Acer Swift 7 (2019) review

Acer's Swift 7 is insanely thin and light -- at the cost of being a good laptop

Acer Swift 7 review

Acer Swift 7 (2019)

“The Acer Swift 7 is spectacularly thin, light, and small, but the compromises are too significant to ignore.”
  • Insanely thin, light, and small
  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • Very good touchpad
  • Thunderbolt 3 included
  • Chassis is too flexible
  • Performance is disappointing
  • Awkward keyboard and webcam layout

Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. The 2018 Acer Swift 7 proved that. It was a shockingly thin laptop at just 0.35 inches – about as thin as an iPhone — but it demanded some significant compromises. Acer wants to rectify that with the 2019 Swift 7, which isn’t quite as thin but seeks to address the previous version’s shortcomings.

We reviewed the sole configuration of the Swift 7, with a dual-core, low-power 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8500Y CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 14-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display. The price for this configuration is $1,700, making the Swift 7 a premium laptop.

The Swift 7 lives up to its billing as an incredibly thin and light laptop, as we’ll see. But is that enough to justify its relatively high price?

A lovely sliver of a laptop

Okay, so, let’s get the superlatives out of the way: This is a spectacularly thin, compact, and light laptop. The previous version of the Swift 7 was just slightly thinner – 0.35 inches compared to 0.39 inches in the new model – but it was also larger thanks to relatively chunky bezels surrounding the 14-inch display. For 2019, Acer jumped on the tiny bezel bandwagon with both feet – the Swift 7’s 92 percent screen-to-body ratio rivals the Lenovo IdeaPad S940 and Asus ZenBook S13.

That means that the Swift 7 is as small as those two tiny-bezel class-leaders, but it’s so much thinner. The ZenBook S13 is 0.67 inches thick and the IdeaPad S940 0.55 inches. Trust us – you’ll notice just how thin the Swift 7 is the second you pick it up. As we said about the 2018 version, the Swift 7 feels like someone ripped off a normal laptop’s display and handed you back what’s left over.

The Swift 7 is also incredibly light at just 1.96 pounds. You notice that immediately as well, and it’s almost three-quarters of a pound lighter than the ZenBook S13 and the IdeaPad S940. Even the tiny Dell XPS 13 is significantly heavier at 2.7 pounds. The Swift 7’s light weight is maybe more impressive than its thinness.

So, this is a thin, small, and light laptop – among the thinnest, lightest, and smallest around. And that’s a good thing if you’re a serious road warrior and don’t want to be weighed down but still want a larger display. But are there any compromises, as there were with last year’s Swift 7?

Yep. First, the 2019 Swift 7 isn’t nearly as rigid as you might like, especially considering its use of magnesium-lithium and magnesium-aluminum alloys. The display is quite bendy, there’s significant keyboard flex, and the bottom of the chassis doesn’t feel as stiff as it should. This is a departure from the previous version, which was among the most solid we’ve tested. It’s well behind the competition in this area.

The Swift 7’s keyboard layout is funky and hard to get used to.

We’re not saying it won’t hold up to the usual productivity worker’s abuse — it’s by no means the flimsiest we’ve tested. However, it doesn’t feel as robust as some other premium laptops in this price range (the IdeaPad S940 being one example). It probably will last just fine, thanks to the strength of the materials used, but it simply doesn’t evoke the same kind of confidence as more solid laptops.

Aesthetically, the Swift 7 is a sharp machine. We reviewed the white version (a black model is also available), and it’s sleek, modern, and understated. It’s easily the equal of other premium laptops like the ZenBook S13, IdeaPad S940, and XPS 13. We’ll also note that the surface stays fingerprint-free thanks to the coating Asus uses to help resist scratches.

Another compromise is that connectivity is limited. There are two USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, and that’s it except for a 3.5mm combo audio jack. Power is provided by USB-C, which is welcome, and wireless connectivity is provided by an Intel combo gigabit 802.11ac 2X2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 adapter. Like Asus does with its ZenBooks, Acer throws in a USB-C hub providing a USB-A 3.1, USB-C, and full-size HDMI port.

A funky keyboard, but a real touchpad

In terms of its feel, the Swift 7’s keyboard isn’t bad for such a thin laptop. It has more travel than you’d expect – just slightly more, by touch, than the MacBook’s butterfly keyboard – and it’s quite snappy and precise. If you hate shallow keyboards, then you probably won’t like this one, but if you can live with a little less depth, then you’ll get used to it in no time. It’s also backlit, which is expected in a premium laptop, but unfortunately, there are no levels of brightness. On or off.

