Acer TravelMate Spin P4 Review

Posted on July 12, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 6 Comments

The Acer TravelMate Spin P4 is a business-class convertible laptop with a 14-inch IPS display, modern components, and a nice mix of expansion ports.

Design

Thanks to its laptop-like heft, the TravelMate Spin P4 cuts an unusual figure in this era of thin and light Ultrabooks. This will be controversial in some circles. But I like the design, and, as odd as this may sound, I prefer a bit of additional size and heft and often find today’s tiny and thin PC designs to be too small.

It’s well-made, too. Acer describes the build material as “semi-metal,” which means that the base and display lid are both made of magnesium alloy and the rest of it is some kind of plastic. But the bluish-gray body looks and feels good, and Acer says it’s durable, with MIL-STD 810H4 impact resistance and shock-absorbent corners.

As a convertible PC, the Spin P4 display can be rotated back a full 360 degrees, enabling the usual four usage modes—laptop, stand, tent, and tablet—and the resulting versatility.

Of course, the Acer is a bit big and thick as a tablet, given its 14-display, and the display’s 16:9 aspect ratio makes it awkward to use in tablet mode. But convertible PCs like this strike the right balance, I think, as most will typically use it in the traditional clamshell-style laptop mode and only need the other modes on occasion.

Display

I very much prefer 14-inch displays over the more common 13.3-inch variety, but I wish that the Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS panel was a taller 16:10 or even 3:2 aspect ratio, given how much extra space there is at the top and bottom. These bezels, especially on the top and bottom, are massive and the wrong kind of throwback.

The display reasonably bright indoors, with about 300 nits of brightness, and is glossy, so you may get some reflections in bright spaces. I didn’t use it outside in full sunlight, but then it would be less than ideal, if not unusable, in such an environment.

But on the good news front, it offers wide 170-degree viewing angles, Gorilla Glass scratch resistance, and multitouch and AES smartpen compatibility.

Internal components

The Acer TravelMate Spin P4 is powered by an 11th-generation Intel Core i5-1135G7 or i7-1165G7 processor with Intel Iris Xe graphics, 8, 16, or 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, and 256 GB, 512 GB, or 1 TB of NVMe PCIe-based SSD storage. These are modern and desirable components, and the performance of standard productivity apps is excellent. I never experienced heat or fan noise issues.

The Spin 4 also includes a TPM 2.0 chipset to protect from attacks during boot-up, to enable that free upgrade to Windows 11 that we’re all going to want in just a few short months.

The Spin 4 also features a fingerprint reader, but it’s hard to find because it’s integrated into the small and thin power button on the side of the PC. It’s also very hard to register fingerprints during initial setup and harder still to find the thing to sign in with because the power button isn’t very well defined. I guess it’s better than not having one.

Connectivity

Connectivity is modern, with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 standard and 4G/LTE available as an option. The review laptop did not include that latter feature.

Ports and expansion

Thanks to its thick body and business-class focus, the TravelMate Spin P4 is outfitted with a great selection of ports that should minimize or obviate the need for dongles for most people. On the left, you’ll find a full-sized Ethernet jack, which is rare, a full-sized HDMI port, two full-sized USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 ports, and one Thunderbolt 4 port, plus a proprietary power port.

On the right, you get a Kensington lock slot, a headphone jack, and a microSD card slot, plus the power button with its integrated fingerprint reader and the stylus garage/charger.

Audio and video

The Spin 4 comes with stereo speakers with Acer TrueHarmony capabilities for lower distortion and wider frequency range, but they require manual content adjustment (between music, movies, and games) via the bundled Realtek Audio Console utility. And while the sound is fine, it doesn’t get particularly loud even at the highest volume levels.

The Spin 4 also features dual far-field microphones that are powered by Acer Purified voice technology for improved performance in online meetings, and they seemed to work fine during a test call via Microsoft Teams. Speaking of which, the webcam is of typical middling quality for a laptop, but it does feature a manual privacy cover.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

The Acer TravelMate Spin P4 has a roomy, backlit, and spill-resistant keyboard. But some of the keys are quite small—the “`” key (to the left of “1”), arrow keys, PgUp and PgDn, and function keys are all particularly problematic.

The keyboard has no flex at all, which is great, and I got used to the primary keys quickly enough. But as a writer, I also rely on specialty keys like Home, PgUp, PgDn, and End, and I’m much less efficient and accurate when those keys are hidden behind other keys and require using Function (Fn) keyboard shortcuts. The Acer has dedicated PgUp and PgDn keys in the arrow key area, but they’re tiny and hard to use reliably. And the Home and End keys requiring using Fn with PgUp and PgDn, respectively, and they’re even harder to use. That part of the keyboard is its Achilles Heel, especially given how much space there is for more keys. I kept hitting PgUp when I meant to use the left arrow key, and I never got used to the layout.

