The Acer Spin 5 is the latest refresh on the popular 2-in-1 laptop from the Taiwanese manufacturer, and it doesn't disappoint.
Loaded with the latest Intel Ice Lake CPU, a 2,256 x 1,504 IPS display, and a 360-degree hinge that turns the laptop into something about as close as you're going to get to an actual physical notebook, the Spin 5 is a highly versatile device that is absolutely one of the best laptops for students.
While not the most powerful 2-in-1 we've tested, it comes pretty close, being able to pump out solid performance despite its slender frame. While not a gaming laptop by any means, the Intel Iris Plus graphics produces a vibrant color palette and performs respectably on our GPU benchmarks – and honestly just looks incredible.
The Spin 5's touchscreen display with a 3:2 ratio is absolutely fantastic for note-taking with the stylus. Since the typical 16:9 2-in-1 laptop it nearly twice as long as it is wide, actually writing notes on one can easily feel cramped.
The included stylus is small and can feel a bit flimsy, but since it's got its own charging and housing port on the side of the laptop, it's much less likely to get lost or broken than those shipped with other 2-in-1s.
Arguably one of its most useful features, should the Acer Spin 5's stylus run out of power, just plug it back into the laptop for 15 or 20 seconds. The ultra-fast charging system will give the stylus about 90 minutes worth of charge.
Few laptops are perfect, however, and there are some issues with the Spin 5. The audio is decent, thanks to the speakers that always face forward with the display, but the sound isn't fantastic. This is somewhat par for the course when it comes to laptop speakers, but the Spin is definitely in line with the rest as far as sound goes.
Another issue that popped up is some of the unfortunate bloatware packed in with the Spin 5. Bloatware is unavoidable, especially for mid-tier and budget devices, so its not the kind of thing that's going to especially bother us - normally. The Spin 5, unfortunately, includes Acer-branded software that launches pop-up ads on your desktop.
If you're looking for a great, portable hybrid laptop for work or school, though, you should definitely consider taking Acer's latest 2-in-1 for a spin. It's a perfect note-taking laptop that is powerful enough to handle whatever you can realistically throw at an ultrabook - all while keeping its charge long enough to make it through the day.
Price and availability
Here is the Acer Spin 5 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4X
Screen: 13.5-inch FHD (2256x1504) VertiView IPS Display
Storage: 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
Ports: 2 x USB 3.1 Type-C with Thunderbolt 3 (DP and USB-charging available), 1 x USB 3.1 2.0, HDMI 2.0, MicroSD reader, 3.5mm headphone jack with microphone headset support, DC-in, N-lock, Stylus dock
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax 2x2, Bluetooth 5.0
Camera: 720p HD webcam
Security: Fingerprint sensor
Weight: 2.65 lbs (1.2kg)
Size (W x D x H): 11.81 x 9.5 x 0.59 inches (300 x 235 x 14.9 mm)
Battery: 56Whr, 4-cell lithium-ion
The Acer Spin 5 is available now, starting at $999 (£899, about AU$1,400). It comes with an Intel Core i5-1035G4, 16GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD – though the entry model in the UK cuts the RAM down to 8GB.
The model we tested is the mid-range configuration that is similar to the base model and sells for $1,099 (about £845/AU$1,540). The only real difference comes with the upgrade to the Core i7-1065G7 CPU.
The most expensive model, retailing for $1,299 (about £1,000/AU$1,825), has all of the same specs, it's just upgraded Windows 10 Professional.
Right out of the box, there are a few things you'll notice about the Acer Spin 5. First, the magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis gives the laptop a more classic aesthetic, one that makes it look like a device with a purpose.
Acer's move to magnesium allows it to drop some serious weight, making for a slimmer profile. It still retains the solid feel of an aluminum chassis, so while it's lighter and thinner than earlier models, it feels very solid.
The keyboard and trackpad are decent. The chicklet keys are responsive, but the reduced real estate for the keyboard means that they're packed in a bit, so it might take some time to adjust for some people used to a bigger keyboard.
