Budget laptops continue to improve, and the Acer Spin 3 is a good example. For an affordable price it offers adequate components and battery life, with enough flexibility to accommodate a range of peripherals. Though the 14-inch, 360-degree convertible laptop delivers middling performance, a modern Thunderbolt port and a nifty integrated stylus stand out. In all, it’s a solid laptop, but in a market whose competition is growing stronger, quickly.
The Acer Spin 3 (SP314-54N-58Q7) we tested is sold at Costco for $650 (go.pcworld.com/cc65), although the company lists a few alternatives on its Acer online store (go.pcworld.com/onst). Of the four listed, only one, the SP314-54N-50W3, contains an up-to-date Core i5-1035G4 processor as well as a larger 512GB SSD, for about $150 more. (Intel’s 10th-gen “Ice Lake” processors (go. pcworld.com/icep) use the number attached to its “G” suffix to indicate the relative graphics performance, with a higher number being better.) We still consider our review unit’s loadout—8GB RAM, 256GB SSD— adequate for most needs.
Here are the basic features of our review unit, which is backed by a one-year “International Travelers’ Warranty.” Acer says that warranty runs concurrently with its standard one-year U.S. warranty, allowing the laptop to be serviced in up to 30 other countries where Acer has authorized facilities.
Display: 14-inch IPS (1920x1080)
Processor: 1GHz Core i5-1035G1
Graphics: UHD Graphics
Memory: 8GB LPDDR4
Storage: 256GB NVMe SSD
Ports: USB-C (Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 Gen 2). 2 USB-A (USB 3.2 Gen 1), HDMI 2.0 (HDCP), microSD, 3.5mm headphone/mic
Camera: User-facing: 720p, super HDR
Battery: 47.8Wh (rated), 45.9Wh (actual)
Wireless: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) 2x2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.0
Additional features: integrated stylus, fingerprint reader, protective sleeve
Operating system: Windows 10 Home (version 1909)
Dimensions (inches): 12.8 x 9.06 x 0.67 inches (16.9mm)
Weight: 3.31 pounds (per Acer)
Price: $650 at Costco, with 1-year warranty.
The Spin 3 reclines all the way into tablet mode, with a small series of on-screen icons tracking its progress as you move from tent to tablet mode.
DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
A budget 14-inch laptop like the Acer Spin 3 doesn’t ask you to pay for its looks. At about 17mm thick, the Spin 3 is a tad chunky, but in a good way: sturdily built, with a pair of thick 360-degree hinges. When you flip around the display, Windows automatically configures the Spin 3 into tablet mode. Another benefit: The broader chassis offers a hearty mixture of ports that you won’t find on thinner laptops.
Acer did cut a few corners in the display. Though the IPS panel was pleasingly vibrant, our light meter registered just 274 nits—barely enough for day-to-day use. Although the side screen bezels measure just 7.82mm, the bezel at the bottom of the screen is a about an inch deep and definitely noticeable.
On the left side of the chassis, the small battery icon next to the Type A port indicates that it can charge external devices like phones when the laptop is shut.
The Spin 3 seems to have adequate cooling, with venting beneath the laptop and a larger grille near the hinge. My home office environment is quite quiet, allowing me to hear a faint hiss from the fans as they spun up, as well as a faint bit of coil whine. When my home’s central air kicked on, however, the noise disappeared. Even when running CPU-intensive tasks, the Swift 3’s fan remained quiet—that seems to be fairly typical of the Intel 10th-gen Ice Lake laptops I’ve tested.
On the right side, the Spin 3’s stylus nestles in its cradle to the left of the power and battery indicators. Some 360-degree convertibles, like the Spin 3, slightly incline the keyboard the further back the display is pushed.
Personally, I consider the port selection to be close to ideal. There’s a pair of SuperSpeed USB (go.pcworld.com/spsp; 5Gbps) Type A connections—perfect for a keyboard or mouse, and they can also be used to connect to an external drive, if you don’t mind a slower transfer rate. A traditional HDMI port will connect a single 4K display at 60Hz.
The Thunderbolt port on the Spin 3 is a rare and treasured find on budget laptops. Thunderbolt’s particularly versatile I/O capabilities can connect to a dedicated Thunderbolt dock, a USB-C hub, or an external display.
Thunderbolt is most noteworthy for its ability to connect a pair of 4K displays at an eye-pleasing 60Hz, while a non-Thunderbolt USB-C port can connect to just one 4K display at 30Hz via a hub. Thunderbolt docks, however, range in price from $100 to $250 or so.
There’s another, hidden advantage to the Thunderbolt port. The Spin 3 ships with Acer’s narrow-tipped proprietary charger. The Thunderbolt port accepts a third-party 65W USB-C charger, giving you a secondary power option in a pinch.
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