The Spin 4 includes a small precision glass touchpad, so all of the multi-finger Windows 10 gestures are available. But I kept triggering mistaken gestures, which is common for me, so I disabled the three- and four-finger gestures in Settings. Once I did that, the touchpad, while small, worked fine.

I like that an Acer Active Stylus is included with the Spin 4 and that it can be housed (and charged) in an integrated garage on the side. But this stylus is too tiny for adult-sized hands, and that would make lengthy notetaking or drawing sessions uncomfortable if not impossible. It’s clearly designed only for brief usage, and those that do want to write or draw should consider a larger third-party pen.

Portability

At 3.4 pounds, the TravelMate Spin P4 is noticeably heavier than the premium Ultrabooks I typically review, and at 12.8 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches, it’s also bigger and thicker. But its solid port selection and large 14 display help offset that disappointment, and I find myself kind of enjoying the laptop-style form factor. I didn’t find it onerous to carry around in my laptop bag on a trip to Philadephia.

Battery life was middle of the road. The Spin 4 is rated for as much as 13.5 hours of battery life, but there are all kinds of qualifiers on that number. First, it’s for video streaming, which isn’t in any way indicative of real-world battery life. And second, there are two battery options for the Spin 4, 53 watt-hours and 48 watt-hours, and the latter is rated at a shorter 11.5 hours. As a rule of thumb, I typically see 50 to 65 percent of the claimed battery life in real-world use, and that was the case here, as I averaged about 7 hours of battery life.

The Spin 4 supports rapid charging, however, and you can charge to 80 percent in just one hour using the bundled 65-watt charger. That charger terminates in a proprietary barrel-style connector, which is odd these days. But in this case, it makes some sense as there’s only a single USB-C port, so that is free for other uses.

Software

From a software perspective, Acer lands somewhere between the minimalist bliss of Lenovo’s ThinkPad lineup and the bulging-at-the-seems insanity of recent HP laptops. There are several Acer-branded utilities in Start, most of which seem superfluous but not malicious. On potentially useful-looking utility, called Acer ProShield Plus, failed when I tried to test it, noting that “the ProShield service cannot be detected, so the related features will not be available.” Good grief.

I have a bigger issue with the handful of crapware entries that Acer also added to start, including a Booking.com icon that required a Google search to remove, a Dropbox promotion that is connivingly named “Dropbox promotion,” the desktop version of Spotify, and, most oddly, Firefox, which launches at first with a co-branded Acer ad. I removed all of that.

And to be fair, some of the utilities that Acer includes are truly useful. For example, GoTrust ID can be used to sign in to your PC securely using your smartphone, which is a nice alternative to the balky fingerprint reader.

Pricing and configurations

The Acer TravelMate Spin P4’s relatively large and heavy form factor is mostly excused by its low price: It starts at just $849 for a model with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a roomy 512 GB NVMe PCIe SSD, which is quite reasonable. The review unit, with its higher-end Core i7 processor and 16 GB of RAM retails for $1199, and there are a few other configurations between the two.

Recommendations and conclusions

As a business-class convertible laptop, the Acer TravelMate Spin P4 is a bit of a throwback, but I found myself enjoying its quality and durability, and you can’t argue with the price. It features modern components, a nice mix of new and legacy ports, and good battery life. Whether its downsides outweigh the benefits is a matter of taste and need, but some will be put off by the heft, the 19:9 display, the tiny stylus, and the curious software loadout. I’m OK with most of that, but a 16:10 or even 3:2 display would put the TravelMate Spin P4 over the top.

Assuming that’s not a dealbreaker for you, however, the Acer TravelMate Spin P4 is highly recommended. I liked it more than I thought I would, given how many thin and light Ultrabook-class PCs I review.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Versatile convertible PC design
  • Affordable
  • Great selection of ports
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • 16:9 display with huge bezels
  • Tiny stylus
  • Some keyboard weirdisms
  • Crapware

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Comments (6)

6 responses to “Acer TravelMate Spin P4 Review”

  1. waethorn

    Whenever I get a new PC in, it gets immediately wiped and has the latest version of Windows 10 installed on it. Takes no more than 10 minutes from boot to getting through the OOBE, and saves a lot of time from cleaning up crapware and getting the latest build installed from whatever was shipped by the OEM.

  2. VMax

    How does a power button with fingerprint reader work? If you want to unlock the machine when already running, do you press the button and the press is ignored, or is it stiff enough to touch without pressing?

  3. rickeveleigh

    Arrgh the stickers are wonky. See that so much!

  4. awright18

    I noticed there isn't an EVO sticker on there. Have you seen devices with Intel EVO stickers? Also noticing several devices coming with a stylus in your recent reviews, I wonder if that's something people actually want or if its just a me too thing.

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