Classy aluminum design. Windows Hello fingerprint reader. Perky performance from Core i5 CPU and PCIe SSD. Good battery life.
Limited screen brightness. Shallow keyboard with small, crowded cursor control keys.
- Bottom Line
The 14-inch Acer Swift 3 is a well-rounded ultraportable laptop at a moderate price, with solid port selection and strong battery life that offset a merely average screen.
Not long ago, we gave a rave review—and our top honor for budget ultraportables—to the Acer Swift 1, a $329 ultraportable notebook with a 13.3-inch IPS screen. Today we're checking out the 14-inch step-up model, the Swift 3. Despite the name, the Swift 3 isn't three times as expensive (only about twice as expensive, at $649.99 as tested) or three times as fast (though it's about twice as fast). Nor is it three times as appealing, but that doesn't mean it isn't well worth a look.
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Acer offers a variety of Swift 3 models, starting at $479.99 for a Core i3 unit with 128GB SSD and climbing to $849.99 for a Core i7 with 512GB SSD. Our test model SF314-52-557Y is in the middle, with a Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB solid-state drive. The 14-inch display offers full HD (1,920-by-1,080) resolution as well as sharp in-plane switching technology.
Beveled Silver Slab
The Acer wins points for being constructed out of sleek metal rather than plain plastic, but it's firmly in the generic-thin-wedge, or possibly homage-to-Apple, school of design. A silver Acer logo adorns the brushed-aluminum lid, and the Swift name is etched into the broad screen hinge, below another Acer logo in the bottom bezel.
The laptop feels sturdy, with little or no flex in the screen corners and keyboard deck. While the LG Gram 14 remains the most anorexic of the 14-inch class at 2.09 pounds, the Swift 3 is no trouble to carry at 3.53 pounds, within a pound of most 13.3-inch ultrabooks. Measuring 0.71 by 13.3 by 9.2 inches (HWD), it's substantially larger and thicker than the Gram (0.6 by 12.7 by 8.3 inches) but has the same footprint as a 14-inch business notebook, the HP EliteBook 1040 G3.
On the laptop's left side, you'll find two USB 3.0 ports and a USB-C port, along with an audio jack, HDMI output, and the connector for the proprietary (not USB-C), pocket-sized charging plug. The SD card slot—which leaves cards jutting out to snag when you shove the machine into your briefcase—joins a USB 2.0 port and Kensington lock slot on the right edge. Bluetooth and 802.11ac wireless are standard.
The Swift 3's bottom-mounted speakers aren't very loud—they fill a room only when volume is cranked all the way up, which makes high notes as screechy as low notes are short on bass. At more modest volumes (say 75 percent), though, MP3s sound good, with crisp instrumentals and clear vocals. The webcam centered above the screen is helpless with backlit subjects, but captures averagely sharp images with front or side lighting.
Six Small Keys
Apart from being backlit, the keyboard is the same as the Swift 1's, which means it has a shallow, plasticky typing feel but its tactile feedback is good enough to permit a brisk pace. Our main complaint centers on the lower right corner, where the cursor arrows are: We appreciate that they're in an inverted T instead of an awkward row, but they're tiny (the size of the Escape, function, and Delete keys in the top row) and arranged in a two-by-three grid with Page Up and Page Down keys (the latter double with the Fn key for Home and End). The crowded cluster requires finicky precision. Below the space bar, a buttonless touchpad glides and taps smoothly.
Once you've entered a password and PIN, you can use the Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint reader to give your logins an extra level of security. Though the sensor is a narrow strip instead of a square, it's the more convenient press-your-finger rather than the older swipe-your-finger type, which we've always found unsatisfyingly hit-or-miss.
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We're always happy to see an IPS screen on an affordable notebook, and the Acer has a pretty good one: Viewing angles are broad, though the glossy screen causes reflections, and colors are bold. Contrast, however, isn't all we could wish as backgrounds have a slight case of the off-whites; the display looks as if brightness has been dialed down two or three clicks when it's set to the max.
The full HD resolution is a good fit for the 14-inch screen size; depending on how large you like menus and icons, it's a tossup whether to leave Windows' screen-element zoom at its default 150 percent or scale it back to 125 percent. Image editing and 1080p video viewing are a pleasure.
Potent Performance, Bodacious Battery Life
Intel's Core i5-7200U is a 2.5GHz (3.1GHz turbo) dual-core chip with Hyper-Threading and HD 620 integrated graphics. It's teamed here with 8GB of DDR4 memory and a 256GB Intel NVMe solid-state drive (with 211GB free out of the box), giving the Swift 3 snappy startups and smooth multitasking.
Matched against other 14-inch laptops, ranging from the LG Gram to the value-priced Asus VivoBook E403SA and the substantially more costly Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the Acer acquitted itself capably in our performance tests. Microsoft Office and Google Docs users will note that it cleared the lofty 3,000-point line (3,085 points) in our PCMark 8 productivity benchmark, virtually tying the LG and just a blink behind the Carbon. And it was just three seconds slower than the fastest of this group, the Gram, in our Handbrake video editing workload (2 minutes and 10 seconds versus 2:07), though it was half a minute off the pace in our Adobe Photoshop image editing test.
Neither the Swift 3 nor any of its integrated-graphics peers, however, dazzled in our gaming and graphics benchmarks—only the Carbon came close to the 30 frames per second threshold for smooth gameplay in our Valley DirectX 11 gaming simulation, and that only at low resolution and image quality. They're suited for casual and solitaire games, not the latest fast-twitch titles.
On the positive side, the Acer lasted a very impressive 12 hours and 45 minutes in our battery rundown test. The Gram and Carbon were closer to 16 hours, but the Swift 3 will more than get you through a busy workday plus a relaxing evening at home.
Make a Swift Decision
As you can tell, there's a lot to like about the Acer Swift 3. Our only real gripes are with the keyboard's cursor cluster, which you can master with a little practice, and the slightly dim display, which we don't want to overemphasize. If we don't sound as excited about this model as we do about the Swift 1, it's because it's less of a bargain—good laptops are a lot scarcer at $329 than they are at $649 (though they're a lot rarer there than they are at the price points of machines like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon). But if you're looking for a slim and light, 14-inch productivity partner that stays well south of four figures, the Swift 3 belongs on your short list.
Other Acer America Corporation Laptops & Notebooks
By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Old Greenwich, CT. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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