Acer Swift 5 (2019) review

The pursuit of a lighter laptop is the Swift 5’s strength, and its weakness

The Swift 5 is a solid all-around performer, but its light weight compromises longevity.
The Swift 5 is a solid all-around performer, but its light weight compromises longevity.
The Swift 5 is a solid all-around performer, but its light weight compromises longevity.

Highs

  • Incredibly light chassis
  • Solid all-around performance
  • Keyboard provides good tactile feedback
  • Stays quiet and cool

Lows

  • Some flexibility in the chassis
  • Uncomfortable touchpad
  • Lack of GPU option or Thunderbolt 3 support

DT Editors' Rating

Acer is on a mission to make laptops thinner and lighter, at any cost. Many times, that quest for portability leaves some unfortunate compromises.

When Acer started calling  the Acer Swift 5 the “world’s lightest notebook PC with a 15-inch display,” we had our worries. We looked at a $1,000 configuration of the Swift 5 that came with an 8th-generation Whiskey Lake Intel Core i5-826U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD). That’s not quite budget pricing for the components, nor does it reach too far into premium territory.

As we’ll see, the Swift 5 is absolutely a lightweight laptop. But does it offer anything else to compete against some other excellent 15-inch laptops?

So light it’s downright insubstantial

The Swift 5’s claim to fame is that it’s incredibly light, and that’s certainly true. It’s only 2.2 pounds while packing in a full-size 15.6-inch IPS display. And it feels like it – in fact, it’s downright insubstantial in hand. Something that big and light simply must be filled with only air, right?

But it’s not empty. Rather, it benefits from a magnesium-lithium alloy chassis that’s thin while (relatively) durable. Compared to the rock-solid and MIL-SPEC-810G compliant Asus ZenBook 15 UX533, which is a very small laptop in width and depth but significantly heavier at 3.73 pounds, the Swift 5 is so much lighter and not nearly as robust.

Simply put, Acer’s lid, keyboard deck, and bottom all give a little more than we like. Dell’s XPS 15 is also somewhat smaller but more than twice as heavy at 4.5 pounds, while also being substantially more rigid. The Swift 5’s hinge is also very tight, requiring two hands to open. Strangely, there’s still a little wobble when you’re typing. The laptop doesn’t leave you worried about its durability but it’s just not as solidly built as some competitors.

To fully stress just how light the Swift 5 is, though, consider the much smaller Dell XPS 13. That laptop is tiny when sitting next to the Acer, but it’s nevertheless noticeably heavier at 2.7 pounds. Seriously, the Swift 5 is remarkably lightweight.

Seriously, the Swift 5 is remarkably lightweight.

Although the Swift 5 doesn’t aim at ultimate thinness, it’s still a relatively thin full-size laptop. It’s 0.63 inches thick, which compares to the ZenBook 15 at 0.70 inches and the XPS 15 at 0.66 inches. Its bezels are larger than both, at a relatively low 87.6 percent screen-to-body ratio (the Asus comes in at a remarkable 92 percent). That makes the Swift 5 a little larger, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Aesthetically, the Swift 5 doesn’t try to stand out nearly as much. It’s a silver color scheme throughout, except for the black bezels on the display, and there’s no bling. The ZenBook 15 and the XPS 15 are more attractive without being ostentatious, making the Swift 5 a very conservative design indeed.

Although the Swift 5 is a relatively thin laptop, Acer managed to fit in some legitimate connectivity. You’ll find all the ports along the left-hand side, including two USB-A 3.1 ports, a full-size HDMI port, and a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port. That’s competitive with the ZenBook 15 and the XPS 15, although the latter includes Thunderbolt 3 support for more external display and GPU enclosure flexibility that the Swift 5 is missing.

A solid keyboard is let down by a sticky touchpad

The Swift 5 has a very typical island keyboard with black chiclet keys and a single level of consistent backlighting. The key mechanism has sufficient travel and plenty of feedback, and it has a satisfying click that’s just on the edge of requiring too much actuation pressure. If you like keyboards that let you know when you’ve pressed a key, then you’ll like the Swift 5s, but if you like a slightly lighter touch, then you’ll prefer the XPS 15 and HP Spectre x360.