The trackpad is super-smooth, quick, and gives some modest feedback when typing. The trackpad is also home to the laptop's fingerprint reader, a welcome security measure that's about as quick to unlock as its going to get.
The Active Pen stylus included with the Spin 5 uses Wacom AES 1.0 technology for heightened responsiveness along with 4,096 pressure levels, providing high precision. There are also two configurable buttons, giving you even more control.
All said, it isn't the most rugged digital pencil on the market. It's rather small, measuring at just under five inches long (125.31mm, to be precise) and only 0.2 inches (5.3mm) in diameter. It weighs a negligible 4.1 grams, or only 0.14 of an ounce.
Still, it's surprisingly sturdy enough for day-to-day use and has the advantage of the Spin 5's built in storage and charging port, conveniently located on the right side of the keyboard. This charging port uses fast-charging tech, so you can get up to 90 minutes of charge in just 15 seconds.
There are a decent number of ports on the Spin 5, allowing for many different peripherals, data storage, and charging options.
The two Thunderbolt 3 capable USB-C ports can both output video with DP and charge the battery. There is a separate, dedicated DC-in connector as well, but having the option of leaving the bulkier AC adapter at home is a definite bonus.
There is an HDMI output port as well with HDCP support, a MicroSD card reader, two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, and a headphone jack with built in mic support. There is also a Noble lock slot for added security.
As for thermals, the Spin 5 doesn't get excessively warm under normal use, but the heat vents on the bottom of the laptop can make things a bit toasty if you have it sitting on your lap.
When the laptop's display is folded over into tablet mode, the laptop's bottom are actually covered by the display panel, so heat is pushed out through another vent on the back of the chassis. Unfortunately, the vent placement is right where it feels most natural to hold the Spin 5 when in tablet mode.
Yes, you can just move your hand, but its surprising how many times we grabbed to Spin 5 in just the right spot to feel hot air blowing out over our knuckles.
The 3:2 HD display is vibrant and sharp, but what makes the Spin great for note-taking makes is much less so for watching full-screen movies. During our HD movie test, it was hard not to keep noticing the gigantic letterboxes slapped onto the top and bottom of a 16:9 video.
Unfortunately, this makes the video you're watching look even smaller on the 13.5-inch screen than it already is. The picture itself was fantastic, but its hard to fully appreciate that when sandwiched between two massive black bars.
Here's how the Acer Spin 5 performed in our benchmark tests:
3DMark Skydiver: 7,896; Firestrike: 2,267; Time Spy: 814
GeekBench 5: 1,224 (single-core); 3,798 (multi-core)
CineBench20: 1,333 cb
PCMark10 Home: 4,413
Battery Life (PCMark10 test): 11 hours 5 minutes
Battery Life (Techradar movie test): 11 hours 19 minutes
The Spin 5 doesn't look like its going to be as powerful as it actually is. Squeezed into its slender chassis is the latest Intel Ice Lake mobile processors with Intel's new Iris Plus integrated GPU, which does a respectable job for integrated graphics.
The Spin 5 is a fairly even match for the Asus Vivobook Flip 14, which is powered by an AMD Ryzen 7-4700U CPU with Radeon Graphics. On our GeekBench 5 tests, the Spin 5 nearly double the Vivobook Flip's single-core CPU score, scoring an average of 1,224 to the Vivobook Flip 14's 674.
The Vivobook came back and bested the Spin in multi-core performance, scoring a 3,842 next to the Spin's still-respectable 3,798 on GeekBench5's multi-core test. Where the Spin 5 noticeably lags behind the Flip 14 is in GPU performance, though that isn't much of a surprise.
The Iris Plus graphics are great for an integrated GPU, but AMD's integrated Radeon graphics can hold their own against even some discrete mid-range graphics cards. The fact that the Spin is still in contention during our 3DMark benchmarks is really a point in its favor. It won't come out of the ring a winner, but you have to respect its punch.
