It's not difficult to find a 2-in-1 that costs under $400, but in this price range, you normally have to settle for a system with a dull, low-res screen and so-so build quality. Enter the Acer Spin 1 (SP111-32N-C2X3). One of the best laptop values around, the $329 Spin 1 has a sleek, metal chassis, a snappy keyboard and one of the most colorful screens we've seen on any laptop at any price. Acer even includes an active, pressure sensitive stylus in the box. While we wish the battery life were better, this 11.6-inch laptop is the best budget 2-in-1 you can get and one of the best sub-$400 laptops overall.
The Acer Spin 1 doesn't look anything like a $329 laptop. Its gunmetal-gray aluminum chassis stands out in a price band where cheap, glossy plastic is the norm. I particularly like the subtle, cross-hatch pattern on the dark gray lid and how it contrasts with the shiny, silver hinge area. Thick screen bezels, however, keep the inside of the system from looking quite as stunning as the outside of the package.
At just 2.65 pounds and 11.4 x 7.9 x 0.56 inches thick, the Spin 1 is thin, light and compact enough to take anywhere. Competitors such as the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 and HP Pavilion x360 (11-inch) both weighed 3 or more pounds and were 0.2 to 0.3 inches thicker. Like any 11.6-inch laptop, Acer's 2-in-1 may seem a little too small for adults who want a larger keyboard and screen and a more substantial object to balance on their laps.
When you're buying a sub-$400 laptop, build quality is always a concern. However, the Spin 1 feels solid and sturdy. The hinges, which bend the screen back 360 degrees into tablet or tent modes, were strong and tight, offering just the right amount of resistance. The keyboard didn't suffer from flex, like we see on many affordable laptops. During the test period, I also accidentally knocked the laptop off of my desk and onto a carpeted floor and it suffered no noticeable damage.
For a laptop this thin, the Acer Spin 1 has a decent selection of ports. On the left side, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, a full-size HDMI out connector and a microSD card reader, which could help increase the laptop's paltry 32GB of storage. The right side holds a USB 2.0 port and a 3.5mm audio jack.
The 11.6-inch screen on the Spin 1 is so bright and colorful that it has caused me to question my assumptions about the laptop industry. If Acer can put a 1920 x 1080 IPS touch display this vibrant on a $329 laptop, why can't manufacturers offer this kind of display quality in their $800 and $1,000 laptops?
When I watched a 1080p trailer for the Last Jedi, the red wall behind Kylo Ren and some billowing red smoke really popped while the foliage on Ahch-To was alive with rich green shades. Fine details, like gears in Luke's mechanical hand and the rocks that Rey levitates, were sharp and clear.
According to our colorimeter, the Spin 1 can reproduce an impressive 129 percent of the sRGB color gamut, about 26 percent more than the ultraportable average. The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 and HP Pavilion x360 both offer far fewer colors, hitting just 81 and 70 percent of the gamut, respectively.
Acer's 2-in-1 is also extremely bright, hitting 349 nits of brightness in our tests, which is 22 percent above the category average. The Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 is 12 percent dimmer than the Spin, but still bright, while the Pavilion x360's screen returned an awful 193 nits, which is 44 percent less than Acer's laptop.
The Acer Spin 1 offers decent but unimpressive audio output for a budget laptop. When I played AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock," the music was a little tinny and was loud enough to fill only a small room. However, I've heard far worse tinniness on much more expensive machines.
Keyboard and Touchpad
When it comes time to type on most budget laptops, particularly 11-inchers like the Spin 1, I gird myself for an unpleasant experience. However, Acer's 2-in-1 blew away my expectations with a snappy, responsive keyboard that didn't have any of the flex or key stiffness I often see on much more expensive systems.
The keys have a solid 1.4 millimeters of vertical travel, which is pretty deep for a system this thin (1.5 to 2mm is typical on a full-size laptop) and require a 67 grams of force to actuate. Using the keyboard, I achieved a rate of 101 words per minute, with a 3.5 percent error rate on the 10fastfingers.com test, which is right in the middle of my usual range.
The 4.1 x 2.3-inch buttonless touchpad provided accurate navigation, without any jerkiness. It also responded immediately to multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger swipe.
While many 2-in-1s either have no compatible pen or make you buy one separately, the Acer Spin 1 comes with a stylus that supports 1,024 levels of pressure. About the size of a traditional ballpoint pen, the Acer Active Stylus felt really natural in my hand, though pressing its tip against the screen definitely felt like I was pushing plastic against glass. More expensive 2-in-1s, such asthe Surface Pro, offer stylii that do a good job of simulating the friction you get from writing with a pen on paper, but you can't really expect that feeling from a $329 laptop.