Where the keyboard really disappoints is in its layout, which carries over from the previous version. Simply put, it’s funky, mainly because it doesn’t have a row of dedicated function/feature keys at the top. Those keys are thus scattered around the keyboard in odd, almost random places, and it takes way too much time to figure out how to do something simple like toggle the backlight. Maybe it’s a first-world problem and others would pick it up pretty quickly, but it’s quite jarring at first.

Acer Swift 7 review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

One massive improvement from the 2018 Swift 7 is that the new version now has a real touchpad. The old version had just a flat surface without buttons or haptic feedback, making it difficult and uncomfortable to use. The new version, though, has a wide touchpad with a glass surface and functional buttons. It’s a dramatic improvement over the previous model, especially since it includes Microsoft Precision support for great Windows 10 multitouch gestures.

As we mentioned already, the Swift 7 has very small bezels, roughly as small as the IdeaPad S940 and the ZenBook S13. Unlike those laptops, though, the Swift 7 doesn’t have a reverse notch to house the webcam. So, Acer stuck it in a pop-up mechanism above the keyboard, and it’s just as you might imagine – great for privacy because you can simply close it to remain invisible, but it has the same unflattering up-the-nose angle as all such cameras. You probably won’t like it if you rely on the built-in webcam for video conferencing.

Finally, the Swift 7 has a very responsive fingerprint reader built into the power button, located to the upper-left of the keyboard. It works very well with Windows 10 Hello to login without a password – it was quick and accurate in all of our testing.

The average display doesn’t stand out

There’s only one display option with the Swift 7, a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) touch panel. Acer had to pull some engineering rabbits out of a hat to fit a touchscreen into such a thin display, but they managed. Did they manage to equip a good display as well?

According to our colorimeter, they did – in the sense that the average display on premium laptops today is very good compared to a year ago. There are better displays available, but the average provides a solid mix of brightness, contrast, and colors that are going to please the average person. That’s almost exactly where the Swift 7’s display lands.

It comes in at 273 nits of brightness, which is below our preferred 300 nits but – you guessed it – roughly average for the class. The HP Envy 13 is brighter at 369 nits, and the IdeaPad S940 is much brighter at 470 nits, but most laptops in our comparison group come in at around the same as the Swift 7.

If there’s a metric where the Swift 7’s display disappoints, it’s in its contrast ratio. It managed just a 790:1 ratio, which is at the low end of our comparison group and well under the 1,000:1 ratio we like to see from modern premium laptops. The HP Spectre Folio exceeds that threshold and the Asus ZenBook S13 comes close. The Swift 7 isn’t bad, mind you, but we’ve come to expect better.

The Swift 7 felt the tiniest bit sluggish when we had too many browser tabs and apps running.

Color gamut and accuracy show the Swift 7 smack dab in the middle at 72 percent of AdobeRGB, except the very good IdeaPad S940’s 83 percent. You have to step up to machines like the Dell XPS 15 4K display and the HP Spectre x360 15 AMOLED panel to get 90 percent of AdobeRGB or better.

In real-life use, we have no complaints. The Swift 7’s display provides all the colors and contrast we need for comfortable productivity work, and its gamma is only a little dark at 2.3 (2.2 is perfect), and so Netflix and other video looks just fine. The Swift 7 isn’t necessarily a laptop for creative professionals, but then again, the performance limitations likely disqualify it anyway.

Audio performance is another victim of the tiny chassis. Volume doesn’t go particularly high, in fact, it’s one of the quietest laptops we’ve heard in recent memory. It’s clear enough, without distortion, and mids and highs are pleasant (bass is non-existent, as expected). But if you want to entertain a few friends, you’ll be disappointed. Keep a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker handy.

A low-power processor that’s a step behind

The Swift 7 equips an 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8500Y, which is a fanless dual-core CPU that’s aimed at extending batteries and reducing heat. As we experienced with the Spectre Folio, this processor is fully capable of solid productivity performance – did Acer get the best out of it?

In short, no. The Swift 7 falls behind the Spectre Folio in our testing, which makes it considerably slower than laptops running Intel’s 8th-gen quad-core U-series CPUs. In the Geekbench 4 synthetic benchmark, for example, the Swift 7 managed 4,031 in the single-core test and just 6,449 in the multi-core test. That’s just slightly faster than the 2018 Swift 7 with the older Core i7-7Y75 processor, and significantly behind the Spectre Folio.

When we ran the Swift 7 through our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265, the laptop took 607 seconds to finish. That’s 40 seconds behind the Spectre Folio and 10 seconds slower than the 2018 Swift 7. The ZenBook S13, with its full-power CPU finished in a much faster 212 seconds.

