Acer Spin 1 full review

The Acer Spin 1 is a cheap hybrid with a small 11.6-inch screen. It doesn't have a lot of power on tap, or much storage. However, it is one of the very best options out there for those after a browsing, emails and video laptop that doesn’t cost much.

An amazing screen for the money, solid build and a serviceable keyboard and trackpad make the Spin 1 great value.

Price and availability

Acer sent us the bottom-end version of the Spin 1. It has a Celeron N3350 CPU, 4GB RAM and a very tight 32GB storage. It costs between £249.99 and £279.99 online.

For a little more cash, £299, you'll find the 64GB version. We'd recommend the upgrade if you want to install any large apps, or store some photos, music or video on the laptop. 32GB leaves you with just 8-9GB to actually use.

Confusingly, Acer also makes an aluminium version of the Spin 1 with a slimmer, lighter casing casing, active pen stylus and more powerful Pentium N4200 CPU for £399. However, this is really a completely different laptop that won't be covered in this review. It certainly looks nice, though.

The Spin 1 comes with a one year “carry-in” warranty.

Design and build

Acer makes laptops designed for the classroom. This isn't one of them, but such expertise has made the company a pro at designing laptop shells able to withstand abuse.

The Acer Spin 1's plastic shell is sturdy, with minimal flex. So while it doesn't look or feel expensive as such, this is the kind of computer you could let a child use without having to check they weren't in the process of destroying it every couple of minutes.

Acer has injected a little fun into the design with colour, using blue plastic for the hinge, lid and underside, avoiding the boredom of plain black. There are also a few textures. The lid and bottom are cross-hatched, and the inside has a brushed effect.

This laptop is portable, if not alarmingly slim and light. The Acer Spin 1 is 2cm thick and weighs around 1.5kg, light enough to carry around in a bag without issue.

Its hinge is a primary feature. Able to rest at any angle, you can sit the Acer Spin 1 in a "tent" position, or flip the display all the way around to treat the laptop like a thick tablet.

The display style is the one weak point. Some budget laptops have narrow screen surrounds, but the Spin 1's are very wide. There's masses of blank space above and below the display, and quite a lot to the sides. It's not a particularly modern look.

Connectivity

The Acer Spin 1 also lacks the USB-C port now considered "standard" in new laptops. Connectivity is otherwise good, though.

There are three USBs, one a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI and a microSD card slot. A physical volume rocker on the right side lets you alter volume too.

You can plug in external hard drives or a mouse, no problem, and the HDMI lets you attach a monitor or plug the Spin 1 into a TV easily.

Screen

Earlier we said the screens big-bezel design was an Acer Spin 1 weak point. However, display quality is also its best feature. This may well be the best screen ever put into a sub-£300 Windows 10 laptop.

It's 11.6 inches across and is an IPS LCD display. Quite a lot of entry-level laptops use "TN" panels, which have much poorer viewing angles. They suffer from something called contrast shift, which makes the image look shadowy when the screen is tilted back or forward. There's none of that here.

We're also quite staggered by how well the Acer Spin 1's display benchmarks too. There are laptops costing £1000 or more with worse colour and contrast performance. It makes us wonder whether Acer put a much more expensive panel in by accident.

It covers 90.7% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is mind-blowing at sub-£300. Colours are vivid, making movies and games look great.

The Acer Spin 1 covers 66.3% of Adobe RGB and 70.5% of DCI P3, also strong results.

Contrast too is great at 1090:1, only improving how rich and punchy images look. To top it off, even maximum brightness is excellent at 359cd/m.

To give you some idea of how fantastic this performance is, from a cheap TN-screen laptop we might see sRGB coverage of 55%, contrast of 400:1 and brightness of about 250cd/m. This is a true quality display.

Sharpness is good too, the small-ish display making pixellation of the 1080p resolution much less obvious than in a 15-inch laptop. Searching for faults, the pixel structure seems a little more visible than in some other IPS screens and despite the solid contrast the blacks do look a little raised (grey) when watching a movie in a dimly-lit room. Still, the Spin 1’s display is very hard to beat at the price.

It's a touchscreen too, and the top layer is Gorilla Glass, a toughened form of glass used commonly in phones and tablets.

Keyboard and trackpad

The Acer Spin 1's keyboard and trackpad are a little more ordinary, but still perfectly fine. That wide screen bezel gives the key layout a decent amount of space to work with, and typing is comfortable.

