Acer Spin 7 Ultrabook review

A while back, I reviewed Acer’s Swift 7, an ultrabook that proved to be a decent all-rounder despite some odd handling issues due to the design and the super-low weight. The Swift 7 was a traditional ultrabook for the masses, and it did its best to be as neutral as possible while still maintaining some edge over the competition. Today, I’m reviewing the Spin 7, the slightly less serious version of the same design which does all manner of things with its rotating hinges. And it’s probably the better buy.

To be honest, this is the first convertible laptop I’ve used for more than fifteen minutes. I’ve spent three weeks with it, and I can see why the design still holds some merit for people who want a notebook that literally transforms into different things. I took it with me to rAge 2017, and it provided me with some entertainment on the flight back home, watching movies with the display rotated backwards to save space.

Hardware info
CPU: Intel Core i7-7Y75 (1.3-3.6GHz, 4MB L3 cache, 4.5W TDP)

GPU: Intel HD Graphics 615 (300-950MHz, max 16GB shared memory, DirectX 12 and OpenGL 4.4)

Display: 14-inch 1920 x 1080 pixels IPS display with Gorilla Glass

Memory: 8GB DDR3L-1600 RAM (soldered, not upgradeable)

Storage: 256GB Kingston M.2 SATA SSD (user-upgradeable)

OS: Windows 10 Home Single Language 64-bit (Windows 10 Pro options available for select models)

Weight: 1.2kg

Extras: USB Type-C charger up to 45W, USB-C to USB-B adapter

Benchmark scores and general performance

Battery life: Between 6-7 hours, depending on workload

3DMark Firestrike: 727 points

3DMark Cloud Gate: 4,893 points

3DMark Sky Diver: 2,913 points

Cinebench R15: 124 points single-core, 233 points multi-core

Google Octane V2: 26,617 points

Mozilla Kraken: 12.67 seconds

WebXPRT 2015: 402 points

PCMark 8 Home Conventional: 2,482 points

PCMark 8 Office 2016: 1,879 points

Trackmania Nations Forever: 34.4fps at 1080p, 47fps at 720p

Power consumption in Blender: 21 watts

Power consumption while charging: 40 watts

Price and supplier information

Supplier: Acer South Africa

RRP: R21,999.00

Available fromShop Acer (same model, bigger drive)

But aside from media consumption, the touch capabilities of the laptop didn’t really find much use on my day-to-day work. It’s not compatible with a stylus that supports pressure levels, so it can’t be used for professional work. There’s display lag as well, which shows up clearly when you’re drawing in an application like Fresh Paint or Paint 3D. A higher refresh rate would solve this to an extent, but I also think the integrated graphics in these U-series processors just aren’t fast enough.

Moving on to the design, then. The chassis is made of lightweight aluminium, just like the Swift 7, and this leaves the device always feeling cool to the touch, and it’ll be a bit more durable than a plastic chassis. The metal is painted, so deep scratches would reveal the inner layers which have a silver colour. The only plastic that can be seen is on the display, which has a mixture of a plastic bezel and a Corning Gorilla Glass display cover which makes it easy to keep clean and scratch-free.

Because of the lightweight construction and lack of supporting materials like a crossbar underneath the wrist rest to make the chassis more rigid, there’s a significant chance that you can bend it without meaning to. Picking up the notebook by one of the corners on the front bends it ever so slightly, and the trackpad does come apart from the chassis slightly. Doing this frequently over time, especially if you walk around with it and have it bouncing around, will induce extra stress on the materials.

There’s an additional issue with the way the notebook handles when its closed or rotated. When closed, you’re supposed to put a fingernail on the lip in the front, and then use another finger to open the display. Because the corners are magnetised, this requires a bit of force, and there’s no other easy way to open it when resting on a flat surface. When it’s fully rotated, the magnet’s strength ensures that it won’t come apart, but again there’s no easy way to separate the display from the base to rotate it back. You have to perform this weird juggling act to do it, which makes it extra annoying when in a confined space like an aeroplane.

The display is a 14-inch IPS panel with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. The colours are vibrant, the black levels are deep, and my unit doesn’t have any backlight bleed or noticeable IPS glow. It is a 60Hz display, so that’s where part of the touch input lag comes from. It is a bright panel, but it’s not bright enough for work outdoors in a sunny area. You need a little bit of shade to see what you’re doing.

Like the Swift 7, the keyboard is a nice solid performer with shallow travel, although this doesn’t make it feel bad to type on. It’s a chicklet design with a lot of space between the keys, and it’s easy to get used to. My only suggestion is that Acer stop setting the default action for the function keys to their secondary function instead. Like the Swift 7, this keyboard also isn’t backlit, which is a shame.

