Acer Spin 7 review: underachiever

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  • When you first pick up and open the Acer Spin 7 laptop, you’re probably going to be pleasantly surprised. This very thin, well-designed laptop doesn’t try to wow you with its design — instead it’s unassuming. It looks like the platonic ideal of a Windows 10 touchscreen laptop: simple, black, well-made, light, and just ready to quietly get out of the way and let you do your thing. And the emphasis is on “quietly,” because the Spin 7 doesn’t have any fans.
  • Even with its hefty asking price of $1,249, it still makes a very good first impression.
  • Sadly, if you’ve been paying attention to laptops for the past six months you know that there’s going to be a “but.” Because with the possible exception of the new HP Spectre x360, every new laptop these days has one or several critical flaws that keep it from reaching its potential. In this case, it’s several.

The closest analogue to Acer’s Spin 7 isn’t some other Windows laptop, it’s actually the 2016 MacBook. Like the MacBook, the Spin 7 is focused on being hyper mobile and almost tablet-esque in its design. That means that there are no fans here, just wonderfully quiet, appliance-like computing. It’s less than half an inch thick and weighs just over two and a half pounds.

It’s trying to be a Windows version of the MacBook

Comparing them head to head, I actually can’t say one is better designed overall than the other. Where the MacBook is thin to the point of ridiculousness, the Spin 7 has squared-off edges that give it that sense of solidity without much weight. It’s not festooned with garish treatments to the case: it’s just matte black almost everywhere. The only flourish is a silver border around the surprisingly large touchpad. The Spin 7 is made of aluminum which looks great until you put human hands on it, at which point it becomes a showcase for fingerprints and palm prints.

Both computers also share the same processor, an Intel chip that’s underpowered compared to other computers but might just be powerful enough for most of your regular computing tasks. Neither is necessarily slow for stuff like chatting and web browsing, but do too much on either machine and they’ll bog down. (I could go on a rant about how Intel’s decision to rename this Core M processor to Core i7 is some real dissembling garbage, but I will leave that for another time.)

The comparisons should end there, though. Because even though the Spin 7 is more directly competitive with Apple’s ultra-mobile laptop than anything else I’ve seen, it still deserves to be taken on its own terms. Mainly because it has a touchscreen on a hinge that can wrap all the way around. And just as the overall design is simple and reserved, so is this hinge. It works, you won’t have to think or worry about it.

But now the buts, and they are myriad. The most egregious is battery life — it is not good. In our looping website test, the Spin 7 conked out at a little under six hours, which is well below what’s acceptable for a laptop in 2016. And real-world usage mirrored that result for me, I found myself filled with battery anxiety constantly, quitting apps and riding the screen brightness toggle down well before lunch on most days.

The Spin 7 uses USB-C ports for everything (well, there is a headphone jack). Like the Yoga 910, Acer has used two different variations of USB-C so that only one can drive a display, but thankfully either can be used for power or USB things. And Acer did us the favor of including both a USB and HDMI adapter in the box. There isn’t an SD card slot and it doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, but I’m not too worked up about either thing in an ultra-mobile computer in this class.

Battery life is bad, the trackpad is buggy, and there’s no backlight on the keyboard

The keyboard has much better key travel than new MacBooks, but Acer made the mystifying decision to omit backlighting on the keys. It’s great to type on, but backlighting a keyboard is expected these days, especially for a computer that costs north of $1,000.

The trackpad, as I mentioned, is very large. Mousing around on such a wide surface is great. Sadly, Acer didn’t do the necessary work on the drivers. Its palm rejection is downright atrocious, for one thing. For another, I find that sometimes when I switch between tablet and laptop modes the touchpad straight up doesn’t start working again. There’s a mysterious button on the keyboard for toggling the touchpad on and off. When I first saw it I wondered why the heck Acer would bother including such a button. Having experienced those two issues, it seems obvious to me it’s a kludge kind of fix to deal with those two issues.

I could go on with everything else there is to know about the Spin 7, like the 1080p HD screen or the included software or whatever else. But the poor showing on battery life and the inconsistent trackpad have put me off this machine, and it will do the same for you.

It’s too bad, too, because if you asked me in the abstract what I would want out of a Windows 10 laptop, I would describe this machine almost exactly. There is a market for a super thin, light, and elegant touchscreen laptop out there. One that is just powerful enough to get the job done, but not so powerful you have to deal with reduced battery life or fans.

When you’re designing computers, diligently paying attention to the details matters just as much as having the right ideas. The Spin 7 is the kid in class who is really smart but waits until the last minute to do his homework, and the result is a disappointing mix of brilliance and sloppy work. You know the kid could pull off an A, but you shake your head and write “not working up to potential” at the top of his report before ruefully marking it with a big, red C.

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