The Active Stylus worked fairly well during my testing, but I did experience some lag while drawing lines in the Fresh Paint program. However, when I wrote into the Windows 10 handwriting recognition box, the system quickly and accurately recorded my words. Strokes were thinner or thicker, depending on how hard I pressed.
Despite modest components that include an Intel Celeron N3350 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC storage drive, our review configuration of the Acer Spin 1 was a decent multitasker. With over a dozen sites open in Chrome and a 1080p video playing in another window, I experienced just a little bit of lag when I changed tabs and had to wait for the focused web page to render. (Chrome reloads pages on tab focus when you're low on system memory.)
The Spin 1 scored a modest 2,806 on Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark test that measures overall performance. The Pentium N3530-powered Dell Inspiron 3000 2-in-1 was 21 percent quicker and the Pentium-N4200-enabled HP Envy x360 was a full 77 percent ahead of Acer's 2-in-1.
You probably don't want to crunch large spreadsheets on the Spin 1 very often, but its capabilities are in line with or better than direct competitors. Acer's 2-in-1 took 9 minutes and 45 seconds to match 20,000 names with their addresses in OpenOffice Calc, which is 43 seconds slower than the Pavilion x360, but nearly 6 minutes quicker than the Inspiron 11 3000.
There isn't much room on the Spin 1's 32GB of internal storage, but the eMMC drive is quicker than those of most devices in this price range. The Spin copied 2.59GB of mixed media files at a rate of 83.5 MBps, which is 150 percent quicker than the Inspiron 11 3000 and 45 percent faster than the Pavilion x360 took to complete the same test with 4.97GB of files. The Spin's storage is so small that we didn't have enough free space to use our entire set of files.
Unless it's the kind of low-end game that involves cards or falling pieces of candy, you probably won't want to play it on the Spin 1. It returned a score of 24,193 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, which is far below the average ultraportable, but within range of competitors. The Spin 1 came in around 5,000 points ahead of the Inspiron 11 3000 and roughly 5,000 behind the Pavilion x360.
If you're planning to take the Spin 1 with you, be sure to pack the charger. The convertible lasted a modest 6 hours and 44 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That's enough time to get you through part of a work or school day, and it's nearly identical to the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1's mark while besting the HP Pavilion x360 by about an hour. However, we prefer 8 hours or longer from an ultraportable.
The Acer Spin 1 stayed cool throughout our tests. After we streamed video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 82.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the touchpad hit 88 degrees and the bottom reached only 94.3 degrees. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees comfortable.
The Spin 1's 640 x 480 webcam is pretty awful. A selfie I took was both particularly grainy and blurry. Fine details like the hairs on my beard were hard to make out, and colors like the blue of my shirt and the green of the wall behind me were muted and inaccurate.
Software and Warranty
For a laptop with just 32GB of internal storage, the Spin 1 has an awful lot of unnecessary pre-loaded software. So plan to spend a few minutes in the control panel, hitting the uninstall button.
Acer Portal contains the company's abPhoto, abFiles, abMusic and abADocs services, all of which sync different types of data across all of your devices. Both Portal and Acer Care Center, which lets you check system health and download updates, run in the background at all times. They can't be closed, so if you don't want them, you need to uninstall them. Acer Collection contains a set of tiles that link into the Windows Store so you can download recommended apps such as Drawboard PDF editor and, oddly enough, Yahoo mail.
In addition to its own utilities, Acer has thrown on some third-party bloatware, including Amazon, Netflix, WildTangent games and Evernote. There's also the standard set of Microsoft handpicked bloat that we see on every Windows 10 device, including Asphalt 8, Bubble Witch Saga and March of Empires.
Our review configuration of the Acer Spin 1, which goes by model number SP111-32N-C2X3, costs $329 and comes with an aluminum chassis, a Celeron processor, a 1080p screen, 4GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC storage drive. For $429, you can get model number SP111-32N-P0FA which has a faster, Pentium N4200 CPU and a more-generous 64GB of storage.
Depending on where you shop, you will see older versions of the Spin 1 selling for $300 or less. Target, for example, has a Spin 1 with the same exact specs as our review unit, but a plastic chassis for $249 (opens in new tab). We haven't tested these other models, but if they have the same components, they should offer a similar experience to the unit we reviewed.
With its snazzy design, responsive keyboard and brilliant display, the Acer Spin 1 sets a new standard for budget 2-in-1s. Only its below-average battery life prevents us from giving it a higher rating.
Because of its small screen, limited storage and low-end processor, this convertible works best as a secondary device for people who already have a primary PC or as a child's computer. But if you want a high-quality, low-cost 2-in-1 for some quick drawing, web surfing and light productivity or school work, the Spin 1 is the best choice.