Acer Swift 5 (2019) review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The touchpad is of average size, and it supports Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad protocol. Its surface is a bit rough, though, making swiping feel slower than it should and requiring more work. We got used to the touchpad over the life of our review, but we didn’t like it as much as pretty much every competitor we’ve tested. There’s also a responsive touch display, which we’ve grown used to seeing on modern laptops and we greatly prefer.

Finally, the Swift 5 employs a fingerprint scanner for password-less login via Windows 10 Hello. We had a difficult time setting it up during initialization, but it logged us in quickly and reliably after that.

Displays keep getting better, but this one treads water

The Swift 5 has a 15.6-inch IPS display running at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 141 PPI) resolution. That means it’s going be sharp enough for most users, but pixel peepers will be disappointed.

According to our colorimeter, this display would have been a solid option a year or two ago. It has good brightness at 310 nits (above our 300-nit threshold). Its color gamut coverage at 72 percent of Adobe RGB and 96 percent of sRGB should be good for all but photo and video professionals, and its color accuracy of 2.23 is again acceptable for productivity use. And its contrast is 700:1, which is vastly better than the previous couple of display generations.

But laptop displays are taking steps toward much better results. The XPS 15’s Full HD display is much brighter at 397 nits, for example, while also offering much better contrast at 1050:1 and color accuracy at 1.5. When considering the competition, such as the ZenBook 15, the Swift 5’s display is at the very bottom of what’s acceptable today for a near-premium laptop.

The touchpad surface is a bit rough, making swiping feel slower than it should.

That doesn’t make this a bad display, mind you. It’s quite enjoyable for productivity tasks and watching Netflix video (which will be a little dark thanks to a gamma of 2.3). If you don’t need an extremely wide color gamut or highly accurate colors, or super-high contrast, then you’ll enjoy using this display. But the fact remains that you can do better, and for not a lot more money.

The audio was another average performer. You’ll get sufficient volume out of the downward-firing dual speaker on the bottom of the chassis, and it’s just fine for the occasional YouTube video. But it’s not particularly rich audio quality and so you’ll likely want to pull out your favorite pair of headphones for enjoying music and movies.

Fast enough to keep you productively working

Our review unit was built around the 8th-generation Whiskey Lake Core i5-8265U, a quad-core CPU that aims to provide a solid mix of performance and efficiency. You can also opt for configurations with a Core i7 if you need a bit more power.

According to our suite of benchmarks, Acer has created a solid performer for typical productivity tasks. In Geekbench 4, for example, the Swift 5 managed a strong 4,416 in the single-core test and 13,754 in the multi-core test. That’s competitive with the other Core i5 laptop in our comparison group, the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333, but it’s slower than the Core i7s in our comparison group. It promises good multitasking performance for the usual Office apps, web browsing, and the like.

Looking at our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265 tells the same story. The score of 313 seconds isn’t a leader compared to the 260 seconds in the Asus ZenBook 13, and it can’t keep up with the 195 seconds scored by the ZenBook 15. You likely won’t be buying this notebook for demanding creativity tasks, and this test indicates that’s likely a good decision.

Acer Swift 5 (2019) review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Moving on to storage performance, Acer equipped the Swift 5 with a Hynix BC501 256GB PCIe SSD, and it’s a good but not great performer. It beats out the HP Spectre x360 in write speeds but loses to all but the ZenBook 15 in read speeds.

Thermal performance was a positive. The chassis never got too hot to use comfortably on a lap. The fans did spin up under load, but they were never so loud to the point of distraction. During most of our real-world testing, the Swift 5 was completely silent.

Rinse and repeat – integrated graphics make for limited gaming

Unsurprisingly, the Swift 5’s Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics performed right in line with every other similarly equipped laptop. According to the 3DMark synthetic benchmark, it’s enough for casual Windows 10 games and older titles at lower resolutions and graphics settings.

