tracks get swallowed up. The 720p webcam is a lowest-common-denominator affair that captures somewhat noisy, soft-focus shots.
The keyboard is backlit and has Page Up and Page Down keys crowded by the cursor arrows. (You need to use the Fn key for the Home and End functions.) Top-row keys including Escape and Delete are small. The overall typing feel is adequately snappy, kind of flat without much tactile feedback but a satisfactory tapping noise. The buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly, but right-clicks feel vague.
I found myself pressing F4 a bunch of extra times in hopes of getting more brightness from the 1080p touch screen. It’s not an outright dim panel, but not a particularly sunny one, either, so white backgrounds are just a touch off-white. Contrast is good, and viewing angles are broad. Colors are a bit on the bland side but reasonably clear; fine details are sharp instead of pixelated.
The Windows 10 Home software preload tilts toward bloatware. Beyond an Acer Collection app store, bloat offenders include promotions from Amazon, Booking.com, ExpressVPN, and Dropbox, as well as game ads in the notifications panel. Acer backs the Spin 3 with a one-year warranty.
Testing the Spin 3: Good Enough for Getting Stuff Done
With its modest 1GHz clock speed and integrated graphics, the Spin 3’s Core i5-1035G1 is not a barn-burner of a processor, but it’s a popular choice in the 14-inch segment, as seen by its inclusion in the HP Pavilion x360 14 LTE now in the review pipeline and the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 (a non-convertible included here for reference, and to round out the benchmark results). Two 14-inch Lenovo convertibles, the AMD-based IdeaPad Flex 5 14 and the Intel-powered Yoga C740, complete today’s competitors. You can view the contenders’ specs in the table below. (See how we test laptops.)
Productivity and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
The Acer trailed the field in PCMark 10; its score of 3,612 points indicates perfectly respectable productivity but falls short of the 4,000 that we consider excellent. All five laptops’ speedy solid-state drives acquitted themselves admirably in PCMark 8’s storage subtest.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing benchmark, in which we put a stopwatch on systems as they transcode a brief movie from 4K resolution down to 1080p. It, too, is a tough test for multi-core, multi-threaded CPUs; lower times are better.
The IdeaPad’s Ryzen 5 dominated these CPU-intensive applications, while the Pavilion lagged behind even its Core i5-1035G1 cousins. The Spin 3 finished in the middle of the pack.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and add up the total (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters.
The Yoga C740 edged its IdeaPad stablemate for the win, while the Acer and HP brought up the rear. The Spin 3’s screen and microSD card slot make it a fair choice for managing a photo collection, but tilted toward minor touch-ups instead of extensive image editing.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and lets high-end PCs and gaming rigs strut their stuff.
Even the winning IdeaPad is blown away by laptops with dedicated GPUs. As we’ve seen a hundred times, integrated graphics and gaming simulations don’t mix.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene, this one rendered in the eponymous Unigine engine for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Ditto. The Acer was the second-best performer here, but all these machines are suitable only for casual or browser-based games, not challenging 3D titles.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.
The Spin 3 landed in the middle of the group, showing solid stamina. A full day’s work or school, plus an evening’s streaming audio or video, should be no problem.
A Capable Convertible
The display isn’t dazzling and the webcam is poor, but the Acer Spin 3 checks all the convertible boxes, offering decent performance and battery life at a bargain price. We wouldn’t call it a standout, but we frankly can’t find much to gripe about, and if you anticipate doing some drawing or handwriting in tablet mode, it outranks hybrids that lack a stylus. The Spin 3 falls short of Editors’ Choice status, but Costco shoppers will be satisfied.
Acer Spin 3 (2020) Specs
|Laptop Class||Convertible 2-in-1|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-1035G1|
|Processor Speed||1 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||8 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||256 GB|
|Screen Size||14 inches|
|Native Display Resolution||1,920 by 1,080|
|Variable Refresh Support||None|
|Screen Refresh Rate||60 Hz|
|Graphics Processor||Intel UHD Graphics|
|Wireless Networking||802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)|
|Dimensions (HWD)||0.67 by 12.8 by 9.1 inches|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|
|Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)||12:58|