Like the Swift 7, the trackpad is also large and comfortable, and it tracks relatively well. However, because it uses Synaptics drivers instead of Windows Precision drivers, it does lose tracking focus occasionally, and I’ve had several occasions where it would lose focus while browsing with Microsoft Edge pretty frequently. This could be fixed with better drivers, but better palm rejection and unwanted touch input could be something Acer pays attention to in the future. Most of the time I switched to using a mouse.

Connectivity-wise, it’s really sparse. There are just two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C ports on the right-hand side of the device, as well as one combined 3.5mm audio jack. The power button is located on the left-hand side of the notebook along with a volume rocker, but it’s thankfully not easy to press the power button while the notebook is in a bag. The lack of ports means that you need to use a USB hub if you intend to charge the notebook while also using two or more USB devices, because only one port supports charging.

I bought a USB hub to use with this notebook at rAge, and I discovered that the Type-C ports don’t supply the same power outputs between them. I can attach my WD Essentials external hard drive to the hub and plug it into the charging port, and that works. The second port doesn’t supply enough power to run the drive and the hub. It’s a bizarre fault that I didn’t expect to find, and hopefully Acer fixes this in their next generation of Spins. I wonder if the same thing happens on the Swift 7 as well.

Moving on to performance, you can see where Acer’s decision to slip in a Core i7-7Y75 worked in their favour. It’s a dual-core processor with hyper-threading and a 4.5W thermal limit, a base clock of 1.3GHz and a boost clock of 3.6GHz. In a chassis with active cooling, this chip would have seen a bigger lead over the Core i5-7Y54 in the Acer Swift 7, but that’s not always the case.

In 3DMark, the extra 50MHz of clock speed on the GPU should see it come ahead of the Swift 7, but it falls behind thanks to thermal throttling. This flips around when looking at the CPU-bound Physics test because the Core i7-7Y75 places where it should, ahead of the Core i5-7Y54. That extra 400MHz of boost clock headroom gives it the slightest edge for a limited time.

That lead is maintained in every CPU-bound benchmark, whether it’s Cinebench or the browser benchmarks. The lone exception is the PCMark 8 Office benchmark, which shows the Swift 7 in the lead instead. Thermal throttling plays a different role here, and it’s likely that there’s something funky going on with the power management when it comes to boost clocks and how aggressive the boost engine is.

Both processors are still warmed up from running through the rest of the benchmark suite, so the heatsinks are fully soaked heat-wise in both tests. Somehow, the Swift 7’s performance is more consistent.

You can also see the throttling evident in the fps over time graph for Trackmania. With both benchmarks run at 720p, this should be a lightweight, easy benchmark for both systems. While both remain playable you can clearly see the points where they cross over each other during the benchmark. The Swift 7 puts in a better run right in the beginning boosting the GPU clock speed higher, but the Spin 7 manages to ramp things up a bit in other parts, but never for too long to gain an advantage. The extra 50MHz clock on the GPU doesn’t do much for overall performance, and both systems are limited by the thermal management than anything else. Put both in a system with active cooling and a larger heatsink, and we’d probably see framerates climb closer to 60fps with less stuttering.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a knock on the performance of these devices, but rather a consequence of designing a chip for low-power scenarios. The tradeoffs sometimes mean that particular workloads suffer while others might see no change in performance, and playing games is the one point where performance does suffer. Casual games fare just fine on ultrabooks, but anything more demanding than Trackmania wouldn’t be a great experience.

In the end, what do we have on the table here? Well, we have a really decent ultrabook with a rotating display, a solid keyboard (unfortunately not backlit), and it’s lightweight and portable enough to make it useful for people who travel frequently. Despite the faults I discovered in my testing with the USB power issues, thermal throttling, or the awkward handling thanks to the magnetised chassis, it does the job. Had you picked this up on a decent sale, or perhaps if you were handed it as a laptop for work purposes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

It lacks capabilities like Thunderbolt over USB-C, but that’s a price trade-off Acer had to make here. It’s a nice-to-have for now, but in the future it will be a selling point once most monitors start integrating hubs for connectivity and charging connected devices. That’s the job of Acer’s eighth-generation ultrabooks based on Intel Coffee Lake to fix.

There’s a thin line between where ultrabook design is considered good and where it is not so good, and the Spin 7 sits right in the middle. There are no deal breakers when it comes to the design of the product, but the fact that it uses USB-C ports means you’ll constantly be reaching into your bag for adapters and converters for basic things. We’re a long way from the rest of the market catching up to use the new standard. But if you’re okay with buying and carrying a USB-C hub and several adapters around with you, then you’ve got a good, reliable ultrabook on your hands.

80Acer’s ultrabook offerings are quite good overall, and the 2-in-1 nature of the Spin 7 lends itself to use-cases that ordinary ultrabooks would be ill-suited for. The keyboard, though not backlit, offers a good typing experience, and the touch capability came in handy more than once. It’s more of an all-rounder than a workhorse, though it can certainly do double-duty for business users.

Fable is back with “a new beginning”