As an example, if you run an esports title like Rocket League, then you’ll find it playable but not the best experience. We tested the Swift 5 and saw 50 frames per second (FPS) at 1080p and performance settings and 27 FPS at high quality. Again, that’s in line with other laptops with integrated graphics.

Lately, most 15-inch laptops have at least an entry-level discrete GPU like Nvidia’s GeForce MX150. Better yet, you’ll want to step up to something like the ZenBook 15 that integrates an Nvidia GeForce 1050 Max-Q it you’re a gamer or a serious video editor.

It’s light on battery capacity as well

One way to make an exceptionally light laptop is to be frugal with the battery capacity. That’s exactly what Acer did, putting a relatively low 54 watt-hours worth in the Swift 5 – that keeps the weight down, but how did it impact battery life?

Thanks to an efficient CPU in the Swift 5’s 15-watt Whiskey Lake Core i5, we wouldn’t characterize battery life as poor. But, it’s also not great for a 15.6-inch laptop with a Full HD (versus a power-hungry 4K) display and a Core i5 (versus a faster Core i7). In our most demanding Basemark web benchmark test, for example, the Swift 5 lasted for three and a quarter hours, which is significantly less than the ZenBook 15 (73 watt-hours) with six and a half hours and the Full HD XPS 15 (97 watt-hours) with roughly four and a half hours. And the XPS 15 uses a 45-watt six-core Core i7-8750H CPU.

Switching to our web browsing test, the Swift 5 was again a bit behind the curve, lasting for eight and a third hours compared to the ZenBook 15 at over nine and a half hours and the XPS 15 at almost 10.5 hours. And finally, when looping our local Avengers test trailer, the Swift 5 managed just over 12.5 hours while the ZenBook 15 went for an additional hour and the XPS 15 lasted for two hours longer.

Acer Swift 5 (2019) review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Those two competitors are battery-life leaders, for sure, and so the Swift 5’s performance stands up to other 15-inch laptops. Our concern is that in its quest for lightness, Acer left out a few more watts of battery capacity that could have elevated the Swift 5 another notch in this category.

Those results are right on the edge of being long enough to last a full working day on a charge. If your work tends toward more CPU-intensive tasks, then chances are you’ll find yourself needing your power adapter – and that’s a direct byproduct of the Swift 5’s focus on cutting weight.

Our Take

Acer succeeded in its primary goal of making a 15-inch laptop that’s remarkably light, and they did so for a $1,000 entry-level price that just inches into premium territory. There would be nothing wrong with all of that, at least if it didn’t require any compromises to get there.

And for the most part, the Swift 5 is a perfectly serviceable notebook – it offers solid productivity performance and its display is good even if it’s falling behind the curve. But its battery life and build quality, both of which are a direct result of that quest for the featherweight crown, just aren’t up to snuff.

Is there a better alternative?

The Asus ZenBook 15 is a solid alternative to the Swift 5. It offers a smaller chassis that’s no heavyweight itself, and it adds in a discrete GPU for entry-level gaming. It runs $1,400 for a Core i7-8565U, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That’s the same price as the Swift 5 with the same configuration, making the ZenBook a much faster option.

You could also consider Dell’s XPS 15, which offers up to a much faster six-core Core i7-8570H CPU, better Full HD and 4K display options, and a faster GPU. And if you drop down to a quad-core Core i5-8300H (that’s still faster than the U-series equivalent in the Swift 5), then you can spend just $100 more than the Acer.

Finally, you can save a little money and pick up the Lenovo IdeaPad 530s. It’s not as light but it feels a touch more durable, and when similarly configured it’s just $735. That nets you a non-Whiskey Lake 8th-gen Core i5-8250U, but performance is very similar, and of course, you save some serious cash.

How long will it last?

The Swift 5 won’t win any prizes for the most robustly built laptop, but it won’t leave you feeling like it won’t last, either. And it has the latest components providing good enough performance to last for years of productive work. The 1-year warranty is industry standard, which we wished was longer.

Should you buy it?

Only if you simply want the lightest full-size laptop possible. Otherwise, you can spend a little more money and carry a little more weight around, and you’ll get better performance and significantly longer battery life in the bargain.

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