Acer Swift 3 13 (2019) review

The 13-inch Acer Swift 3 struggles to find a place in a very crowded market

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Acer Swift 3 13 (2019)

“The 13-inch Acer Swift 3 doesn’t provide much that stands out against some tough competition.”
  • Strong productivity performance
  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad
  • Attractive price
  • Disappointing battery life
  • The design doesn’t stand out
  • The display is behind the competition

We took a long look at Acer’s Swift 3 with a 14-inch display, and we liked its combination of performance, battery life, and attractive pricing. Acer added another model to its 2019 Swift 3 lineup, a 13.3-inch version that looks a lot like its larger sibling and that also comes in at an attractive price point.

Acer sent us a well-equipped configuration that features an 8th-gen (but not Whiskey Lake) quad-core Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 13.3-inch IPS display. That’s a solid set of components for $900 at Amazon.

But there are several solid 13-inch competitors at the same price point, and so the Swift 3 will be swimming upstream. Does it bring enough value to make its way to the front?

Another in a line of non-descript silver chassis

As with many Acer laptops from the same lines, the 13.3-inch Swift 3 looks a lot like the 14-inch version. It’s the same all-aluminum chassis in a conservative silver color with some chrome chamfered edges, it has the same black trim around the display, and it sports a similar subdued chrome Acer logo on the lid. It, too, looks a lot like many other silver clamshell laptops, and it doesn’t hold a candle to the much more striking Dell XPS 13 and gem-but HP Spectre x360 13.

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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

As with the larger version, this model of the Swift 3 also suffers from some flexibility in the lid and keyboard deck. It’s doesn’t feel as durable as its most logical competitor, the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333, which is not only more rigid but comes with MIL-STD-810g testing to provide additional confidence in its durability. You won’t be worried that the Swift 3 will fall apart in your hands, but it doesn’t give off quite the same long-lasting vibe.

The Swift 3 also isn’t nearly as small as its more recent competitors. Its bezels are reasonably sized, but they’re not as tiny as those on the ZenBook 13 or Dell XPS 13. The Swift 3’s chassis measures 12.16 inches wide by 8.43 inches deep by 0.63 inches thick, and it weighs 2.87 pounds. That compares to the ZenBook 13 at 11.89 by 7.44 by 0.67 inches and 2.62 pounds, and the XPS 13 at 11.9 by 7.8 by 0.46 inches and 2.7 pounds.

Connectivity is a mixed bag. There’s plenty of legacy support with USB-A 3.0 and USB-A 2.0 ports and a full-size HDMI connection. But the single USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3, and it won’t charge the laptop. You’ll need to use the proprietary charger, which is a disappointment. The XPS 13 offers a Thunderbolt 3 port, which gives it the edge for future connectivity. It’s good that Acer equipped the latest in wireless connectivity, thanks to an Intel combo chip that provides gigabit Wi-Fi 802.11ac and the latest Bluetooth 5.0.

A very good keyboard and touchpad stand out

We found the keyboard on the 14-inch Swift 3 to be just the slightest bit too firm, even while it avoided being mushy and provided a satisfying click. The keyboard on our 13-inch Swift 3 was even better, providing the same precise feel without being too stiff. It’s as good as the keyboards on the ZenBook 13 and XPS 13, and very comfortable for long typing sessions.

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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The touchpad was also very good. It has a large enough plastic surface that’s just on the good side of being too sticky, and it’s a Microsoft Precision touchpad with great support for Windows 10’s multitouch gestures. It, too, is as good as the touchpads on its closest competitors.

There’s no touch display, though, although that’s more forgivable at the 13-inch model’s price compared to the 14-inch Swift 3. We’re starting to call out a display’s lack of touch as a negative, because having touch provides some real value for swiping through long web pages and tapping the occasional on-screen button.

Finally, the Swift 3 has a fingerprint scanner on the keyboard deck that supports Windows 10 password-less login. It was difficult to train, and it wasn’t always responsive. Compared to other Windows 10 Hello solutions, Acer’s is mediocre.

A Full HD display that’s good enough for productivity work

The Swift 3 comes with a 13.3-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display. That’s de rigueur for all but the most budget-oriented laptops today, where you might find lower resolutions or TF technology that doesn’t provide the same wide viewing angles.

Based on our colorimeter results, Acer chose a panel that’s acceptable for the price, but that doesn’t stand out, even among its similarly priced alternatives. For example, while brightness exceeded our 300 nit threshold at 306 nits, the contrast was a little below average at 680:1. Compare that to the ZenBook 13 UX333 that wasn’t quite as bright at 265 nits but sported an excellent contrast ratio of 1360:1. The XPS 13 Full HD hit a brighter 336 nits and a contrast ratio of 970:1, just below our preferred 1000:1 ratio.

Looking at the display’s colors, we saw color gamut coverage of 73 percent of AdobeRGB and 95 percent of sRGB, which is at the higher side of average but well below the 77 percent and 99 percent achieved by the ZenBook 13. However, accuracy was below average at 2.84 (where 1.0 or less is considered excellent), another area where the ZenBook 13 was better at 1.68. The XPS 13’s Full HD display came in at 73 and 95 percent coverage and 1.41 accuracy.

Subjectively, the display was a good productivity experience, with enough brightness to overcome most ambient lighting (especially given the anti-glare panel) and colors that were good enough for document editing. It wouldn’t be great for creative types who need wide and accurate colors, but that’s true of most productivity laptops today. As far as binging Netflix goes, gamma was perfect at 2.2, and so video was neither too bright nor too dark.