As for multitasking, the Spin 5 is a champ. The latest Ice Lake processors chew through all but the most demanding apps without breaking a sweat. What's more, the 16GB of RAM are going to make memory-hungry apps like Google Chrome or Adobe Photoshop much more manageable.
That's not to say it can do everything, though. We ran some of our gaming laptop benchmarks to see how well the Spin 5 would handle being pushed to the limits of its hardware and the results are about what you'd expect.
During our Total War: Three Kingdoms battle benchmark – on low settings and the resolution set to standard 1080p – the Spin 5 was able to turn out about 34 fps, which is just playable. Considering that you're likely to push the hardware even harder during actual play, most AAA titles are likely to be out of the Spin 5's reach.
We didn't even bother trying to run Metro: Exodus on it, and neither should you. If you're a sucker for visual novels, indie games, or similar low-lift titles, though, you're going to be able to do alright with the Spin – just don't expect any heroics here.
The Acer Spin 5's 56WHr, 4-cell battery outperforms many of its rivals in our tests, lasting a respectable 11 hours and seven minutes on a full charge in our PCMark10 Home benchmark. In our HD video benchmark, it took the Spin 5 about the same amount of time to burn through a full battery: 11 hours and 19 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Asus Vivobook Flip 14 lasted an average of eight hours and 40 minutes in our PCMark10 test and six hours and 17 minutes in our HD Video benchmark. The Flip 14 only has a 43WHr, 3-cell battery though, so just from the spec sheet, its clear that the Spin 5 was going to be able to go the distance.
Acer laptops are known for their affordability, making them popular with a broad set of consumers, which makes them a popular platform for bloatware of all kinds. Not just third party stuff like Candy Crush, either, but also Acer-branded software that no one uses but chews up valuable system resources.
This is normally not an issue, since the first thing we all do when we buy a new computer is uninstall a bunch of crap that's slowing us down. Not all bloatware is easily identifiable though, and in the case of the Spin 5, one slipped through our initial purge and started displaying ads that would pop-up near the notification center on the task bar.
Seeing a pop-up ad for a crappy mobile game on the user desktop – a space that has long been considered sancrosanct – is too jarring to ignore, especially because the offending adware came from Acer itself and isn't the easiest program to track down and remove.
It is a simple enough uninstall once found, but there are better ways to lower the cost of a device than turn a laptop's desktop environment into a billboard. We really hope this isn't a preview of things to come, but it almost certainly is.
Buy it if…
You want an ideal 2-in-1 for note-taking or design work
It really can't be stressed enough how much the Acer Spin 5 feels like an actual notebook. It still has the physical mass of an ultrabook to remind you that it is a computer, but when we used it in tablet mode with the stylus, it didn't take long for us to really get comfortable taking some precise, detailed notes. It's not quite the pen-and-paper experience, but it's very close
You want a 2-in-1 that'll last an entire work or school day
While the Spin 5 isn't the longest-lasting 2-in-1 on the market right now, it handily beats nearly all of its rivals when it comes to battery life.
You want a powerful 2-in-1
While the Spin 5 isn't going to go toe-to-toe with a traditional laptop with the latest hardware, that doesn't mean it's a slouch when it comes to performance. With the latest Intel Ice Lake CPU, the Spin 5 outperforms nearly all of its rival 2-in-1s in that regard.
Don't buy it if...
You want a versatile/gaming laptop
It may sound strange to say this, but the Spin 5 isn't a very versatile machine. It can convert back and forth between laptop and tablet all it wants, but this is clearly a laptop for students, creatives, and traveling professionals. This isn't the best laptop for watching movies and it definitely isn't for gamers.
You're looking for a cheap 2-in-1 laptop
While the Spin 5 is definitely affordable for a 2-in-1 laptop, the base model still starts at $1,000/£770/AU$1,400. There are cheaper 2-in-1s out there if that's an important factor in your decision.