If you're shopping for a 14-inch laptop that won't break the bank, there aren't many great choices out there. And if you also want a touch-screen display that flips back 360 degrees, the few options you do have quickly fade. With the $499 Spin 3, Acer fills the gap with a solid mainstream laptop featuring a 1080 display, a portable design and good speakers. Unfortunately, relatively short battery life, a very shallow keyboard and some performance woes hold back what would otherwise be a good value.
There's nothing particularly radical about the Acer Spin 3's design. It's light but far from a featherweight; thin, but not quite an Ultrabook; and portable, but not as compact as pricier devices with edge-to-edge displays.
But there are a few design aspects worth pointing out. While its all-plastic build feels cheap, the Spin 3's gunmetal silver and subtle crosshatched chassis looks classy. Additionally, the bottom has a pleasant soft-touch finish. I wish Acer had continued that finish onto the palm rests as the Dell XPS series does, but it's a nice addition nonetheless. The Spin 3's lid has "Acer" written across the center, and "Spin" is etched into the base underneath a speaker grille.
Its flexible 2-in-1 design means you can flip the display 360-degrees and effectively turn the Spin 3 into a tablet. You can also view photos or videos in tent mode, without a keyboard distracting your view.
What's less appealing about the laptop's design are the massive bezels surrounding its display. While edge-to-edge screens have breached only the high-end market so far, we'd like to see the trend trickle down to lower-priced machines. The thick rims on the Spin 3 make an otherwise sleek device look dated. I also wish the two dedicated hinges were stiffer; the touch-screen display wobbled a great deal with even the slightest of taps.
The Spin 3 is a relatively portable device at 3.8 pounds and 15 x 9.9 x 0.9 inches, making it small enough to happily haul around in a backpack. However, it's heavier than one of its few direct competitors, the aluminum Asus VivoBook E403NA (3.1 pounds, 13.3 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches).
The Spin 3's port selection is good for the laptop's price and size.
On the left side, you'll find an HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports and a power connector.
The right side houses a 3.5mm headphone-and-microphone combo port, a full-size SD card slot, USB 2.0, a power button and a Kensington lock. There are also two small LED indicators for battery and charging status. Sadly, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are nowhere to be found.
I'm happy to report that Acer didn't compromise the quality of the Spin 3's display to help keep the price down. The super-glossy 14-inch IPS panel sports a 1920 x 1080 resolution, allowing you to see more content on a single page than you can on lower-res screens you'd find on budget models.
Deep black levels contrasted with fairly vibrant colors brought the intriguing world in the trailer for the much-anticipated sci-fi RPG Cyberpunk 2077 to life. The details in this deadly metropolis looked sharp and in focus. The trailer for Mission: Impossible - Fallout was similarly engaging as Tom Cruise beat up the bad guys while somehow evading harm. The Spin 3 did a good job of displaying accurate colors as Cruise took the fighting from urban areas to snow-capped mountains. Viewing angles were also adequate; you can comfortably see content on the display from a 45-degree angle.
But the display measurements tell a less-flattering story. The Acer Spin 3 can reproduce 70.1 percent of the sRGB color gamut. That's a tad better than the Asus VivoBook E403NA (69 percent) and the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 2-in-1 (68 percent) from last year but far worse than the even less expensive HP Stream 14 (82 percent). This low score is disappointing, even for a laptop in this price range. So while the Spin 3's display is solid, it would look even better if it could produce more colors.
As for the brightness, I found myself wanting a level or two higher than the maximum setting. At 226 nits, the Spin 3 is about as luminous as the Asus VivoBook E403NA (213 nits) and notably brighter than the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (203 nits). It sits near the category average of 230 nits. That's plenty bright for indoor use -- just don't expect to see much sitting outside on a sunny day.
You should have no issues using the Spin 3 as a tablet. Its 10-finger, touch-sensitive display was quick to react to my swipes and gestures, like pinch-to-zoom.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The island-style keyboard on the Spin 3 offered an underwhelming typing experience. The full QWERTY (without a number pad) layout comes with average-sized keys that feel snappy and responsive. Our biggest gripe is the extremely short key travel; at just 1 millimeter, it's nowhere near what we consider comfortable (1.5 to 2 mm).
I was able to grit my teeth through a strenuous 10fastfingers.com typing test and achieve a respectable 107 words per minute with 93 percent accuracy. That's about par for the course on speed, but my error rate was a little higher than normal.
The 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad on the Spin 3 is responsive and performed Windows 10 gestures with ease. Whereas some touchpads, like the one on the Asus VivoBook E402NA, are slippery, the Acer Spin 3's smooth surface offers the right amount of friction. Unfortunately, I heard some concerning thuds when I tapped lightly on it.
Acer's TrueHarmony enhancements help provide solid audio performance from the Spin 3's upward-facing speakers. John Mayer's silky-smooth voice was crisp and clear as I listened to his funky new single, "New Light," in a large conference room.
