Back at IFA 2016 the MTT team were sitting in the Acer press listening to them wax lyrical about a new collection of notebooks for consumers and businesses alike, the Swift line. The Swift 7 was dubbed the “thinnest laptop in the world” whilst other options included the Swift 1, 3 and 5. We’re taking a look at what just might be the best bang for buck in that lineup, the Acer Swift 3.
The Acer Swift 3 isn’t the thinnest laptop on the market and it’s not even the thinnest available from Acer; the Swift 7 takes that mantle. The model we’re reviewing is the Acer Swift 3 SF-314. The newer SKU is packed with an Intel Core i5-6200U Kaby Lake. That CPU is clocked at 2.5Ghz and there’s 8GB RAM installed, with an integrated Intel 620 chipset which is a slight uplift from the 520 included in the Skylake SKU.
The eagle-eyed among you might have spotted that I haven’t actually said that this unit has those specs. That is with good reason; Acer sent us the Skylake version of the Acer Swift 3, so whilst it looks the same, it’s not going to have the grunt the new Kaby Lake device does. Still, we’ll see whether a generation old Swift 3 is still a good investment.
Input wise there is enough to keep the mobile consumer happy. There are two USB 3.0 ports, one on the left and one on the right. On the right, there’s also a Kensington lock, a headphone jack, as well as an SD card reader. Yes, this is required for a lot of people despite what some companies seem to think. Having them built in is essential for anybody doing any sort of video editing or photographic work.
On the left hand side, straddling the USB 3.0 port, which doubles as a fast charging port for devices, are the USB Type-C port for peripherals and external monitors, as well as a full HDMI port, and a power input.
This particular unit is the Gold finish which actually looks quite nice. There’s a slight grain to the finish which gives a little bit of texture but not overly so that you’ll feel it too much; it’s quite brushed. The finish extends onto the trackpad as well which is relatively sensitive and big enough, whilst not being Macbook big.
Finishing off the look around the device with two big aspects for me, the keyboard and the display. Display first, we’re looking at a 14″ 1080p IPS display, with no touch screen here. That last bit isn’t a showstopper for most and it’s not for me either, however on a device this size, I like to freehand scrolling from time to time. Sadly not with the Swift 3. It’s not the brightest panel in the world and that’s somewhat a similar tale when it comes to colour reproduction. It’s just a bit muddy in both departments. At 14″ though, the hinge and the screen itself doesn’t feel cheap or so thin that it would cause any issues in the long-term. Opening the device and manipulating the screen felt sturdy enough during my testing.
The keyboard, with the “Windows Hello” fingerprint sensor on the bottom right hand side, is a strange affair. The backlit keys are not all that bright and the light struggles to push out from beneath. The keys themselves are well spaced for my typing style and I had no issues adjusting to this keyboard when writing the review (interesting note, I made my first mistake since typing this review whilst typing that sentence – spooky!). A function key row at the top is always nice, albeit I wish manufacturers would not put the delete key so close to a power button; it’s rather idiotic! Likewise, a smaller enter key is not welcome considering it’s one of the most used keys on the board when typing. Other than that it’s a standard layout.
Where things get a little more irksome is in actually resting your hands on the device to type. Typing is not uncomfortable, however there is such a gap from the start of the laptop trackpad to the first key (space) that your wrists and hands rest at an awkward angle on the edges of the laptop itself, causing fatigue. Pushing your hands onto the unit further means your wrists are resting directly either side of the trackpad, and I found neither resting place comfortable over long periods. It’s a shame as the keyboard itself is more than acceptable.
Performance wise, daily tasks such as Office use, browsing and viewing media all get dealt with swiftly, as you’d expect from an I5 processor, regardless of the generation. Geekbench benchmarks are below showing the single and multi-core scores along with a generic graphics score. I won’t delve too much further into this as frankly, those purchasing this sort of machine aren’t going to be expecting to render 4K videos professionally, or play Battlefield 1 at ultra settings. In case you did, sorry, this isn’t the device you’re looking for. Even the I7 version would fail you on that score.
Performance is acceptable for the use case most would have for this laptop however. I didn’t experience any stutter during my testing of generic applications and the 8GB RAM actually managed quite well even with my tab-hungry browsing sessions.
The included SSD is an area that delivers decent performance from an unlikely source. The included LiteOn M.2 256GB drive doesn’t win any awards for speeds, but it fits the overall feel of this device, which is, acceptable. I for one haven’t seen a LiteOn SSD for quite some time and don’t think I’d ever purchase one for a build of my own.
Battery life on this device is claimed to be up to 10 hours. They’re correct, it is up to 10 hours. I only managed to get 7 out of it and that was relatively average use (browsing, YouTube, bit of media streaming, small amounts of productivity in Office). This review unit has seen a number of hands so perhaps that’s not indicative of real world use from a brand new unit, but either way, I would expect the battery to have performed a little better.
Yes, this has been a short review, but with newer models out it feels strange attempting to review this device independently without comparing it to the evident improvement in the Kaby Lake outing. Suffice to say though that the Swift 3 is a budget offering that attempts to deliver an ultrabook build quality, with acceptable performance and battery life, which it just manages. Where it fails is in the display, and the weight. Ultrabooks have a code of conduct; a set of guidelines when manufacturing that would see improvements in these areas. You would however be looking north of £800 for a similar footprint to this and improvements in the two areas I’ve mentioned, when looking at the Ultrabook SKUs.
The Acer Swift 3 is a device I would consider using, but only if I could find a nice portable wrist rest to get around that large space before the keyboard!
Acer Swift 3£499
- Decent footprint and price
- Decent performance for price point
- Nice fingerprint sensor
- Decent trackpad and keyboard build
- Annoying hand resting place when typing
- Keyboard backlight isn't great
- Dim display