Help Me, Laptop! I Need an Affordable 2-in-1 with Pen Support

These days, laptops can do just about anything, including transforming into a tablet and working with a stylus. But can they do it at an affordable price? That's what forum member n3xw4rr10r wants to know.

They're in the market for a laptop or 2-in-1 system with solid pen support. And before you ask, yes, they already know about the new Surface Pro, but a starting price of $799 is a bit too high for their liking.

Luckily, there are a few systems on the market that meet n3xw4rr10r's criteria. We've got the Acer Switch Alpha 12 ($544.99), the Lenovo Miix 510 ($669, or $696 with pen) and the Surface Pro 4 ($623.96, plus $129 for the keyboard). Each detachable has its own strengths and weaknesses, so I'm going to touch on a few key categories before I make my recommendation.


Of our three choices, the 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.3-inch Surface Pro (pictured below) is by far the lightest at 1.7 pounds (1.8 pounds with the Type Cover). The 11.8 x 8.1 x 0.6-inch Miix weighs in at 2.7 pounds with its cover attached, while the Alpha 12 (11.5 x 7.9 x 0.6 inches) is the heaviest at 2.8 pounds. On both the Miix and the Surface Pro, the bottom half of the rear panel flips outward to create a kickstand, while the Alpha 12 makes use of a rear-mounted bar to keep the device upright.

Regarding ports, the Alpha 12 and the Miix are future-forward, featuring a USB Type-C port in addition to a full USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. However, the Alpha also offers a microSD card slot in case you want to expand the memory. The Surface Pro has a USB 3.0 port, a microSD slot and a mini DisplayPort, which will let you hook it up to an external monitor with the right adapter.


The Miix was the clear favorite in the display category, at least when it came to color.

The tablet's 1920 x 1200 panel delivered vibrant color with sharp details. The screen can reproduce an excellent 114 percent of the sRGB spectrum, compared with 101 percent from the Alpha 12 and 100 percent from the Surface Pro. It also topped the 99 percent ultraportable average.

When we measured for brightness, the Alpha 12 averaged 432 nits, topping the 304-nit average and besting the Surface Pro (382 nits) and the Miix (307 nits).


The Surface Pro is the only 2-in-1 that comes with a pen. However, with 1,024 levels of pressure, it's not the most sensitive stylus available. That would be the $40 Lenovo Active Pen, which boasts 2,048 levels. Acer's $50 Active Stylus  has only 256 levels of pressure, which means the pen will still have the ability to adjust the thickness or slimness of a line based on how heavily or lightly you press against the screen, but it won't be as accurate.

Although it's less sensitive than the Mixx, the Surface Pro's stylus is the only pen that has an eraser, which makes it easier to fix mistakes. Also, pressing the eraser will launch the OneNote app, so you won't have to go hunting around for it. Acer takes things a bit further with its Hover Access software, which lets you customize the various buttons on the pen to quick-launch apps such as Windows Journal, OneNote and the Snipping Tool


Despite being a little older, the Surface Pro's 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-6300U processor with 8GB of RAM managed to stave off the competition. The tablet hit 6,811 on Geekbench 3, our synthetic performance test. The Alpha 12 and the Miix's 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-6200U CPUs delivered 6,398 and 6,313, respectively.

The Surface Pro's 256GB SSD also proved to be the fastest with a speed of 318.1 megabytes per second on our File Transfer Test (duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files). It absolutely dusted the the Miix (181.8MBps) and the Alpha 12 (152.4MBps), which also have 256GB SSDs.

Although all three systems feature integrated Intel HD 520 GPUs, the Switch had the best performance on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark with 64,550. The Miix wasn't too far off with 62,498, while the Surface Pro notched 60,424.

Battery Life

When it comes to battery life, there's no beating the Surface Pro. It lasted 6 hours and 5 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). The Miix tapped out at 5:25, whereas the Alpha 12 clocked in at 4:49.

Bottom Line

If I had to recommend a 2-in-1, it's going to be the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Despite being a little long in the tooth, the $623.96 system offers the best performance and battery life. It also bundles the pen with the detachable instead of tacking on an extra $40 or $50. However, the pen isn't as sensitive as Lenovo's Active Pen, and the Surface Pro's display is nowhere near as pretty as the Miix 510. You'll also have to spend another $129 to get the Type Cover keyboard, which makes it almost as expensive as the new version set to debut.

At $544, the Acer Switch Alpha 12 is the least expensive of the bunch, but it pales in comparison to the Surface Pro. If you can get over the lack of a USB Type-C port and a not-as-vivid panel, the older Surface Pro is the way to go.

Sherri L. Smith
Editor in Chief

Sherri L. Smith has been cranking out product reviews for since 2011. In that time, she's reviewed more than her share of laptops, tablets, smartphones and everything in between. The resident gamer and audio junkie, Sherri was previously a managing editor for Black Web 2.0 and contributed to BET.Com and Popgadget.