Key action isn't quite as good as some of Acer's more expensive models, or as chunky as that of its rugged Chromebook, but there are no nasty surprises. The solid build quality helps here too, as the keyboard surround is solid, only flexing fractionally under a decent amount of pressure. No spongy typing here.

There's no backlight, but you generally have to spend £600 or more to get one of those.

Below, the trackpad is a perfectly serviceable smooth plastic rectangle with no major issues. The driver isn't buggy, the button not too hard to press.

Performance

The only part to really make the Acer Spin 1 a less than perfect portable laptop for some of you is the performance. It has an Intel Celeron N3350 CPU, a dual-core processor with a base clock speed of just 1.1GHz. This is not a powerful processor.

Needless to say, the benchmark results of the Spin 1 are pretty poor. It scores just 1823 points in Geekbench 4 (1490 per core), where an 8th Generation Core i5 CPU scores upwards of 14000.

We've spent more time than usual really paying attention to what the Acer Spin 1 feels like in use, because a lot of older Atom and Celeron laptops were just too slow to be enjoyable. For the most part this Celeron actually performs fine for the basics.

Browsing the web, writing documents and other basic productivity jobs are painless. Using the Acer Spin 1 to write a few of our reviews felt much as it would on a laptop with a Core i5 CPU.

There's a hint of lag to some Windows 10 navigation, but nothing too irritating. Similarly, web pages with badly constructed ads that use transparency effects to cover the screen can slow the Acer Spin 1 down significantly. However, just scrolling through most websites feels fine and you don't have to wait for the laptop to catch up when you start typing in the address bar.

There are absolutely compromises to the Spin 1’s performance, and anyone looking to run remotely challenging apps should look for a Pentium Gold or Intel Core i3 laptop, minimum. However, this is an excellent, more versatile alternative to a Chromebook.

Gaming performance is, of course, poor. And with the spec we're using, which has a 32GB solid state memory there's not enough room to install any modern AAA games anyway. After Windows 10 has taken its share, you have just 8-9GB to play with.

Undeterred, we installed Alien:Isolation on an SSD to see how it would fare. As it's not installed directly on the Acer Spin 1's own storage, this isn't a perfect test, but it gives you an idea of what's possible.

At 720p, minimum settings the game runs at an average of 8fps, well below playable speed. It kept booting us to the desktop at 1080p, but seemed to run between 1.5-2fps. The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S, which has a more powerful (but still very low-end) Pentium 4450U CPU manages 16.7fps at 720p, low settings.

That said, buy the 64GB version of the Spin 1 and you'd be able to install and play, for example, an older game like Fallout: New Vegas at 720p, low settings. Take that, Chromebooks.

We also tried Asphalt 8, a mobile phone conversion racer, downloaded from the Microsoft store. It's an unplayable mess at 1080p, but runs reasonably well at 720p, low settings.

Such a low-end processor means the Acer Spin 1 can get by with pure passive cooling and is therefore virtually silent. After some gaming, a small area to the back of the laptop's underside got a little warm, but nothing worrying.

If you want to do more than browse the web and use Office apps, you'll want a laptop with more power, like the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S. However, the Spin 1 has other charms.

Its speakers aren't terrible either. The mids are boxy and there's no real bass, but the sound doesn't distort at maximum volume and isn't so thin you want to turn the speakers off as soon as possible.

Battery life

The Acer Spin 1’s battery life is also good. Acer claims stamina of nine hours, and we saw even better results leaving the laptop to play a 720p movie on loop at 120cd/m screen brightness.

It lasts 11 hours 55 minutes like this, which is excellent. While you can expect worse results with mixed use, it should still be enough to get you through a full day’s work with no problem.

Just make sure you insert the charger plug firmly when replenishing the battery — we found it almost annoyingly each to knock out of the socket.

Specs

Acer Spin 1: Specs

  • 11.6-inch (1920 x 1080) Full HD 189ppi IPS LCD glossy
  • 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N3350 (2.4GHz boost) 2 cores, 2 threads
  • Windows 10 Home 64-bit
  • Intel HD 500 GPU
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • 32GB solid state storage
  • 802.11b/g/n/ac single-band
  • 2x USB 2.0
  • 1x USB 3.0
  • HDMI
  • Kensington Security Slot
  • microSD card slot
  • stereo speakers
  • HD webcam
  • single mic
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • UK tiled keyboard with numberpad
  • two-button trackpad
  • 4-cell 3220mAh lithium-ion battery, non-removable
  • 298 mm x 210 mm x 20.30 mm
  • 1500g
  • 1-year onsite warranty