But the speakers aren't for everyone, especially bass heads. The Spin 3 fell flat on low notes, pushing out a weak "pat" sound in place of the skull-rattling bass that should kick off Kanye West's "Love Lockdown."
Fortunately, the Spin 3 can easily fill a small room with sound. At max volume, music sounded tinny but never distorted.
The Acer Spin 3 -- with its Intel i3-8130U processor; 4GB of RAM; and 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive -- had no issues running day-to-day tasks, and slowed down only after I opened a Twitch stream. It took a few seconds to pull up the Windows 10 Start menu while PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds ran in the background on a Microsoft Edge tab. The good news is that the fan remained quiet throughout my browsing and kicked on only when I opened some of Acer's heavy bloatware.
The Spin 3 scored an 8,160 in the Geekbench 4 test, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance. That's much lower than the score from the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 2-in-1 (12,011) but in a different league than the budget Asus VivoBook E403NA (4,609). That's to be expected considering those machines come equipped with an i5-8250U and budget Intel Pentium N4300 processor, respectively.
The Spin 3's hard drive took 2 minutes and 58 seconds to copy 4.97GBs of mixed media files from a folder to storage, for a rate of 28.6 MBps. That's sluggish compared with the Inspiron 15 5000 2-in-1 (188.5 MBps) and its speedy 256GB SSD. It's also slower than the Asus VivoBook E403NA, which transferred the same files at a rate of 33.3 MBps.
The Spin 3's integrated Intel UHD 620 GPU isn't the best for gaming, but it's powerful enough to play apps and lightweight titles. It ran the game Dirt 3 at 38 frames per second, which is above the 30-fps threshold for playability. That's better than the frame rate from the Inspiron 15 5000 2-in-1 (31 fps) but below the category average (51 fps).
The Spin 3 scored a 70,217 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test. That's way higher than the mark from the VivoBook E403 (14,935) and just a tad lower than the score from the Inspiron 15 5000 2-in-1 (71,400), which sports the same graphics.
The Acer Spin 3's battery life is disappointing. It lasted just 6 hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display at 150 nits. While the Spin 3 outperformed the dismal runtime of the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 2-in-1 (3:44), it died a full 2 hours before the Asus VivoBook E403NA (8:04) and came up short of the mainstream-laptop category average (8:06).
The 720p webcam with HDR support on the Spin 3 is a mixed bag. While color and exposure are solid, it fails to capture much detail. Acer's attempt to reduce noise under low light is heavy-handed. The result is an image that looks like a watercolor painting.
When I snapped an image of my face, the webcam smudged everything together, leaving me with a photo devoid of detail. The end result wasn't terrible, but frequent videoconferencers should consider buying an external webcam.
The Spin 3 remained cool in our heat test that includes streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes. The touchpad stayed at a chilly 77 degrees Fahrenheit, while the space between the G and H keys warmed to 85 degrees. Both of those temperatures are well below our 95-degree comfort threshold. You shouldn't have any issues streaming Netflix on the couch, as the Spin 3's underside heated to 88 degrees. However, you might want to wear an oven mitt when you use the Spin 3 in tablet mode, as its lower left side reached 105 degrees.
Software and Warranty
The Acer Spin 3, running Windows 10 Home, comes with a frustrating amount of bloatware. There is a catalog of gaming apps, including Simple Solitaire, Mahjong and Spades, accompanied by third-party bloatware like Amazon, Netflix and Evernote.
Acer has its own suite of software preinstalled on the Spin 3, including Acer Care Center, Acer Documents, Acer Quick Access, Acer Recovery Management and Acer Collection. Some are more useful than others. For example, Acer Care Center lays out important system information -- last hard-drive checkup, battery life status, the amount of junk files on board -- in a simple interface. Acer Collection, on the other hand, simply suggests recommended apps from the Windows app store.
Of course, the standard bloat Microsoft includes with Windows 10 -- March of Empires, Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Candy Crush Soda Saga -- also comes preinstalled on the Spin 3.
The Acer Spin 3's configurations start at $499 and go up to $699. I tested the base model (SP314-51-38XK), which has an 8th Gen Intel Core i3-8130U processor; 4GB of DDR4 RAM; a 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; and a 14-inch,1080p IPS touch-screen display.
For $100 more, you'll get the same processor but twice the memory and a faster 256GB SSD. At the high end, the $699 Asus Spin 3 sports an Intel i5-8250U, 8GB of memory, and either a 256GB SSD or 1TB HDD.
Despite disappointing battery life and an uninspired design, the Spin 3 remains a decent choice for anyone wanting a 14-inch convertible. That's a relief, considering there aren't many options to choose from in such a narrow product category. While there are no standout features, the Spin 3 has a solid 1080p display, decent speakers and a relatively compact design.
What we can't ignore are some performance issues and a very shallow keyboard. Overall, we recommend giving the excellent Asus VivoBook E403NA a hard look, even with its budget Intel Pentium processor. It lasts 2 hours longer on a charge than this Acer. Overall, the Spin 3 is worth considering but not a must-buy.
Credit: Laptop Mag