The audio quality wasn’t much better than we expected. Volume was loud enough without significant distortion, and sound was a bit thin with little bass to flesh out action movies and music. We suggest a good set of headphones if you want to rock out or enjoy your TV and movie sessions.

Good performance for getting your work done

Our review Swift 3 equipped the 8th-gen quad-core Core i7-8550U. That’s not the absolute latest Whiskey Lake version, but we’ve found that it tends to still perform well in our benchmark tests.

Looking at the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, the Swift 3 fell behind those laptops with the absolute latest Core i7. It scored 4,676 in the single-core test and 14,226 in the multi-core test, compared to the Swift 3 14’s 5,231 and 15,116, respectively. The ZenBook 13 UX333 with its Core i5-8265U was a bit slower, while the Dell XPS entry-level model (similarly priced to the Swift 3) scored a poor 4,025 and 8,146 with its Core i3-8145U.

When we tested the laptops real-world performance, by using Handbrake to encode a 420MB video to H.265, the Swift 3 13 was the fastest among our comparison group. It finished the test in 260 seconds, compared to the Swift 3 14 at 269 seconds and the Lenovo ThinkPad X390 at 272 seconds. The slower XPS 13 took almost twice as long at 467 seconds, while the ZenBook 13 exactly matched the Swift 3’s performance.

Acer used a fast Western Digital PCIe SSD in the Swift 3 13, that managed 1,098 megabytes per second (MB/s) in the CrystalDiskMark 6 read test and 982 MB/s in the write test. That’s significantly faster than the Kingston PCIe SSD Acer put into the 14-inch Swift 3 and also faster than any other SSD in our comparison group.

Overall, the Swift 3 was plenty fast for productivity work, and it punches slightly above its price. It’s as fast as the ZenBook 13 and much faster than the XPS 13 at an equivalent cost.

Thermal performance was also positive. We never saw the chassis get warmer than 104 degrees F during our most aggressive testing, and the fans were reasonably loud and spun up mainly when it made sense.

You’ll want a different laptop if you’re a gamer

Unlike its larger sibling, the 14-inch Swift 3 that enjoys the entry-level Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU, the 13-inch model is limited to Intel’s integrated UHD 620 graphics. That tells us it’s not going to be a very good gaming laptop.

Our benchmarks confirmed our suspicions. First, the Swift 3 scored 1,155 in the 3DMark Fire Strike test, right in line with our comparison group and well behind the 14-inch model. Second, we ran Fortnite at 1080p and both high and ultra graphics, where the Swift 3 managed just 14 frames per second (FPS) and 9 FPS respectively.

The Swift 3 is as fast (or as slow) at gaming as other similarly equipped laptops. But that’s not saying much.

Unfortunately, battery life is disappointing

The Swift 3 13 has 48 watt-hours of battery capacity packed inside its chassis, which is less than many of its 13-inch contemporaries. Plus, while the Core i7-8550U is a 15-watt CPU that provides decent efficiency, it isn’t quite as efficient as some of the other CPUs you’ll find in this class of laptop.

In our benchmark tests, the Swift 3 was disappointing. In our most demanding Basemark web benchmark, it managed just under three hours, which is less than the 14-inch version and well under the ZenBook 13’s almost five hours and the XPS 13’s over five hours.

When browsing the web, the Swift 3 fell short of seven hours, well below its larger sibling’s nine hours and crushed by the ZenBook 13’s 12 hours and the XPS 15’s 11 hours. Then, while looping our local test Avengers 1080p trailer, the Swift 3 barely managed 11 hours while the 14-inch model went for over 15 hours, the ZenBook 13 made it to over 13.5 hours, and the XPS 13 lasted for a whopping 16 hours.

Simply put, the Swift 3 13 suffered from combining a fast CPU with a small battery. It probably won’t last you a full working day, which compared to other recent 13-inch laptops is a real disappointment.

Our Take

The Swift 3 13-inch doesn’t have the faster graphics or longer battery life of the 14-inch model, and so it’s much harder to recommend. It does provide good performance for $900, in a chassis that’s built well enough for the price but that’s not too exciting to look at. In the end, we think the Swift 3 is a bit underwhelming.

Is there a better alternative?

The clearest alternative is the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333FA. It has a slightly slower CPU that nevertheless manages to keep up with the Swift 3 in real-world use, and its battery life and display are much better. It’s also $50 less, at $850 for a Core i5-8265U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. You get twice the storage with the Swift 3 at just $50 more, which is probably its only advantage.

You could step up $100 in price and an inch in size and consider the 14-inch version of the Swift 3. You’ll spend $1,000 for a Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, but you’ll also get a slightly better display and much faster graphics. You’ll also enjoy better battery life with a chassis that’s just about as portable.

Finally, the entry-level Dell XPS 13 is another viable option. It’s slower thanks to its 8th-gen Core i3-8145U CPU, but its battery life is significantly better. You’ll get a better display and a smaller chassis, for around $880 with 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a non-touch Full HD display. Yes, the RAM and storage are less, but the laptop’s better overall.

How long will it last?

The Acer Swift 3 isn’t so robust that you imagine it’ll last for decades, but it also doesn’t feel like it will fall apart long before you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of it. The standard 1-year warranty is disappointing, as usual, but remains an industry standard.

Should you buy it?

No. There are better 13-inch laptops available at similar prices, that will get you better battery life and similar performance.

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