Acer Swift 7 review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

We suspect that Acer tuned the system to avoid generating too much heat. That makes sense in a fanless laptop with such a thin chassis. And indeed, we never felt the laptop get much warmer than around 100 degrees F on the bottom of the chassis. But the tradeoff is reduced performance, to the point where – unlike the Spectre Folio – the Swift 7 did feel the tiniest bit sluggish when we had many browser tabs open and ran Microsoft Office applications. That’s not a good sign.

The Hynix PCIe SSD was plenty fast. It achieved 1,173 megabytes per second (MB/s) in the CrystalDiskMark 5 read test and 1,177 in the right test. That’s competitive with the other laptops in our comparison group and plenty fast for everything you’ll ask this laptop to do.

The Swift 7 is going to be a decent performer for productivity work, but if you push it too hard, then you might notice some delay. If you mainly work in a web browser, email, and Office apps, then you’ll probably be fine with the Swift 7’s performance. But if you tend to push things, it’s likely to fall behind.

Gaming? I don’t think so

We already know that the Swift 7 has limited performance thanks to a low-power CPU. Expecting any kind of gaming performance out of the integrated Intel UHD 615 graphics is unrealistic.

Simply put, the Swift 7 isn’t going to be good for anything but the oldest titles and the lightest esports and indie games. It scored a paltry 688 on the 3DMark Fire Strike test, which is at the bottom in our comparison group. And when we ran Fortnite at 1080p and both high and epics graphics, we watched a slideshow at just three frames per second (FPS).

There’s not much more to say. If you want to play more than casual games, then this isn’t the laptop for you.

Surprisingly good battery life

The 2019 Swift 7 has 32 watt-hours of battery packed inside, which is three watt-hours less than the 2018 version. In spite of the low-power CPU that promises increased battery life, we weren’t too hopeful.

We were surprised at how long the Swift 7 managed to run away from a charger. First, in our most demanding Basemark web benchmark, the Swift 7 ran for a little over three and a half hours. That’s not a spectacular score, and though the battery champion HP Spectre Folio beat it soundly, it’s competitive with the rest of our comparison group.

The Swift 7 has a good chance of staying productive all day long away from a plug.

In our web browsing test that runs through a series of popular web sites until it dies, the Swift 7 managed almost eight hours. Again, that’s not world-beating, and it falls behind the Spectre Folio’s 10 hours, but it’ll last you through the day, most importantly. Finally, when looping our local test 1080p video clip, the Swift 7 lasted for almost 13 hours. That’s a strong score, but again, in different league than the 17 hours managed by the Spectre Folio.

We suspect that the Swift 7 benefits from Acer keeping the performance tamped down. The 2019 version beat the 2018 version in spite of having less battery capacity (albeit a theoretically more efficient CPU), and it has a good chance of staying productive for an entire work day. You’ll just have to accept the compromise of lowered performance for the privilege.

Our Take

The Swift 7 lives up to its billing as a remarkably thin, light, and small laptop. It’s trivial to carry around, and it looks good. But it’s a little too bendable, and its performance is disappointing. It’s great for someone who wants as little laptop as possible in their backpack – and strong battery life makes it possible to leave the charger behind – but for anyone else, there are just too many compromises.

Is there a better alternative?

There isn’t another laptop that’s going to match the Swift 7’s svelte chassis. So, we’ll consider laptops that are just as small thanks to equally tiny bezels but won’t be nearly as thin or light.

First is the Dell XPS 13, which is not only an excellent laptop but is small enough that you probably won’t mind the difference. It offers much better performance, build quality, and display options, and it’s less expensive as configured. You’ll spend $1,749 ($1,519 on sale) for the same Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD, and a 4K touch display.

Next, there’s the Lenovo IdeaPad S940. It, too, has a 14-inch display fitted into a very small chassis, and it’s not particularly thick or heavy on top of it. It also performs much better and has an excellent 4K display available. It’s also expensive, though, at $1,600 for a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 4K display.

Finally, you can choose the Asus ZenBook S13 UX392FN and gain much better performance and even a discrete GPU for some light gaming. It, too, is much more solidly built, has a very nice Full HD display, and did we mention it’s faster? You’ll also save some money, at $1,400 for a Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB GB SSD.

How long will it last?

The Swift 7 is made of modern materials that promise a long lifespan. We couldn’t get past the impression of flimsiness, though, and so you’ll be relying on Acer’s engineers for any confidence in the laptop’s lifespan. And the standard 1-year warranty, while equal to the competition, won’t make you feel much better.

Should you buy it?

No. You can get faster, better-built laptops for less money. They’ll be heavier and a bit thicker, but you won’t feel like you’re making too many compromises.

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