For many users, 13.3-inch laptops are just a bit too small while 15.6-inch laptops are just a bit too large. The PC industry is nothing if not diverse, though, and so there’s an option — a host of 14-inch laptops that straddle the line between too tiny and too huge.
And there are real alternatives even within a niche like this. You can choose a laptop like the Asus ZenBook 14 UX433 that uses tiny bezels to fit that 14-inch display into a 13-inch chassis, or you can go with a less expensive and slightly larger laptop like the 2019 Acer Swift 3 that adds in a discrete GPU for a little less money. Which of these two options is more worth the money?
The ZenBook 14’s claim to fame is its tiny bezels and its diminutive frame. It truly fits a 14-inch display into what was just recently considered a very small chassis for laptop with a 13.3-inch display. The Swift 3 has smaller bezels than previous versions, but it doesn’t pretend to compete with the ZenBook in this regard. That makes the Asus laptop significantly smaller in depth and width, specifically coming in at just 12.56 inches wide by 7.83 inches deep compared to the Acer at 12.72 inches by 8.98 inches
Asus also build the ZenBook 14 to meeting the MIL-STD-810G standard, which gives it more rigid lid, chassis, and keyboard deck than the Swift 3. And in terms of aesthetics, the ZenBook 14 is more striking in its Royal Blue color scheme with gold trim and the iconic Asus concentric swirls on the lid. The Swift 3 is rather pedestrian in comparison with its more common silver all-aluminum chassis.
Both laptops enjoy keyboards with ample travel, although Acer’s version is firmer than the Asus. If you like keyboards with a lighter touch, then you’ll prefer the ZenBook 14’s. On the other hand, both touchpads are large and support Microsoft’s accurate Precision touchpad protocol for outstanding multitouch gesture support. And both Full HD displays lack support for touch. Asus, though, includes its NumberPad LED numeric keypad feature built into the touchpad, and it’s a nice addition for anyone who enters a lot of numbers.
The laptops are closely matched in terms of connectivity. The ZenBook 14 has USB-A 3.1, USB-A 2.0, and USB-C 3.1 ports (without Thunderbolt 3 support), a full-size HDMI connection, and a microSD card reader. The Swift 3 is identical except both of its USB-A ports are version 3.1
The ZenBook 14 is more robust, more attractive, and sports a much smaller chassis. It wins this round.
Both the ZenBook 14 and Swift 3 build in the latest Intel 8th-gen Whiskey Lake quad-core CPUs, and both of our review units equipped the Core i7-8565U. The Swift 3 was faster in the Geekbench 4 multi-core test, while the ZenBook 14 completed our video encoding test 32 seconds more quickly. Mainly, though, you won’t tell much difference in how these two laptops perform on the usual productivity tasks. Storage speeds were also closely matched, with both laptops using PCIe solid-state disks (SSDs) that were equally as fast.
Gaming and creative application performance is a different story, though, depending on which version of the ZenBook 14 you consider. Right now, almost every retail outlet in North America sells the ZenBook 14 with Intel’s UHD 620 integrated graphics. If you have a Costco membership, though, you can pick up a version with the Nvidia GeForce MX150 entry-level discrete GPU. The Swift 3, on the other hand, is readily available with the MX150 inside. For most people, then, you’re comparing a discrete GPU to integrated graphics, and the Swift 3 wins out.
Displays joined the CPU and SSD in providing roughly equal performance. The ZenBook 14 sported slightly better contrast (820:1 versus 710:1), but the Swift 3 had a wider color gamut (73 percent of AdobeRGB versus 71 percent) and more accurate colors (1.34 versus 2.24, where less than 1.o is considered excellent). The ZenBook 14’s display was brighter at 312 nits versus 260 nits.
Both laptops are plenty fast and have good displays for productivity work. But the Swift 3 wins out thanks to a discrete GPU that’s easier to buy and comes equipped by default.
Although the ZenBook 14 is smaller in width and depth, the Swift 3 is thinner at 0.59 inches compared to 0.63 inches. The Swift 3, however, is heavier at 2.98 pounds versus 2.62 pounds. Neither is too large or heavy to carry around, however — the ZenBook 14’s smaller chassis mostly comes in handy when you’re working in cramped quarters.
Battery life becomes a more important factor, then, when considering portability. Here, the Swift 3 wins out when you’re not specifically working out the CPU. It lasted an hour less than the ZenBook 14 in our most demanding Basemark web benchmark battery test, but it lasted an hour longer when browsing the web and a whopping four hours longer when looping our local test video.
The ZenBook 14 is smaller, but the Swift 3 is more likely to get you through a full working day on a single charge of the battery.
The Swift 3 is the better choice for most buyers
The Swift 3 costs $1,000 for a Core i7-8565U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and the MX150 GPU. If you drop down to a Core i5-8265U and Intel integrated graphics, then you can save $200 and still get solid productivity performance.
The ZenBook 14, on the other hand, costs $1,200 for a Core i7-8565U, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. You can also spend $1,000 for a Core i5-8256U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and you can buy the MX150 version at Costco for $1,300 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD.
If you buy the ZenBook 14 from Costco then at least you can benefit from the faster graphics. But for most people, the Swift 3 will give you better gaming and creative performance to go with significantly better battery life.
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